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How Arjuna spotted and nurtured Praveen Jayawickrama’s talent



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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Jayaratne Stables outclass peers to record stunning double



It will not be an overstatement to say 15th of April race day in Nuwara Eliya 2021 belonged to Jayaratne Stables. This year Western Wind the horse owned by Jayaratne stables a subsidiary of the Jayaratne Group of Companies produced a stunning victory at the hill country racecourse. Western wind beat former Governor’s Cup and Magic Million winner Alcazeba in the premier event. Western Wind is the undisputed champion in Sri Lanka over 1,800 meters distance.

 Gamini Jayaratne the Chairman of Jayaratne Group of Companies is a veteran in horse racing. His passion for horses and horse racing has enabled him to contribute to the sport that he loves. It is over 22 years since he started his stables in Sri Lanka and later began racing in India. Jayaratne is ably supported by his wife Chamari Jayaratne who is very passionate about horse racing. Today the Jayarathne’s own some of the best thoroughbred horses in Sri Lanka and India. Their son Hasanga Jayaratne, Director of the Jayaratne Group oversees the entire horse racing operation, and he was instrumental in the spectacular victories this season.

Jayaratne also has the distinction of being the first Sri Lankan to have started a horse breeding operation in Sri Lanka and also one of the few Sri Lankan’s to have taken part in horse racing in Mumbai, Bangalore, Mysore, and Chennai in India. Being an entrepreneur well known in the country, pioneering some of the most innovative and compassionate services in Sri Lanka his effort to develop the interest among young and able Sri Lankans in horse riding is laudable.

Jayaratne stables have set up a riding center in Dambulla (Forest Park Dambulla) to encourage locals and foreign visitors to learn and enjoy the art of horse riding.

 April 2021 is a memorable day for Jayaratne and his horse trainer Sridhar Sivarathnam. Western Wind a thoroughbred horse trained by Sridhar won the premier race in the country the Governor’s Cup a race with a rich history of over 150 years. Jockey K. Vivek flown in from India brought glory to Jayaratne stables by riding the horses to victory in the Governors cup and queens cup the two most sought after races in the country. Sridhar Sivarathnam was the champion trainer in this year’s April season bringing in the most winners and Jayaratne stables has emerged the champion stables.

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Bold selections must be lauded



Sri Lanka were in India in 2005, when their selectors brought in a wicketkeeper to the fold. Dinesh Karthik had already established his place in the side so people were actually wondering what was the need to bring in someone who was rarely heard of. Kiran More the Chairman of Selectors said that despite being not known too well, he had seen something special in the wicketkeeper. He was confident that this bloke would go onto make an impact in the game. Well, he had more than just an impact in Indian cricket winning the 50 over World Cup, 20 over World Cup and getting India to number one rank in Test cricket. M.S. Dhoni is his name.

Kudos to Pramodaya Wickramasinghe and his selection panel for some bold selections they have done in recent weeks. When Lasith Embuldeniya was injured and his understudy Duvindu Tillekeratne was also on the mend, the next in line was Prabath Jayasuriya. But he failed the skin fold test placing the selectors on a sticky wicket. The easier option would have been to go back to the tried and tested Malinda Pushpakumara. However, rather than going backwards, they were forward thinking. They backed young Praveen Jayawickrama and it paid off.

Praveen had played a handful of First Class games. Against a team that plays spin well, this must have been a real hard decision to hand him his Test cap, especially with Lakshan Sandakan in the squad. But the selectors were convinced that Praveen was good enough to succeed at the highest level and they were proved right. His was the best debut by a Sri Lankan bowler and in fact the tenth best debut in the history of the game.

Prior to this, the selectors had made another tough call in handing Pathum Nissanka his Test debut in the Caribbean. Despite having Roshen Silva in the squad, instead of going for experience, the selectors backed youth and Nissanka went onto become the first Sri Lankan to score a Test hundred on debut overseas.

Fitness of players have been a huge concern over the years and the selectors have done well to demand players show commitment  and to leave out those who do not meet minimum fitness standards.

The performance of the national cricket team in white ball cricket has not been up to scratch in recent years and the selectors have been bold in axing half a dozen seniors and bringing in new blood. Their initiatives need to be commended as Sri Lankan cricket is looking to regain past glories.



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Panda and unfulfilled promises



by Rex Clementine

There’s someone in the Sri Lankan cricket team who answers to the name ‘Panda’. The name was coined on Thisara Perera by the Australian players during his IPL days with Chennai Super Kings. We never saw his full potential on the cricket field although there were glimpses of his brilliance over a 12 year career. 

His first game was in Calcutta in December 2009 when Kumar Sangakkara wanted him flown in as an injury replacement. Thisara was flying on his own at a time there were no direct flights to Calcutta. He had a transit. SLC officials in Colombo and the team back in India were worried whether he would manage to get the right connecting flight and land the day before the game.

Given Panda’s mannerisms, he gives you the impression that he’s a bit backwards. That’s not the truth actually. He’s more childlike wanting assurances from authorities more than someone of his age should. It’s a trait that has not changed in his life. He loves simple things in life. He is someone who will not hurt another person willingly.  

After every game that he plays and after every training session, you can be assured that he will be roaming around the cricket grounds be at RPS, Suriyawewa, Dambulla or Pallekele looking for stray dogs. He packs all the remaining food in the dressing room and feeds the dogs. Not even Ambanis dogs get served food from five star hotels. But the dogs at Sri Lanka grounds have that luxury thanks to Thisara. This was something that was  evident when he started his cricket and he continued it even when he was captain.

Cricketers and their love lives are well documented. Most of them get hooked up to air hostesses and marry them. Some of them… well, let’s not go there. Thisara’s been with his childhood sweetheart for nearly two decades now. He’s only 32.

Thisara’s mother is a science teacher. When St. Joseph’s College came in search of him offering a scholarship for cricket, she was reluctant. Eventually she gave in. A decision that she doesn’t regret now for her son has gone onto become a household name although given his potential he could have achieved much more.

At St. Joseph’s Thisara got into trouble constantly. He played the first day of a school fixture and didn’t turn up for the second day’s play. He had been spending time with his girlfriend. He was in trouble and was asked to explain. Thisara came up with a cock and bull story that on his way to the ground, he was stopped at an Army check post and was held up as he did not carry an identity card. Rev. Fr. Sylvester Ranasinghe, the Rector, a career educationist, didn’t buy his story. He was suspended. 

Chaminda Vaas, one of the finest products of St. Joseph’s made a plea to Fr. Sylvester  to allow Thisara at least play the Big Match. Fr. Sylvester agreed. The rest as they say is history as St. Joseph’s won the Big Match after 35 years.  Thisara was Man of the Match. The old boys were excited and gave the team a month long tour of Australia.  Which 18-year-old would skip an all expenses paid trip to Australia? Thisara would. Reason? He would be missing his girlfriend.

One of the cleanest strikers of the cricket ball, he will clear the boundary with little effort. But consistency was lacking. He would throw the bat for a few overs and hit it on the air and get out rather than grinding it out and completing games. His bowling was lively when he came onto the scene but in later years lacked penetration.

Thisara’s best moment came in the 2014 during the World T-20 in Bangladesh. All his  life, he had lived wanting to emulate Arjuna Ranatunga. As in, Arjuna had scored the winning runs in a World Cup final with a boundary.  So Thisara wanted to go the same way. So after a tensed run chase against India, with Sri Lanka one stroke away from victory, Thisara threw caution to wind. He finished a World Cup final better than Arjuna scoring a six. Ravichandran Ashwin nearly had his man. Sensing that Thisara would attempt a big shot, Ashwin bowled it wider, but Thisara had got enough wood and the ball cleared the boundary.

Thisara’s career could  have been perhaps more successful with someone to offer him better counseling. Hastily he quit Test cricket feeling that he wasn’t getting much opportunities. His figures are still the best by a Sri Lankan seamer at Pallekele.

This time though he was left with Hobson’s choice. The moment it was announced that he  will be not considered for ODIs, he chose to retire from international cricket. You will still see him in different franchise cricket tournaments.

During some of cricket’s dicey moments he has come to Sri Lanka’s rescue. Like when everyone refused to tour Pakistan in 2017. He agreed to take the team to Lahore without any conditions. He was a good player and a great human being.

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