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Dambulla Viikings gear up to conquer

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While a captain is to be officially named this team is not short on leadership; in Dasun Shanaka, Upul Tharanga and Ireland international Paul Stirling, Dambulla boast three players who have captained their sides on the international stage.

Hard work, innovation, team work. These are the three pillars on which the Dambulla Viiking franchise has sought to build their squad for the upcoming inaugural Lanka Premier League. As such their 21-man squad, led by head coach former England cricketer Owais Shah, sees a truly competitive blend comprising the cream of Sri Lankan talent, international experience, and youthful exuberance.

While a captain is to be officially named this team is not short on leadership; in Dasun Shanaka, Upul Tharanga and Ireland international Paul Stirling, Dambulla boast three players who have captained their sides on the international stage. This strong leadership base is supplemented by the considerable international experience of players such as Niroshan Dickwella, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Afghanistan duo Aftab Alam and Samiullah Shinwari, and veterans Anwar Ali from Pakistan, India’s Sudeep Tyagi and Englishman Samit Patel.

The team’s collective of promising Sri Lankan youngsters will no doubt benefit from rubbing shoulders with players of such international stature. Ashen Bandara, Kavindu Nadeeshan, Ramesh Mendis, Sachindu Colombage, Dilshan Madushanka and Pulina Tharanga, may not yet be household names, but given the right opportunity and guidance they are poised to flourish.

Strong Sri Lankan base While possessing a wealth of international talent, the team nevertheless is built around a strong Sri Lankan spine. In Shanaka, Dickwella, Oshada Fernando and Tharanga, Dambulla have four batsmen who have delivered at the highest level, while the big-hitting offered by the likes of Stirling, Patel, Shinwari and Lahiru Madushanka, provide punch in the middle and lower order.

In Angelo Perera and Mendis, Dambulla can also lay claim to two immensely talented players hitting the peak years of their careers; notably, Perera recently became the first player in history to hit two double centuries in a first-class game, while Mendis earlier this year hit an unbeaten first-class triple hundred.

The pace department meanwhile is led by the express Kumara and the precise Rajitha, who are fast becoming mainstays in the national team setup. Supported by bowlers the calibre of Ali, Alam and Tyagi, who are capable of swinging and seaming the ball, Dambulla’s pace attack boasts many strings in its fast-bowling bow.

In the spin-bowling department, it’s Malinda Pushpakumara that will likely lead the way, the veteran left-arm spinner who has taken an astonishing 793 first-class wickets in his career.

Aiding him will be a plethora of spin options, namely the wise old heads of Shinwari and Patel, who will also no doubt play a major role in guiding some of the raw spin talent in the squad.

Crucially many of Dambulla’s bowlers are more than capable with the bat, which will give head coach Shah a pleasant headache when putting together the team.

“We have a great blend of youth and experience, with a lot of complementary skill sets. Once the tournament starts and each teams strengths and weaknesses become clearer, we’re confident of being able to field a strong XI in every game,” said Shah.

Dambulla will play their first match of the LPL on 28 November against the Kandy Tuskers



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Sri Lanka seek results after hard work  

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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.

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Sri Lanka back pace for Bangladesh Tests

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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. 

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Sebs’ cricket stalwart Cooray retires after more than three decades of service

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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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