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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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Spin bowling coach concedes Sri Lanka under bowled Dhananjaya

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Rex Clementine in Galle

The question in everyone’s mind watching the second day’s play of the first Test between Australia and Sri Lanka was why off-spinner Dhananjaya de Silva was not bowled enough as he was creating opportunities. The part-timer sent down just two overs on the day while the rest of the spinners took a hammering.

Dhananjaya had started off the day well claiming the wicket of Travis Head when he took a return catch but skipper Dimuth Karunaratne hardly bowled him thereafter even when Australian batsmen went on the rampage. Sri Lanka’s Bowling Coach Piyal Wijetunga conceded that Dhananjaya was under bowled.

“When Ramesh was bowling well, I thought we could have used Dhananjaya more. I thought we under bowled him. Had he bowled more, it could have been lot more different,” Wijetunga, a former Test cricketer told reporters.

Lasith Embuldeniya has been disappointing. While he has not been able to make breakthroughs, he also sent down too many loose deliveries which were duly punished. The left-arm spinner had struggled in the recent Test series in Bangladesh as well and the question was asked whether he would have been better off playing against Australia ‘A’ lead up to the Test series.

“Lasith has bowled well in training. The problem is when he goes out to the middle he struggles. It’s a matter of handling the pressure. The Bangladesh setback maybe is working on his head. When something of this nature happens, the player has to sort it out. A spinner more than a fast bowler or a batsman needs to be mentally strong. We need to address that issue,” Wijetunga stressed.

Sri Lanka’s spinners haven’t been able to send down even a single maiden over in the innings and Wijetunga said that it was due to the fact that the opposition batsmen were looking to attack. But in reality, every over the spinner offered loose balls and they were put away.

“I accept the fact that we didn’t bowl single maiden over in this innings. On spinning tracks batters try to be aggressive. This is not an excuse. We could have bowled a few maiden overs. According to my opinion the reason is the batsmen trying to be aggressive. They were looking to sweep and reverse sweep. Their batsmen handled spin better than our batters.”

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Science in search of first win this season

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By a Special Sports Correspondent  

S. Thomas’ College will be looking for a better performance this week when they confront St. Joseph’s College in their Division 1 Segment A Group 1 A match scheduled for Saturday (June 2) which could be rated as one of the key matches to be worked off in the second week of the inter-school league rugby tournament.

The match scheduled to take place at Havelock Park will be played for the Lady Jayatilake Shield. The Thomians went down fighting last week to Trinity. Much is expected from the lads from Mount Lavina tomorrow if they are to get the better of Trinity; a team which proved last week that they are one of the sides to watch this season.

Trinity meanwhile lock horns with St. Anthony’s Katugastota at Nittawela today (Friday). Royal take on Kingswood which is the other game scheduled today.

In a key game in the Division 1 Segment A Group 1 B this week Science take on Dharmaraja. In this fixture Science is set to record its first win for the season. Last week the lads from Mount Lavinia went down fighting to Isipathana 18-9 and earned much respect for the spirited performance.

Vidyartha host St. Peter’s on Sunday at Nittawela. At the time of writing the venue for the Wesley vs Isipathana match was not released to the media by the tournament organizers.

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Sri Lanka lose plot as Australia lead goes past 100

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Rex Clementine in Galle

Spin had done the job against Australia in the limited overs series and with the opposition vulnerable against the turning ball, the quartet of spinners that Sri Lanka had picked were expected to put the brakes on the batsmen in the first Test in Galle. But the hosts were poor as they bowled too short and sent down too many loose balls to hand the initiative of the Test match to Australia, who finished day two on 313 for eight with a healthy lead of 101.

Sri Lanka were unable to tie down the attacking batsmen as none of the spinners managed a maiden over. Left-arm orthodox spinner Lasith Embuldeniya was expensive conceding 73 runs in his 15 overs giving away almost five runs an over while leg-spinner Jeffrey Vandersay went  for more than six runs an over with his ten overs costing 68 runs.

Skipper Dimuth Karunaratne’s bowling changes were also poor. Off-spinner Dhananjaya de Silva had provided an early breakthrough when he took a return catch to dismiss Travis Head but soon after that he was taken off the attack on a rain curtailed day. Shockingly, Dhananjaya bowled just two overs on day two and the most economical and experienced bowler in the team has sent down only five overs in the innings.

Ramesh Mendis finished with four wickets and looked the most threatening among the bowlers, particularly against the left-handers. Jeffrey Vandersay claimed two including the big wicket of Usman Khawaja, world’s highest run getter this year, but lacked discipline.

Only 44 overs were bowled in the day of the scheduled 90 due to rain and a wet outfield. Sri Lanka had reduced Australia to 157 for five and were looking to knock the lower order cheaply, but there was little pressure from the spinners despite the pitch offering assistance.

Alex Carey and Cameroon Green added 84 runs for the sixth wicket with the wicketkeeper smashing 45 off 47 deliveries with six fours. There were questions asked at the start whether Australia would have been better off with the spinning all-rounder Glenn Maxwell instead of seaming all-rounder Green. But the Perth based big man justified his selection top scoring with 77 runs.

Green, considered a long term investment by Australia with a solid First Class record, could play a role of someone like Michael Bevan, who was an expert batting with the tail in limited over games.

Green and Mitchell Starc were dismissed in the space of three deliveries and with the total on 278 for eight, Sri Lanka looked to knock off Australia before they reached 300. But skipper Pat Cummins with a few mighty blows took the score beyond 300 and the lead past 100. He remained unbeaten on 26 in 16 deliveries with one four and three sixes. All three sixes came off Vandersay including two in an over.

Play will get underway early today at 9:45 am to catch up for lost time on day two.

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