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Caught on a sticky wicket, Ranil’s glorious chance to emerge a shining knight  

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by Rex Clementine 

There are a lot of similarities between Sir Don Bradman and Ranil Wickremesinghe. Both men were immensely gifted. Breaking world records was child’s play for the finest batsman the world has seen, while the smartest politician the nation has seen is on the verge of equalling a world record after becoming the Prime Minister for the sixth time. The record is held by the former leader of the Christian Democratic Party, Giulio Andreotti, who was Italy’s Prime Minister on seven occasions.

Despite all his cricketing brilliance, Bradman was a very vindictive person. The dropping of Keith Miller in 1949 was inexplicable and can be put down to the fact that Bradman had an axe to grind with the greatest all-rounder at that time. Then, there’s also the case of Clarrie Grimmett, Australia’s best leg-spin bowler before World War II. He took 44 wickets in a five-match series in South Africa in 1936 but never played a Test again purely because he had a run-in with Bradman.

Ranil’s case is similar. He may not have had fallouts with party seniors, but he sidelined them fearing a challenge to leadership. Sirisena Cooray, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera and Karu Jayasuriya are cases in point. When the Presidential elections came around with his chances of winning slim, Ranil was more than happy to back an independent candidate rather than supporting someone from within the party for fear of losing the party leadership.

When G.R. Viswanath entered the scene in 1969, the Indian captain at the time, Tiger Pataudi, was quick to realize that this was a precious talent and moved down the batting order to allow the youngster to occupy the premium number four position. India benefited immensely as they never lost a Test match when Viswanath made a hundred. Ranil was never comfortable with such grooming strategies. As a result, the UNP has suffered immense setbacks.

Some are poking fun at our political system, given that Ranil had lost the last Parliamentary elections in an embarrassing fashion. He entered Parliament through the National List and today lives in Temple Trees!

At MCG, a drunk Aussie fan once asked Percy: Is it true that like monkeys, you Sri Lankans live on trees? Uncle Percy replied, ‘Yes, even our Prime Minister lives in Temple Trees!’

For the moment, people will not mind whether the democratic process had been followed or not in selecting Ranil as the PM as there are far worse concerns. Long queues in the quest for essentials and the skyrocketing cost of living loom as the greatest among them. Remember, when the Ashes was slipping away from England in 1981, Alec Bedser didn’t choose the team’s best player to rescue England. Instead, he picked Mike Brearley, one of the best brains in the game. For the record, Brearley never made a hundred in a Test match although he featured in 39 of them.

Like Brearley, Ranil could save our economy.

Brearley wasn’t the only captain cricket’s selectors had thrown into the deep end when faced with a crisis. Having lost the cream of players to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in 1977, Australia’s selectors called up Bobby Simpson, who was retired for a decade then, to take up the leadership at the age of 41! Ranil, at the age of 73, is the oldest UNP Prime Minister, older than D.B. Wijetunga.

Now that Ranil has been entrusted with an unenviable task, he better deliver or suffer the fate of Geoff Boycott. England were eyeing a Test win in Christchurch in 1977 but captain Boycott was not helping the team’s cause as he was batting too slow. Ian Botham ran out his skipper and England went on to win. Unless Ranil delivers, and fast, it’s only a matter of time before he too is left stranded. In Boycott’s team, there were many captaincy aspirants like Graham Gooch, Bob Willis, Derek Randall, Bob Taylor and Botham himself. We have plenty in our ranks with Prime Ministerial ambitions like Sirisena, Senaratne, Siripala, Premadasa, Ranawaka, et al.

In previous instances when Ranil took on the baton, he gave up the fight rather meekly after impressive starts.

Mahela Jayawardene, hailed as one of the greatest captains the nation has produced, had a golden opportunity to beat Pakistan 2-0 in a series in 2012 but preferred to settle for a 1-0 win. Instead of going all guns blazing, MJ opted for a handshake, playing it safe in Pallekele where Sri Lanka had the game in hand. Similarly, Ranil took over in 2001 with the economy in dire straits. Having fixed some of the problems the country was facing, he was making significant progress when President CBK clipped his wings by taking over three key ministries. Instead of fighting tooth and nail, Ranil like Mahela took the blow on the chin and merely looked on. The rest, as they say, is history.

A captain needs to have the support of his team. You pity Andrew Strauss, who faced the embarrassment of his own teammate Kevin Pietersen passing on tips to South African fast bowlers by sending text messages in Afrikaans. The South Africa-born Pietersen was a sensation as a batsman but could be a loose cannon if not handled carefully, very much like S.B. Dissanayake. When Ranil appointed Dissanayake as the National Organizer of UNP, eyebrows were raised as SB was a die-hard SLFPer. He was just marking time in UNP, passing on valuable information to the opposition, and made a timely defection. Like Strauss, Ranil suffered in silence. No one else was to be blamed but himself.

Once in power, Ranil tends to develop a close-knit circle full of Royalists who are not much aware of the ground reality. That was also Sanga’s problem. Not that he was pulling for any Trinitians, but he had another weakness, heavily backing players from Perera Gardens. Allegations that the 2011 World Cup final was fixed is a cock and bull story. However, some players in that squad didn’t deserve to be there. Sanga’s agent had a significant say in team selections, very much like Ranil’s loyal Royalists had on the economy. Sanga’s agent and Ranil’s Royalists are a recipe for disaster.

Richie Benaud said that captaincy was the ability to think ahead of the play and not keep responding to what takes place. Ranil has this in abundance as he predicted the economic crisis months in advance. Had he been in power, we could have probably avoided the crisis as well. However, his problem is that like Brian Lara, he is snobbish and his inability to engage lesser mortals becomes a problem.

To his credit, when he was in power, Ranil did try to clean up cricket. Sidath Wettimuny was one of the best Presidents we have had at SLC in many years. Ranil gave his fullest backing when Sidath tried to change the SLC constitution with the backing of the ICC. Alas! Maithripala’s camp comprised those who had interests in cricket as well and they crushed those plans.

Now that Ranil is back, there’s new found hope for both the economy and cricket. He needs to rescue both.



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SLR sees tradition challenged during troubled times 

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by A Special Sports Correspondent 

Rugby in Sri Lanka is at a standstill and there are many reasons for this. The main reason for this is Asian Rugby (AR) suspending the membership of Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR); the controlling body for rugby in Sri Lanka. The other reason is the chaotic situation in the country which has been brought about largely by the economic crisis.

This puts paid to Sri Lanka taking part in any regional tournaments. That could mean Sri Lanka’s chances of contesting the rugby sevens event of the upcoming Commonwealth Games is also in jeopardy. But there could be a way out of this murky situation for SLR if it conducts the AGM and has a free and fair election. AR is monitoring the rugby activities in Sri Lanka and even sent one of its representatives here to study the situation. AR proposed having the SLR AGM.

Our investigations into the events that have taken place in Sri Lanka’s rugby scene reveal that AR has found out that a democratic atmosphere doesn’t exist within the fraternity that the SLR controls. A representative from AR was here in April to conduct a probe on the rugby set-up here. The probe, according to news reports published in the web and leading national newspapers, revealed that all stakeholders of the game are not equally represented in SLR’s decision-making environment. Also, it has been revealed that the decision taken to suspend the SLR’s membership has been taken with the interest of maintaining Asian Rugby’s principles which are equality, transparency, and accountability.

It is also learned that the AR representative had made it known that the rugby set-up here in Sri Lanka was in need of an Annual General Meeting (AGM). This AGM would be called upon by the National Olympic Committee as desired by AR. A letter indicating the above has been sent to the minister of sports. According to the SLR its AGM is scheduled for August 27.

One of the major issues in local rugby is that Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU)-the union with the highest number of rugby clubs-has been denied voting rights at past AGMs due to the nonpayment of membership fees to the SLR. The clubs within the WPRFU have come together as a force and made a request through the competent authority- appointed by the former sports minister to control rugby-to grant voting rights to individual clubs at the AGM. This is because the WPRFU is facing obstacles in contesting this AGM. This practice of clubs voting at the SLR AGM was done away with many years ago. An SLR official asked why these clubs representatives now want to return to an old system of having voting rights for clubs when most of these individuals, when serving the SLR as officials, were quite happy with provincial unions having voting rights some years ago?

Rugby in Sri Lanka was once a happy family. This writer remembers the manner in which tradition was preserved at past AGMs. There was one year when the bidding present of the SLR (Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union then) Michael Jayasekara was challenged at a vote by another candidate for the post of president. Jayasekara withdrew his nomination at the last hour to ensure maintaining the tradition of the bidding present of the SLR not be contested at a vote.

Rugby AGMs in the past have been ‘healthy’ and camaraderie has prevailed even during a voting for other posts. These get-togethers have been like parties and representatives of clubs and provinces have caught up on old times after the voting concluded and new committees were formed. At present provincial unions are fighting for their ‘pound of flesh’ and dirty politics exists.

Just a few weeks ago the WPRFU organised an open club rugby sevens tournament and received much response from clubs. Several schools were also invited to take part in the tournament. WPRFU officials were quoted in newspapers saying that the purpose of organizing the rugby sevens tournament was to give an opportunity to club players to play rugby sevens because they were denied chances of playing rugby due to the  obstacles caused by the COVID pandemic during the past couple of years.  But the chaotic political and economic situation in the country didn’t support the commencement of this tournament, which was scheduled for May 14. As many as 18 teams had confirmed participation. For the record, last year, the WPRFU conducted the ‘Warriors Cup’ sevens tournament with much success.

In the same manner, the inter-club league rugby tournament is to be discontinued. This is due to the chaotic situation in the country. According to SLR President Rizly Illyas the council is in the process of naming table leaders Kandy SC as the winner; by taking into consideration points accumulated.

When contacted SLR President Rizly Illyas said that he together with his committee, overseeing the rugby operations in the island, has always given blessings to each provincial union to conduct its own tournaments.

The SLR headed by Illyas recorded a victory recently when they managed to bring an interim order suspending the enactment of the Gazette issued by the Ex-sports minister suspending the registration of the SLR with the Ministry of Sports. The interim order was issued by the Court of Appeal and is effective till June 30, according to news reports.

Illyas said that he hopes that there would be a free and fair election.

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Mathews and Dhananjaya keep Sri Lanka alive in second Test 

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Angelo Mathews and Dhananjaya de Silva each hit a fifty and put on a 102-run partnership to keep Sri Lanka going strong in the rain-hit second Test against Bangladesh yesterday.

Mathews remained unbeaten on 58 after de Silva went out with the same score to take Sri Lanka to 282-5 at stumps on the third day, still trailing Bangladesh by 83 runs.

Rain washed out entire post-lunch session but the duo stepped up their scoring rate to make up for lost time, with de Silva striking nine fours before Shakib Al Hasan got his wicket.

The right-hander, who faced 95 balls, was initially given not out on a caught-behind appeal before Bangladesh successfully reviewed.

Mathews, who smashed four fours and a six, was batting with Dinesh Chandimal on 10 at stumps.

Bangladesh made early inroads after Sri Lanka resumed on 143-2, Ebadot Hossain bowling nightwatchman Kasun Rajitha for a duck with the second ball of the day.

A gem of a delivery from Shakib dismissed Dimuth Karunaratne for 80 soon afterwards, with the Sri Lankan skipper adding 10 to his overnight score.

Shakib tossed the ball up on off-stump and Karunatne went for a drive but saw the flighted delivery dip and turn between bat and pad before crashing into his stumps.

Karunaratne, who was dropped on 37, struck nine boundaries in his 15th Test fifty.

De Silva hit Ebadot for three fours in one over just before the break after he and Mathews survived a difficult spell from the right-arm pace bowler and Shakib.

Shakib, the most successful bowler for Bangladesh so far, has claimed 3-59.

Apart from Shakib and Ebadot, the rest of Bangladesh bowlers failed to keep the pressure up serving too many boundary balls and the visitors were quick to cash in.

After losing Karunaratne early in the day, Mathews and de Silva were watchful and waited till the final session to up the tempo.

Sri Lanka will be eying a big first innings score and bat just once and then put the hosts under pressure with six more sessions remaining in the game. The wicket has offered some assistance for spinners but Sri Lanka’s spin duo of Ramesh Mendis and Praveen Jayawickrama hardly troubled the batsmen in the first innings. All nine Bangladesh wickets to fall for the bowlers were claimed by quicks with Kasun Rajitha accounting for his first five wicket haul. Asitha Fernnado finished with four wickets.

 Bangladesh staged a remarkable recovery after being reduced to 24 for five as Liton Das (141) and Mushfiqur Rahim (175*) added a record 282 run stand for the sixth wicket.

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Karunaratne solid in Sri Lanka reply after Mushfiqur heroics

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Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne made an unbeaten 70 as Sri Lanka reached 143 for two at stumps on day two of the second Test against Bangladesh on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Oshada Fernando struck half-centuries to help the visitors end the second day of the first Test against Bangladesh on 143 for two in Dhaka on Tuesday. While Oshada Fernando fell for 57, Dimuth Karunaratne stayed unbeaten on 70 with Sri Lanka still trailing by 222 after restricting Bangladesh to 365.

The day, however, belonged to Mushfiqur Rahim, who struck an unbeaten 175, and Kasun Rajitha, who bagged his maiden five-wicket haul. Bangladesh had staged a remarkable recovery in the opening day when they went from being 24 for five to ending the day on 277 for 5.

Litton Das was the first to fall on the second day – for 141 – as the 272-run stand with Rahim came to an end. Taijul Islam resisted for a bit while Rahim kept the runs coming but Sri Lanka too kept chipping away. Asitha Fernando ended with four with Ebadot Hossain becoming the last man to fall – to a run out as Rahim was left stranded.

Both Fernando and Karunaratne came out attacking and scored 84 in the first 22 overs to take the side to tea without any loss.

Fernando successfully reviewed a caught-behind decision against him to survive a close call while Karunaratne fetched his first boundary of the innings when he flicked Hossain behind square. The start was completely in contrast to the one Bangladesh made against the new ball on the first day. With wickets not appearing to come anytime soon, Mominul Haque turned to spin as early as in the eighth over as he brought on Shakib Al Hasan and Mosaddek Hossain.

Bangladesh finally struck in the fourth over post tea when Fernando fell to a poor shot against Ebadot. The pacer could have had two in the over but the team decided against a review against Karunaratne on the second ball of the over. Karunaratne was then given another reprieve when a sharp chance was dropped by the short leg fielder off the bowling of Taijul Islam.

Three overs before close, Kusal Mendis fell lbw to Shakib al Hasan after a patient 49-ball 11as Bangladesh managed to even things out but will be well aware there’s plenty of work remaining to be done on the third day, especially on a good track.

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