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Bhanuka Rajapaksa outburst and possible repercussions

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A frustrated fan’s viewpoint

by Aravinthan Arunthavanathan

Bhanuka Rajapaksa’s media outburst recently gave rise to polarizing views in cricketing circles. Whether it was warranted or not is a secondary issue, in fact it depends on the lens you chose to review his views, but for a common fan it is so disheartening to see a player of that caliber and talent being forced to vent his frustration in public.

My first memory of Bhanuka was in New Zealand in the 2010 Under-19 World Cup. As Bhanuka was dominating a minnow attack, the commentator was saying “He is showing that he is a brilliant player against mediocre attacks, it is interesting to see how he fares against the big boys”.

Fast forward to 2019 on a dewy night in Lahore, the same Bhanuka jumps down the track, gets inside the line of a 140 plus Wahab Riaz thunderbolt and smacks it over cover for an extravagant six intertwined with nonchalant elegance. If one had gone into oblivion and returned almost a decade later since seeing Bhanuka as a schoolboy cricketer, fair chance is that he would have thought by now Bhanuka was a superstar on World stage. His skill on that tour was such that one would find it hard to believe that he was just playing his first international series. How such a talent did not get a chance shall not be an enigma for anyone who understands the peculiar ways in which Sri Lankan cricket works. At times comprehending the fuel pricing formula and travel restrictions are cakewalks compared to decoding selection policies. While a lot has been heard and read about Bhanuka one thing is clear, he seems to be one who does not mince his words. His views and opinion are so strong and polarized, that at times it almost projects him as an entitled personality finding fault with everyone else but himself.

But imagine being asked to bat out of position in immediate aftermath of having eviscerated the number one bowling attack in the world in one series, and that too lower down the order after a solitary failure. Imagine being asked to forego franchise commitments, losing out on big money only to be thrown out of the squad without a reason. Imagine the commitment being questioned and labeled as sloppy for carrying the gloves while running, that too after almost pulling off a domestic T20 final single handedly with a hamstring injury. Bhanuka Rajapaksa unfortunately has endured it all. Life has certainly been unfair on Bhanuka in his own words and by anyone’s standards.

Before we judge and let the jury out on whether Bhanuka’s recent media outbursts were warranted or not, one must empathize with the agony he must have endured. There could be many others in the same boat. Angelo Perera not many fans’ favourite also had echoed the same thoughts regarding selection policies in a recent interview on a sports program. If you are good enough to be selected, you at least need to be told where you fit in the scheme of things and why you are dropped from the side. Anybody who has worn the national cap deserves that courtesy. It is not an add on feature but a necessity in managing a team. While the new selection committee has shown an inclination towards an inclusive and transparent environment it’s yet to be seen how consistent it would be.

To make matters complicated for Bhanuka the recently introduced fitness standards seem to make him a nonstarter in the race to selection. A stringent selection criterion is essential in the long run to lift the lackluster standards ailing the game. But there would always be exceptions based on the genetics. If at all if that is a valid reason it should be factored in properly. Lasith Malinga recently went on record stating after his foot injury he had to prove his fitness through bowling and no other means. While a uniform scale is an essential there should be secondary mechanisms which are validated to ensure the best talent is not left out due to rigid policies.

It looks like unfair to see a player of Bhanuka’ caliber being kept out of the squad. But change is difficult. There will be casualties for greater good. Bhanuka having ended on the wrong side of the tide seems to be ending up on the wrong end again. He may not play for Sri Lanka anytime soon after his recent outbursts and probably may not never ever wear the national Jersey.

But as a fan who was mesmerized by the 19-year-old back in 2010 and then again in Pakistan all one could hope is he goes onto play domestic leagues and scores truckloads of runs not knocking the door but bulldoze the door so that nobody can keep him out citing any reason.

Bhanuka seems to be that kid who is not happy with the system. It looks justifiable on surface. But history has shown those are the ones who go onto change the world. If Bhanuka turns out to be that person in Sri Lankan context it would be the ultimate high for any Sri Lankan fan and the fairy tale culmination to a career which never got what it deserved.

After all, as Saurav Ganguly recalls, when he was recalled to the Indian side under Greg Chappell after being ousted as skipper, he had to face a baptism of fire on the fiery venomous tracks of South Africa. He faced fire with fire and came out on top to find his place not only in Tests but also the World Cup squad in 2007 and bowed out in 2008 on a high. Only a few years before it seemed impossible. But history has shown nothing is impossible.

Bhanuka Rajapaksa has dished out a welcome, audacious stream of words which has created a stir. Now he would have to perform way more than what he would have had to prior to his outbursts. It will be interesting to see how he emerges out of this. But as a Sri Lankan fan all one could wish is that the nonchalance mixed with aggression in Bhanuka’s batting will be seen for years to come.

 

(This writer’s blogs can be found at “Cricketing Perspectives” on Facebook)



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What you can learn from Sidath  

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By Rex Clementine  

Cricket selectors in Australia are ruthless.  In certain other parts of the world they are toothless. Steve Waugh had won the World Cup in 1999 and the Ashes two times in 2001 and 2003 when Trevor Hohns, (who had played only seven Tests by the way), called up Waugh and told him that his time was up. Waugh, with a massive fan following, resisted but Hohns made sure that Australia’s most successful captain was neither there for the World Cup defence in 2003 nor for retaining the Ashes in 2005.  

Everything didn’t go well for the Aussies. Under new captain Ricky Ponting they lost the Ashes in 2005 as England regained the urn after 16 years. But Hohns didn’t go after Waugh begging him to fix things. Perseverance in all walks of life is important. In cricket too. Eventually, Ponting turned things around for the Aussies. The next Ashes, Aussies blanked the Poms 5-0. Patience also matters along with perseverance.  

Selectors in our backyard made a hue and cry pinning all faults on Angelo Mathews for repeated failures of the national cricket team. Three weeks later, when the team suffered a first ever series defeat against Bangladesh, they went begging to Mathews asking him to return to the side. Mathews asked them to go and fly a kite.  

There is nothing wrong in trying out younger players and rotating seniors or even dropping them. Even the great Muttiah Muralitharan was dropped. But you have got to do it smoothly with transparency. Burning bridges is not the way. You don’t have to look at Australia as to how it should be done but we have classic examples in our backyard itself. Sidath Wettimuny is the bloke’s name.  

Wettimuny took on bigger players than this. It must have been harder for him for the players he took on were his one-time team mates. But once he had the courage to take on the big boys, he was firm with his decisions. He knew that youth was important but youth who are agile.  

Soon after the axing of Arjuna, Aravinda et al after the disastrous World Cup campaign in 1999, one thing he insisted on was excellence on fielding. So he picked someone by the name of Chamara Silva.  He was just 19 at that time but took on the likes of McGrath and Warne and posted a crucial half-century during the tri-nation tournament that Sri Lanka went onto win, less than two months after Australia had won the World Cup.  

Silva was electric on the field. So was Indika de Saram, who was picked out of the blues. A few months later, he would introduce one T.M.  Dilshan. All superb fielders. Of course there was Sanath Jayasuriya as captain who led the side from the front and he himself was a gun fielder.  

Right now what we have is a young side, but their fielding is so sloppy. They are probably the worst in the world. It is embarrassing to see the young Sri Lankans misfield. The captain has so many players to hide. There is Bhanuka Rajapaksa, there is Kasun Rajitha, there is Lakshan Sandakan and the list goes on. Surely, you expect paid selectors to do a better job. Right now, they have little clue and they have failed to do their home work. In the second ODI, where Sri Lanka snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, they conceded more than 25 runs due to sloppy fielding. 

In 1999, a few months after beating World Champions Australia, Sri Lanka went to Pakistan, one of the toughest places to tour. They whitewashed a strong Pakistan side 3-0 in the ODIs. Wettimuny’s youth policy was working.  The nation was thrilled. Youth was the way forward the fans said. But Wettimuny did not get carried away. He recalled Arjuna and Aravinda for the Tests despite some opposition. Wettimuny knew that in Test match cricket, Pakistan would be a different beast.  

Skipper Jayasuriya could have resisted going back to the seniors but he did not. He let his ego aside and did what was best for the team welcoming both seasoned campaigners back to the fold.  

As expected, Pakistan tested Sri Lanka. It needed a battle hardened Arjuna Ranatunga to bat with a broken thumb to help his team over the line in Rawalpindi. That was one of the classic Test matches that has ever been played. It was made possible by the clever moves of Wettimuny. 

In a time of crisis you need a selector who is calm, responsible and who is not vindictive. This is not the first time the system has been shaken up. It had been done before. But then the risk taking was smart. Now it has been reckless. You need a father figure in this time of crisis to help smooth sailing. Not a bull in a China shop.  And of course, class matters.  

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Sri Lanka’s contingent prior to the opening ceremony

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by Reemus Fernando 

When Sri Lanka’s Olympic contingent were entering the stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo yesterday, Nimali Liyanarachchi who could have easily become the country’s flag bearer was taking a seat in the business class for the first time in a long career to take wing from Colombo to Tokyo. On the same flight, Sujith Abeysekara who identified the talent at a very young age and helped her blossom into one of the country’s most successful middle distance runners was seated in the economy class.

It was not long ago that Nimali and fellow track and field athletes slept on the floor during transit on their way to the last pre Olympic competition. The country’s sports authorities have decided to provide five star facilities to Olympic bound athletes and that paved the way for NImali to travel in business class for the first time.

A winner of multiple disciplines at National Level, NImali has represented the country at numerous international competitions. No other athlete in the Sri Lankan contingent in Tokyo has excelled at regional events like the athlete from Sooriyawewa. A gold medalist at the Asian Athletics Championships and South Asian Games, the 32-year-old received a wildcard to the Olympics after Nilani Ratnayake, who was in contention for qualification slid in the world rankings. Before the lack of competitions pulled her down in world rankings Nimali was one of the top three Asians in her discipline.  Though Nimali is a wildcard entrant at the Olympics her fellow track and field athlete at the Olympics, Yupun Abeykoon is not. Abeykoon qualified through world rankings and could be the only athlete who could go beyond the first round. Abeykoon, South Asia’s fastest man and badminton player Niluka Karunaratne are probably the only Sri Lankan athletes who are competition ready as Nimali’s preparation too was hampered due to quarantine procedures following their return from India’s Interstate Championship.

Athletics fraternity was curious yesterday as to why the honour of carrying the country’s flag had not been give to track and field athletes. At the time this story was filed, rooky gymnast Milka Gehani and judoka Chamara Nuwan Dharmawardena were scheduled to carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony.

Nearly one third of the countries that took part in the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had handed their country’s flag to track and field athletes. Some of them were legends of the sport. Many time Olympic medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was scheduled to carry the flag of Jamaica at the time this edition went to press. For the first time countries could be represented by two flag bearers at the Olympic Games. Sri Lanka, a country that has won its only Olympic medals in track and field had a gymnast and judoka doing the duty.

Twenty years after Sri Lanka won its last Olympic medal has athletics lost its place as the premier Olympic sport of the country or has other sports come to prominence surpassing track and field as prospective medal winning Olympic sports? It is the first time a gymnast is representing Sri Lanka. She was ranked 114th at the 2019 World Championships but according to NOC, she has received a continental quota spot due to cancellation of the Asian Gymnastic Championship.

Now take a look at Sri Lanka’s track and field athletes. Forget about the two track and field athletes in Tokyo. There are more than half a dozen track and field athletes who were among the top 100 athletes in the world in their respective disciplines including one who produced the 15th best performance of the world this year. They could not improve their rankings due to lack of opportunities to take part in top ranked Championships.

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Sri Lanka on course for consolation win 

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Avishka Fernando anchored the Sri Lankan innings after the hosts were set a target of 227 to win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday.

 

By Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka looked on course for a consolation win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday as they reached 92 for one at the end of 15 overs chasing a target of 227.  Avishka Fernando gave the hosts a solid start in the dead rubber and was unbeaten on 46 when this edition went to print.

Fernando played some exciting strokes and his pulled six off Navdeep Saini was the shot of the day. It reminded of the power hitting of another Moratuwaite – L.R.D. Mendis.

Bhanuka Rajapaksa was unbeaten on 28.

Spinner Praveen Jayawickrama and Akila Dananjaya came up with outstanding performances picking six wickets between them as India were bowled out for 225 after being 157 for three at one stage. 

Sri Lanka did three changes to the side that lost the second ODI while India came in with six changes handing debuts for five players, virtually playing a third string team.

Sri Lanka’s fielding that was a huge let down during the previous game showed some improvement as they backed up the bowlers to reduce India to 225 in 43.1 overs. 

Dananjaya started off poorly conceding three boundaries in his first three balls on his return to limited overs cricket and exhausted a review too in his very first over. Sri Lanka had indicated that they were going to consider the off-spinner only for T-20 cricket but were forced to bring him back following injury to Wanindu Hasaranga.

Jayawickrama, who had claimed 11 wickets on his Test debut against Bangladesh in May, bowled superbly as he claimed the wickets of three middle order batsmen in his second ODI. With the left-arm spinner striking at regular intervals, India never got any momentum in their innings.

Dananjaya dismissed Suryakumar Yadav when he trapped him leg before wicket and claimed two more wickets towards the tail end of the Indian innings.

Skipper Dasun Shanaka, who had got his act woefully wrong in the previous game, had things very much under control yesterday with some clever bowling changes. He himself sent down eight overs and claimed the key wicket of Prithvi Shaw for 49.

Rain had stopped play for 100 minutes during the Indian innings and the game was reduced to 47 overs.

A win is crucial for Sri Lanka as they would gain ten points in the ICC World Cup Super League.

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