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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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Yupun heads to Oregon as the third-fastest sprinter in Asia  

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by Reemus Fernando   

Sprinter Yupyn Abeykoon, who is one of the three Sri Lankan athletes to have secured their passage to the upcoming World Championships in Oregon, finished fourth in the 100 metres at the final Wanda Diamond League meeting in Stockholm’s historic Olympic Stadium on Thursday.

Sri Lanka’s only athlete to have competed at a Diamond League meet, Abeykoon clocked 10.21 seconds for his fourth-place finish. In a social media post after the race, he said that the slow start and the negative wind he encountered in the race would provide stimulation for his next race.

With his post, he has given something for the track and field fans to look forward to when he ends a long wait to see a Sri Lankan sprinter at a World Championship.

It was his second appearance in a Diamond League where only the top-notch athletes compete. Only the names of three Asians, namely, Olympian Abeykoon, India’s Olympic javelin champion Neeraj Chopra and Japanese Olympian Ryuji Miura were to be seen in the results of the Stockholm Diamond League meeting published by World Athletics.

Despite the mere participation being an achievement, Abeykoon has not given reasons to be content. In his post, he said that he was not prepared to rest until he achieves the goals he has set.

“I’m never going to put my head down until I’m satisfied with the goal I want to achieve in my career. No matter how bad a condition could affect me, or no matter how authorities disrespect and undervalue my sacrifices and my ability to do better I will always do it for myself,” Abeykoon said in his post.

Abeykoon came almost close to achieving the tough World Championship qualifying mark of 10.05 seconds this season. His legal best was 10.06 seconds to a headwind of -0.2 though he had a wind-assisted (+2.3) feat of 10.04 seconds in May in Italy where he is based.

His appearance in the men’s 100 metres at the World Championships in two weeks’ time in Oregon ends more than a decade-old drought. After Shehan Ambepitiya competed at the Berlin World Championships in 2009 no Sri Lankan sprinter has taken part in the track and field’s biennial event during the past five editions.

Former national 100 metres record holder Chinthaka de Zoysa appeared in three consecutive championships from 1995 during the period which was widely considered the golden era of athletics in Sri Lanka. There was no one to continue his legacy until Ambepitiya emerged as a true contender following his World Junior Championship heroics (appearing in the final).

Like all track and field events, the men’s 100 metres has seen a dramatic improvement during the last decade. Ambepitiya who had to struggle due to injuries had a best of 10.46 in the year he represented the country at the World Championships. He was the fastest in South Asia but in the Asian region, there were dozens of others who were faster than him. Japan’s Masashi Eriguchi, who featured in both the World Championship and Olympic finals was Asia’s best that year but had only a personal best of 10.07 (+1.9).

This year, when Abeykoon features in the World Championships he is the third fastest in Asia behind Japan’s Ryuichiro Sakai (10.02secs) and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (10.04 secs) and will carry huge expectations. He secured his ticket to the World Championships by virtue of his ranking (42) in the World Athletics’ Road to Oregon list. Not many would bet on him to feature in the final but a sub 10 seconds feat would be within his reach. It would probably be one of his set goals and there wouldn‘t be a better place than a World Championship to accomplish that.

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Warne was ahead of his time – Arjuna

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Bitter rivals on the field, Arjuna Ranatunga was present to pay tribute to Shane Warne as Sri Lanka Cricket remembered the late leg-spinner during the first Test against Australia in Galle on Wednesday.

Rex Clementine in Galle

Their on field battles were spicy while their off field outbursts targeting each other were legendary. Both Arjuna Ranatunga and Shane Warne minced no words when it came to the other’s game or conduct. Yet, there was mutual respect between the two that was rarely noticed. When Warne wrote a book discussing the 50 greatest players he had played with or against, he had chosen Arjuna high in the pecking order. The World Cup winning Sri Lankan captain also revealed that Warne had wished him when he had become a Minister in 2015. In the public eye, they were sworn enemies. But off the field, their discussions ranged from field placings, fried chicken to kids.

Ranatunga showed up at the Galle International Stadium on Wednesday as Sri Lanka Cricket paid tribute to the leg-spinner who passed away in Thailand in March. The press were quick to catch up with him.

“Everybody knows about the run ins we had on the field but off the field we moved on well. Sri Lankans weren’t big fans of Warne, but soon after the tsunami when he came over to help, people started appreciating him as he touched their hearts,” Ranatunga told reporters.

“His death was devastating and our fans were sad. It’s a huge loss for the game as he was a brilliant student and ahead of his time. As some say, he was the best captain that Australia never had, elaborated Ranatunga.

“During our time, leg-spin was sort of a dying art. Except for Anil Kumble, Mushtaq Ahmed and Warney there weren’t many leg-spinners around. You have spinners with smooth actions and it’s good to watch. But a spinner has to turn the ball. That’s the main thing. Warney was able to do that and that was an indication that this was someone who is going to be special.”

Even to this day, for those who are engaged with the game, Arjuna emphasizes on dressing up smart as they are ambassadors of the game. One of the players he had captained is a prominent official these days and in Galle he had got an earful from the ex-captain for failing to iron his shirt. However, in Australia, a country where he has few friends, Arjuna is seen as someone who played the game ugly and even bent the rules for the advantage of his team.

“That’s something that we learned from Australia. When you go to Australia they are very tough, play the game hard and always want to win. We borrowed it from them and then used it on them. In order to compete with Australia, you have got to match their aggression and you may not be the most popular guy,” remarked Arjuna.

The legend of Warne was born at the SSC in 1992 when Sri Lanka snatched victory from the jaws of defeat losing the game by 16 runs having dominated the match for the most part. Warne cleaned up the tail picking up three wickets for no runs.

“Warne was picked at the right time. He was lucky that he had a clever captain in Allan Border. In that SSC Test, we knew that if he had bowled well in the second innings we would struggle. Still disappointed to lose that Test by the narrowest of margins as that would have been our first Test win against Australia. But that’s how the game goes. We knew from the start that Warne was special.”

“Our plan with Warney was to attack him. We knew that if we played defensively, it was just a matter of time before he got us out. Overall I would like to think that our strategy against him worked but we had bad days as well. He was too good a bowler not to come up with something to counter us. During the initial stages, I thought he wasn’t very comfortable when we attacked him. But then he developed and towards the tail end of my career he was a different bowler.”

The series between Australia and Sri Lanka has been named ‘Warne – Murali Trophy’. Which of the two spinners is the greatest?

“They were great bowlers who played for teams with different outlooks. For example, Warney played in a side that had guys like McGrath, Lee and Gillespie. Those guys had taken about three or four wickets by the time he had come and bowl. In the case of Murali, apart from Vaasy who takes a wicket or two, he had a tough ask. He had to come to bowl earlier on. Sometimes he had to take from wicket number one to last man. That’s not easy. One had a lot of time and opportunities to take wickets. The other had to share his wickets with other bowlers. Australia is a team that had so many great players. In Sri Lanka, Murali was a loner. Their rivalry was great to watch. Murali is a competitive guy and he wanted to take at least one wicket more than Warney. I thought that Murali gave his best when he played the Aussies.”

“I liked listening to Warne in commentaries. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind out. He was outspoken and forthright, which is rare among cricket commentators these days. His cricket brain was ahead of his time.”

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Sri Lanka suffer heavy defeat in Galle after dramatic collapse

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Travis Head had never claimed a Test wicket in his career and yesterday in Galle in just 17 deliveries he accounted for four wickets as Sri Lanka collapsed in dramatic style to lose the first Test by ten wickets

Rex Clementine in Galle

After an impressive ODI series win, the national cricket team is back to square one as they suffered a heavy ten wicket defeat in the first Test in the most embarrassing way inside three days here in Galle. Sri Lanka were shot out for 113 runs in their second innings in 22.5 overs as it took Australia less than a session to run through the opposition with spinners sharing all ten wickets. It’s Sri Lanka’s second lowest total ever in Galle.

Trailing by 109 runs in the first innings, Sri Lanka started off well as the openers added 37 runs for the first  wicket. Mitchell Starc’s first over had gone for 17 runs including four boundaries. That was the end of seam as Pat Cummins reverted to an all spin attack and the trio of Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Swepson and Travis Head ensured that Australia were home before lunch.

The Australian batters had used the sweep shot to great effect and Sri Lankans took a leaf out of them trying to bat themselves out of trouble with the high risk stroke. But there was a significant difference. Sri Lanka’s bowling was wayward and all over the place while the Australians were on the money and it was just a matter of time before the batsman perished.

Dimuth Karunarante and Pathum Nissanka fell in successive overs and then Kusal Mendis and Oshada Fernando departed in the space of seven deliveries as Sri Lanka were reduced to 63 for four.

A 32 run stand followed between Dinesh Chandimal and Dhananjaya de Silva for the fifth wicket and Pat Cummins figured that Swepson had become predictable. Then he threw the ball to part-timer Travis Head, who had never taken a Test wicket in his career. Soon, he became lethal polishing the lower order as he picked up four wickets in 17 deliveries.

Head claimed his maiden Test wicket with his second delivery as Chandimal was bowled neck and crop. The batsman was standing in disbelief after the ball had spun sharply and went through the gate. Three deliveries later, Dhananjaya de Silva was trapped leg before wicket to leave Sri Lanka with the tail. There was not much resistance as the last six wickets fell for 13 runs as Australia wrapped the Test match inside three days. Australia needed just five runs for victory and Warner leveled the scores with a reverse sweep for four off Ramesh Mendis in the third ball of the innings. The next ball he launched for a six to win the game in style before lunch.

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