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How Arjuna spotted and nurtured Praveen Jayawickrama’s talent

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by Rex Clementine

As Sri Lanka ended their Test win drought that had stretched for 16 months, they had an unlikely hero. Praveen Jayawickrama, a left-arm orthodox spinner on debut was Man of the Match, finishing with figures of 11 for 178, the tenth best bowling figures by a debutant in Test match cricket.

Despite having played just ten First Class games before his Test debut, Jayawickrama bowled like a man who had been in the professional circuit for years. The turn he was able to produce was quite handful when the wicket started crumbling, but he also had control, guile and a clever arm ball. His rise has surprised many Sri Lankans but not World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga, who predicted a bright future for the youngster when he saw him a decade ago and took him under his wings.

“Ten years ago, my school Holy Cross College, Kalutara wanted to do a full day training camp for all the cricketers of the school. Arjuna was the Member of Parliament from the area at that point. So we asked him whether he could come along and help us. He readily agreed,’’ Sunil Silva, an old boy of the school and the Most Popular Schoolboy cricketer of the Year in 1986 told The Island.

“I remember Praveen sent down his first delivery and Arjuna stopped the next bowler and had a word with Praveen. He then sent down a couple of more deliveries, Arjuna turned to me and said, ‘Sunil, I see a bit of Ajit de Silva in this kid.”

Ajit de Silva, also a left-arm orthodox spinner, played in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test and later was banned for 25 years for going on the rebel tour to apartheid South Africa in 1982.

After the session, Ranatunga met the Rector of the school and inquired more about young Praveen. “Arjuna came up to me and said, Father, look after this kid. He is a special talent. He had no doubt Praveen would go onto play for Sri Lanka,” Rev. Fr. Camillus Fernando, the Rector of Holy Cross told The Island.

Ranatunga was conducting a cricket academy for the kids of that area every weekend and Praveen was invited to attend. He made steady progress and went onto represent Sri Lanka Under-19.

“Praveen’s father passed away when he was small. We have four kids,” Praveen’s mother Nimali told The Island.

“Praveen is our second son. The eldest son, got a law degree. The third son just got selected to University in Engineering. The fourth son is also good at studies. Only Praveen missed out on his studies. In fact, he could not sit for GCE AL exams. All the time he was occupied with games either with the school or with Sri Lanka Under-19. This was troubling me. But I remembered Arjuna’s words that one day he would go onto play for Sri Lanka. Therefore, I did not stop Praveen’s cricket and let him continue to play,” she added.

Speaking to The Island, Ranatunga said that there are lots of talent away from Colombo but they do not get nurtured properly. “I have always believed that outstations produce some superb talents. Look at Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan or Rangana Herath. But we don’t invest much on outstations. Praveen Jayawickrama and Ramesh Mendis took 17 wickets in the second Test that Sri Lanka won and both are from outstations.”

“Praveen has great potential. I have no doubt about that. But then, the important thing is young players need to be guided well. Discipline is the key. Talent will get you somewhere, but you need to work hard and stay disciplined to achieve greater things,” Ranatunga a veteran of 93 Tests added.

“He is not the finish product yet. There are a few technical areas he has to work on. I think his right arm is falling too soon. He needs to work on his endurance. If he can spend some time with someone like Murali, that would be ideal. But he is a smart kid with an ability to outsmart the batsmen. That’s a very rare skill. I am sure we are seeing a special guy here. We will hear a lot about him in years to come,” Ranatunga added.

 

 



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Athletics in limbo as travel restrictions imposed

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Local track and field athletes have already suffered setbacks due to the Covid 19 pandemic as they missed quality international competitions.

by Reemus Fernando

Athletes who were looking forward to vie for Olympic entry standards at weekend’s first stage of the 99th National Athletics Championships were in dilemma yesterday after government imposed new travel restrictions due to the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Yesterday, the government announced new travel restrictions starting from 11pm on May 11 to 4.00 am on May 25 and 11.00pm on May 25 to 4.00 am on May 28. That will put in jeopardy the first stage of the National Athletics Championship, which is the final opportunity for local athletes to reach entry standards for the Tokyo Olympics.

Last week, Sri Lanka Athletics decided to conduct the National Championship in four stages (during four weekends) in a bid to minimize participation at venues and scheduled Olympic targeted events of the 99th National Athletics Championship to the May 22-23 weekend.

Sources said that the Olympic targeted events were scheduled for the first weekend in anticipation of a possible lockdown during the Wesak week. But now with travel restrictions imposed to minimize the spread of the virus the Sri Lanka Athletics is faced with a dilemma.

Local track and field athletes suffered several setbacks due to the Covid 19 pandemic as they missed quality international competitions, which help improve their world rankings. They also could not get enough local competitions to get closer to entry standards for Olympics. The cancellation of several international events including the Asian Championships and the Asian Relay were severe blows.

While Italy based Yupun Abeykoon and US based Ushan Thivanka have improved Sri Lanka National records in men’s 100 metres and high jump after taking part in quality competitions this season , local athletes were yearning for competitions from early last year.

When contacted, a top official of Sri Lanka Athletics said that the track and field governing body was in a dilemma. “We had almost completed necessary arrangements to conduct the meet. Now we are in a dilemma,” a top official told The Island.

A source said that that there had been requests to provide accommodation for all competing athletes in Colombo in a bid to avail the final qualifying opportunity for Olympics.

It would be a huge logistical nightmare for Sri Lanka Athletics to provide all participating athletes lodgings in Colombo.

Last year, Sri Lanka Athletics postponed the National Championship to December due to the pandemic. This year’s National Championship was earlier scheduled to be held in April.

Sri Lanka Athletics is likely to take a decision regarding the meet today.

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Bangladesh ODI series crucial for Sri Lanka

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By Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka have arrived in Dhaka for a short three match ODI series that will get underway next week after the players complete mandatory quarantine. The series is important for both sides as the winners will gain significant progress in the ICC World Cup Super League, the event that will select the seven automatic qualifiers for the sport’s showpiece event in 2023.

Sri Lanka would be keen on a series win no doubt but more importantly, they would be looking to build the nucleus of their limited overs team after abject failures over the last three years. National selectors have made some tough calls lead up to the series axing as many as six senior players, including five former captains.

Top order batsman Kusal Perera has been named as captain and he spoke of the need to play without fear of losing. “We should not be afraid to lose and always look to win. I would tell the boys to be positive. This is a young team no doubt but at the same time, these guys have played lot of domestic cricket and I am sure they will be up to the task,” KJP told journalists.

Kusal Mendis has been named his deputy and he is the man tipped to take over the side in the long run across all three formats of the game. “I am very happy to being appointed vice-captain. I have played under KJP for the Kandy team in the LPL. He is a good leader. After being dropped from the side, I worked hard on my game and fitness. I think it was a good break that I got and I am looking forward for the series,” Mendis said before the team’s departure to Dhaka.

While Sri Lanka’s batting still has the fire power and experience, it is the bowling that has had little exposure in the international circuit. Particularly the focus will be on the seam bowling that is raw and Fast Bowling Coach Chaminda Vaas has a tough job at his hand.

Bangladesh will be at full strength with Shakib Al Hasan and Mustafizur Rahman expected to return. Both players missed the two match Test series at Pallekele due to their IPL commitments.

The series is vital for both sides. Sri Lanka are currently ranked 12th in ICC World Cup Super League with minus two points after being whitewashed 3-0 in the Caribbean. A 3-0 rout of Bangladesh will help them to move three places to number nine.

Bangladesh meanwhile are at number six in the table and a  series win will see them securing the top spot of the table above World Champions England.

The first ODI will be played on the 23rd of May in Dhaka.

Sri Lanka also have lot of white ball cricket over the next three months with the team set to tour UK in June followed by a series against India at home. Sri Lanka Cricket is negotiating with Cricket South Africa to play a postponed series soon after the Indian tour.

 

Fixtures 

 1st ODI: 23 May in Dhaka 

2nd ODI: 25 May in Dhaka 

3rd ODI: 28 May in Dhaka

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Scoops, ramps, paddle and reverse sweeps no good for ODIs  

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by Rex Clementine  

Anybody who attempts to scoop Kagiso Rabada’s first ball – a thunderbolt clocked at 150 kmph – over the wicketkeeper’s head must be out of his mind; unless he is Niroshan Dickwella. This was not on the slow surfaces of Dambulla or Suriyawewa, but at The Wanderers, a fast bowler’s paradise. Dickwella with his fearless approach and cheeky batting should be a must in the ODI team but in Sri Lanka he is a Test match specialist. His last ODI was more than two years ago – in March 2019.  

It was confirmed that Dickwella will be snubbed during the Bangladesh ODIs as well after captain Kusal Janith Perera admitted that he will keep wickets. But here’s are a few points for the selectors and Head Coach Mickey Arthur to ponder.  

Dickwella has cemented his place in the Test team and more recently has shown maturity as well. He’s been so good with the bat that in 2021, he’s the sixth highest run getter in the world in Tests. 

Not that Dickwella has suddenly transformed himself as a Test batsman. He has cut down a few high risk shots but still provides entertainment. Sri Lanka from a few shaky positions have gone onto consolidate thanks to Dickwella whose biggest strength is not being afraid to play shots. He is someone who is quickly able to put pressure back on the bowlers.  

When he is able to pull off such tricks in a format where there are few fielding restrictions, imagine what he is capable of doing when restrictions are on. To be fair, Dickwella’s best returns have come in ODI cricket as he has scored two hundreds and nine fifties in 49 innings at an average of 32 and strike rate of 93. Well, true, it’s nowhere near M.S. Dhoni class who averaged 50 in ODIs.  

Dickwella is pretty good with his glove work too. Is he the finish product yet? Of course not! Someone needs to sit down with Dickwella and have a long chat on a few things. Let’s start with reviews. The wicketkeeper’s input is so valuable in reviews and Dickwella misleads his captain. The expert opinion of Dickwella during reviews should be taken with a pinch of salt, very much like input of the nation’s intelligence chief during the Yahapalana regime. Both are flawed, highly.  

When England whitewashed Sri Lanka 3-0 in 2018, Dickwella’s reviews were outrageous. At occasions he had exhausted all reviews before the team’s best bowler – Rangana Herath had come onto the attack. Impulsive and immature, Dickwella has never learned and it has reached a point where the captain doesn’t trust him anymore. 

Still, he’s got to be part of the ODI side. He is fearless to the extent that he does some crazy stuff. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread they say. Dickwella is like the fool who is willing to go any distance just for the sake of winning.  

His infamous fight with Virat Kohli in Calcutta in 2017 surprisingly earned the Indian captain’s applause.  “I like to see that character. I liked that competitiveness on the field. He is a very feisty character and that works for his game. Credit for him for maintaining that and I am sure he will do many good things in Sri Lankan cricket,” Kohli said.  

In that same series, in Delhi, Sri Lanka were battling to save the Test match. Entering into the last hour, they had an outside chance to win – requiring 110 runs in 15 overs. Dickwella urged his partner Roshen Silva to have a crack but the senior opted to play it safe. 

Sri Lanka were 1-0 down in the series. Dickwella’s attitude was to square the series and in the process if the team ended up losing 2-0 tough luck. Here’s a guy who plays to win. You need chaps like that moving forward.   

KJP has already got too much on his plate. This is a young side. He has to lead from front and why take up the additional burden of keeping wickets too. Let him give it to the nation’s best wicketkeeper – Dickwella.  

We are yet to see Dickwella’s best – both cricket skills and madness. Sometimes madness is required to get under the skin of someone like Virat Kohli. Not often does the Indian captain get into an ugly altercation with an opponent and then praises him.  

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