Former St. Peter’s cricketer Berenger on the cusps of representing third national team
by Reemus Fernando
First, he played for Sri Lanka Under-19, then moved to Dubai and found a place in the national team there and now at the age of 30, the former St. Peter’s College cricketer Andri Berenger is on the cusps of representing a third national team, Qatar.
According to sources close to Berenger, the former Sri Lanka Under-19 wicketkeeper-batsman is about to be picked in the Qatar national team which will compete in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Asia ‘A’ qualifiers starting next month.
The hard-hitting batsman’s success with the United Arab Emirates attracted many budding cricket clubs in the Middle East but Berenger opted for Warriors, a team in Qatar. He has completed more than three years in the country to be eligible to represent that nation, a source close to the cricketer told The Island.
In 2020 Berenger was the key to Warriors’ title triumph in the Qatar Premier Division T20 tournament. As the batting opener, he hammered 109 not out in just 56 balls to help Warriors reach a target of 185 runs with five balls to spare in the final. The right-hander had an outstanding season in 2020 where he averaged over 65.
Consistent performances have helped him secure a place in the team which will first encounter Bahrain in the first match in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Asia ‘A’ qualifiers on October 23.
His success in Qatar has also attracted several T20 leagues that have shown serious interest in signing him.
Berenger who first started playing cricket in UAE played for St. Peter’s when he was in Sri Lanka and his aggressive batting and safe hands behind wickets found him a place in the Sri Lanka Under-19 team. He was a member of the Sri Lanka Under-19 team for the ICC Youth World Cup in 2010 where St. Peter’s teammate Chathura Peiris was the captain. In Sri Lanka Under-19 team Berenger formed a strong batting line-up with the likes of Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Kithruwan Vithanage and Dhanushka Gunathilaka who later went on to represent the senior national team.
He made his first class debut for Seeduwa Raddoluwa Cricket Club before joining SSC and later moving to CCC.
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International Cricket returns to Suriyawewa
Suriyawewa is the hometown of some notorious gangsters in the country. The area was also notorious for many nefarious activities; cannabis and hooch were freely available until the Special Task Force intervened and cleaned up the area, a decade or so ago.
When former President Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted an international cricket ground in his electorate, Sri Lanka Cricket did a case study and chose Suriyawewa.
While the stadium was under construction around 2010, it took you nearly nine hours to reach it from Colombo. Now, thanks to the Southern Expressway, you can get there in a mere three and half hours. If it is a day game like the Afghanistan-Sri Lanka matches to be held on Friday, you can travel to the ground and return home the same day. Not for the reporters though, whose work starts after the game is over.
Even after getting out of the expressway at Suriyawewa, you tend to marvel at the roads that lead to the ground and the nearby airport. Even the common man feels like Michael Schumacher or Ayrton Senna when behind the wheel on these roads.
Initially, the idea of an international ground in this godforsaken area looked like a left field choice. Not anymore.
There is no better place for playing cricket than Suriyawewa, which is hot and humid. The British and the Aussies love it. That’s why England chose this place for their pre-Test camp when they came here amidst COVID in 2021.
When former leg-spinner D. S. de Silva was handpicked to head the cricket board in 2009, many wondered why. The reason was that President Rajapaksa knew here was a man who could make his wish come true– an international cricket stadium in the Hambantota district.
However, DS may have not presented all the facts to the President. It was thought that the stadium was built on an ICC grant to the SLC. But that wasn’t the case. Eventually, the SLC couldn’t pay the State Engineering Corporation or Ports Authority that built the stadium. President Rajapaksa had to intervene and he wrote off the debts.
The ground was built for the 2011 World Cup, but it fell behind schedule. When Minister of Sports Mahindananda Aluthgamage broke the news to the President, he reportedly launched into a tirade.
Aluthgamage, despite all the criticism he gets, headed straight to Suriyawewa and camped himself at the ground for several weeks to ensure that ICC’s demands were met by the next deadline.
To Aluthgamage’s credit, the project got necessary approvals. It must be mentioned here that some of the leading venues in India like Calcutta were rejected. Calcutta is India’s first ever Test cricket ground and it is the backyard of cricket supremo Jagmohan Dalmiya.
Once the airport at Hambantota came in, the construction of an international stadium close to it made some sense. Teams have flown there directly ahead of cricket series.
More and more teams are exploring the possibility of playing there because cricket boards can afford chartered aircraft. Sadly, due to politics, matches were not played there for some time But authorities are realising the immense potential there and have started treating the ground fairly.
COVID was a good wake-up call, and with options for venues being few and rare, Suriyawewa proved to be a godsend. With a wildlife park in close proximity and other tourist attractions around, we will see more games being played here in years to come.
Obviously, the interest for cricket in the area is tremendous as quite a few time fans have crashed the gates and usually it is house full with 35,000 fans rooting for the Sri Lankan team. Authorities will do well to ensure transportation facilities to fans as many of them walk back home after games across thick jungles.
Lot of cricketing talent is emerging from and around this area as well. Pramod Madushan, Kasun Rajitha, Dilshan Madushanka are all from the Hambantota district. It should be found out why Hambantota produces mostly fast bowlers.
The school that produced a Sri Lankan Test captain in Suranga Lakmal, Debarawewa Central has fallen on hard times and is struggling to make ends meet as cricket equipment is so expensive these days. While international grounds in Hambantota are good, it is of little use if schools in the area cannot afford to play there.
Taking a leaf out of President Rajapaksa’s book, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ensured the Gujarat Cricket Association built a stadium in his beloved Ahmedabad. The IPL final three days ago was played there but there is criticism about the Narendra Modi Stadium as some boundaries are less than 60 metres.
No such problems at Mahinda Rajapaksa International Stadium as every boundary is at least 100 metres. This indeed is a superb facility. There’s seating capacity for over 300 journalists and more importantly the hospitality that you get deep down south is out of this world.
Sports Ministry delay puts Korea bound athletics team in a quandary
Junior National Track and Field team leave without originally selected officials
by Reemus Fernando
Sri Lanka Under 20 team for the Asian Junior Athletics Championships left the country without the originally selected Team Manager and the Lady Chaperon after the Sports Ministry vetoed the officials selected by Sri Lanka Athletics and delayed the team approval till the eleventh hour.
The eight-member team received the Sports Ministry approval by midday Tuesday just hours ahead of their scheduled departure to Yecheon, South Korea.
The Sports Ministry did not grant permission to the Team Manager and the Lady Chaperon selected by Sri Lanka Athletics putting the athletics administration in a quandary.
It is a prerequisite to have a lady teacher affiliated to the Ministry of Education selected in the team to receive the approval of authorities when there are school girls touring. Sri Lanka Athletics followed the protocol and selected Sunethra Karunanayake, the respected coach and teacher who has produced a number of athletes to represent Sri Lanka in recent times as the Lady Chaperon. As required, she received the approval of the Ministry of Education as well. The Sports Ministry, instead, had picked one of their Sports Officers who has an athlete selected in the touring team as the Lady Chaperon.
Sri Lanka Athletics which had been at the receiving end of the Sports Ministry bungling during recent times had applied for visas and had booked tickets pending Ministry approval to avoid last-minute disappointments. It was not long ago that the athletics governing body received criticism when a couple of athletes could not make it to the World Junior Championships in time due to delays in getting approval and funds for tickets.
Saman Kumara, the secretary of Sri Lanka Athletics said that the athletics administration was hoping to get the approval of the Sports Ministry even at the eleventh hour for the originally selected Manager and the Lady Chaperon to travel with the team. Sadly, with that failing, Karunanayake, who had travelled all the way from Kurunegala to Colombo, had to return home without accompanying the athletes to South Korea on Tuesday.
Sources said that the Sports Ministry had failed to communicate with the athletics administration regarding the changes they had made to the touring team.
Veteran coach Susantha Fernando who has two of his trainees picked in the team was selected by Sri Lanka Athletics to function as the team coach. Now he has been entrusted with the manager duties as well.
Sri Lanka Athletics had sent the names of officials and selected athletes for Sports Ministry approval by May 15, although the latter had taken more than two weeks to grant permission.
With the Sports Ministry not granting funds for junior athletes to represent Sri Lanka this year, Sri Lanka Athletics has used its own funds or the funds collected from benefactors and athletes to honour their international obligations.
The biennial Asian Junior Athletics Championships is a major track and field competition taken part by Sri Lanka. The country has fared well at these championships in recent times. The leading national 400 metres sprinter Aruna Dharshana holds the championship record in the 400 metres, while the women’s 100 metres and 200 metres records of the Championship held by Susanthika Jayasinghe and Damayanthi Dharsha have remained unchanged for nearly three decades.
Sri Lanka Athletics picked a team of eight athletes, five who reached locally set qualifying standards and three others who came almost close to reaching the standards for the event starting on Sunday.
Kahawatta Central Triple Jumper Malith Yasiru, St. Aloysius’ College, Ratnapura hurdler Vinod Ariyawansa (400m hurdles), Ratnayake Central, Walala runner Tharushi Karunaratne (400m, 800m), sprinter Jayeshi Uththara (400m) and Dharmapala College, Pannipitiya high jumper Pehansa Gamage were the athletes who reached qualifying standards for the Asian event.
Gateway College, sprinter Dinara Bandara Dela (100m), Ananda College sprinter Merone Wijesinghe (100m) and Ratnayake Central middle distance runner Shehan Dilranga (800m, 1500m) were included in the team after they produced outstanding feats to merit selection at the recently held Junior National Athletics Championships.
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