70 Years of Sri Lanka Air Force Sports
During the 70 years of existence, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) has produced some outstanding sportsmen and women who have brought immense glory to the country. The notable feature of most of these great men and women is that they have rendered their service not only in the field of sports but also in their own profession in the SLAF. The following achievements of these sports personnel have been written in gold in the annals of the SLAF.
First National Record by an Airman
Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Nagalingam Balasubramanium became the first airman to create a National Record, when he cleared a distance of 48 and 1/2 feet (14.64) at the triple jump event at the Quadrangle Athletics Meet on 28 November 1959.
Asian Games Representation
LAC Lakshman de Alwis became the first sportsman from Air Force to represent the country at the Asian Games, when he represented Ceylon at the 4th Asian Games held in Jakarta in 1962 in 200m and 400m events. De Alwis was the Ceylonese champion in 200m and 400m in early 1960s and established the national record for 400m (49.8) on 19 July 1964.
“Jets” relay team equals the National Record in 4 x 200m relay
Air Force relay team popularly known as the Jets Team equaled the National Record in 4 x 200m relay event on 7 September 1963 with a timing of 1:30.2 seconds. Earlier the Ace Athletic Club had established the national record. LAC Lakshman De Alwis, LAC RAC Hubert, LACG George and LAC Cristy Fernando represented the relay team.
LAC Maurice Coomerawel completes a hat-trick of wins at the prestigious Tour de Lanka Cycle Race
Coomarawel who represented the country at the Rome Olympics in 1960 had the distinction of winning the prestigious Tour de Lanka on four occasions. He initially won the race in 1960. Then he went on to complete a hat-trick of victories, by winning the Tour de Lanka in 1965, 1966 and 1967.
LAC GAS Gunasinghe represents the country in Boxing at the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica in 1966
Champion boxer LAC GAS Gunasinghe became the only Ceylonese Boxer to participate at the 8th Commonwealth Games in Jamaica in 1966. He represented the country at the International contest against India and Pakistan in 1963 and won a silver medal in the meet against Pakistan. He won a silver medal at Singapore Sports Festival held in August 1965 as well.
SLAF Soccer Team win the prestigious FA Cup in 1975 and 1986
The SLAF Soccer team was a leading soccer team in the country in 1970s and 1980s and won many major championships on offer. They won the FA Cup in 1975 and 1986 whilst producing champion players in the caliber of Mahinda Aluwihare, Sumith Walpola, Mahinda Palitha and Sampath Perera. In 1975, SLAF won the FA Cup under LAC Edmand Silva and Corporal SC Kapukotuwa led the team to victory in 1986.
Sergeant Wijaya Nimal Perera wins a bronze at the 8th Asian Games
Sergeant Wijaya Nimal Perera was an outstanding boxer produced by the SLAF. He won a bronze medal in Fly Weight Category at the 8th Asian Games in Thailand in 1978. He is the first SLAF athlete to have won a medal at the Asian Games. In 1974, Perera was selected as the Best Boxer at National Boxing Championship, Defence Service Boxing Meet, Clifford Cup, Layton Cup and Albert Perera Memorial Cup.
Squadron Leader Susil Fernando became the first Test Cricketer to be produced by the SLAF
SqnLdr Susil Fernando became the first Test cricketer to be produced by the SLAF, when he made his Test debut on 4 March 1983 against New Zealand as the 17th Test player of the country. He represented the country in five Tests. SqnLdr Fernando made his ODI debut in 1983 and played in seven ODIs from 1983 to 1984. The highlight of his career was the representation of the country at the Cricket World Cup in 1983 held in England.
SLAF Rugby Team wins the prestigious Clifford Cup in 1986
The finest moment of SLAF Rugby was the winning of Clifford Cup in 1986 under Corporal Lakshman Caldera beating a star-studded Police SC 10 -8. In the Quarter Finals, SLAF beat Navy SC 44 -10 and beat CH & FC 8-4 in the semifinal. A try in the extra time by Flying Officer Harsha Fernando helped Air Force SC beat CH & FC after the scores stood at 4-all at full time. Air Force SC confronted the mighty Policemen in the final on 16 August 1986 and scored a sensational 10-8 win to clinch club rugby’s richest prize – the Clifford Cup. Second row forward 5193 Corporal Lofty Perera (jnr) scored the solitary try for the Airmen, while 4450 Corporal Tony Wimalasuriya fired across two penalties.
Group Captain TB Marmbe represents Sri Lanka at three Rugby Asiads and captains the national Team at a match in Rugby Asiad in 1988
Group Captain Tikiri Marambe was one of the best Rugby players to represent SLAF. A Trinity Lion, he represented the national rugby team from 1982 to 1988 and captained the team against Korea at the Rugby Asiad in 1988. GpCapt Marambe, who represented Sri Lanka at three Rugby Asiad’s during the period is considered as one of the best scrum halfs produced by the country.
Group Captain Nalin de Silva excels for National 7s Rugby Team that wins the “Bowl” Trophy at the Hong Kong 7s in 1984
Known as the Iron man in Rugby circles, GpCapt de Silva represented the National Rugby team from 1982 to 1987 and was the Vice-Captain at the 8th Asian Rugby Asiad held in Singapore in 1982. He represented the National team at the Rugby Asiad held in Japan in 1984 and toured to Wales in 1984. GpCapt de Silva was a key member of National Sevens Team that won the “Bowl” Trophy at the Hong Kong 7s in 1984.
Corporal Nimali Liyanarchchi wins silver in 800m at the CISM World Military Games in China in 2019
The former national champion in the 800m and 1500m, Nimali Liyanarchchi brought immense glory to Sri Lanka and SLAF through her record breaking performances. During the 7th edition of the World Military Games, that was held in Wuhan, China in October 2019, Cpl Nimali Liyanarchchi won the silver medal in women’s 800m thus became the first silver medalist produced by Sri Lanka Defence Services at the World Military Games.
Air Cdre Padman de Costa
Former Secretary Air Force Sports Council and Defence Services Sports Board
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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