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Dunith, who once withdrew from Sri Lanka U19 team for O/L’s returns as skipper

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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.



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Youth Athletics Selection Trial will weigh the impact of pandemic

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The First Youth Athletics Selection trial will be held at the Sugathadasa Stadium on November 13 and 14.

First Youth Athletics Selection Trial on November 13,14 

by Reemus Fernando  

The First Selection trial for the Asian Youth Athletics Championship 2022, scheduled for mid November, will be an ideal opportunity to weigh the impact the Covid 19 pandemic has dealt on schools sports.

There had been no schools competitions for track and field athletes since March 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Only a very few coaches had continued training junior athletes amidst trying conditions due to lockdowns and other restrictions during the last two years. Some of the athletes who were aspiring to compete at the Asian Youth Athletics Championship 2021 continued their training only to be disappointed later when the event was postponed to 2022 meaning the athletes who were eligible for competitions in 2021 will not be entitled to compete in 2022 due to the age group difference.

Sri Lanka were almost certain of top medals in at least two events at the Asian Youth Athletics Championships including the women’s 800 metres as young aspirant Tharushi Karunaratne was in top form. She is the top ranked 800 metres athlete in Asia in the Under-18 age category this year according to World Athletics listings but the postponement of the event to 2022 prevents her from emulating her brother Harsha who won a medal at a previous edition.

Sri Lanka Athletics announced November 13 and 14 as dates for the first Youth Trial for the Asian event to be held in Kuwait in March 2022. The eligible athletes are those who were born in 2005 and 2006 and Sri Lanka Athletics has provided entry standards to apply for trials. But almost all eligible athletes in this age category have last competed at national level in 2019 making it impossible to provide proof of their true current abilities to apply for entries. Due to this Sri Lanka Athletics will consider performances registered from August 01 2019 making the forthcoming trial an ideal opportunity to test the impact the pandemic has had on country’s junior sporting structure.

Sri Lanka Athletics has reduced the number of events limiting it only to the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 3,000m, 100m hurdles, 400m hurdles, 2,000m steeplechase, high jump, long jump, triple jump and the javelin for both girls and boys.

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There Are No Clear Favourites, Any Team Could End Up Lifting The Trophy – Muralitharan

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Sri Lanka spin icon Muttiah Muralitharan stated there are no clear favourites for ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 which starts from Sunday. The T20 World Cup will begin with the Round 1 Group B encounter between hosts Oman and Papua New Guinea on Sunday, with Scotland and Bangladesh, the other teams in Group B, clashing in the evening match.

“The most exciting thing about the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 is that there are no clear favourites. Coming into the competition in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, it feels like there is no standout side and as a result, any one of a large number of teams could end up lifting the trophy,” Muralitharan said in an ICC column.

“I’m obviously delighted to see the importance that spinners have taken on in T20 cricket. It is a fast game and is meant to be a batter’s game, but the bowlers have adapted in the 18 years since the format first started in England. Fast bowlers are bowling slow balls and cutters and different balls. Those are the skills you have to develop.”

Muralitharan also shared his experience of T20 cricket as a player and coach/mentor and said one has to approach the shortest format of the game with a ‘defensive mindset’.

“My experience, both as a player and a coach or mentor in T20 cricket, was that you have to approach it with a defensive mindset, whereas in ODIs or Tests, the aim is to take wickets. Defending is attacking in T20 in my mind, you need to aim to go for 6 or 6.5 runs an over and if you can manage that, you will probably take a couple of wickets as well,” he said.

“I have been out in the UAE for the IPL and looking at the wickets, it is clear that the spinners are going to have a huge role to play in the World Cup. It will depend a lot on how the curators have prepared the wickets, but it looks like the spinners will be key as the batters were finding it hard to connect and it made for some low scoring,” the Sri Lankan pointed.

Sri Lanka is placed with Ireland, Netherlands, and Namibia in Group A. The Round 1 matches will run till October 22. The top two teams in each group will proceed to the Super 12 stage of the tournament, beginning on October 23.

“From a Sri Lankan perspective, the team will have to go through qualifying in the first round. The team has gone down in the last five or six years and it’s the first time in our history that it has happened to us. Frankly speaking, we were not good enough, and have not played good enough cricket which is why we are in this position. But the team has capable players who can reach the Super 12s and have an impact, but first they have to qualify,” Muralitharan opined.

“The spinners are very good, whereas the batting is a little bit weaker, but if they can step up and manage decent totals, then the bowlers can defend them. If they make it through, I think they will upset a few teams,” he added.

The first semi-final of the T20 World Cup will be held in Abu Dhabi on November 10. The second semi-final will be hosted by Dubai on November 11. Both semi-finals have reserve days. The marquee clash of the tournament will take place in Dubai on November 14, Sunday, with Monday acting as the reserve day for the final.

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Youth cricketers in action today

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by Reemus Fernando

Sri Lanka Under 19 will play their first match since the last Youth World Cup when Dunith Wellalage led outfit take on Bangladesh Under 19 in the first Youth ODI at Dambulla today.

The team coached by Avishka Gunawardene have been together for just one month while their opponents had been training since October 2020 though their training has been hampered by Covid 19 related issues occasionally.

While the Bangladesh team had competed together before (against Afghanistan) the hosts are meeting an international team for the first time after the last Youth World Cup, which was played in January 2020.

Matheesha Pathirana who bowls with a sling arm action, S. Thomas’ Mount Lavinia paceman Yasiru Rodrigo, Nalanda College all-rounder Raveen de Silva and skipper Wellalage are the only players who have previous experience playing Youth International matches.

“This will give their first match exposure against an international team. This will be the opportunity for them to come together and bond together,” said Avishka Gunawardena speaking to The Island on the eve of the match.

The hosts are likely to field three pacies with Pathirana who is the only player returning from the last Youth World Cup spearheading the attack.

Wellalage will be joined by offie Traveen Mathew from St. Anthony’s, Katugastota to make the spin attack. Mathew is one of the least experienced players in the squad.

Sri Lanka Under-19 will play five Youth ODIs against Bangladesh in this series. With the Under-19 Asia Cup not confirmed yet, the series starting today will be crucial as it will be the final preparation for the Youth World Cup.

Sri Lanka Under-19 From: Dunith Wellalage (Captain), Shevon Daniel, Pawan Pathiraja, Sadisha Rajapaksa, Ryan Fernando, Sadeesh Jayawardena, Raveen de Silva, Jeewaka Shasheen, Traveen Mathew, Yasiru Rodrigo, Matheesha Pathirana, Chamidu Wickramasinghe, Lahiru Abeysinghe.

Others in the squad: Harindu Jayasekera, Lahiru Dawatage, Wanuja Kumara, Malsha Tharupathi, Sasanka Nirmal, Danal Hemananda, Vinuja Ranpul.

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