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Herath creates history at Paralympics, Dulan wins bronze

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Dinesh Priyantha Herath created history winning country’s first Paralympics gold medal in Tokyo yesterday. Here he celebrates after winning the gold medal of the F46 javelin throw.

Sri Lanka Army’s Dinesh Priyantha Herath created history winning country’s first Paralympics gold medal and proved his coach Pradeep Nishantha’s prediction right as he beat India’s defending champion and world record holder in the men’s F46 javelin throw in Tokyo yesterday.

In his third attempt, Herath hurled the javelin to a distance of 67.79 metres, the furthest a Para athlete in the F46 category had ever thrown in the history. The world and Paralympics record holder Devendra Jhajharia who was attempting to defend his title, also improved on his previous mark but the Indian’s best throw fell more than three metres behind the Sri Lankan’s new mark. The previous World Record mark was 63.97 metres.

While the 35-year-old Herath stormed to gold, the reigning Rio 2016 champion Devendra claimed silver with a throw of 64.35 metres.

Last week in an interview with The Island Pradeep Nishantha, the Gateway College coach who also trained country’s Olympic thrower Sumeda Ranasinghe said that his charges were ready to create history in Tokyo on Monday. And it was exactly what Herath and Dulan Kodithuwakku did. While Herath won country’s first ever gold, Kodithuwakku won a bronze in the F64 javelin throw making it the first time the country had won more than one medal at Paralympics.

For Herath it was the second Paralympics medal. Herath first won bronze at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

While acknowledging the support given by the Sports Minister, Sports Council, Army Commander, his coach, Paralympics Committee and the officials of his regiment, the Gajaba Regiment athlete dedicated his gold medal to his wife.

Coach Pradeep Nishantha flanked by gold medal winner Dinesh Priyantha Herath (right) and bronze winner Dulan Kodithuwakku (left) after their historic achievement at Tokyo Paralympics on Monday.

“I am very happy because my dream came true. I have no words to describe the feeling,” said Priyantha, who kissed the Sri Lankan flag after claiming victory.

Commenting on his historic feat Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva yesterday told The Island that he had an opportunity to meet Sgt. Dinesh Priyantha Herath before the Sri Lankan Paralympics team left for Tokyo. “Javelin thrower Sgt. Herath was confident of securing the Gold at F 46 event,” Gen. Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff said. Responding to a query, Gen. Silva said that Sgt Herath of the Gajaba Regiment was wounded in action on Dec 16, 2008 during fierce fighting in the Kilinochchi area.

Enlisted to the Army on 18 March 2004 as a recruit, Herath completed basic training at Saliyapura. Following the Kilinochchi incident, he took part in Army-organized Para Athletic training events at the GR Regimental HQ. In 2012, he won Gold in Javelin Throw (52 m) in Army Para Athletic Meet, first place in Malaysia’s Para Athletic Meet (52.95 m) in 2012, second place in Germany’s Para Athletic (Qualifying) Meet (53.09m) in 2017 and again the second place in London Para Athletic Meet-2017 recording 59.90m in the same event.

In the F64 javelin throw event held in the afternoon yesterday, Kodithuwakku was in the second place until his final attempt. While India’s Sumit Sumit led from the first throw, Kodituwakku commenced his attempts with a throw of 62.11 metres before making his best feat in the fourth attempt, a throw of 65.61 metres. But he had to settle for bronze medal after Australia’s Burian Michal delivered a throw of 66.29 metres in the final round.

Sri Lanka has participated in every Paralympics since 1996 but until yesterday had won only bronze medals at the quadrennial event. Country won the first Paralympics medal, a bronze when Pradeep Sanjaya was placed third in the T46 400 metres at the 2012 Paralympics in London. Dialog has been the main sponsor of Sri Lanka’s Paralympics teams during the last two decades.



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Royal-Thomian continues uninterrupted

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142nd Battle of the Blues

by Reemus Fernando 

The fact that the historic Battle of the Blues had been played uninterruptedly even during the two World Wars and local insurgencies is something that ‘Royal-Thomian’ enthusiasts cherish so dearly. That uninterrupted status of the annual encounter will be intact when S. Thomas’ under the captaincy of Shalin de Mel and Royal skippered by the former Sri Lanka Under-19 player Ahan Wickramasinghe enter the SSC ground for the 142nd edition of the Big Match today.

After the inaugural match was played in 1880, it is the first time the match is played in October as the organizers had to postpone the event twice (May and September) this year due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Except the Royal-Thomian only one other Big Match had been played this year.

With no match exposure during recent months, and some players barely having played matches of innings format, analysts believe that only a special batting effort could make the encounter last for three days if the weather permits. Except the three Sri Lanka Under-19 players who were involved in the just concluded series against Bangladesh, other players have not taken part in matches during recent months due to lockdowns and pandemic related restrictions.

Even the Sri Lanka Under-19 players, namely Ryan Fernando and Yasiru Rodrigo from S. Thomas’ and Sadisha Rajapaksha from Royal competed only in two to three Limited Overs matches during the series concluded on Monday. However, nearly a month-long training camp where they also played practice games is going to stand in good stead for the trio. Both teams played a few traditional matches early this year but those statistics will not make it easy assessing the true strengths of the two teams.

The Thomians are fielding one of the youngest teams in recent history. There are as many as seven freshers lining up with the four colursmen against a team that have as many as six players from the last Big Match and three others who played First XI cricket last season. According to S. Thomas’ coach Dinesh Kumarasinghe, “the present Thomian outfit is the youngest team since 1999.” Some of them have played only in an Under-15 tournament. That too in the year 2019.

The Thomians will heavily rely on skipper De Mel, Sri Lanka Under 19 duo Fernando and Rodrigo, and Caniston Gunarathnam who all played in the last Big Match. Apart from them batting opener Anuk Palihawadana was the only batsman who was among runs during the few traditional matches they played early this year.

Left armer Rodrigo will spearhead the bowling attack with Caniston Gunarathnam with Nethan Caldera providing additional pace options. Offies Palihawadena and Thenuka Liyanage and leg spinner Rajindu Tilakaratne will brace the spin department.

On paper, Royal are the formidable team with the entire batting line up having played First XI cricket for more than two seasons. Skipper Wickramasinghe maintained an average over 85 runs during their traditional matches early this year. Kavindu Pathiratne, Isiwara Dissanayake, Sadisha Rajapaksha and Dasis Manchanayake who excelled at the last Big Match are reliable batsmen.

Kavindu Pathiratne will lead the bowling attack with fellow pacemen Dan Poddiwela and Sonal Amarasekara, while left arm spinner Balasuriya will be joined by Prashan Silva to make strong the spin department.

The match will be played behind closed doors. Organisers said in a statement yesterday that only the sponsor’s media arm will be permitted to cover the match. (Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

Teams

Royal:

Ahan Wickramsinghe (Captain), Kavindu Pathiratne (V. Capt.), Prashan Silva, Isiwara Dissanayake, Gishan Balasuriya, Sadisha Rajapaksha, Dasis Manchanayake, Sonal Amarasekara, Sehan Herath, Sineth Jayawardena, Dan Poddiwela.  

S. Thomas’:

Shalin De Mel (Captain), Ryan Fernando (V. Capt.), Yasiru Rodrigo, Caniston Gunarathnam, Anuk Palihawadena, Romesh Mendis, Nathan Caldera, Thenuka Liyanage, Mahith Perera, Rajindu Tilakaratne, Senesh Hettiarachchi.  

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Can Gollings reverse Sri Lanka’s rugby fortunes?

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by a special sports correspondent

Sri Lanka’s rugby players and fans received inspiring news days ago with the sport’s governing body Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) appointing England rugby union star Ben Gollings as Rugby Director to oversee preparations of the national men’s and women’s squads for the upcoming Asian Sevens Series.

Gollings perhaps knows too well that this cricket crazy nation also has a similar passion for rugby union; especially the abbreviated form of the sport.

Gollings is no stranger to the Sri Lanka rugby scene having had a coaching stint back in the island in 2012. The island’s rugby squads are often loaded with ‘steppers’ (fast runners) when the best players from all the clubs are drafted into the national pool. But this time around the players from Kandy SC and CR&FC will not be considered for selection because these two clubs decided to refrain from contesting the upcoming domestic sevens tournament; participation at the event serving as the criterion for players to be drafted into the national pool.

Strangely Sri Lanka doesn’t know where its priorities are and has been focusing on the 15-a-side version of the sport despite the little success in that form in the international rugby scene.

The rugby clubs that own the players are more focused on the marathon league tournament which absorbs much of the resources and the valuable time the players give to the sport. Speculation is rife that both Kandy SC and CR & FC didn’t see it wise to expose its players to international rugby unprepared and invite injuries to players. Sri Lanka needs an accomplished coach out there in the middle who can lift the islanders’ game to the next level and slowly take the players out of the Covid mentality they are trapped in. Even Gollings had mentioned at a press conference held on Monday that “as sports personalities you won’t forget how to play the game. My responsibility is to boost their confidence and give them the platform to express themselves and accelerate.”

SLR has released its calendar and plans to have two domestic sevens tournaments; the first in January (15-16) and the second in June (17-18).

SLR must stick to plans and drive forward because a sport like rugby union will always attract sponsors. Rugby in Sri Lanka was a little late to start compared to other disciplines. And a star in the calibre of Gollings landing in Sri Lanka goes on to suggest that there is potential for the sport to grow over here. That growth- in the long-run-is possible with a programme under the rugby controlling body; which has the supreme authority to select a side that can represent Sri Lanka in the international scene.

There were rugby officials in the past who tried to shift the focus from club rugby to national rugby, but often they ran into heavy opposition. Clubs in Sri Lanka only cooperate with SLR if events in the calendar are spaced out and players have enough time to recover.

Many years ago, this writer read an article in a foreign magazine which gave a strong message on sport and its people. It was stated there that if one studies a national team in attendance and finds the players disorganised and neglected then most likely the same situation exists with the country’s government and how the latter treats its people.

Right now, the focus is on rugby sevens and on the upcoming ‘Warriors Sevens’ tournament which will serve as the trial to select the men’s national team for the Asian Sevens Series. And given the way rugby was struggling to get its activities off the ground, one noticed the sport’s controlling body being detached from the sports minster or the Minister of Sports distancing himself from rugby officials despite the sports minister himself being a former national rugby player.

In this fiercely personalised era where everyone takes care of himself or herself whether in sport or other form of employment SLR must seriously think of player remuneration during training for national assignments. In the past the state didn’t have that professional thinking nor the clout to turn the players into national assets. Even now the players remain properties of private clubs; just like some of the best players in the world out there. But the difference is that players in other countries have that deeper understanding about representing the country and the notion of taking responsibility is embedded into their psyche from a young age. This is not the case in Sri Lanka. Just rewind the clock and see how many Sri Lankan sportsmen and officials decamped on their return from overseas after a tournament concluded. Luckily, we haven’t seen that in the annals of Sri Lanka rugby as yet.

Coming back to the players, Minister Namal Rajapaksa has the clout and the connections to get the players to think of a national assignment if that be the need of the hour. SLR President Rizly Illyas is a person who has grown old in the sport and is perhaps the ideal person to be in charge of rugby over here because a personality of that vintage is absolutely necessary when ambitious youngsters demand too much too soon and need to be put in their places. It’s a commonly asked question whether the sports minister and the SLR ‘big boss’ are at loggerheads and find it hard to map out a way ‘to agree to disagree’ and move on with the sport.

Rugby produces some of the fiercest battles out there on the pitch and the sport teaches you how to cherish the moments in the game and nurture friendships when you socialize after a match. This lesson must never be forgotten!

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Asalanka wants to win more games for Sri Lanka

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Rex Clementine in Dubai

Sri Lanka are enjoying a brilliant wave of success having won five games in a row now in the ICC T-20 World Cup. While their bowling has looked formidable, batting has been brittle and it needed a stunning unbeaten 80 from Charith Asalanka for them to overcome Bangladesh. Asalanka, a two time Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year and a former Sri Lanka Under-19 captain has been earmarked for great things and the first signs of a star in the making were on show on Sunday during his stunning knock.

The country is not short of cricketing talent. Kusal Mendis has been the brightest young talent to emerge in recent times but unfortunately young players lose track. Asalanka is someone who has got a good head above his shoulders and there are signs that he is a captain in the making.

“Very pleased that I was able to win a game for Sri Lanka and I am looking forward to win lot more. I was not in the best of form during the home South Africa series and missed the warm-up games here. I was able to mentally prepare for the game during that time and worked with the coaches a lot and there was lot of input from Mahela as well,” Asalanka told journalists.

Providing him good support was Bhanuka Rajapaksa with whom he added 86 runs for the fifth wicket after the top order had collapsed.

“We all know that Bhanuka is an attacking batsman. No matter what the situation of the game is, he will attack. There was a short boundary on one side of the wicket so we wanted to target that and it worked,” Asalanka explained.

“We had done a lot of analysis as to which bowler to target and stuff. The other thing is that in all venues one side of the boundary is short so there was no harm in taking on even their best bowler.”

Sri Lanka will take on Australia today in Dubai and Asalanka said that a lot of planning has gone in ahead of the game. “We have a plan for each of the 11 Australian players. We kept out one day and did the planning against them. Australia is completely different from Bangladesh. Their strength is pace. We have done a lot of training accordingly and looking forward to it,” Asalanka explained.

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