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Cricket’s greatest is 85 today

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Sir Garry Sobers with Sri Lanka's captain Duleep Mendis and deputy Roy Dias.

by Rex Clementine

Sir Don Bradman called him the ‘greatest cricketing being to have ever walked the earth,’ and in Sri Lanka, he is considered as someone who shaped the careers of many players. Sir Garry Sobers turns 85 today. He was hired by the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka in 1980s and his influence benefited a young cricket team to rub shoulders with formidable opponents of the game.

Sir Garry accompanied the team to a couple of tours to England, including the 1983 World Cup.

It is a well known secret that Sir Garry had handpicked Arjuna Ranatunga during the early days. But Arjuna lost his place in the side. When Sir Garry returned, one of the first things that he insisted on was having Arjuna back in the side.

During the 1983 World Cup, training at Headingley, Sri Lankan batsmen were struggling to put bat to ball as Ashantha de Mel was swinging the ball all over the place. Sir Garry couldn’t understand what the fuss was. He borrowed a glove from Sidath Wettimuny and a pad from Arjuna, drew out a stump and started hitting De Mel all over the park. He was 47 at that stage.

His reading of wickets was impeccable having spent many seasons at Trent Bridge as Nottingham’s overseas player.

There was this rain affected county game and the wicket was damp. When asked what Duleep Mendis intended to do, he was told that the captain wanted to field first. Sir Garry advised not to do so and to bat first. His reason. In the morning it may be tough to bat but there was no physical danger. Batting second would be impossible. Duleep followed the instructions. True to form De Mel hit a few batsmen.

Sir Garry was an expert in more than one subject. He knew his horses too and he would earn a thumping amount backing and betting on the right horse.

The team hotel the Sri Lankans were staying during the 1983 World Cup also accommodated a few other teams. Sir Garry was upset about the treatment his players were getting from the hotel staff while the big boys he felt were better looked after. He waited for the right opportunity.

One day, the Sri Lankan team had returned to the hotel after a function and the players were waiting at the lobby. The phone rang. It was for Sir Garry. The receptionist said, ‘Call for Mr. Sober.’ Sir Garry did not move. After some time, the receptionist looked at the coach and asked, ‘Are you Mr. Sobers? There is a call for you.’

Sir Garry then walked up to the receptionist and said, ‘Lady, I am not Mr. Sobers. I am Sir Garry Sobers. I didn’t ask for it. Your Queen gave it to me.’

Sanity prevailed. The Sri Lankans were well looked after from there on.

As Roy Dias recalled one day, going around with Sir Garry was like walking with the King. He commanded so much respect.

Ad multos annos.



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Old problems resurface for Sri Lanka in World Cup warm-up

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Maheesh Theekshana is expected to join the Sri Lankan side later this week ahead of the team’s opening fixture against South Africa in Delhi.

by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka suffered a heavy seven wicket loss to Bangladesh in their first World Cup warm-up game in Guwahati on Friday and have an opportunity to address some of the issues when they take on Afghanistan in another warm-up game at the same venue on Tuesday.

The former champions failed to utilize the full quota of 50 overs, a problem that they have encountered for quite some time now. Test captain Dimuth Karunaratne had been drafted into the ODI outfit in a bid to bat through the innings, but during the warm-up game, he was batting in the lower middle order instead of opening.

Sri Lanka’s preferred choice to open batting was Kusal Perera and Pathum Nissanka and maybe that’s the combination they are going to stick with during the tournament.

KJP had got off to a flying start making 34 off 24 balls but had to retire hurt with a right shoulder injury. The injury is not thought to be serious, but the player has been out of cricket for a considerable time in the last two years due to injuries.

Sri Lanka are already without key bowlers Dusmantha Chameera and Wanindu Hasaranga, both of whom are injured.Maheesh Theekshana, who is recovering from a hamstring injury is expected to travel to India on the 4th of October lead up to Sri Lanka’s opening fixture of the tournament against South Africa in Delhi.

Captain Dasun Shanaka again failed to fire having been dismissed for three runs off 17 balls. Sri Lanka have resisted moves to sack the captain just before the World Cup but if his wretched run continues the selectors will be left with Hobson’s choice.

Bangladesh chased down the target of 264 with eight overs to spare. The manner in which the run chase was achieved is further indication that conditions will be batting friendly in India during World Cup and unless teams post scores of 300 plus, they are going to struggle.

Sri Lanka will play two games each in Delhi, Bangalore and Lucknow while they also have got games at Hyderabad, Pune and Bombay.

The 13th edition of the World Cup gets underway on Thursday with a game between 2019 finalists England and New Zealand in Ahmedabad.

Since reaching the finals in 2011, the Sri Lankan team has failed to qualify for the semi-finals of the sport’s showpiece event. They were losing quarter-finalists in 2015 and were knocked out in the opening round in 2019.

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SSC All Ceylon Open Badminton Championship to kick off on October 7

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The stage is set for exciting action as the SSC Western Province All Ceylon Open Badminton Championships will take place from October 7-15at the SSC Indoor Badminton Courts and the Mercantile Badminton Courts in Colombo.

The tournament, organized by Sri Lanka Badminton in collaboration with the SSC Sports Club and the Western Province Badminton Association (WPBA), will feature a comprehensive lineup of events, catering to players of all ages. Competitions will be held across four distinct categories: Open, Senior, Junior, and Junior Under 11, 13, 15,17and 19 Boys and Girls Singles and Doubles events.

In the Senior category, competitions will be held in Men’s and Women’s Singles and Doubles as well as Mixed Doubles for various age groups, including over 30, 35, 40, 45,50, 55,60, 65and70.

The Open category also promises thrilling matchups in Men’s and Women’s Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles. The losers of the Women’s and Men’s Open Singles semi-finals will have the opportunity to compete for the plate trophies, ensuring an extra layer of excitement.

The champions, runners-up, and semi-finalists will receive coveted certificates and trophies as a testament to their skills, while the title winners will be rewarded with a substantial prize pool of one million rupees.

The SSC/WPBA All Ceylon Open Badminton Championship is powered by its sponsors, including Mcfoil, Mobil, Li-Ning, 3M, and GAC who are commitment to promoting badminton in Sri Lanka.

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Niluka announces retirement

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Niluka Karunaratne stretches for a return against Wong Choong Hann of Malaysia during their men's singles match in the mixed team preliminary round at the

Sri Lanka’s most accomplished shuttle star Niluka Karunaratne officially announced his retirement from international competitive badminton representing Sri Lanka on Sunday while representing the country at a forum in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters.

It heralds the end of an era that began more than two decades ago driven by an insatiable appetite for success at domestic and international level with a never-say-die attitude to attempt what seemed impossible in his quest to bring glory to Sri Lanka.

“I have represented my country very actively, consistently and continuously for 22 years. I have conducted myself with lot of discipline, lot of courage and lot of passion. My passion was to represent my country,” a communique issued on his behalf quoted him as having said. NIluka represented Sri Lanka National Team as a 15-yearold in the Asian Badminton Championship in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2000.

His phenomenal achievements of being a 17-time national champion, three-time Olympian and winning 34 international medals is the legacy of his unwavering determination, dedication and discipline he adhered to like a religion during his career.

It is difficult for someone who has a passion and temperament for the sport of badminton to hang up his racquet for good. “I have been contemplating this for some time. There are lot of young athletes coming up. Even though I am eager and have the passion to continue, it’s my responsibility and time to hand over to the next generation and following generations to prepare. If we can do that now, we can have better players than me in upcoming years,” said Niluka.

He had already quit playing local competitions after bagging his 17th national title two years ago. The 38-year-old played his last international tournament in Lisbon, Portugal in February this year.

“I will be very much involved in the development of badminton and also all sports in Sri Lanka. Having worked hard before as an athlete for myself to represent my country, I’m motivated and eager to serve my country in a different way to develop the next generation of athletes to represent the country to compete internationally, give them exposure and bring glory to Sri Lanka. That is my utmost aim and ambition,” said Niluka who is full of energy to begin a new journey after waging fierce battles on court.

Niluka had been playing since the age of eight but it was in the year 2000 that a 15-year-old showed great character and courage to become a future legend of the sport.

The defining moment of his career took place when he was undergoing residential training for two weeks at the Maitland Place headquarter of the Sri Lanka Badminton Association for a tournament in the Maldives. “Every day the coach was saying we can beat everyone but not India. I was at Royal and not living in Colombo but coming from Balapitiya. I was shocked because I was brought up in a surrounding where parents taught me nothing is impossible. I never heard the word I can’t. My father was not in the country to get advice,” recalled Niluka.

The girls in the squad chided him when they saw him in tears for several days after practice and brought it to the notice of SLBA officials. “If we can’t win, I’m not going to take part or go on the tour,” an emotionally charged Niluka told them. He was assured by then SLBA president Eraj Wijesinghe who gave him all encouragement while the coach was admonished for demotivating the players instead of training players to win.

Looking back with pride at his stance when he was just 15, Niluka said he became motivated by the positive approach of Eraj Wijesinghe. Niluka went on to win three gold medals on his international debut at the South Asian Junior (Under 16) tournament and the rest as they say is ‘history’.

The highlight of his career was leading Sri Lanka at the 2012 London Olympics, the first Royalist and only badminton player to do so. He beat Japan’s number one and world ranked number eight in the first round to be among the top 16 players. He has won five gold medals in all five continents.

His first international final was on November 6, 2003 on his father Louie Karunaratne’s birthday. “He has been my coach and my inspiration. I started because of him only,” said Niluka of his father who has played badminton, first class cricket and was also a swimmer.

“It’s been a hell of a journey. People think I have been there for a long time. It is because I achieved a lot at a very young age. Then you will be there for a long time,” he said. (Media Release)

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