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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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Ramesh Mendis set to debut in Galle

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Rex Clementine at Galle Fort

Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda has presented the nation with some exceptional talents be it cricket, basketball, swimming, military, public service or politics. Ramesh Mendis could be the latest sensation to come from the school as he is expected to make his Test debut today against England in the second Test here in Galle.

The 25-year-old Mendis is expected to play instead of Dasun Shanaka as Sri Lanka strengthen their spin department. He has been more than a reliable player with the bat too in First Class cricket having posted five hundreds for Moors SC.

Mendis, a son of a policeman, is yet another cricketer to benefit from the scholarship scheme of Foundation of Goodness run by philanthropist Kushil Gunasekara. Sri Lankan legend Muttiah Muralitharan rates him highly. He has got a good reputation as a leader as well having captained SSC for the Under-23 title a few seasons ago. The last three seasons he has been with Moors.

Sri Lanka will make two other changes for the must win game briniging in seamer Suranga Lakmal and Oshada Fernando. Both players return to the side after injuries and replace Kusal Mendis and Wanindu Hasaranga.

England only need a draw to win the series but a draw will be the last thing in their minds. They are currently fourth in the ICC Test Championship standings and a win here will give them 60 points. That will enable them to move above Australia to third place. Their 412 points would be just behind second placed New Zealand (420).

England are expected to do three changes. All three seamers who played the last Test are expected to be left out with James Anderson, Olly Stone and Chris Woakes expected to return. None of the seamers did badly in the last Test but it shows England’s depth.

Sri Lanka need to pull up their socks, especially after a pathetic show in the first innings where they were bowled out for 135. The hosts came up with an improved performance in their second innings but they were only catching up.

 

Sri Lanka (Probable XI)

Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Perera, Oshada Fernando, Dinesh Chandimal (Captain), Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella (Wicketkeeper), Ramesh Mendis, Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya, Asitha Fernando, and Suranga Lakmal.

England (Probable XI)

Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root (Captain), Daniel Lawrence, Jos Buttler (Wicketkeeper), Chris Woakes, Jack Leach, Dom Bess, Olly Stone and James Anderson

Umpires:

Kumar Dharmasena (SL) and Ruchira Palliyaguruge (SL)

Third Umpire:

Lyndon Hannibal (SL)

Match Referee:

Ranjan Madugalle (SL)

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Lasith Malinga retires from franchise cricket

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Lasith Malinga has retired from franchise cricket, his IPL team Mumbai Indians revealed on Wednesday. The Sri Lankan speedster informed his decision to the Mumbai Indians management earlier this month, making himself unavailable for the upcoming season and wasn’t retained in the squad.

Malinga has been a part for Mumbai Indians since the second season of IPL, missing only two editions – 2018 and 2020. He served as the bowling mentor of the side in 2018 before returning to playing duties and delivering Mumbai a title win – his fourth with the team – with what has turned out to be his final delivery in the competition. He missed the 2020 season due to personal reasons but remains the highest wicket-taker in the tournament’s history with 170 scalps to his credit, from 122 appearances.

The Sri Lankan speedster has also been a part of Jamaica Tallawahs, Guyana Amazon Warriors, Khulna Tigers, Rangpur Riders and Melbourne Stars among other T20 franchises around the world. With 390 wickets in 295 matches, he is only behind Dwayne Bravo in the list of leading T20 wicket-takers. His last T20 appearance came in March 2020, when he led Sri Lanka against West Indies, and hasn’t played any games during the pandemic.

Speaking of his decision Malinga said: “After discussing with my family, I think now is the right time to retire from all franchise cricket. The pandemic situation and the restrictions on travel will make it difficult for me given my personal circumstances to participate fully in franchise cricket for the next year and therefore it is best to make this decision now.

“I have discussed the same with Mumbai Indians management in recent days as they prepare for the upcoming auction and they have been very supportive and understanding. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Ambani family, everyone at the Mumbai Indians franchise and all our fans for the wonderful 12 years.

“Mumbai Indians has treated me like family, supporting me 100 % in every situation both on and off the field, and always giving me the confidence and the freedom to play my natural game whenever I walked onto the field.

“I have collected so many happy memories that I cherish and I am very grateful to have played for so long for the best franchise in world cricket. I would like to wish Mrs Nita Ambani, coach Mahela Jayawardene, Akash Ambani and the MI family all the best for the upcoming season.” (Cricbuzz)

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Lakmal  and Oshada set to return for second Test  

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By Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka’s card game heroes Suranga Lakmal and Oshada Fernando are expected to make a return to the side for the second Test against England that gets underway at the Galle International Stadium tomorrow.

The former captain and number three batsman were caught on camera engaging in card games as Sri Lanka were collapsing in a hurry to be bowled out for 135 on the opening day of the first Test. The players were one floor above the dressing room, formerly the press box but now reserved for families of the players.

There was intense criticism at the players’ action and Sri Lanka Cricket decided to send all additional players home. During COVID times, the squad has been extended to 22 players. So while five players were sent home on Tuesday, two more will be leaving the bio-bubble on the day of the match reducing the squad to 15 players.

Lakmal and Oshada have been on the mend for more than a month now. They were taken to South Africa still recovering from injuries and failed to get back to full fitness during the Test series and were unavailable for the opening Test against England as well which Sri Lanka lost by seven wickets.

Lakmal, Oshada and Lakshan Sandakan who were all involved in card games were lucky not to be sent home or face sanctions.

Kusal Mendis has been axed from the side and one of the three spinners is expected to be dropped as Sri Lanka are looking to strengthen their seam bowling options. Instead of them, Lakmal and Oshada will play.

Niroshan  Dickwella meanwhile will continue to bat at number six. With Dhananjaya de Silva out of the  side, Sri Lanka took a massive gamble by getting Dickwella to bat at six. The thinking of the team management is understandable as they seem to be keen on the  wicketkeeper to take up more responsibility. Dickwella failed. But he’s been backed to come good. His wicket keeping has been pretty good but in Galle he spilled a few chances and his reviewing was appalling.

England meanwhile are expected to rest all three seamers who played the opening Test. So, with Stuart Broad, Sam Curran and Mark Wood expected to be left out, Olly Stone, James Anderson and Chris Woakes are expected to get a game.

England need only a draw to win the series. They have not lost a series in Sri Lanka in 14 years.

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