A look back at Sri Lanka’s first Test tour of West Indies
by Aravinthan Arunthavanathan
March 26th marked the 13th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s first Test victory in the Caribbean. Ever since, Sri Lanka has gone on to record only one more victory during the last tour in 2018. Despite these two special wins, the most intriguing Sri Lanka- West Indies Test match overseas remains to be the second Test of Sri Lanka’s maiden tour in 1997. It’s a Test which often goes unnoticed but was special in many ways.
When Sri Lanka set foot in the West Indies in 1997, they were the reigning ODI champs. But the eagerness to prove their mark in white flannels, resulted in an odd schedule consisting of two Tests and a solitary ODI. The late Tony Cozier would call that the equivalent of bringing down Michael Jackson to perform for an opera.
During the first Test In Antigua Sri Lanka were in with a great chance to bat the West Indians out. With a thirty plus lead and the best of batting conditions in hand, Sri Lanka succumbed to the famous West Indies line up for a paltry 152 leaving the Windies with an easy chase. The loss by six wickets on paper did not reveal the closeness of the game. With a golden opportunity lost Sri Lanka moved to the scenic Arnos Vale in St. Vincent’s, one of the most picturesque venues in the world hosting its first Test match.
Ravindra Pushpakumara who had been drafted in as replacement for Chaminda Vass who was injured wreaked havoc by giving the Winides their own medicine bowling fast and straight. The often erratic and colourful Pushpakumara had a great outing claiming five West Indian wickets.
Pushpakumara dealt early blows by blowing away the top-order with short pitched and full-length deliveries ably supported by Sajeeva de Silva who had the big fish Brian Lara caught and bowled leaving the opposition at five for three. Carl Hooper’s back to the wall half-century propelled West Indies to a paltry 147 leaving Sri Lanka in the driver’s seat.
Sri Lanka got off to a solid start propelled by Sanath Jayasuriya’s fireworks getting them to a lead of ten runs with only three wickets down at the end of the day. However tight bowling by the West Indies did not let Sanath go on his merry way and pegged back the Lankan juggernaut the following morning. This resulted in a flurry of wickets and another golden opportunity missed to seal the deal as Sri Lanka were bundled out for 222 with a lead of 75, which was inadequate given the solid start Sri Lanka had. Sri Lanka in fact had lost seven wickets for 44 runs with Hooper claiming a five wicket haul.
Sri Lanka’s grip started to loosen as the opposing openers put on 62 almost wiping out the deficit before Pushpakumara cleaned up Sherwin Campbell to provide an opening. However, the Sri Lankan comeback was short lived as Lara recovered from a slump of form and dominated the bowling in a sign of what was in store for the future by scoring a century. With Lara back in the hut holding out to Jayasuriya at square leg off Dharmasena the lead was 197 with five wickets left. The Sri lanka resurgence was again thwarted by the West Indian pair of Ambrose and Holder who put up a fifty plus stand for the eighth wicket. Murali came to Sri Lanka’s rescue picking up five wickets and keeping the lead to a manageable 268 leaving an achievable target. Nevertheless, it was an era where even chasing 200 in the last innings was a challenge as India realized only weeks prior being bowled out for 81 chasing a mere hundred in Barbados.
The fortunes had fluctuated with the upper hand being rather handed on a platter to the opposition by both teams as opposed to being wrestled back. Nevertheless, with Sanath, Aravinda and Arjuna in good nick there was a good chance Sri Lanka were on the verge of making history posting their fourth overseas win. It would be a remarkable moment given the momentum Sri Lanka had built during the period.
The Sri Lankan chase was dealt a severe blow as Walsh cleaned up Sanath attempting a flick which had fetched tons of runs in white ball formats. This was followed by the dismissal of Atapattu bringing Aravinda to the crease. The maestro showcased his absolute brilliance by smacking eighteen runs off Ian Bishop’s penultimate over of the day.
With less than 200 to chase on the final day with Aravinda at the crease in prime form, Sri Lankan hopes were high. Despite the loss of Mahanama in the morning session Aravinda and Arjuna formed a solid partnership smacking the Windies attack to all parts of the ground prior to lunch deflating the morale of the West Indians. With rain intervening and killing Sri Lanka’s momentum the resumption saw them needing a mere 80 runs with seven wickets in hand. Finally, the game seemed to have been sealed by the Lankans.
True to the pattern of events that had preceded, Walsh nailed a perfect yorker to clean up Aravinda immediately after resumption of play. He made a classy 78. Calamity struck the Sri Lankan camp as a cluster of wickets followed as had been the case with both teams during the series which saw Sri Lanka succumb to 231 for eight from a commanding 189 for three. From a position of dominance Sri Lankans were pushed against the wall hoping for divine intervention to win or at least escape unscathed. The rain gods came to Sri Lanka’s rescue immediately after Murali lobbed a short, pitched delivery to short leg and conceded Sri Lanka’s eighth wicket to the West Indies attack, who were going all out for the kill.
In hindsight, it was an opportunity which Sri Lanka would regret missing. Still with Arjuna at the other end remaining on 72 not out there was the remotest of possibilities of pulling of a miracle, but it was a situation Sri Lanka should never have got into given the commanding positions they were in during the game. Despite the most favorable result being obtained it remains by fast the most intriguing duel between both sides which the nation did not witness due to a coverage black out.
Sri Lanka may not have created history, but they gave the West Indians who were still a force to reckon especially at home a good fight which showed the world that Sri Lanka were not merely a white ball oriented team but had what required to fight it out at the Test level too.
Under 19 Division III cricket tournament to be concluded after schools reopen
The knockout stage matches of the Under-19 Division III cricket tournament will be played only after the schools reopen, the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) said.
The SLSCA managed to conclude the Under-19 Division I and II tournaments before the third wave of the Covid 19 pandemic forced cancellation of all public events. But the Division III tournament largely consisting of outstation and up and coming schools was stranded at the quarter-final stage as the schools were closed due to the third wave of Covid 19.
The Sri Lanka Cricket conducted Under-19 Inter Provincial Tournament too was postponed due to the third wave of the pandemic.
Nishantha Kumara, the Under-19 tournament secretary of the SLSCA said that the Division III Level one and two tournaments will be concluded after schools reopen.
He said that there were no health issues emanating from the concluded phase of the tournament as the matches were conducted according to guidelines stipulated by health authorities.
“We were able to conclude the Division I and II tournaments successfully as all schools, players and parents of players and match officials cooperated well to conduct the tournament according to guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education,” said Nishantha.
“We will try our best to conclude the Division III tournament in a similar manner after normalcy returns,” said Nishantha.
Meanwhile player registrations for the Under-15 and 17 tournaments is now on. The SLSCA has introduced an online registration method for the schools to register their players for various age category tournaments.
“We invited officials from schools to introduce the system before hand and now those officials nominated by the respective schools are conducting the registrations online successfully. We are requesting all schools to conclude the registration process. So that we can commence tournaments when the authorities grant permission,” an official of the SLSCA said.
The SLSCA conducted the Under-19 tournament as a curtailed limited overs tournament after the Ministry of Education granted permission to hold events within a short period of time from March to April. Generally the Under-19 tournament commences in September and concludes in April with matches of two innings format (of two-days of duration) being played in a league tournament.
Schools cricket tournaments remained suspended for a year from March 2020 due to the pandemic. (RF)
Karunaratne closes in on top 10 of ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings
Dimuth Karunaratne has closed in on a top-10 spot in the ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings after a successful second Test against Bangladesh in Kandy which Sri Lanka won by 209 runs to clinch the two-match series 1-0.
The opening batsman struck 118 and 66, moving up four slots to 11th position in the list led by New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. Karunaratne’s career-best ranking is sixth, attained in August 2019. He is the top-ranked Test batsman from Sri Lanka with Angelo Mathews next in the list in 24th position.
Niroshan Dickwella (up four places to 31st), Oshada Fernando (up 10 places to 58th) and Lahiru Thirimanne (up 13 places to 60th) are the other Sri Lanka batsmen to advance while left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama’s player of the match haul of 11 for 178, the best figures by a Sri Lankan on Test debut, sees him enter the rankings in 48th position.
Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal’s knocks of 92 and 24 have helped him gain three places to reach 27th position while Mushfiqur Rahim and captain Mominul Haque have inched up a slot each to reach 21st and 30th positions, respectively, in the latest men’s weekly update that includes the first Test between Zimbabwe and Pakistan.
Pakistan fast bowler Hasan Ali’s haul of nine for 89 in the first Test against Zimbabwe in Harare not only won him the player of the match award for starring in the innings victory but also enabled him to gain 15 slots and reach a career-best 20th position among bowlers.
Left-arm fast bowler Shaheen Afridi (up two places to 31st) and left-arm spinner Nauman Ali (up 12 places to 54th) have also advanced in the list for bowlers while left-handed batsman Fawad Alam continues his fine run, moving up 31 places to a career-best 47th position after scoring 140, his fourth century in 10 Test matches. Abid Ali is up six places to 78th position.
For Zimbabwe, Regis Chakabva has gained two slots to reach 97th position while fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani has progressed 26 slots to reach 55th position with figures of four for 73.
The story of Devapathiraja’s rise to glory
by Reemus Fernando
When the Devapathiraja team visited Colombo for the knockout stage matches of the just concluded Under-19 Division I tournament Lumbini and Wesley generously provided free lodgings for the team. When they host teams, Richmond come to their rescue providing accommodation for the visiting teams. Foundation of Goodness has been providing them team kits. Except the umpire fees, all their other expenses on cricket are met by the cricketers’ not so well to do parents. Their coach had done a voluntary job for a better part of the last two decades. In return, Devapathiraja College, Ratgama boxing their way up in the country’s schools cricket rankings have not disappointed.
When schools with over 100 years of rich cricket history and substantial funds to nurture the sport struggle in lower divisions in the premier Under-19 cricket tournament, Devapathiraja, a little known entity at the start of the millennium, have improved by leaps and bounds during the last two decades. Their latest achievement was reaching the final of the just concluded Under-19 Division I Tier ‘B’ cricket tournament.
Devapathiraja were the babies of the Tier ‘B’ of the Division I tournament inclusive of power houses of cricket namely Ananda College, Thurstan College and St. Peter’s College from Colombo and strongholds of Southern Province, Mahinda, St. Servatius’, St. Aloysius’ and Dharmasoka. Against many odds Devapathiraja reached the final. After being bowled out for a low score they made Mahinda College, Galle toil hard for victory.
Devapathiraja started playing cricket when their current coach Ranjan Lasantha de Silva was a student at the school. Many schools started playing hard ball cricket following the 1996 World Cup win. Ranjan, like the rest of the youth of his era was craving to play cricket. Unfortunately there was no cricket team or facilities for the sport at the school. He requested in writing that cricket be started at his school. Fortunately the principal, late T.A.C.N. Gunasekara had come from a cricket playing school (Revata College) and facilitated the start. Like the majority of schools which started playing cricket after 1996, the sport started with a Big Match against Sri Sumangala College, Hikkaduwa in 1997. But the sport did not really kick off until the correct combination of coach, Master in Charge and the sports loving youth got together a couple of years later.
With no previous coaching experience Ranjan after leaving school started training the school’s teams. By 1999 the school had started training all four age groups.
“I was influenced and helped by the likes of Tedlal Silva and Viraj Chaminda to pursue qualifications in coaching. So I did the Level I coaching course conducted by Sri Lanka Cricket. Also followed whatever other courses available to be qualified for the job. I must also thank former District Coach Lasith Chaminda and officials like, Jayananda Warnaweera for their support,” said Ranjan in an interview with The Island.
When cricket Devapathiraja commenced playing cricket they did not have a proper ground and the teams took refuge at the Ratgama Public ground. The school received a boost when Nishantha Kumara, who had the experience in running cricket at Neluwa National School received a transfer to Devapathiraja in 2000. He did all the necessary correspondence for all age group teams to play in Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association conducted tournaments and worked hand in hand with Ranjan until they were promoted to Division I.
Devapathiraja achieved their first breakthrough when they reached the final of the Under 19 Division III tournament in the 2013/14 season. They were the runners up to Debarawewa National School that season and earned the all important promotion to Division II the following year. It did not take too long for them to graduate from Division II to Division I.
“You have to play in the Division I category for your players to get recognition. Players in the lower divisions too are called for selection trials but it is highly unlikely for them to get the selectors’ nod. That realization compelled us to strive for Division I qualification,” said Ranjan.
However by the time they had reached the top Division they had already produced several cricketers to club level and one of their products, Tharindu Kaushal had played several Tests for Sri Lanka.
They were the Division II champions in the 2017/2018 season and commenced their Division I campaign in the 2018/19 season where they struggled but managed to avoid relegation.
Devapathiraja have done well in the lower age category tournaments as well and has produced players who have represented the Sri Lanka Schools Under-15 teams and National Youth Teams. Dilshan Kanchana, Umesh Mayurakantha, Pathum Madusanka, Raveen Yasas and Thikshila de Silva are among them.
According to Ranjan, cricket at Devapathiraja survives thanks to the contributions made by the cricketers’ parents who are not from well to do families. “The Schools Development Society provides umpire fees. But all other expenses are taken care of by cricketers’ parents. But there are others who help like the Foundation of Goodness which provides several scholarships for students and playing kits. Principal of Richmond College and the Masters in Charge of Cricket of both Mahinda and Richmond support us when we host teams. When we went to Colombo for the knockout stage matches Wesley College and Lumbini College provided lodging” said Ranjan.
Ranjan also appreciated the support given by the school’s Principal Sam Silva and current Master In Charge of Cricket Ranjith Kumbalathara.
Ranjan said that cricket at Devapathiraja has not only helped the national team find raw material but has also helped youth of the area to engage in sports in a meaningful way.
Sudeera Weeraratne (Captain), Irushka Thimira, Dinitha Prabanka, Pawan Sandesh, Jeewaka Shasheen, Sasanka Nirmal, Tharindu Rukshan, Matheesha Saranga, Darshaka Sandeepa, Sandaru Theekshana, Chaminda Sandaruwan, Pathum Shaminda, Pradeep Rangana, Hiran Chamikara, Chanuka Sulakshana, Simash Dilunja.
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