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Cricket’s Iron Lady

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by Rex Clementine

The world is celebrating the election of Kamala Harris, the first female Vice-President of the US. But hey, we Sri Lankans had a woman as our Prime Minister more than half a century ago. Some of our women have been trendsetters and their visionary leadership has been remarkable and exemplary. In cricket circles, you find more and more women taking up leadership roles. Sri Lanka set the trend in appointing a woman to run one of game’s showpiece events when they hosted the World T-20 in 2012. Upeka Abeykoon is her name.

The World T-20 in 2012 is the biggest sporting event the nation has hosted so far. The men’s and women’s events were scheduled simultaneously and hosting 20 international teams is a herculean task. Upali Dharmadasa’s committee met to decide on a Tournament Director. There were other accomplished men in both cricket and corporate sectors like Sidath Wettimuny, Ajit Jayasekara, Nuzki Mohammad and Prakash Schafter to name a few in that committee and they unanimously decided on  Upeka.

Ours is not an effort to say that Upali Dharamdasa was a paragon of virtue. His decision to sack Geoff Marsh took our cricket backwards and cost Sri Lanka Cricket an arm and a leg. He also conspired with a senior player against his own captain. But he needs to be given due credit for making that tough call. Upeka Abeykoon became the first woman to be the Director of a cricket tournament.

The obstacles Upeka had were many. She had only 11 months to prepare for the event. The tournament consisted double headers and hence extra dressing rooms had to be put in place at cricket centers like Pallekele and RPS. In order to cater to 20 teams, umpires, match referees and officials, the organizing arm had to make sure they reserved 800 hotel rooms in both Kandy and Colombo.

Colombo had many options but Kandy was a tough one. Upeka prevailed venturing into nearby Dambulla where you find very good hotel facilities. The idea to airlift match officials and teams to Pallekele from Dambulla was mooted but with the help of police escorts all involved in games were brought to venues in double quick time by road.

To cater to the needs of such a big contingent plus the world’s media and fans, Upeka recruited some 12,000 volunteers. Mostly school leavers, these volunteers became immensely popular among fans and overseas media as they won everyone over with the typical Sri Lankan hospitality.

Another feather in Upeka’s hat was introducing an online ticketing system for the first time in Sri Lanka. The system was not only secure but took away many hassles as well such as waiting in long queues and purchasing tickets in the black market paying through your nose. The black market mafia that frequents RPS was literally wiped out thanks to the online ticketing system and all credit to Upeka.

People often make jokes of Upeka’s height – five feet no inches. But there aren’t many individuals in the cooperate world who are as smart and as diligent as she is. Here’s an example.

Politicians often want hundreds of tickets for cricket games to be given away for kith, kin and supporters. It’s a tricky issue that Sri Lanka Cricket had been afraid to take head on for years. Upeka’s method worked. Politicians were cut to size and fair play prevailed thanks to the online ticketing system. From the Sports Minister to the ordinary cricket fan all were served with the same spoon. Sports media loved Upeka for this. Many men had failed to tackle this issue. But she came off with flying colours in her first assignment itself and for this sports media called her the iron lady for not many people take on politicians and survive.  

Upeka’s theories were interesting. She believed that no one is indispensable, even herself.  She told her team that even if something were to happen to her lead up to the event, the tournament had to finish successfully. The nation put out a spectacular event. The ICC congratulated SLC on a fine show.

Following the success of Upeka in other parts of the world, women were entrusted in running cricket events. Accordingly, Jennifer Nero conducted the T-20 World Cup for women in 2018 in the Caribbean and  Andrea Nelson has been put in charge of Women’s’ World Cup in New Zealand in 2022.



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Lashmika, Rusanda guide St. Peter’s to final

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Under 19 Division I Tier ‘B’ Semi-Final

by Reemus Fernando

A vital knock of 96 runs by Rusanda Gamage and a six-wicket haul by Lashmika Perera powered St. Peter’s to convincing 105 runs victory over Mahinda in the Under 19 Division I Tier ‘B’ semi-final played at Thurstan College ground on Tuesday.

Chasing a target of 262 runs to win Mahinda lost wickets at regular intervals to be bowed out for 156 runs with nine overs remaining in their innings.

Introduced to the bowling attack as the seventh bowler, spinner Lashmika Perera rattled the batting line up with a six-wickethaul. After being 106 for three wickets at one stage, Mahinda collapsed dramatically only to see the last wicket pair of Arosha Udayanga and Kaveen Rukshan delaying the inevitable for ten overs.

They added 37 runs for the last wicket before Perera trapped Rukshan lbw for 23 runs to take his sixth wicket. His figures read 6-0-19-6.

Earlier batting first, Gamage was the key for St. Peter’s as he top scored with 96 runs. Gamage held their batting together till late facing as many as 125 balls before being stumped off the bowling of Tharusha Dilshan. Dilshan with a four-wicket haul was the pick of the bowlers for Mahinda.

Gamage also had the support of Sanshay Gunathilaka with whom he added a 100 runs partnership, while Shannan Rodrigo made a quick-fireknock of 49 runs inclusive of three sixes.

St. Peter’s will now meet Thurstan

in the Tier ‘B’ final.

Scores:

St. Peter’s

261 for 9 in 50 overs (Vishen Helambage 26, Rusanda Gamage 96, Sanshay Gunathilaka 23, Shannan Rodrigo 49, Kavika Jayasundara 19; Tharusha Dilshan 4/47)

Mahinda

156 all out in 41 overs (Dinura Kalupahana 36, Dhanuja Induwara 20, Ranmina Hettiarachchi 22, Kaveen Rukshan 23; Lashmika Perera 6/19)

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Sri Lanka’s direct World Cup qualifying chances fading away

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It remains to be seen whether Sri Lanka bring in spin-bowling all-rounder Dunith Wellalage for today’s must-win game.

Rex Clementine at Pallekele

Following Sunday’s torrential rain here at Pallekele, Sri Lanka’s hopes of winning the three-match ODI series against Afghanistan vanished and the hosts now can only hope of squaring the series by winning today’s final game. Afghanistan had won the opening encounter by 60 runs after Sri Lanka’s middle order failed to show up and although the second game looked to be in their hands after Afghanistan were reduced to a modest 228, rain squashed Sri Lanka’s hopes.

What’s a bigger headache for Sri Lanka is that their hope of qualifying directly for next year’s World Cup in India is fading away fast. Afghanistan secured automatic qualification for the sport’s showpiece event following Sunday’s result as both teams shared the ten points available from the game. They are currently placed seventh with 115 points while Sri Lanka are languishing at tenth place with 67 points and four games left.

Three of those games are in New Zealand and Sri Lanka need to win three of the remaining four games to have any hopes of qualifying directly. That will be a tough ask against a New Zealand side in their backyard.

In case Sri Lanka don’t make it, they will have to play a qualifying round involving West Indies, Ireland, Netherlands, Zimbabwe and five other teams that come through from a lower league. The top two teams in this ten-nation tournament will then progress to the World Cup.

It remains to be seen whether Sri Lanka bring in spin-bowling all-rounder Dunith Wellalage for today’s must-win game. The hosts had been backing seam-bowling all-rounder Dhananjaya Lakshan for the first two games.

The wicket looks dry, and Afghanistan could back left-arm wrist spinner Noor Ahmad for today’s clash. The Chinaman bowler is no stranger to Sri Lanka having featured in the Lanka Premier League.

Pathum Nissanka, Charith Asalanka and Kasun Rajitha, who travelled home from Kandy for their engagements and wedding on Monday returned to Kandy the same day and were at training at Pallekele yesterday.

Sri Lanka:

(Probable XI) Dasun Shanaka (Captain), Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dhananjaya Lakshan or Dunith Wellalage, Maheesh Theekshana, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara..

Afghanistan:

(Probable XI) Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Ibrahim Zadran, Hashmatullah Shahidi (Captain), Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Yamin Ahmadzai or Noor Ahmad, Fazalhaq Farooqi.

Umpires:

Nitin Menon (India) and Lyndon Hannibal (SL)

Third Umpire:

Ravindra Wimalasiri (SL)

Match Referee:

Ranjan Madugalle

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Straight bats and brickbats

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Rex Clementine at Pallekele

People who never in their lives played with a straight bat want us to embrace ethics. Sportsmen all over the world are taught to maintain ethical behaviour although there have been few exceptions.

Australians play sport so tough that they hate losing. They are friendly people but they suffer from what people call ‘white line fever’. That means once they cross the boundary rope, they are a different beast. Certain eastern European countries are accused of providing dope to their athletes in a bid to win medals at showpiece events like the Olympics. At home, we have the classic example of Fr. Trevor Martin of St. Peter’s who adopted a win at any cost culture that prompted some to comment that Fr. Le Goc, a French Missionary and the founder Rector of St. Peter’s, must be spinning in his grave.

Sports teach you more things than winning. It teaches you to remain grounded. It inculcates the virtues of patience and perseverance. It helps you to build an attitude of hanging in there. It reminds you to be gracious in defeat and humble in victory. These are lessons that will stand you in good stead in life where you meet success and failures to a good share.

Those who have not played the sport in the right way when they were young are the ones who play spoil sport when they grow up. For example, we have a person who thought that carrying the captain’s bag would earn him a place in the side rather than talent alone. Eventually, he ended up playing more games than the wickets he took. Now he is talking of ethics in sport.

The same person plotted a bloodless coup to bring down Ashantha de Mel, who in his twin role as Manager cum Chairman of Selectors had to leave sooner than he was supposed to.

Then having ousted de Mel, the straight bat sought political intervention to get to the powerful position. General Shavendra Silva who had the final say in nominating people to sports bodies vehemently opposed. However, there was too much political pressure to ignore Mr. Straight Bat.

You may not have agreed with Ashantha all the time, but he had one virtue that is to explain his decisions and his expectations. When his methods didn’t work, he was the first one to owe up to his mistakes.

De Mel had little idea that men in his own committee were leaking information. Now the same men who adopted underarm tactics to seize power are preaching about straight bats.

The only thing they know in life and sports are brickbats and if they have got no skeletons to hide let them come openly and explain their decisions. Their flawed policies may have cost Sri Lanka automatic qualification for the next year’s World Cup. Let them be held accountable.

The same people who boast about the Asia Cup win and being ranked third in the Test championship have conveniently forgotten that under their watch Sri Lanka lost Mohali and Bangalore Tests inside three days. A nation’s reputation was ruined because they didn’t follow the simple rule that an injured player needs to return home without fiddling around dating apps. Having compromised on discipline and fitness, now they are washing their hands off without taking responsibility. Of course, you can talk discipline only with people who have discipline in their lifestyles. Not the ones who assault board officials who are your father’s age. Certainly not from those who cut acres of pristine forest land for banana cultivation or defraud government institutions by going against the tender process.

Cricket more than any other sport, reminds us of fair play and being above board. When people without an iota of self-respect are at the helm what more can we expect.

The same individual ran a campaign against the administration a few years ago with a newly formed body called Cricketers’ Association. He couldn’t win a cricket election so he came through an interim committee promising to look after the retired cricketers, a pension scheme for players, decent salaries for players and much more. Once he got power, all his pledges were forgotten and instead he was at daggers’ drawn with the players themselves.

The Cricketers’ Association was used as cat’s paw to gain power. Once they got the power the body ceased to exist. There’s no active cricketers’ association at present and many are the senior cricketers who have got to go around with the begging bowl to look after their medication and other needs.

Biting off the hand that once fed them is nothing new to these new rich. Their memories of Tichborne Lane have faded fast.

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