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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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Kamindu Mendis needs to be persevered with

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Kamindu Mendis playing his first T-20 International in three years almost put Sri Lanka over the line on Wednesday at Dambulla

by Rex Clementine

A decade or so ago, Richmond College, Galle was winning all the silverware in school cricket. They played by a different set of rules. Often scoring 1000 runs and taking 100 wickets in the season had been seen as hallmark of a good player. But Richmond didn’t care for the personal milestones. They played to win. There were bold declarations, attacking field settings, free scoring batsmen and ambidextrous bowlers. Richmond thought out of the box.

Many of their players graduated to the Sri Lankan side after school cricket. Some of them have gone onto become household names of the game. Kamindu Mendis could go onto become the next big name in cricket from Richmond.

With Sri Lanka having taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three match T-20 series against Afghanistan at Dambulla, Kamindu Mendis was given a break in the dead rubber. He proved his mettle with an unbeaten 65 off 39 balls and nearly pulled off a win. It was his first game for Sri Lanka in three years.

For a 25-year-old on a comeback trial, the pressure didn’t take to Kamindu. He rotated the strike well and waited for the loose balls. His judgements were pretty good something that you can not tell about many young players these days.

One problem facing Sri Lankan cricket is that in white ball cricket among the top seven players there are not many bowling options. If you take successful Sri Lankan teams, among the top seven there were at least three bowling options. These were genuine batsmen who could bowl and that helped the selectors to balance the side.

Kamindu Mendis solves this problem for the current side. He is ambidextrous and can bowl finger spin from both hands and the left-arm spin is quite impressive. It’s a pity that he doesn’t bowl much these days in domestic cricket.

We all marvel that Sanath Jayasuriya took more ODI wickets than Shane Warne. Sanath’s bowling was largely neglected too until a certain Duleep Mendis called him to a side and told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to work on his bowling. Gradually Sanath improved his bowling. Maybe it’s time for Sanath to borrow a leaf out of Duleep’s book and give Kamindu a piece of his mind.

More than skill what impresses you about Kamindu is his temperament. He seem to have got a good head above his shoulders and these kind of players are rare these days in our backyard. Kamindu is a former Sri Lanka under-19 captain and authorities should start grooming him for bigger things.

Kamindu did get a chance in the Test side when the Aussies were in town in 2022. He made a polished 61 in the only innings Sri Lanka batted and never got to play Test cricket again. Let’s hope he doesn’t suffer the same fate in white ball cricket.

A solid batsman, someone who gives you plenty of bowling options and a secure fielder, you can not ask for more than that in white ball cricket. Kamindu has covers all the bases and needs to become a permanent fixture in the T-20 format. With Sri Lanka’s openers in ODI and T-20 cricket being right-handed, a left-handed option at number three isn’t a bad idea.

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Dialog powers historic Royal – Thomian for 19th time

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Lasantha Thevarapperuma – Group Chief Marketing Officer, Dialog Axiata PLC handing over the sponsorship to Rev. Marc Billimoria – Warden, S. Thomas’ College and Thilak Waththuhewa - Principal, Royal College. Also pictured (L) Rehan Gunasekera – CoChairman, Royal Thomian Match Organizing Committee From RC, Arjuna Waidyasekera – Co-Chairman, Royal Thomian Match Organizing Committee from STC

Dialog Axiata PLC, Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, has extended corporate backing for the 19th year as official sponsor of the country’s blue ribbon cricket encounter, the 2024 ‘Battle of the Blues’ between Royal College, Colombo, and S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia—played for the prestigious Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake Memorial Shield on March 7, 8 and 9 at the SSC Grounds, Colombo. The limited-over ‘Mustang’s Trophy’ match will be on March 16, also at the same venue.

The 145th cricket encounter will be aired LIVE on Dialog Television – ThePapare TV HD (Channel Number 126), live-streamed on ThePapare.com and the Dialog ViU App.

Further, Dialog initiated the ‘Play for a Cause’ charity initiative with a mission to uplift school cricket across Sri Lanka. Through a generous pledge of Rs. 1,000 for every run scored and Rs. 10,000 for every wicket taken, last year’s encounter raised a substantial donation of Rs. 1,128,000. The proceedings were distributed in consultation with the Principal of Royal College and the Warden of S. Thomas’ College. This commendable effort helped support and empower four deserving schools in the country.

In this year’s encounter, the boys from Mt. Lavinia will be led by Mahith Perera, while the lads from Reid Avenue will play under the captaincy of Sineth Jayawardena, the U-19 Sri Lanka skipper.

The ‘Royal-Thomian’ series spans an impressive 144 years, making it the second longest uninterrupted cricket series in the world, behind the annual encounter between St. Peters College, Adelaide, and Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, Australia, which began just a year earlier. This esteemed tradition kicked off in 1880 with a match at Galle Face, where the Taj Samudra Hotel is presently located. Both teams are said to have rowed boats over the Beira Lake to compete in the match. This storied rivalry predates even the renowned Ashes Series between Australia and England, underscoring its significance in the world of cricket.

The historic rivalry has been a testament to the enduring spirit of sportsmanship and camaraderie. The annual cricket match has been a symbol of excellence and mutual respect between the two institutions for over a century. The playing fields of the ‘Roy-Tho’ have the distinction of birthing cricketers who later became eminent heads of state, with S. Thomas’ producing the father of the nation, the late Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake MP whom the Shield is named after—and his son, the late Hon. Dudley Senanayake MP). Both were Prime Ministers of post-independent Ceylon. Meanwhile, Royal College produced the late Rt. Hon. (General) Sir John Kotelawala MP, also Prime Minister, and Sri Lanka’s first Executive President, the late J. R. Jayewardene.

The current tally between the two schools has Royal leading with 36 wins to S. Thomas’ 35, with the highly-debated match in 1885— where Royal College was all out for nine runs and refused to play on the second day—considered a win by S. Thomas’ and a draw by Royal (as described in the respective souvenir books of the two schools). In the 144th Battle of the Blues, under Dasis Manchanayake, Royal recorded a comprehensive 181-run win to register their first victory since 2016. The shield is presently displayed like a crown jewel amidst the silverware in the Royal College trophy cabinet.

Played in the highest tradition of excellence, the two schools have formed a bond of mutual respect, camaraderie, sportsmanship, and friendly adversaries on and off the field, which has stood for almost one-and-a-half centuries. As remarked by a yesteryear Principal of Royal College: “There is no Royal without S. Thomas’ and no S. Thomas’ without Royal.”

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Spinners put England in command on Day 2

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Shoaib Bashir bagged four wickets on Day 2 (Cricbuzz)

England’s spin duo of Shoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley put India in trouble on the second day of the fourth Test in Ranchi by sharing six wickets between them. After getting bowled out for 353 in their first innings, England kept striking at regular intervals despite Yashasvi Jaiswal’s efforts at the other end.

England made a positive start to the day with Ollie Robinson opening up to hit a flurry of boundaries to catch India off guard. He ended up stretching the stand over 100 runs alongside overnight centurion Joe Root with the latter taking a backseat on the second morning. In the process, Robinson ended up registering his first-ever fifty in Test cricket with India desperately searching for a breakthrough. That breakthrough arrived in the form of Ravindra Jadeja as Robinson gloved one to the ‘keeper while attempting to reverse sweep.

Jadeja then made quick work of the tail as Bashir first miscued one hoick and James Anderson got trapped lbw, leaving Root stranded on 122. England would have still been fairly pleased with the score of 353 though given they were reeling at 112/5 at one stage on the opening day. They received a massive boost with the ball too as Rohit Sharma ended up nicking Anderson behind very early in his innings.

Jaiswal on the other hand though got off to a bright start yet again. Having already smashed two double tons in the series, the opener was in great touch prior to the lunch break. He carried on the same vein post resumption as well but ended up watching a procession from the non-striker’s end. Bashir hurt India big time in the second session as he first trapped the well-set Shubman Gill lbw before getting rid of Rajat Patidar and Jadeja, who had smashed successive sixes prior to that.

Those three wickets put India on the backfoot and the onus was on Jaiswal again to revive the innings. The opener did  continue to pile on the runs but England managed to keep Sarfaraz Khan quiet at the other end. The visitors then took full control of the game when Jaiswal dragged one back on to his stumps to fall for 73. With half the side back in the pavilion and almost 200 runs still behind England’s tally, India needed a massive contribution from the lower order. However, England cashed in on their advantage as Hartley drew the outside edge of Sarfaraz before trapping R Ashwin leg-before-wicket. Kuldeep Yadav and Dhruv Jurel put up a brave fight batting out almost 18 overs before stumps but India still need a huge effort from the duo on the third morning to bridge the gap.

Brief scores:
India
219/7 (Yashasvi Jaiswal 73, Shubman Gill 38; Shoaib Bashir 4/84) trail  England 353 in 104.5 overs (Joe Root 122*; Ravindra Jadeja 4/67) by 134 runs

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