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DILSHAN – THERE’S BEEN NEVER ONE LIKE HIM

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by Rex Clementine

A reporter once informed T.M. Dilshan that the scoop shot had brought about his downfall umpteen times and he should reconsider playing it frequently. Dilshan said that there is a 90 percent chance of him scoring a boundary off the shot and a ten percent chance of getting dismissed. He added that he would trust his instincts and play the stroke first ball in the next game if it was in the zone. True to form he did it. The reporter never gave Dilshan batting tips after that Dilshan turned 44 yesterday and many anecdotes relating to him were recalled on social media.

Four Sri Lankans have scored more than 10,000 runs in ODI cricket. The usual suspects are Kumar Sangakkara, Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jayawardene, people hardly remember Dilshan’s name. It has been a case throughout his career. He always lived in the shadows of Mahela and Sanga. But make no mistake. He was a vital cog in the Sri Lankan wheel for more than a decade and mighty effective too.

There is nothing in cricket that he could not do. He was a prominent figure in the middle order filling in the big shoes of Arjuna Ranatunga. Then the selectors asked him to move up the order as Sanath Jayasuriya was set to bring the curtain down on his remarkable career. How did he fill these shoes? Effortless.

Dilshan played his last game for Sri Lanka two months before his 40th birthday. Even at that stage he was the team’s best fielder – by a country mile. The selectors were at ease when Dilshan was in the side as they could be flexible and experiment. He could keep wickets. He could bowl ten overs of tidy off-spin. There was nothing in the game of cricket that was impossible for him. He was a Jack of all trade and a master of them too.

Dilshan was the Hobson’s choice for captaincy in 2011. A tour of England was his first assignment. He faced many challenges. The team’s premier fast bowler retired hastily. The players arrived in England in different batches giving priority to their IPL commitments and Sri Lanka looked a team in disarray. True to form they were blown away for 82 runs in the opening Test in Cardiff to lose by an innings. It was time for Dilshan to lead from the front. He surely did in the next Test posting a career best 193 at Lord’s and in the process broke Sidath Wettimuny’s record for the highest individual score at the Home of Cricket by a Sri Lankan – a record that had stood for more than a quarter century. Ironically, it was Wettimuny who had picked Dilshan from total oblivion in 1999.

The rumblings continued. Despite the setbacks Sri Lanka won their maiden Test match in South Africa when they overcame the Proteas in Durban. Dilshan’s leadership skills should have been celebrated. Yet, he was sacked unceremoniously at the end of the tour. The then President of Sri Lanka Cricket had conspired with a senior player to remove Dilshan after the tour come what may. It was a deal, sealed at Perera Gardens.

You tend to get the feeling that some seniors were disruptive elements during Dilshan’s captaincy. Dilshan captained the side in nine Tests away from home. There was one particular senior who did not make a single half-century in those nine games. Yet, he shamelessly took up the captaincy when Dilshan was sacked. 

Next up Australia. If someone did something wrong to you, you would naturally want to give them a taste of their own medicine? Not Dilshan. He came off with flying colours in Australia in the tri-nation competition finishing as the highest run getter of the tournament. Mind you this was the very next series after he had been sacked as skipper. His 513 was more than that of David Warner (506), Virat Kohli (373) et al. So next time you hear rumours questioning Dilshan’s honesty do keep in mind that Perera Gardens and not Maitland Place used to run our cricket a decade ago.

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Sri Lanka to play at Bull Ring and Centurion

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The Wanderers also known as the Bull Ring for its intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams will host the New Year Test.  Sri Lanka have played two Tests there and lost both – by innings margin.

by Rex Clementine

Cricket South Africa (CSA) seem to have learned from their embarrassment last year, when Sri Lanka became the first Asian nation to win a Test series in South Africa and have left no room for complacency when they host Dimuth Karunaratne’s side in December this year. Accordingly, CSA has chosen Wanderers in Johannesburg (also known as the Bull Ring for its intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams) and Centurion for the two Tests.

While officially CSA would say that logistically the two venues, half-hour drive from each other, were ideal to host the two Test series, they are also the quickest tracks in South Africa and Asian teams usually don’t  last three days in those venues.

Sri Lanka for example have played two Tests at Wanderers and have lost both games by innings margin with the two games ending inside three days. At Centurion, meanwhile, Sri Lanka have played four Tests and lost all four (two games by an innings).

The blunder that CSA committed last time Sri Lanka toured South Africa was to schedule the games in the slowest tracks in the country – Durban and Port Elizabeth. That backfired as Sri Lanka clinched the series 2-0. Test match cricket is such a tough game in South Africa, that apart from England and Australia no other team had won a series in that country and Sri Lanka’s achievement surprised many.

Several members of the current squad have unhappy memories of Wanderers and Centurion and they will not be pleased that the games had been slotted there.

The team will stay in one hotel during their month long stay in South Africa and will shuttle between the grounds which are in close proximity to each other. Centurion will host the Boxing Day Test while the Wanderers will host the New Year Test.

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Wickramasinghe comes up with guidelines to train during the pandemic

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Training programmes of a number of top track and field athletes were interrupted at various training venues due to Covid 19 concerns last week. Some of the interruptions were reported in areas where no new Covid 19 positive cases were reported. With the second wave of pandemic starting to disrupt daily life, sports training too is set to suffer badly. But senior track and field coach Upali Wickramasinghe believes that training can proceed without an interruption even during the pandemic by changing the coaching or training style.

Wickramasinghe in his instructions for coaching during the Covid 19 pandemic lists out important guidelines to follow during training, pre training and post training.

Being equipped with a clearance certificate issued by health authorities and submitting parental consent with regard to training juniors will help avoid disappointments at venue entrances according to Wickramasinghe. Sanitizing participants and checking their temperature are the other prerequisites before starting training.

Maintaining social distancing, limiting the training to small groups or individuals, avoiding physical contact (no high-fives, no handshakes) and prohibiting of spitting and clearing of nasal respiratory secretion are the instructions for sportsmen engaged in non contact sports.

Training can be continued even for minimal contact games by classifying training areas into three or four and sticking to training partners and avoiding body blocking.

Training for full body contact games can be done by focusing more on promoting individual skills and technique, utilizing alternative practice equipment, prohibiting sharing of personal equipment and making sanitization mandatory even during training.

Disinfection of training equipment like javelin, shot put, relay batons, shuttlecocks and balls is a major requirement immediately after training. Wickramasinghe also advices participants to exit venues immediately after their training schedules are completed. He also advices not to share personal equipment like rackets, helmets shin – guards, water bottles and T – Shirts.

A former national athlete, Upali Wickramasinghe has been in the field of coaching after his retirement as a Major in the Sri Lanka Army. He has produced a number of top national athletes and was the first coach of Olympian Anuradha Indrajith Cooray, who holds the Sri Lanka National record in the men’s marathon. (RF)

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Sri Lanka to take 20 players to South Africa

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Left-arm seamer Vishwa Fernando outperformed South African quicks Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn during Sri Lanka’s tour to South Africa in 2019 as they won the series 2-0. Here he traps Francois Du Plessis leg before wicket.

by Rex Clementine

Cricket South Africa has  come up with one of  the simplest health guidelines in these testing times and it could turn out to be  the  blueprint other sporting bodies will follow in conducting international sporting events.  The Sri Lankan team will be in South Africa in December for the Boxing Day Test and New Year Test and they will not be required to go through lengthy quarantine periods.  All what the players need is a negative PCR report before boarding the flight to Johannesburg and another negative report upon landing in Oliver Tambo International Airport.

Two negative reports are good enough for players to resume training immediately within the team bubble. The method is quite a contrast to what other countries follow. Sri Lanka’s mandatory 14 day quarantine period resulted in the Test series against Bangladesh being postponed.

The Sri Lankan team will not be given any warm-up games although they are expected to be in South Africa for two weeks prior to the Boxing Day Test match.  With the team in a bubble, net bowlers also will not be provided and hence Sri Lanka will be carrying 20 players in the squad. This avoids the risk of last minute replacements being called up due to injuries as well.

CSA is yet to announce the venues for the tour. England who will be in South Africa prior to Sri Lanka will be secluded in Cape Town and nearby Paarl. England will play three ODIs and three T-20 Internationals in South Africa.

This series will mark Sri Lanka’s return to international cricket after the outbreak of the pandemic in March this year. This year was supposed to be full of international cricket for SLC with several bilateral series at home including tours by India and England that bring much needed television revenue. SLC was also set to host this year’s Asia Cup but all that now has been pushed back due to the pandemic. SLC officials are confident that they will be able to reschedule all postponed series within the next 18 months.

SLC is expected to host England in January next year for two Tests. The national cricket team will then undertake a tour of West Indies.

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