by A Special Sports Correspondent
Rukshika Wijesooriya (23) ended years of frustration by winning the coveted Singles Crown at the recently concluded 107th National Tennis Championships, held at the SLTA courts in Colombo.
The Rukshika we know had the potential to win titles, but her journey in most tournaments, till this big win, ended somewhere in the quarterfinal or semi-final stages of most tournaments; except in 2019 when she went on to win the singles title at the SSC Open. However she worked on her game and a two year stint in the US –for studies between 2020 and 2022- brought the change in her game which she was aiming at. In the US she also completed her Degree in Biology and was always a straight ‘A’ student.
She was born in Oman and resided there till she was 12 years old. By that time she had put in four years at tennis. Afterwards it was a matter of visiting Sri Lanka continuously and playing in tournaments here. “I must say that the SLTA has been very supportive of my tennis and accommodated me for trials aimed at finding the players to represent Sri Lanka and compete at overseas tournaments,” said Rukshika.
She was knocking on the door for national selections and showing potential to win since 2015. But she needed that big win and the guidance to reach that next level of playing. “I improved my tennis while pursuing my education in the US. Before that I almost gave up the sport in frustration. But what’s good in America is that you get the right people for the right job both in sport and education. I started believing in myself and now my head is in the right place. What I also liked in the US was that you play for the team and not for yourself,” she said during an interview done at an academy named ‘Tennis by Guy’ at Nawala where she comes under the guidance of her present coach Guyanga Weerasekara.
Rukshika’s life story is an interesting one given that she is a teacher at Alethea International School Dehiwala when not playing tennis. She has completed her degree in Biology and expects to do a masters and a PHD later in her pet subject. She enjoys the time spent on teaching and has decided for the time being to spend time with her parents and remain in Sri Lanka. This is a time when most academics are leaving the country for better prospects, but Rukshika thinks differently. “Deciding to stay here and find employment given the situation in the country was a difficult decision, but it’s one that I took due to personal reasons. I take it day by day and I am happy that I am able to inspire and guide the next generation to be successful in my roles as an educator and sportswoman,” she said.
She beat Anjalika Kurera in a hotly contested singles final and latter teamed up with her close friend to win the women’s doubles event. She and Anjalika have been roommates during many of the foreign tours and they have had much to share in life in the form of chit chats when on tours. But according to Rukshika much of that talk is far removed from tennis. This is largely because Rukshika has a happening life outside tennis. Most individuals in her close circle of friends have no relationship with tennis. She slips into her running shoes and goes for a run or engages in cooking or baking at home when thoughts are overwhelming and takes a toll on her. She agrees that she is a very emotional person.
Her school where she teaches gave her a celebration for winning the nationals and Rukshika said that she was moved by all what they had organised for her. Asked whether she didn’t use social media to put posts of her achievements and gain some mileage she responded in the negative. “I am a very private person and keep my achievements to myself. I don’t mind someone maintaining a page for me on social media and highlighting my sporting achievements, but I wouldn’t do it. Tennis in Sri Lanka comprises a small community and everyone knows how the players are performing and who has won what. The little disadvantage in this small community is that you might end up playing the same person over and over again,” she said.
According to Rukshika tennis is an expensive sport. Playing at her level demands she spends about Rs 150,000 per month which goes basically for food, travelling and the other needs to play at that competitive level. “It’s good to have got some grips or some tennis equipment as gifts for winning the nationals. I like to be encouraged to go further in the sport,” she said.
She is aware that in Sri Lanka players, especially ladies, tend to see a drop in their game after they reach age 18; not because of ageing, but largely because they start focusing on other aspects in life. As for Rukshika she said that she still has the passion for the game and will continue playing tennis.
Interestingly she is a vegetarian and this makes her being choosy about what he eats. She said that she eats healthily and added, “My decision to go off meats was because I love animals. I have four dogs and three cats at home”.
She took this opportunity to thank her parents Mahesha (Mother) and Ruknil (father) for the support extended to her to pursue tennis and also for not pushing her too hard in this competitive world where children have to run the rat race and live up to the expectations of those around them. “My advice to parents who have children is for them to know that it’s important to be supportive and push them to a certain extent, but not to the extent that they lose joy in the sport or education they are pursuing”.
Six member committee appointed to inquire into Sri Lanka Cricket Team’s conduct in Australia
Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Roshan Ranasinghe has appointed a six member committee headed by Retired Supreme Court Judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena to inquire into the incidents reported against some members of the Sri Lanka Cricket team that participated at the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia.
My best knock for Sri Lanka – Asalanka
By Rex Clementine
If you had no idea why Roy Dias identified Charith Asalanka as a Test captain in the waiting some seven years ago, there was proof for his claims at Pallekele on Wednesday as the diminutive left-hander from Elpitiya pulled off a stunning run chase against Afghanistan.Sri Lanka chased down a target of 314 in the last over with Asalanka finishing things off in style with a pulled six. What’s so special with the win is that it is Sri Lanka’s highest successful run chase ever at home.
“I was struggling with cramps. The heat was too much in the afternoon.
Once Dunith came in, I told him not to do too much running and target the gaps. There was a good partnership with Dasun too before that and that helped us to get back into the game,” Asalanka noted.
Most players when they get into the Sri Lankan cricket set up they get themselves tattooed and buy fancy cars and luxury apartments. Asalanka has remained grounded and he is very much close to his roots at Elpitiya.
In fact, he married his childhood sweetheart, whom he fell in love with at the age of 15. The pair met at the school bus when Asalanka was playing under-17 cricket and despite money and fame the captain in waiting hasn’t forgotten his past. Asalanka took a break middle of the series to get married on the 28th of November, the day of their tenth anniversary of falling in love. However, there was no honeymoon as Asalanka had to return to Pallekele for the rest of the series.
His wife is an English teacher and that gives us hope that press conferences are going to be interesting again although the good old days of Sanga will never come.Asalanka received a scholarship to Richmond College after passing the Grade Five scholarship and he is known as a sharp thinker of the game.
“First game the ball swung a lot. It was a grassy pitch. We knew this wicket was not going to do much for the bowlers. The main thing we wanted was to bat 50 overs. Everyone contributed from top to the lower middle order, and it was great to watch.”
Sri Lanka have a settled top order when it comes to white ball cricket and the middle order could be built on Asalanka who can accelerate and rebuild an innings. “Dasun is the one who told me that I’d be batting at number five and to feel comfortable. I was going to get the long rope. I had never batted at number five before that and glad I have cemented my place now.”
“This is my best innings in international cricket. Dunith Wellalage was outstanding as well. Afghanistan have a very experienced side. They have lot of players who are involved in league cricket. Dunith showed lot of maturity.”
“We had identified that Rashid Khan was their key players. We didn’t want to take risks against him. We got out for some good balls. We made sure that we didn’t give wickets to him, and it got easier to score runs.
Richmond, Trinity clash for Under 19 Division I Tier ‘A’ cricket title
by Reemus Fernando
The stage is set for a thrilling climax when unbeaten Richmond meet formidable Trinity in the final of the Under 19 Division I Tier ‘A’ cricket tournament at the Thurstan College ground today.
There are two factors indicating to a thrilling climax. Both teams know what it takes to win a championship title as they have players who have featured in finals before. It was not long ago that a few players in the Trinity team guided their Under 17 team to joint champions title of the Division I cricket tournament of that age category. The team from Galle have in their ranks a number of players who had to be content with the runner up position after reaching the final of this tournament during the last season.
For the final, Trinity are likely to stick to the same team which won the semi –final against their arch rivals St. Anthony’s at the same venue early this week. During this tournament captain Rahal Amarasinghe has seen Manula Kularathne, Theeraka Ranatunga, Dinusha Pieris and Janith Warnakula sharing most of the batting responsibilities for the team’s success.
In the bowling department, Ranatunga (with over 20 wickets) has topped the wicket takers list. Dinuka Thennakoon, Tharana Wimaladharma and Manula Kularathne are the others shouldering most of the wicket taking duties.
During the semi-final Ranatunga was joined by skipper Amarasinghe, Peiris, Wathila Udara and Vibhavith Ehelepola to play crucial roles with the bat, while the former and deputy skipper Ehelepola took two wickets each to contain St. Anthony’s to 202 runs. A prominent feature of Richmond during this tournament was the dominant role played by their Sri Lanka Under 19 player Malsha Tharupathi. Tharupathi produced outstanding all-round feats to beat defending champions St. Joseph’s and St. Benedict’s in the quarter-final and the semi-final.
They have a strong batting line up from skipper Tharinda Nirmal, Helitha Edirisinghe, Thamindu Pradeeptha, Kavindu Nirmana, wicketkeeper batsman Janeth Kaushal to Tharupathi.
While Tharupathi is easily their top wicket taker, Nalaka Jaywardena, Nirmal and Sharon Abishek have all shared bowling responsibilities. Maheesha de Silva and Kaveesha Induwara have been economical with the new ball.
How they reached the final
Trinity beat St. Sebastian’s, Moratuwa and St. Anthony’s, Katugastota during the knockout stage after completing their first round matches as the third placed team in their group. They won five out of the eight matches during that phase.
Richmond have remained unbeaten during this tournament. They won all their eight matches in the first round to be the champions in their group. During the knockout stage they ousted defending champions St. Joseph’s and St. Benedict’s in a row to reach their second consecutive final.
Richmond (from): Tharinda Nirmal (Captain), Kavindu Nirmana (Vice Captain), Ruwan Jayawardena, Janeth Kaushal, Maheesha De Silva, Malsha Tharupathi, Sharon Abhishek, Thamindu Pradeeptha, Chehan Subasinghe, Sihath Ramanayake, Sasindu De Silva, Seneth Sisan, Kaveesha Induwara, Manuja Dulneth, Helith Edirisinghe, K.K Yuri, Pubudu Mihiranga, Charuka Gunasekara.
Nuwan Jayasinghe (Master in Charge), Lakmal de Silva (Head Coach), Umal Udayanga (Asst. Coach), Lahiru Madhuwantha (Asst. Coach)
Trinity (from): Rahal Amarasinghe (Captain), Vibhavith Ehelepola (Vice Captain), Theeraka Ranatunga, Supun Waduge, Manula Kularatne, Tharana Wimaladharma, Kusal Wijetunga, Dinusha Pieris, Dinuka Tennakoon, Jayavi Liyanagama, Janith Warnakula, Malith Rathnayake, Lakvin Abeysinghe, Wathila Udara, Yewan Hulangamuwa, Viduka Dhammage.
Brian Senaratne (Master in Charge), Naveen Ekanayake (Head Coach), Lakshitha Alahakoon (Asst. Coach)
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