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Big dreams inside a ‘small’ basketball court

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Basketball player Praneeth Udumalagala has come a long way in his chosen sport

Interview with Praneeth Udumalagala

by a Special Sports Correspondent

Praneeth Udumalagala has come a long way in one of his chosen sports basketball and is a hot prospect when he turns out for Sri Lanka in tournaments here and abroad. He is a rare sportsman having represented his country in swimming and basketball. But the latter is what has given him so much recognition and a clear view of what he loves to do in the future. He is engaged in business and manages to dedicate time for competitive sport as well. In an interview with ‘The Island’ Udumalagala spoke about his love for basketball, his work engagements and future plans.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q- How is your busy life as a player dedicated to basketball?

Well, it’s a full schedule just like any other dedicated athlete. The time revolves around training, strength and conditioning and other aspects of the game. My love for the game is such I enjoy every moment as a basketball player.

Q- You say you are looking at playing professional or semi-professional basketball in the future? Please elaborate on that a bit.

At this stage in my basketball career, I want to consistently reach to higher standards outside of Sri Lanka. If any overseas league gives me an opportunity to play professionally or as a semi-professional I would be ready to take up the challenge. I was able to play in the Nepal basketball league in 2019 and I am looking forward for the next.

Q- You are a national athlete and have represented Sri Lanka at many international tournaments. How is the feeling to represent Sri Lanka in your chosen sport?

I was able to represent my country in two sports. As a youngster during school days, I was able to represent Sri Lanka in both swimming and basketball. The pride of representing your country is the ultimate feeling for any athlete in his or her chosen sport. Once you wear the national jersey and step on the court you just want to give your 101% to make your people proud and bring glory to your nation. That feeling is hard to express in words.

Q-What is your best performance for Sri Lanka at an international tournament?

I think the toughest tournament I played in for the national team was the FIBA Pre-qualifiers 2021 in Bahrain. I believe that was my best performance where I was able to average 17.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and three assists throughout the tournament. Apart from that winning the SAG silver medal in 2019 is a great moment where we were able to create history and I’m glad I was able to do my best for the team and country.

Q-Tell us about your experience in representing team Times International Basketball Club which became champions in the Nepal Basketball League

It was such a memorable experience. The league was a month and a half long. By the time I joined the team the league had already begun, and my team had played a couple of games. There was little to no time to see how I fitted in best in the team format, but everyone in my team was excited to have me as much as I was to play in the league. From the league organization, my team management, competition level to the fan base the whole league was such a hit. It couldn’t be any better as we were able to win the league and I was on top of my performance.

Q- Being adjudged as the Sri Lanka Basketball Player of the year in 2015 must have made you feel proud. Do you think you were able to continue the momentum and win more honours in the sport?

It was indeed a proud moment. More than winning more or any honours to be frank the focus was always to be on the top of my game. No matter the situation, when my name is called, I always want to be ready to deliver more than what’s expected. Once I’m able to do what I do best, the rest will fall into place naturally, the recognition and honours will come.

Q- You played your part in Sri Lanka winning Silver at SABA championship 2011 in India. Can you compare how these two nations have progressed in the sport from there onwards?

Yes, that year was a memorable one as it was my debut year paying for Sri Lanka. As unfortunate as it sounds, India has since been improving and making strides in basketball while we struggle to go forward. The biggest difference I see is that India treats basketball as a professional sport while that is not the case in Sri Lanka. The national players here have their full-time jobs to take care of, then comes basketball. Saying that, I’m hopeful that many good things are ahead for Sri Lanka basketball and its players as we have a new leadership in the Sri Lanka Basketball Federation.

Q- You’ve been a regular in the Sri Lanka national team since 2011. How do you see yourself being there for contention when other promising youngsters are also knocking on the door for a playing slot?

The current national team is full of youngsters and promising talent. I am delighted to be playing alongside them to share my experiences and hand over the baton as we go forward. It is important I be on top of my game immaterial if I’m playing with experienced senior players or with talented youth. The playing minutes in a game are based on who’s the best inside the lines and as long as I play in the level I’m playing now it’s safe to say the youngsters could learn a lot and we can get better as a team.

Q- Are you employed and tell us something about work in office and how you manage to engage in competitive sport as well?

I play contract basketball for FairFirst insurance Ltd. I work with my father-in-law and help manage the production process at Shisasa Holdings International Pvt Ltd. I am also a part of the coaching staff at my alma mater St. Joseph’s College Colombo 10.

I have my own company IImpact Hoop Lab Pvt Ltd. Under IImpact Hoop Lab I run my own basketball skills training programme, produce basketball rims and backboards in Sri Lanka.

Q- The COVID pandemic was a challenge to everybody. How did you cope?

The COVID pandemic was a very difficult time period for me, and it still is as we speak. But just like any other challenge we can’t give up on our dreams. My goal was to survive these tough times and hope it will pass by soon. The training programme came to a halt, but we manage to do few online trainings and individual home visits for some of our athletes. Things are looking positive now and I am hoping to return to the programme as soon as I can.

Q- What are your future goals and plans in life and sport?

My goal is to continue to work hard and grow my company IImpact Hoop Lab. I want to work hard, create a dedicated basketball skill training centre for my training programme and help athletes to reach higher levels in the game of basketball. Through my company we produce affordable, high quality basketball rims and backboards that are made in Sri Lanka and we are also scaling into court construction. I will continue to play basketball as long as I can all the while I grow in other aspects in life. At the end of the day I want to be an exemplary role model for every basketball player out there.



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Nissanka targets improved rankings in 2022  

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Nissanka was impressive in Sri Lanka’s first game in 2022 with the team chasing down the highest target at Pallekele and he was the key setting the tone for the run chase.  

Rex Clementine at Pallekele  

Nondescripts Cricket Club (NCC) has many good things and rarely do you find players leaving the less popular Maitland Place club once they get themselves established. One of the club’s biggest strengths is Mr. Ranjit Fernando, the former Sri Lanka wicket-keeper batsman. ‘Uncle Ranjit’ as players call him, is not the President or Secretary of the Club but he’s a live wire and he’s been that for the last 40 years mentoring dozens of Test cricketers and half a dozen Sri Lanka captains from Ranjan Madugalle to Upul Tharanga. The latest prodigy he’s groomed is  Pathum Nissanka.

The 23-year-old Nissanka has been a revelation since he made his Test debut last season. A historic one at that as he became the first Sri Lankan to score a Test hundred on debut overseas.

West Indies is not the type of opponents that give you a true picture of a caliber of a player.  But there was no denying of the fact of his temperament and holding the nerve on the biggest day of his life.

Nissanka has proven that he’s no basher of weak opponents or a flack track bully like he did during his stunning 74 against a South African attack that had Rabada, Nortje and world’s number one ranked bowler Tabraiz Shamsi.

The year 2021 ended with Nissanka smashing three half-centuries in four innings against West Indies. That’s consistency for you which most young players lack. There is new hope as well that a dawn of a new era for Sri Lankan cricket is near. Nissanka was impressive in Sri Lanka’s first game in 2022 with the team chasing down the highest target at Pallekele and he was the key setting the tone for the run chase.

At the post match media briefing, Nissanka told journalists that he’s going to make the new year a productive one wanting to improve his international rankings.  According to official ICC Rankings for batsmen, Nissanka is ranked 63 in Test cricket, 66 in T20s while he does not feature in the top 100 ranked players in ODIs.

Nissanka wanting to make progress is a good sign. Currently, only Test captain Dimuth Karunaratne is ranked amongst the top ten players in Tests while Sri Lanka don’t have any players in the top ten in ODI or T20 cricket.

Nissanka’s start has been stunning with him turning everything that he touches into gold. But the bigger challenges are ahead. Not just necessarily on the field. There are more distractions off the field and we have seen many a young player going astray. Hopefully Nissanka will have the work ethic of a Virat Kohli and the smartness of a Kumar Sangakkara.

The second ODI will be played today at Pallekele.

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Chamari’s team commence campaign for the Commonwealth Games slot today

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Chamari Athapaththu said that it was vital for their team to win the tournament after having missed qualifying for the 50-over World Cup.(File Pic)

The ICC Commonwealth Games Qualifier 2022 commences at the Kinrara Oval in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday as Bangladesh, Kenya, Malaysia, Scotland, and Sri Lanka vie for the lone remaining slot at the Commonwealth Games 2022 in Birmingham.

The round-robin T20 tournament to decide who joins the seven teams already qualified for Birmingham – Australia, Barbados, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, and South Africa – commences with a match between Bangladesh and Malaysia and will see Bangladesh and Sri Lanka face off on the last day.

Sri Lanka captain Chamari Athapaththu said that it was vital for their team to win the tournament after having missed qualifying for the 50-over World Cup. Her team will encounter Scotland today.

Chamari Athapaththu: “Apart from the World Cup, the Commonwealth Games (cricket competition) is the other major tournament to be held in 2022. Obviously, it won’t wipe out the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup but will give us some amount of solace.

“We have a very good chance of winning this tournament and qualifying for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. We have experienced players as well as talented youngsters in our side, with the likes of Harsitha Samarawickrama and Kavisha Dilhari the ones to look out for.”

England and six other highest-ranked ICC Members in the MRF Tyres ICC Women’s T20I Team Rankings as of 1 April 2021 qualified directly for the Commonwealth Games, with the slot for the West Indies going to Barbados since athletes from the Caribbean will be representing their countries and not the West Indies (as they are affiliated with the ICC). Barbados were nominated by Cricket West Indies (CWI) on the basis of their win in the 2019 CWI T20 Blaze Tournament.

Women’s cricket will be part of the Commonwealth Games for the first time ever in what is seen as a huge opportunity to take the game to new fans. It will only be the second time that cricket will feature in it after a men’s competition was part of the Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.

Bangladesh captain Niger Sultana has the chance of leading her team into the Birmingham Games to cap a fine year that has already seen them qualify for the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand in March-April.

Nigar Sultana: “We are very confident. It was not easy for us to return to competitive cricket after the disruptions of training and matches because of Covid-19. However, we are well prepared now, having played in different conditions during the past few months.

“I think our middle-order batting has been excellent in recent times. As this is a T20 tournament, I am expecting the opening batters to get us off to quick starts. We have experienced campaigners to compliment the youthful exuberance in our team. It’s going to be a combined effort from all of us if we do well here.

Scotland captain Kathryn Bryce understands that it won’t be easy for her team but is still aiming to win the Qualifier.

Kathryn Bryce: “Every time we go into a tournament the main objective is to try and win. There’s only one qualification spot available, so we know it’s going to be a challenging task coming up against the likes of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh who’ve been near the top of the world stage for a long time now. They have a lot of experience but we’re looking forward to testing ourselves against them.

“It’s been a challenging build-up with COVID-19 still affecting things, but we’ve managed to get together as a squad to train together regularly. We’ve been indoors over the winter period, but I think there have been some good camps during the preparation and I’ve seen some good progression, so I believe we’ll be ready for the tournament.

“There are lots of players in the team who are starting to stand up and as a team we’re not really relying on a small number of people anymore which is really exciting to see. Obviously, Abtaha Maqsood has a really big summer playing in The Hundred and I think her quality will hopefully come through and has the potential to win us some matches.”

Kenya captain Margaret Ngoche wants to make the most of the opportunity of playing against teams like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Margaret Ngoch: “We want to utilize and maximize all the opportunities that will come our way in terms of experience and talent showcasing. We want to interact with other teams with the aim of building a great cricketing network and learn more from them. We want to ensure that we are among the top teams, and we are coming with a winning mentality.”

“We know that this is a tournament like we have never experienced before. We will be playing with teams that have played in the World Cup. One of our major weapons is our mental capacity and experience that we have gathered through the years. The training and practice matches are just a way to polish the already effective tools that we possess. We have really invested in our mental capacity because our 100% is better than the rest.”

Malaysia captain Winifred Anne Duraisingam is hoping to gain the edge from familiar home conditions.

Winifred Anne Duraisingam: “It feels good to play hosts after not being able to play the last two years. Malaysia is blessed with good weather and of course, our hospitality and food will, I hope, be a great experience for the teams coming in.

“In terms of advantage, we are certainly comfortable as we know the ground conditions and we hope this will give us an edge as we do our best. Without a doubt, the strength of our team is in fielding and bowling. We are currently hard at work with our batting and we can see the improvements.

“Kinrara Oval has hosted many international tournaments including ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2008, the Women’s Asia Cup, and many other ICC and ACC (Asian Cricket Council) events. The pitch is very lively and is good for both batting and bowling.”

Match schedule (local time):

18 Jan:

Malaysia vs Bangladesh (09h30); Sri Lanka vs Scotland (13h15)

19 Jan:

Kenya vs Bangladesh (09h30); Scotland vs Malaysia (13h15)

20 Jan:

Kenya vs Sri Lanka (09h30)

22 Jan:

Scotland vs Kenya (09h30); Sri Lanka vs Malaysia (13h15)

23 Jan:

Bangladesh vs Scotland (09h30); Malaysia vs Kenya (13h15)

24 Jan:

Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka (09h30)

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Let the ‘OLY’ recognize Olympians’- Kulawansa

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Olympians after attending the Sri Lanka Olympians AGM

Olympian Sriyani Kulawansa said that Sri Lanka Olympians would give emphasis to promoting the ‘OLY’ title, a post-nominal letters granted by the World Olympians Association (WOA) to athletes who have participated in Olympics. The World Olympians Association took the initiative in 2017.

Kulawansa speaking to The Island said that all sportsmen and women who represented the country have the ‘OLY’ title and her Association would like to promote the title as it would give due recognition to Olympians in a country dominated by a non Olympic sport.

“All Olympians have the OLY title. Representing the country at the Olympics is like obtaining a PHD. The OLY title is a complement for the efforts put in to be an Olympian,” Kulawansa said in an interview.

“We felicitated the athletes who became eligible for the title with their participation at the last Tokyo Olympics including Yupun Abeykoon and Nimali Liyanarachchi at the AGM. Some of the new Olympians who were not in the country will be awarded their pins at a future date,” said Kulawansa.

Former national track and field champions Kulawansa, Sugath Thilakaratne and Damayanthi Dharsha who still hold national records of their pet events more than two decades after retiring were elected to top positions of the Sri Lanka Olympians at its Annual General Meeting held at the NCC premises on Saturday.

Newly elected Committee members of the Sri Lanka Olympians (from left) Julian Bolling, Ruvini Abeymanna, Sugath Thilakarathna (Secretary) Sriyani Kulawansa (President), Damayanthi Dharsha (Vice President), Nimmi de Soyza (Treasurer), Anurudda Rathnayake and Mahesh Perera.

Kulawansa who represented Sri Lanka at three Olympics from 1992 was elected as the president for a term of four years. Asian Games medallist Thilakaratne who produced the current national record in the 400 metres in 1998 was elected as the secretary of the apex body.

Asian Games medallist Dharsha was elected vice president while Nimmi de Soyza was elected treasurer.

The other members who were elected to the committee are Julian Bolling, Mahesh Perera, Anurudha Ratnayake and Ruvini Abeynayake.

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