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Giving Suraj his due

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Suraj Dandeniya, Head of World Cup organizing committee is pictured here speaking to D.S. de Silva, SLC Chairman

by Rex Clementine

The first few Interim Committees that were appointed two decades ago were timely and catered to needs of those times. But subsequently, the Interim Committees became a tool for politicians to achieve their purposes. Former leg-spinner D.S. de Silva became the Chairman of the Cricket Interim Committee in the year 2009 in such a context. The press gave DS a hard time. It didn’t help and a few months into his term, newly appointed Sports Minister C.B. Ratnayake called the Cricket Board the third most corrupt institution in the country. The press went to town. Little did we realize that C.B. Ratnayake himself had packed the cricket board with kith and kin.

Given the picture painted by C.B. Ratnayake on the D.S. de Silva administration, the former captain’s every move was probed despite new highs for the national cricket team that included a first ever series win in Australia, reaching the finals of the T-20 World Cup at Lord’s and numerous bilateral series wins at home. Then, DS appointing two of his nephews – Suraj Dandeniya and Kapila Dandeniya for the World Cup organizing committee came in for criticism as well. But there are two sides to a story. Here’s that story. The untold story.

Both Suraj and Kapila had very good cricket pedigree. Suraj Dandeniya had represented S. Thomas’ College in the Royal-Thomian in 1976 and had gone onto play for SSC under Mr. Anura Tennekoon. Post cricket he had built up a successful business having started the Merc Shop that services and repairs European cars. He was heading the World Cup Organizing Committee. His cousin Kapila Dandeniya had represented Sri Lanka Under-19 and toured Australia under Aravinda de Silva’s captaincy.

Sri Lanka were supposed to hand over World Cup stadiums to the ICC by March 2010. However, there had been little progress made six months before the deadline to hand over the grounds. When ICC boss Haroon Lorgat rang up DS to express the governing body’s displeasure, Kapila and Suraj were in that room. DS was facing catch – 22. The nephews decided not to abandon their uncle and took it up as a challenge to complete the construction of the grounds.

One of the problems the press kept asking was why SLC did not want to play World Cup games at Dambulla and decided to build brand new stadiums. “We had to make sure that whatever the home games that were remaining in 2009 and 2010 went uninterrupted and we used Dambulla and even RPS for that purpose. We made a calculation that we would make a profit of US$ 24 million by hosting World Cup games. Our number of games increased due to Pakistan not able to host games. We ended up hosting a semi-final as well. We knew with the money we were getting, we could afford to build two new grounds,” Suraj opined.

There were allegations of not following tender procedures in constructing grounds. “We were running out of time. Pallekele Stadium, had we followed the tender process it would have taken one year. So we consulted the President’s office and we were told to give the undertaking to State Engineering Corporation to avoid all the trouble. That we did,” Suraj adds.

“We wouldn’t have completed these construction if not for State Engineering Corporation. They worked 24 hours, all seven days of the week, I must say.”

Suraj also revealed that SLC only paid for Pallekele and R. Premadasa Stadiums. The costs of Suriyawewa ground was taken up by the government. The Suriyawewa Stadium is a spacious venue built on a 47 acre land. Apparently the government had mooted ideas for other mega international sporting events as well apart from cricket.

“It was an enormous task. There were days I would get up at 4am in the morning and go to Suriyawewa. This was before the highway had come up and then travel up to Pallekele and conclude the day with an inspection of RPS. The construction of these stadiums should have started five years ago. We were left with an impossible task and we completed it. Had we failed, we would have regretted it for the rest of our lives. But the fact that we delivered gives me enormous amount of satisfaction,” says Suraj.

Why did Suraj not contest allegations of corruption in building stadiums at that point of time. “To be honest, we were running against the clock. We did not simply have the time to stop and counter all allegations. Obviously these were coming from disgruntled parties. From a very early moment we had decided that we were not going to deviate the focus from the job at hand. We knew it was a massive task,” explains Suraj.

What about stories that SLC went bankrupt after the World Cup. “We left SLC soon after the World Cup. We didn’t have time to counter these claims. But the fact of the matter is there were two audits conducted one of them by the Auditor General and we were given all clear. That’s what matters at the end. We are not crooks. We care for the game deeply. We wouldn’t do anything to harm the sport that we love so dearly.”

The construction of the stadiums weren’t without challenges. Apparently the ICC rejected Suriyawewa and RPS grounds 48 hours before the tournament got underway. There were concerns of safety of players and spectators, an area the ICC is very particular about. Immediately, SLC bigwigs headed to Temple Trees to break the news to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The President took steps to dispatch Road Development Authority to the two grounds. Within the next 24 hours, the RDA ensured that ICC’s requirements were met.

“I remember taking Chirs Tetley, the Head of ICC Events in a helicopter to Suriyawewa and he told me that I am taking him to a different ground. It was truly remarkable what the RDA did to address ICC concerns,” Suraj recalls.

“The press was giving us such a torrid time. We didn’t get rattled. I don’t see the pressure that was put on us being put on the Pollonaruwa ground project that was started and no one knows what is happening to it now.”

“My biggest satisfaction is to see games being played in these three beautiful grounds. I take enormous pride that I contributed for these projects. I must tell you that we had a brilliant team. It was a superb team effort. Every single guy burned the mid night oil to see through this. We did it in ten months. As a result we have three beautiful stadiums, Sri Lanka were able to host the 2012 T-20 World Cup. We can also host future ICC events without any hassle,” Suraj goes onto say.

Suraj and the team deserves credit no doubt. Having toured other cricket venues that were built for the 2011 World Cup like Eden Gardens in Calcutta, Wankhede in Bombay, Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi and Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, you can vouch that the three Sri Lankan venues are architect marvels. Pallekele and RPS in particularly can cater to 400 journalists, a capacity that no other cricket ground in the world is capable of; not Lord’s, not MCG, not Newlands, not Eden Gardens.



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Naseem, bowlers take Pakistan to series win against Sri Lanka

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Pakistan survived an early wobble with the bat to ease to a seven-wicket victory over Sri Lanka, wrapping up a series win with a game to spare. In a game that almost felt like a carbon copy of the first, Sri Lanka won the toss and batted first, only for a tight, disciplined bowling performance from the hosts, limiting them to a sub-par 102. Just like the first game, there was a touch of circumspection about Pakistan’s chase to begin with, losing three early wickets. But a classy partnership between Ayesha Naseem and Bismah Maroof took control of the proceedings, their unbeaten stand yielding 70 runs off 58 balls, and a game that looked like it would get bogged down finished in a hurry.

As in the first game, Sri Lanka lacked intent at the start, and Pakistan were all over them in the powerplay. The first five overs saw just 14 runs scored, and Anam Amin removed Chamari Athapaththu once more. Nida Dar struck soon after to dismiss Oshadi Ranasinghe, leaving Sri Lanka to try and regroup while they were well behind the asking rate.

Last match’s star Tuba Hassan was responsible for the removal of Sri Lanka’s top scorer Hasini Perera, and was the pick of the bowlers once more, allowing just 13 runs in her four overs. As each of the Pakistan bowlers chipped in with a wicket, the Sri Lankan batting began to fall away. In a somewhat insipid, uninspiring innings, the visitors stumbled to 102.

Pakistan lost Gull Feroza early, thanks to a sensational diving catch from Nilakshi De Silva, and for a while, it looked like that might charge Sri Lanka to a spirited defence of a low total. Muneeba Ali, who wasn’t quite able to find her timing, fell trying to sweep Inoka Ranaweera to fine leg, and soon after, the belligerent Iram Javed got a leading edge of Ranasinghe, leaving Pakistan tottering at 34 for 3. The asking rate, too, had begun to flirt with a run a ball, meaning Maroof and Naseem, two new batters, had significant pressure on their shoulders.

They, too, began with caution, aware that taking the game deep would only help the hosts. Once they got their eye in, the pair seemed to have set defined roles for themselves, with Maroof taking a back seat while Naseem took the attack to Sri Lanka. It was after the 15th over that Pakistan really began to move through the gears, a stunning back-foot six by Naseem setting the tone for what was to come. Sloppiness crept into the Sri Lankans’ game, too, epitomised by five careless overthrow runs that brought Pakistan to within ten runs of victory.

The win was sealed with an aerial slap off Ranasinghe by Naseem that landed just inside the rope as she finished with an unbeaten 45 off 31 balls, with the last 28 runs coming off just ten balls. The result means Pakistan have the chance to seal a clean sweep when the sides meet again for the final T20 on Saturday.

Brief scores: Sri Lanka Women 102 for 6 (Hasini Perera 35, Tuba Hassan 1-13) lost to Pakistan Women 104 for 3 (Ayesha Naseem 45*, Bismah Maroof 22*, Achini Kulasuriya 1-11) by seven wickets

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Asitha rips through Bangladesh as Sri Lanka win Test series

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Asitha Fernando finished with a career-best six for 51 as Sri Lanka thrashed hosts Bangladesh by ten wickets in the second Test yesterday to win the two match series 1-0.The visitors bowled out Bangladesh for 169 runs in their second innings with 24-year-old Asitha playing a starring role at the National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka.

“We knew we needed a couple of wickets to go our way,” said Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne.

“The fast bowlers did the job for us, both in the first innings as well as the second.”

Sri Lanka made 506 runs in the first innings after bowling out Bangladesh for 365.

Oshada Fernando sealed the devastating win with an unbeaten 21 in three overs.Play had resumed on the fifth and final day with the hosts at a precarious 34-4 and Sri Lanka upped the pressure when Kasun Rajitha bowled Mushfiqur Rahim for 23 in the eighth over.Shakib Al Hasan and Liton Das both hit fifties in a 110-run stand and held on through the first session with a mix of caution and aggression.

Shakib’s counter-attack saw him hit Rajitha for three fours in one over, forcing Sri Lanka to widen their field set-up, while Liton played an anchor role after resuming on one overnight.Liton was given out caught behind off Rajitha on nine as he attempted to flick a ball going down the leg, but survived on review.It was the fourth caught behind decision overturned in the match, all given by West Indies umpire Joel Wilson.

A counter-punching Shakib brought his 27th Test fifty in the last ball before lunch with a boundary off Dhananjaya de Silva, before Asitha drove the hosts’ collapse after lunch.He took the scalps of both Liton and Shakib soon after the break, claiming four of the last five wickets after dispatching openers Mahmudul Hasan Joy and Tamim Iqbal the previous day.Ramesh Mendis trapped Mosaddek Hossain for nine before Asitha wrapped up the Bangladesh innings with the wickets of Taijul Islam and Khaled Ahmed in successive deliveries.

“A disappointing performance,” said Bangladesh captain Mominul Haque.

“They put us under pressure with the new ball, we’ll have to handle it better next time,” he added.

Asitha conceded 144 runs for his first 10-wicket Test match haul, with 4-93 in the first innings.He and Rajitha had Bangladesh reduced to a pitiful 24 for five at the start of the first day before Mushfiqur (175 not out) and Das (141) staged a recovery.But Sri Lanka rode on man of the series Angelo Mathews (145 not out) and Dinesh Chandimal’s 124 to take a commanding 141-run first-innings lead.

Bangladesh collapsed again at the start of their second innings, losing the first four wickets for 23 runs to leave Sri Lanka in full control.The first Test in Chittagong ended in a draw.Bangladesh will now tour West Indies for two Tests, three Twenty20 internationals and three one-day internationals starting in June.Sri Lanka host Australia next month — despite anxieties about the island nation’s protracted economic crisis — for three T20Is, five ODIs and two Tests.

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Yupun continues record-breaking spree  

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Yupun Abeykoon improved the men’s 100metres national record at a championship held in Germany on Wednesday.

Sri Lankan is the Asian leader

by Reemus Fernando  

Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon continued his record-breaking spree at a championship in Dessau, Germany as he clocked the fastest time in the men’s 100 metres in Asia this year to win ahead of Kenyan world leader Ferdinand Omanyala on Wednesday.

Abeykoon, who is also the South Asian record holder in the 100 metres clocked 10.06 seconds to win as he took a good chunk of 0.09 seconds off his previous national record.

It is the third time that the 27-year-old has improved the national record in 100 metres.

Abeykoon first took the national record of the 100 metres (10.16 secs) in 2020 before improving it to 10.15 seconds last year.

Abeykoon’s 10.06 seconds is the fastest time in Asia this year as he overtook Abdullah Abkar Mohammed (10.14) of Saudi Arabia and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (10.15) of Japan who had both produced their seasonal best in March.

With Abeykoon winning the 100 metres against a quality field inclusive of Ferdinand Omanyala, who had clocked a world-leading time of 9.85 seconds early this month, it is expected that the South Asian Games medallist would produce the tough qualifying standard of 10.05 seconds for the World Championship soon rather than later.

Athletes are selected for the World Championship through direct qualifying standards and through the world rankings. Of the 48 slots allocated for the track’s showpiece discipline, 27 are selected from those who achieve the tough qualifying standard of 10.05 seconds, for which Abeykoon is just a millisecond behind.

The remaining slots are filled according to the ‘Road to Oregon 2022’ list in which Abeykoon is placed in the 58th position at present. That ranking is set to improve when stats are updated next week.

Abeykoon’s remarkable achievements have come at a time when some of the country’s promising athletes struggle to improve their rankings due to lack of quality competitions here in Sri Lanka.

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