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Few  positives in South Africa, more challenges ahead  

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by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka’s return to international cricket after the pandemic did not go to plan in South Africa as they lost both Test matches by heavy margins – the first by an innings and the next by ten wickets. Having overcome the Proteas in their own backyard last time around, there were a lot of people who were hopeful of a good show in South Africa this time around.

The last time the Tests were played in coastal cities of Durban and Port Elizabeth. But this time the Sri Lankans were taken interior to the Highveld where the Wanderers and Centurion hosted the games. Located at close to 6000 feet above sea level, international sport can be demanding at these places and  the Sri Lankans were not up to the task. Pity them that they went into the series just ten days after a domestic T-20 competition without even a warm-up game.

With England abandoning their tour of South Africa halfway through due to breach of health protocols, Sri Lanka had no reason to rush to South Africa. They could have taken their time and put everything in order. But practically, with so many postponed series of 2020 taking place this year, cricket boards are left with little time and the reason to play the series over the festive season is understandable.

Four players sustained injuries during the first Test that ruled them out of the second Test while Suranga Lakmal and Oshada Fernando who were carrying injuries and missed the first Test never regained fitness for the second game and that saw Sri Lanka fielding a weak attack at the Wanderers.

Sri Lanka’s selectors and team management need to take stock about the high amount of injuries that their players carry and there’s an urgent need to find out ways of injury prevention and management. The Centurion Test would have been a lot more close had the team not been reduced to just  two bowlers.  Often in Test match cricket when you post nearly 400 runs batting first that is good enough to test the opposition.

Kusal Mendis ended the tour having picked  up three ducks in a row. He is so close to emulating Mark Waugh. The former Australian great during a tour of Sri Lanka in 1992 picked up a pair in the second Test at RPS and another pair in the third Test at Moratuwa. He was nicknamed Audi.

Posting Sri Lanka’s highest total ever in South Africa – 396 at Centurion was a massive positive. Far stronger Sri Lankan sides have toured South Africa and have fared worse.

Sri Lanka have such a poor record at the Wanderers  that just one batsman had scored a half-century previously. It was good to see skipper Dimuth Karunarante putting out a splendid fight to post a hundred against a formidable attack.

Vishwa Fernando’s bowling was the other highlight of the tour. The left-arm seamer  was on the money bowling lengthy spells and troubling the batsmen especially with the new ball.

The national cricket team arrived in the island on Friday and the challenge for them now is to adjust to the home conditions against England. From playing in the hard and bouncy surfaces of South Africa to low and slow tracks of Galle, the technique and mindset becomes so different.   

There is plenty of cricket over the next few months as well. Soon after the England series, Sri Lanka will travel to the Caribbean where they will play all three formats and then return home to host Bangladesh for Tests.

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CRICKET IN SHAMBLES

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Rex Clementine at Galle Fort

Yesterday, Hulstdorf was giving a ruling on a divorce case. The judge told the daughter of the separating couple, “Now that your parents are getting divorced, whom do you want to live with? I guess it’s your mother.” The girl replied, “No, my mother beats me.” Then the judge said, ‘So, I guess you want to live with your dad, “No he beats me up too,”  the girl said. Puzzled by this, the judge asked, ” So, with whom do you want to live? The little girl replied, “I want to live with the Sri Lankan cricket team. They beat nobody.”

Which is devaluing faster? Cricket or the rupee? The decline of the rupee has been steady. It’s now 200 for the Dollar. So is cricket. Our batting has collapsed four times in the last four Tests now.  More time is spent by our batsmen in social media than at the crease. There is total chaos with the approach. There are question marks with regards to fitness, discipline and planning.

Yet, our board thinks that the media is their biggest enemy and not fitness, lack of discipline or unprofessional attitude of players. Not only did they sideline one of their key stakeholders, SLC also put a ban on their adoring fans. The spectators were not even allowed to watch the proceedings from the Galle Fort. It was  atrocious. As if this team is playing some attractive cricket that people care to watch them. Any organization that turns their back on the fans is likely to be doomed. No wonder our cricket  is doomed.

Kusal Mendis  should have been handed a one year suspension when he drove on the wrong side in the middle of the night, killed an innocent man and did everything within his means to cover up his sins. The board turned a blind eye. The CEO  said it was a ‘personal matter’. He should have taken a leaf out of the book of that great sports promoter Rienzie Wijetilleke who dealt with a similar matter 20 years ago by sacking the player. He never played for Sri Lanka again and lost his job at HNB.  Our CEO has lived up to his name, ‘Well left Ashley.’

Our former captain Suranga Lakmal was seen playing cards in the dressing room in the first Test when the batting was collapsing but SLC treated him with kid’s gloves. Instead of sending him home that night, the board sent home some rookies. Lakmal is too powerful. He returned to play the second Test and his mind looked to be elsewhere.

We have a Sports Minister who wants to remain in the good books of players. He  sees no evil, hears no evil and speaks no evil. Occasionally he bats  for the likes of Jeevan Mendis. He thinks that by sitting next to Mumbai’s greatest sensation or Rajastan’s latest sensation for a  meeting and posting pictures on social media, the real issues will be sorted. Namal baby is too immature for the job. Instead of managing sports, he should go back and engage in his  hobbies, maybe driving fast cars, or rifle shooting. If not, how about putting up a rugby team at Navy and getting all other rankers at the Welisara Camp to cheer him and his brothers.

Our planning has been atrocious. We are playing a series on spinning tracks without a spin bowling coach on board. The team’s most incorrigible guy has been backed to bat number six. That was asking for trouble. Our cricket is so defensive. They don’t want to play Lakshan Sandakan. We asked why? We are told that he is leaking too many runs. They have forgotten the basic principle that in Test match cricket it’s perfectly fine to buy your wickets. 

Then there is Vishwa Fernando. He takes a five wicket haul in South Africa  and he is benched for the next Test. We at least hoped he would return for the second Test but he’s benched  from that too. Instead, the card games hero gets the game.

Ideally, Lakmal, Mendis, Dickwella, Dilruwan Perera and Lahiru Thirimanne all should pack their bags. But nothing will change. They will be all back for West Indies. The party will continue.

This is not a case to say that this set of administrators are bad and we need another set. With cricket elections fast approaching, we don’t want to fall into that trap.

We have been yelling to reduce teams in First Class cricket. Last four Sports Ministers have turned a blind eye to that plea. The board doesn’t want to antagonize clubs. What do Sports Ministers have got to lose? Have they been well looked after by the Board? As long as they do not reduce the teams in First Class cricket nothing will change. We do not have an ‘A’ team at the moment. The man who once said that  ‘A’ team cricket is a waste of money is set to contest this year’s elections after a brief break. There is one solution though. Let’s write to the ICC and say that we are withdrawing our Test status. Let’s allocate that time to play a franchise based T-20 tournament and another T-10 tournament. Let’s all make some money. Hell with Test cricket. As if, our white ball team is covering themselves in glory. 

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England make six in a row in Sri Lanka

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Joe Root has captained five Test matches in Sri Lanka and has won all five of them.

Rex Clementine at Galle Fort

Sri Lanka had control of the second Test against England for the most part of the game and one session of madness where they lost six wickets sealed their fate as they suffered a heartbreaking six wicket defeat here in Galle yesterday. England, who had whitewashed Sri Lanka 3-0 in 2018, completed another series sweep asking serious question about the health of our cricket.

At 78 for eight, Sri Lanka were in danger of being shot out for their lowest total against England – 81 all out at SSC in 2001, but a fighting 40 from Lasith Embuldeniya saw them making three figures – 126 all out. A target of 164 was not going to test England.

England lost early wickets and when Joe Root was dismissed by debutant Ramesh Mendis, they still needed 75 runs. But Jos Buttler (46) and Dominic Sibley (56) sealed the deal for England with some solid batting.

Lasith Embuldeniya bowled superbly finishing with a match bag of ten wickets but Dilruwan Perera was unimpressive. His opposite number, Dom Bess with a First Class average  of 30, looked far more threatening.

Bess teamed  up with his Somerset spin partner Jack Leach as they shared eight wickets between them. When Embuldeniya was scoring some vital runs for the team, Joe Root introduced himself and polished the tail claiming two wickets  in successive balls. There’s hardly anything that Root can do wrong this tour.

Root has been a sensation with the bat. He finished the series with 426 runs that included a double hundred and 186. Not since the heydays of Brian Lara in 2001 a batsman has had such a big impact in Sri Lanka. Root’s game plan was  simple.  He would defend the full ball from the spinner and for the short balls he had one option – sweep, which he played to perfection. It was a treat to watch.

Not only was Root’s batting has been impressive but so has been his captaincy. He has now won five Test matches in a row in Sri Lanka. This was England’s  sixth win in a row in the island. They have not lost a game since the first Test in 2012.

Sri Lanka lacked fight.  Playing fast bowling has been their nemesis but all of a sudden they look vulnerable against spin bowling. If Bess can take 12 wickets in a two Test series, Geoff Boycott’s  mum will at least take half of them.

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Kaviska wins online Youth Rapid Chess title

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Kavishka Gimhan Laksiri won the CFSL Online Youth Rapid Chess Championship 2021 convincingly by scoring a total of 8.5 points from nine games.

Gimhan scored eight out of eight in the first eight rounds by registering wins against Pansilu Karunarathne, Senith Gunarathne, Rashmitha Mettananda, Yemith Gunaratne, Oneli Withanawasam, CM IPTS Gunawardena, SMMP Kulathilake and WCM Sanindula Dahamdi and recorded a draw in the final round to win the championship.

The Online Youth Rapid Chess Championship for the Under 14 age category was conducted by the Chess Federation of Sri Lanka over the weekend on the chess.com platform under the Swiss System with nine rounds. The players below the age of 14 years by January 1, 2021 were eligible to participate. The time control was fifteen minutes with additional 10 seconds per each move played. A total of 295 players took part in the event.

According to CFSL the event was held under strict anti-cheating regulations with players being observed via zoom during matches. Only laptops and desktops were allowed for competitions.

Sanindula Dahamdi of Musaeus College performed up to expectations as she won the silver medal scoring eight points. Her only blemish was the defeat to the winner.

JM Daham Jayasundara also did well as he also scored eight points to tie Sanindula. But, he had to be content with the bronze medal due to the lesser number of tie breaker points he had. The top three players will receive medals and certificates while the Champion will receive the trophy. Merit certificates will be issued to the first 38 players.

 

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