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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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Dharmasena reaches singles final

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Ranjan Dharmasena(Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

Ranjan Dharmasena booked a berth in the singles final against Korea’s Sung Bong Han as he beat Sagg-Ho OH 6-1, 6-2 in his semi-final in the Sri Lanka Open International Wheelchair Tennis Tournament at Sri Lanka Tennis Association courts on Tuesday.

Sung Bong Han of Korea prevented an all-hosts final as he beat Gamini Dissanayake 6-1, 6-2 in the other semi-final.

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New champions add spice to tennis singles events

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The First Capital SSC Open Men’s and Women’s Singles championships were won by Sharmal Dissanayake and Sajida Razick respectively (Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

By A Special Sports Correspondent

Tennis star Sharmal Dissanayake (26) made a comeback to the racquet game in Sri Lanka when he won the Men’s Singles event at the First Capital SSC Open Championships worked off in Colombo recently.

The annual SSC Open tournament gave a great start to the tennis scene in the island for the New Year. It was also a new start for champion player Dissanayake after being away from playing on Sri Lankan courts at local tournaments for a while. He overcame stiff resistance from Chaturya Nilaweera in the finals, which went for four sets. Dissanayake won 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 and 7-6 in the pulsating final which was scheduled to go for five sets if required. This is the first time five-set tennis was introduced at a local tournament in the island.

Dissanayake has played at peak condition in past tournaments. Fitness was not a cause for Dissanayake at this tournament, but he can reach top playing condition as the months roll away this season. The talk doing the rounds in the tennis circles is that Dissanayake wants to raise his game and fitness and make himself available for the country at overseas assignments too. Meanwhile, Nilaweera, an up-and-coming player with much promise, had to sweat his way into the final with a tough semi-final fixture against Kiran Vairawanathan. It was good to see seasoned players like Guyanga Weerasekare contesting the SSC Open Men’s event. The men’s open tennis event overall in the country has just got the needed boost with the competition that’s raised by so many talented players entering and wanting a share of the pie.

Dissanayake won the Arjun Fernando Challenge Trophy for his efforts at the tournament which was witnessed by an appreciative crowd.

Schoolgirl Sajida Razick made a giant kill in the women’s open singles by beating seasoned player Neyara Weerawansa (6-3, 6-4). Despite taking the first set with her power play Razick saw the experienced Weerawansa breathing down her back in a well-contested second set. Both players made their share of unforced errors, but that didn’t take the punch away from the game Razick looked so confident throughout the game and brilliantly negotiated Weerawansa’s spirited late rally during the second set before winning her first major title in senior tennis. Razick overcame Vishmi Serasinghe in the semis while Weerawansa got the better of Dinara de Silva. Razick won the Sriya Munasinghe Challenge Trophy for her efforts.

Razick has raised her game tremendously and plays some powerful shots and also uses the full court. It would have been interesting to see how she would have fared against Anjalika Kurera had the latter taken part in this tournament. Incidentally, Kurera was not available for the SSC Open this season because she was busy preparing for a vital examination.

The tournament not only attracted its title sponsor in First Capital, but also saw Perera & Sons and Dimo coming in as co-sponsors. It’s one of the most looked forward-to events in the local tennis events calendar; having recorded its start in the 1980s. The SSC Open also serves as a category 1 ranking tournament.

The tournament was organized by the SSC Tennis Home Committee and held under the auspices of the Sri Lanka Tennis Association.

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Amameth scores back-to-back centuries

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Anjala Bandara (left) and Kavindu Amameth

Under 19 Cricket

by Reemus Fernando

Kavindu Amameth scored back-to-back centuries and put on a partnership over 200 runs for the second time in the match as Mahanama College earned major honours against De Mazenod in the Under 19 Traditional cricket encounter which ended in a draw at Kandana on Tuesday.

Amameth followed up his first innings score with an identical knock. In the first essay, he conceded 173 balls for his knock. But in his second he consumed only 101 balls as he cracked 11 fours and seven sixes to boost the score. He also put on a first-wicket stand of 209 runs with Anjala Bandara as Mahanama posted 323 for three wickets at close on a pitch where the home team could muster only 150.

It is also the first time this season that a batsman scored back-to-back centuries in a match.

At Ananda Mawatha, Mahinda College restricted the home team to 159 runs as Dhanuja Induwara picked up five wickets for the visitors to dominate day one of the traditional encounter.

Results

Mahanama take major honours

Scores:

Mahanama

363 all out in 92.1 overs (Kavindu Amameth 126, Inuka Karannagoda 75, Rashmika Perera 52, Chamika Heenatigala 24, Eshan Withanage 24; Kavindu Kaushalya 4/97, Thushan Udayanga 3/64, Sithum Fernando 3/71) and 323 for 3 in 54 overs (Kavindu Amameth 126, Anjala Bandara 84, Koojana Perera 55, Inuka Karannagoda 52n.o.; Thushan Udayanga 2/56)

De Mazenod

2 for 1 overnight 150 all out in 49.0 overs (Neshan Dias 65, Shevan Menusha 25, Uvindu Perera 20, Thareen Perera 20; Chamika Heenatigala 4/12, Inuka Karannagoda 2/26, Rashmika Perera 2/29)

Mahinda dominate day one at Ananda Mawatha

Scores:

Ananda

159 all out in 53.1 overs (Viduna Wijebandara 27, Iruth Gimshan 25, Ayesh Shahimal 42; Dhanuja Induwara 5/33, Tharusha Dilshan 2/37, Arosha Udayandga 2/18)

Mahinda

142 for 5 in 44 overs (Hareen Achintha 36, Hiruna Gallage 38n.o., Tharusha Dilshan 21n.o.; Ashinsa Deshan Nainayaka 4/40)

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