The action shifts to the Test cricket from a long vacuum of dried up international fare for the Sri Lankans by the raging COVID-19 pandemic as Dimuth Karunaratne’s men flex their muscles in a high buoyance for todays Boxing Day Test versus a rather new look South African outfit at Centurion Park. That charged up mood in the Lankan camp is derived by the historic 2-nil drubbing Karunaratne’s men handed out to the Proteas in their own backyard when the two nations last met in December 2019- January ‘20.
Indeed, the 32-year old Karunaratne will carry that high buoyance streak in the final countdown when the two sides draw the battle lines backed by his stealthy trade mark cool and calculated daring dash accentuated by a lucky captain element heightened by the left hander’s stealthy, specialist opening batsman role upfront. That it will be on a Centurion batting oriented turf of which the Lankan skipper has in the pre-match press confab pepped up his batting juggernaut to be keyed up to, will be the center piece to the unfolding contest where the predictable willow works are expected to dictate the fortunes of the opening test. No doubt, Karunaratne will be looking to a tight reigning upfront role with the bat which the 9-century strong experience the Lankan skipper will look to maximise to put his side on top in a contest which according to reports flitting in Sri Lanka is expected to cap a few promising new players. The sword edged upswing the Sri Lankans will carry is that there quite a number of tried and tested players who starred in bringing down the South Africans when they last met. That the Karunaratne influence in that landmark feat was a double icing on the cake in terms of self and country in a truly remarkable Cinderella fairytale type of emergence from the unknown to anointing his name as a highly potential captain in a feat that many of his predecessors had failed in Protea land is tall stuff. In that turn around, it is significant that Dimuth Karunaratne achieved the near impossible catapulted having been handed the high profile job in a shaky period that Sri Lanka had not won a single match in over two months. His stocks further rose when he was appointed the ODI captain as well ahead of the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup.
That apart, the Sri Lankans possess in their ranks a world record breaking batsman in a fourth innings chase in Kusal Janith Perera who did just that versus the South Africans in the first testwith an all-time great match winning unbeaten 153 in a last ditch stand. Significantly, the 22-member Lankan squad basking of dashing batsman Kusal Mendis and the recalled inform Dinesh Chandimal is a mixture of experience and new talent. While there are several players from the successful squad that toured last time, the uncapped are Wanindu Hasaranga, Minod Bhanuka, Asistha Fernando, Santhush Gunathilake and Dilshan Madushanka.
The Karunaratne element to the Lankan team is derived from a sound past of having become Sri Lanka’s leading Test batsman since 2015 by his century making in the second innings of a Test match. Four of his centuries in the second innings were out of six centuries he made until October 2017. On 7 October 2017, Karunaratne became the second Sri Lankan opener after Tillakaratne Dilshan to score three Test centuries in a calendar year.
Overall, it is a confidence high Lankan outfit that has touched down in South African shores questing for a repeat performance against a home team that had some early COVID-19 related player worries. What is more, South Africa will be going into a series with new trappings from the last series with a new captain in de Kock who has replaced Faf du Plessis when the two sides last met, while out of the equation from the 2019 squad are star batsman Hashim Amla, Kagisso Rabada through injury and Dale Steyn.
For the record, Sri Lanka defeated South Africa in the 1st Test by 1-wicket at Durban chasing down 304 on the final day with Kusal Janith Perera doing the impossible in the breathtaking drama of a 200-ball 153 in 309 minutes powered by 12 boundaries and 5 sixes. That the final assault was mounted in the make or break death stages yielding a record 78 runs for the last wicket with Vishwa Fernando whose contribution was 6 off 27 balls consuming 73 minutes was the high point of it. South Africa, batting first made 235 and 259 and Sri Lanka 191 and 304 for 9. Another feature of that win was Perera top scoring in the first innings as well with 51 off 63 (7×4, 1×6). Skipper Karunaratne’s 30 off 59 (3×4) was the next best. Sri Lanka went on to win the second test by 8 wickets chasing down 197 at Port Elizabeth with Kusal Mendis the Player of the Match with an unbeaten 84 off 110 (13×4) and one drop batsman Oshada Fernando undefeated on 75 off 106 (10×4, 2×6) in a total of 197 for 2. South Africa made 222 and 128 with Suranga Lakmal claiming 4 for 39, Dhananjaya de Silva 3 for 36 and Kasun Rajitha 2 for 20. Sri Lanka made 154 in the first innings with Niroshan Dickwella top scoring with 42. Karunaratne’s contributions of 17 and 19 and 30 and 20 in the series, though not high stuff, measured in terms of holding the batting together.
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.
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.
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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