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Bio-bubble fatigue forces some overseas players to opt out of IPL-14



by S Venkat Narayan,    

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, April 3:

The months-long bubble life is beginning to take its toll as international players have started to drop out of the world’s richest cricket Indian Premier League’s (IPL) 14th edition citing bubble fatigue.

Fast bowler Mark Wood, who has spent many weeks, on and off, in bio-bubbles with the English team since July last year, was the first to withdraw, hours before the auction in February. Then, a couple of weeks back, Australian wicket-keeper batsman Joshua Philippe informed his franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) that he is not coming. Now, two more Australian cricketers, Mitchell Marsh and Josh Hazlewood, have made themselves unavailable, hours before their flight to India.

The IPL begins on April 9 and concludes on May 30. The tournament will be staged, without spectators, in six bio-secure bubbles even as India is in the grip of an intense second wave of the pandemic.

All the players who have opted out have spoken of the challenge of playing while under the constant restrictions of quarantines and bio-bubbles, often away from their families for long stretches at a time. The IPL requires all stakeholders to undergo a week of hard quarantine before entering the bubble.

“It’s been a long 10 months in bubbles and quarantine at different times. So, I decided to have a rest from cricket and spend some time at home and in Australia in the next two months,” Chennai Super Kings’ (CSK) seamer Hazlewood told on Thursday. “That’s the decision I’ve made and it sits pretty well with me.”

The Australian internationals have been living the bubble life since July last year, competing in England, then the UAE IPL, followed by the international bubble at home against India. Hazlewood said he has prioritized international cricket, with this being a T20 World Cup and an Ashes year. He could now be seen playing at the back end of the domestic season for New South Wales.

On Wednesday, Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) declared that all-rounder Marsh had “opted out due to personal reasons”. Marsh had to pull out of the last IPL in SRH’s season opener itself due to an ankle injury. After recovery, he played in the Big Bash league as well as the T20I’s against New Zealand. Philippe, who is a white ball specialist, competed in the same competitions post-IPL as Marsh.

Although the franchises have been left to look for last minute replacements, they have been publicly supportive of the players’ decisions. “The RCB management is disappointed to lose a player of Josh’s calibre for this IPL season. But, at the same time, we fully understand, respect and support his decision of excluding himself from the tournament,” the franchise said in a statement.

RCB found a like-for-like replacement for Philippe in New Zealand’s Finn Allen. SRH have replaced Marsh with England’s prolific opener Jason Roy, although their top order resources are many with Jonny Bairstow, David Warner and Kane Williamson in the squad.

With the IPL being the most lucrative tournament in cricket, the predicament before the players is real.

“It’s life-changing money which is why it was such a difficult decision for me,” Wood said. One of the fastest bowlers in the world right now—he regularly bowls at 150kph—Wood is a much sought-after player. “I didn’t want to go into the auction and then let a team down at a later date. I didn’t think that was fair,” he said.

As many as 12 of Wood’s English teammates are competing in the IPL this year. England Cricket Board’s acceptance of IPL as a part of the cricket calendar is as much about the quality of the league as it is about the money on offer.

“We don’t particularly want to go toe-to-toe with our players over IPL participation in the long run because we may face losing some of our best players,” Ashley Giles, ECB director of cricket said in a BBC talk show. “I don’t want that to be a kiss of death. I think we have to understand that it could be a danger in the future.”

England’s rotation policy for their all-format players, which came in for criticism for not fielding their best Test team against India, was devised with the seven-week long IPL in mind.

No Indian player has withdrawn from IPL-14. But captain Virat Kohli also spoke about the workload and bubble fatigue recently.

“Scheduling needs to be looked at in the future, because playing in ‘bubbles’ for so long is going to be very, very difficult going forward,” he said after the conclusion of the two-month-long home series against England. “You can’t expect everyone to be at the same level of mental strength. Sometimes, you do get cooked.”

Indian players have been competing in bubbles starting with the UAE IPL last September. Since then, there was a long tour to Australia and a lengthy home series against England. There is non-stop cricket ahead too, with the WTC final following the IPL, a five-Test series in England, and more home matches before the T20 World Cup this October.

While BCCI officials say the players are permitted to opt-out, unlike England there is no planned rotation policy in place.

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Sri Lanka seek results after hard work  



by Rex Clementine  

Sri Lanka have competed well in patches in their recent outings in Test match cricket, but they have lacked the killer blow instinct. Too often we have seen, Mickey Arthur’s side doing all the hard work in a game and spoiling that all – often in a session. A dramatic collapse, dropped catches, poor reviews, injuries or lackluster bowling have hurt the team. The main issue they need to address is that lack of application by batsmen who have thrown it away with some brainless cricket.

There’s a selection dilemma with former skipper Angelo Mathews returning to the side after missing the West Indies Tests due to personal reasons. Pathum Nissanka, who came in for his place, grabbed the opportunity from both hands with a hundred on debut. He became the first Sri Lankan to score a Test hundred in his maiden Test away from home.

It remains to be seen whom the selectors will leave out.  It could be Oshada Fernando with Nissanka swapping places for the number three slot. Or it could be Niroshan Dickwella, from whom wicketkeeping gloves could be taken away and given to Dinesh Chandimal.

The move has been something that has been discussed for a while now but since being put under pressure, Dickwella has not only contributed with the bat but shown more responsibility as well. The first Test match against Bangladesh gets underway on Wednesday in a bio secure bubble. Expect a bit of rain during the series, particularly in the evenings as it is always the case in the hill capital. Well, we were actually told when the ground was built that it was located in one of the driest areas in the Central Province. Very little the press realized that we were being taken for a ride. And of course the venue is located in the electorate of the then Sports Minister.

Bangladesh need to raise their game in this series after a disappointing few months at home. That they will not have the services of Shakib Al Hasan and Mustafizur Rahman is a further blow for them.

Pallekele will host both Tests and could be a major hub throughout this year when limited over games take place in ‘bio bubble’ environment.

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Sri Lanka back pace for Bangladesh Tests



by Rex Clementine

Having conducted the England Test series so well in a ‘bio-secure bubble’ in Galle, Sri Lanka Cricket has decided to move the Bangladesh series to Pallekele. Did any technical reasons prompt SLC to move from the coastal town to the hill capital?  Not really. The move is a tactical one. The Sri Lankans would be thinking that spin is Bangladesh’s strength so the best way to beat them is through pace. Hence, the shift to Kandy where seamers get much more purchase and value for money for their efforts.

The move may look somewhat defensive. Given the England experience where the Somerset duo of Dom Bess and Jack Leach made a mockery of Sri Lanka’s top and middle order, the hosts seem to be not wanting to play into Bangladesh’s hands whose spinners have been quite formidable in recent years.

Hence having shifted base to Kandy, Sri Lanka could go all out with a  pace heavy attack when the Test series gets underway next week. Wanindu Hasaranga could be the only spinner in the side with Dhananjaya de Silva’s part time off-spin as back up.

Lahiru Kumara has returned to the squad having missed the West Indies tour after being tested positive for COVID-19. There was a lot of excitement that Sri Lanka would be able to see two of their quickest bowlers in action in the same match but Dushmantha Chameera, has pulled out from the series due to personal reasons.

Suranga Lakmal, who was named Player of the Series in the Caribbean after his impressive performance, will spearhead the attack. Vishwa Fernando will add variety with his left arm bowling and it remains to be seen how well he does in helpful conditions having fared well in South Africa early this year.

There are a few issues with the spin department after Lasith Embuldeniya was ruled out with injury. Duvindu Tillekeratne is also down with injury while Prabath Jayasuriya, who had shown la ot of promise was almost picked for the series but he became ineligible for selection after failing the skin fold test marginally. That opened up a slot for rookie Praveen Jayawickrama who is thin on experience having played just a handful of First Class matches

Bangaldesh will be handicapped as Shakib Al Hasan their biggest match winner is in India playing the IPL. They will also miss the services of Mustafizur Rahman, the spearhead of the attack.

Still, the tourists have some solid players. Off-spinner Mehidy Hasan recently became the fastest Bangladeshi to claim 100 Test wickets and at the age of 23 a  lot is expected of him.  He is more than a  handy bat having already posted a hundred and three half-centuries in Test match cricket.

Tamim Iqbal, Mominul Haque and Mushfiqur Rahim are the mainstay of their batting. Mushfiqur has been ever present in the Bangladeshi side having made his Test debut 16 years ago at the age of 18.

Former captain Angelo Mathews is back in the side having returned home from the West Indies early. Which of the seven batters will miss out to accommodate Mathews remains to be seen.

Sri Lanka have won 16 of the 20 Tests against Bangladesh and lost just one game. However, most of those wins were in the early days and in recent years Bangladesh have done well competing and drawing games. 

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Sebs’ cricket stalwart Cooray retires after more than three decades of service



by Reemus Fernando

Franklyn Cooray, the former Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association official, retired as the Master in Charge of Cricket of St. Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa after completing more than three and half decades of yeoman service recently. Franklyn Cooray who was popular in cricket circles as Frank Cooray, was the longest serving team official at the time of his retirement. During his 37 year association with schools cricket, Cooray witnessed the evolution of First XI cricket from mere Traditional matches to present day tournaments of varying divisions and was involved in St. Sebastian’s cricket as a coach and Master in Charge guiding the destiny of many future national cricketers.

Cooray played First XI cricket for St. Sebastian’s from 1962 to 1966 and was among the very few Sebs cricketers of his era to have tasted Big Match success. He captained all age group teams of St. Sebastian’s. After leaving school he worked at the Irrigation Department as a Senior Technical Officer and played in the Government Services ‘A’ Division Cricket tournament until making a premature retirement in 1983.

He was entrusted with the responsibility of training cricketers of St. Sebastian’s in 1984 by Rev. Bro. Nimal Gurusinghe, when coaching was voluntary. Three years later Cooray was included in the tutorial staff by Rev. Bro. Granville Perera. He was the coach cum Master in Charge of St. Sebastian’s from 1987 to 1994 and held the latter position until his retirement this year.

During his tenure as a coach, Cooray provided guidance at different levels to several Sebs who later became household names. Of them Dulip Mendis, Roger Wijesuriya, Susil Fernando, Romesh Kaluwitharana and Sajeewa de Silva went on to play Test cricket. “Kaluwitharana was coached by Brother Gurusinghe before he came under my supervision at senior level,” Cooray recalled in an interview with The Island.

Cooray was the Master in Charge of Cricket when the likes of Prasanna Jayawardena, Dinusha Fernando, Vishwa Fernando, Amila Aponso, Avishka Fernando and Oshada Fernando learnt their ABC of cricket at St. Sebastian’s.

While being the MIC, Cooray was also entrusted with the responsibility of the curator after a turf wicket was laid at the St. Sebastian’s ground in 1990.

He was selected to SLSCA Executive Committee in 1988 and a year later became the Under-19 tournament secretary, a position he held until 2006. He was among the leading officials of SLSCA who were instrumental in introducing the two-day league tournament and the Under-19 tournament structure with three Divisions. As of late it has undergone many changes.

However he was against introducing the points system that determined winners on first innings points. “That system would promote the culture of playing for trophies. I never encouraged the point system for first innings wins. We gave points only for outright victories. During our time we hardly batted after tea. We would try to score as much as possible in the morning and declared and get the opposition to bat in the afternoon. That way we would try to win outright. That was lost after the points system was introduced,” opined Cooray.

Cooray also lamented the absence of natural stroke play among present day cricketers. “Players going for their natural strokes is something that we are missing greatly these days. You must encourage batsmen to go for their natural strokes,” said Cooray.

He was the Under-19 tournament secretary of the SLSCA at a time when computers were yet be utilized for calculation of points and to make points tables of the league tournaments. Yet as schools cricket reporters would recall he was readily available with a near accurate points table of the tournament at the end of every week during the schools cricket season.

Apart from holding the Under-19 tournament secretary position, Cooray also held the junior national coach position briefly. He was the coach of the Sri Lanka Under-15 side that toured England for the Under-15 Lombard World Challenge.

His contribution to cricket was recognized by the International Cricket Council in 2009 when he was presented with a medal during its Centenary Medals Presentation for Volunteers.

As he steps in to retirement with loads of fond memories from cricket, Cooray thanked former administrators of St. Sebastian’s Rev. Bro. Nimal Gurusinghe and Rev. Bro. Granville Perera, late Rev. Fr. Bonnie Fernandopulle who made it possible for him to take up coaching and cricket administration and coaches including Kanishka Perera who helped during his tenure.

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