by Reemus Fernando
In 2018 when the Sri Lanka Under-19 cricket team was selected for a home series against Bangladesh in October, St. Joseph’s College spinner Dunith Wellalage withdrew from the team to concentrate on the O/L examination. That was something very rare. Many are the junior cricketers who give up on education to concentrate on cricket. It was probably the first such occasion in recent times. Exactly three years after that decision, which was backed by his parents and the Darley Road College, Wellalage is returning to lead the side against Bangladesh.
When The Island carried the news of Wellalage’s withdrawal from the team in 2018 there was praise for this young cricketer from Moratuwa who had been excelling as a spinner in every junior schools cricket tournament since he was eleven years old.
He was among the key strike bowlers for St. Sebastian’s Under-13 from the time he started playing in that age category. At St. Sebastian’s, he received a well deserving place in the Under-15 team when he was still eligible to play in the Under-13 team. He is one of the very few players to have played in an Under-15 Division I team for three consecutive years, two for St. Sebastian’s and one for St. Joseph’s. In his very first year in the Under-15 team, he became the key strike bowler for St. Sebastian’s. His left-arm spin was crucial in the team reaching the Under-15 Division I tournament final in both 2015 and 2016. The Sebs ended up runners up on both occasions but Wellalage was adjudged the best bowler of the tournament on both occasions. By the time the Singer Junior Cricket Awards Ceremony for 2015 and 2016 seasons was held in 2017 he had moved to St. Joseph’s.
At St. Joseph’s Wellalage blossomed not only as a bowler but also as a reliable late order batsman who could save them on many occasions forming crucial partnerships with paceman Lakshan Gamage. One of his first major contributions with the bat for St. Joseph’s Under-19 team incidentally came in the match against his former school in 2018 January when he scored 85 runs in the Joes’ massive total of 416 in reply to Sebs’ 334 for seven declared.
In the 2017/18 season Wellalage was the Joes’ highest wicket taker with a tally of 72 wickets (after 18 matches). He had probably bowled more than any other bowler that season bowling over 400 overs of which over 80 overs were maidens. When the season concluded with St. Joseph’s winning the knockout tournament on first innings points against Trinity, Wellalage was the key strike bowler taking four wickets. The following season he played only eight matches but when the next season started, he started to excel more as a batsman than a bowler. One of his most remarkable batting performances was against Isipatana when he hammered 197 runs (in 179 balls) in a Joes’ total of 402. That season he scored over 700 runs in 15 matches and had an aggregate of over 50 wickets.
Probably the best of Wellalage, both as a batsman and a bowler was yet to be witnessed when school cricket came to a standstill in March 2020 due to Covid 19. But when the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association conducted a curtailed Under-19 Limited Overs Tournament in May this year Wellalage was playing a different role leading St. Joseph’s as captain. And the Joes went on to win the Under-19 Division I Tier ‘A’ Limited Overs Cricket title beating Royal in the final.
The selectors have picked Wellalage to lead the team on merit of his experience after being in the junior national setup since 2018. Nalandian Raveen de Silva is his deputy. Silva too has been in the setup since 2018. Incidentally, it was de Silva who filled Wellalage’s place when the latter withdrew from the team for his O/L in 2018.
Sri Lanka Under-19 team is currently in Dambulla preparing for the series against Bangladesh. The first match will be played on October 15.
Danushka Gunathilaka found not guilty in sexual assault trial
Sri Lanka batter Danushka Gunathilaka has been found not guilty of sexually assaulting a Tinder date through the act of “stealthing”.Judge Sarah Huggett acquitted the 32-year-old as he sat at Sydney’s Downing Centre District Court on Thursday listening to the decision. He said he was looking forward to returning to playing after his acquittal.
“The evidence establishes that there was no opportunity for the accused to remove the condom during intercourse because that intercourse was continuous,” the judge said in handing down the verdict.
Judge Huggett found the complainant, who cannot be legally named, appeared to be an intelligent, calm and responsive witness who did not deliberately give false evidence.
However, at times the woman gave the impression she was “motivated by a desire to paint the cricketer in an unfavourable light”, the judge said.
“I find that the evidence regarding the complaint far from supports the complainant. Rather it undermines the reliability of her evidence.”
The cricketer’s defence team signalled he will apply for the Crown to pay his legal costs of defending the allegation.Outside court, Gunathilaka thanked his lawyers, parents and others who supported him during what he described as a very hard 11 months.
“I’m happy my life is normal again,” he said. “I can’t wait to go back and play cricket.”
Gunathilaka and the woman matched on the dating app and met for drinks at Opera Bar in November 2022 before having pizza together in the Sydney CBD and then catching a ferry to the woman’s eastern suburbs home.
Police initially brought four charges against Gunathilaka, who was arrested at the Hyatt Regency hours before the Sri Lankan cricket team was due to fly out of the country. Prosecutors later dropped three of those charges.
In statements to police and the court, the woman accused the batsman of various acts of aggression and violence such as slapping her buttocks, forcefully kissing her and bruising her lips and choking her during sex.There was no suggestion by prosecutors at trial that any of these acts constituted an offence, although the woman in her evidence said the sex was non-consensual.
Gunathilaka always maintained his innocence, pleading not guilty to one count of sexual intercourse without consent relating to the cricketer’s alleged “stealthing”, or removing his condom during sex without the woman’s consent.
During the judge-alone trial, defence lawyers questioned the credibility of the complainant, claiming her story shifted over time and that she edited her version of events to paint Gunathilaka as an aggressive person.
Judge Huggett also heard evidence from two of the woman’s friends who described her as fragile and distraught the day after the cricketer attended her home.Police officers who spoke to the woman were also questioned about the way they handled the case, including omitting crucial details, throwing out notes and potentially contaminating witnesses.
Judge Huggett on Thursday described the conduct of police in prosecuting Gunathilaka as “very concerning” and “far from satisfactory”.
Gunathilaka has been on bail during the trial but was unable to play international cricket or return to his hometown of Colombo.
Cheering Indian crowds welcome Pakistan team before ICC Cricket World Cup
The Pakistan cricket team has been greeted with warm applause and loud cheers by hundreds of Indian fans upon its arrival before the ICC World Cup 2023, which starts on October 5.
The contingent landed at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad late on Wednesday and was given a raucous welcome by local fans who had lined up to catch a glimpse of the cricket stars from across the border.
Videos posted by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on X, formerly Twitter, showed fans taking photographs with their phones and shouting the Pakistani players’ names to catch their attention as the squad walked past them inside the terminal.
Bigger crowds awaited the players outside the terminal and along their route out of the airport.
They let out loud cheers for Pakistan’s captain and star batter Babar Azam when he smiled and waved back while boarding the team’s bus.
Danushka Gunathilaka found not guilty
Sri Lankan cricketer Danushka Gunathilaka has been found not guilty of sexual intercourse without consent following an accusation of “stealthing” involving a Tinder date in Sydney.
The 32-year-old was arrested in November while in Australia for the T-20 World Cup, after he went for drinks with a woman near the Opera House.
He had chatted online for several days and then had dinner with the woman, who can’t be identified for legal reasons, before being invited back to her eastern suburbs home, the NSW District Court heard.
The Crown’s case was that he removed a condom during intercourse without the woman’s knowledge when she had consented only to protected sex.
The complainant told the court she did not see the batsman remove the condom, but saw it on the floor shortly after the intercourse stopped.
Judge Sarah Huggett today found evidence about the “genesis” of the woman’s complaint undermined the reliability of her evidence. The judge said the woman had given different accounts in her two statements; the second, given in April this year, went into further detail about the issue of ‘stealthing’ and added that the complainant did not have a “clear memory” of what happened around the time she saw the condom on the floor.
“The evidence establishes there was no opportunity for the accused to remove the condom during the intercourse because that intercourse was continuous,” she said.
Judge Huggett considered the woman’s first conversations with two close friends, which seemed to frame the complaint in terms of the roughness of the sexual activity.
Gunathilaka’s defence counsel argued the woman lied, gave self-serving evidence and appeared to not remember parts of the night that were inconsistent with a “narrative” she created, which morphed over time.
Murugan Thangaraj SC told the judge the Crown failed to establish the woman’s reliability and highlighted what he said were inconsistencies and implausibility in her version of events.
He said it was “completely illogical” to claim she felt ambushed before lighting candles in her bedroom, effectively setting it up for “a romantic sexual liaison”.
In court, the woman alleged Mr Gunathilaka kissed her “forcefully” on the way home and on her couch, where she felt “ambushed” before moving to the bedroom.
She further alleged he choked her three times during sex, leaving her fearful for her life, and ignored requests to go slow.
Judge Huggett found the woman was an “intelligent witness who gave evidence in a considered way”, and was overall a “calm and responsive” witness.
But the judge said there were times when it appeared the complainant was motivated by a desire to paint the accused in an unfavourable light.
In his police interview, Mr Gunathilaka said he told her his preference generally was to not use condoms but wanted to on the night because it was their first meeting.
In the interview, the cricketer made mention of there being two condoms because one malfunctioned — which the Crown said was a deliberate mistruth.
But Judge Huggett disagreed, finding that his answers were the result of “confusion, fatigue, a language barrier and possibly memory”.
“I formed the distinct impression he was doing his best to be truthful and assist the police,” she said.
Sitting in the interview room, Gunathilaka told police the woman had organised him a taxi and he kissed her before leaving. “She didn’t even text me, I didn’t text her also,” he said. “And that’s it, then I’m here.”
Gunathilaka has been in Australia on bail since mid-November.
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