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How cricket looked after an orphan and made him a star  

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by Rex Clementine

At the age of 28, Pulina Tharanga is on the verge of representing Sri Lanka. A leg-spinner, who is handy with the bat and excellent on the field, will soon make the headlines all over the world. His Steve Waugh like guts, the never say die attitude, is what that has impressed the coaches most. Like most southerners, he has inherited it by birth. Or perhaps he has developed the toughness more than the other southerners. Life threw challenges one after the other at him. Here’s his story. 

Pulina Tharanga hails from Seenigama. He took up cricket at a young age representing Devananda Vidyalaya. His father was a fisherman. Life threw the first punch at him when he lost his mother to the 2004 tsunami. Less than a year later, his father went out to sea for fishing and never returned home.

Having lost both parents at the age of 11, young Pulina was abandoned; nowhere to go, no food and shelter. Cricket came to his aid. Ours is not just a gentleman’s game, it’s a generous game too.

Former Ananda College cricketer and Board Secretary Kushil Gunasekara hails from Seenigama and has taken a lot of initiatives to help the underprivileged people of his area. Quite a few  prominent cricketers are trustees of the charity he runs and several legends of the game have visited his place be it Sir Ian Botham, Kapil Dev or Shane Warne.

As Kushil took young Pulina under his wings, having spotted his potential, he appealed to a few friends. The philanthropist has some influential friends around the world. Cricket’s most famous club, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) came forward to sponsor Pulina providing him with a monthly allowance. There have been other big-hearted deeds like from David Cruse, a Sri Lankan living in Melbourne.

Thanks to cricket’s goodwill gestures, Pulina was able to chase his dreams. Tamil Union gave him the first big break in cricket. Then, he represented Sri Lanka Under-19 with flying colours and now he is set to take a giant step forward.

MCC will put up a grand show when Pulina plays a game at Lord’s as their efforts ensured he did not fall on the way side but continued his passion for the great game. Is there a better way to nurture the sport?

Pulina is not the traditional kind of leg-spinner. He is no Wanindu Hasaranga. He doesn’t loop the ball much but a wicket to wicket type of bowler. Bit like Anil Kumble. He doesn’t get much turn but he is pretty solid with his line and length that makes him an ideal prospect for T-20 cricket. Which is why he has  been called up for the World Cup?

This year there have been some brilliant cricket stories of how players made it to the top despite many hardships. There is Pathum Nissanka and then Praveen Jayawickrama, both Kalutara boys. Pulina soon will be in the limelight as well and there are many such young kids who need help and guidance.

Kudos to Foundation of Goodness for looking after players like Pulina at a time when they most needed support. He is not the charity’s first cricketer though. There have been quite a few players who have been supported by them. The generosity is not limited to cricket but extends beyond; they show unconditional compassion.



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Cricket moans nation’s first Test captain’s death

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by Rex Clementine  

There are some who always back underdogs. While the winners’ men go places, those who support the underdogs remain at odds with the system. With the larger circle of course, the fans for example, which is what matters, they remain hugely popular. One such breathed his last yesterday after a brief illness. Bandula Warnapura the nation’s first Test captain was 69.

Two of his contemporaries, Roy Dias and Duleep Mendis, also 69ers, were speechless. They had played lot of cricket together. The trio had toiled to put Sri Lanka in the world map and after retirement had shaped Sri Lankan cricket to great heights. While Roy and Duleep still contribute sharing the wealth of their knowledge, Bandu has gone, too soon and leaving a huge void.

Bandu was not an authoritative captain. You don’t have to be to succeed as captain. There was bit of Kane Williamson in him; friendly, trustworthy and authentic. His best virtue as skipper was his instincts. Filling in for injured skipper Anura Tennekoon during the 1979 World Cup, Bandu sensed an opportunity. Not because Sri Lanka were better than India. Man to man, India with Gavaskars, Vengsarkars, Viswanaths, Kapils, Amarnaths and Bedi, were a far better side. But there was in fighting among Indians and as a result none of the above captained the side. Venkataraghavan had become captain, by default. Bandu went for the kill and Sri Lanka were victorious. There was no denying of Test status from thereon.

The fact that Bandu faced Sri Lanka’s first ball in Test cricket made him the nation’s first Test cricketer as Bob Willis delivered the first ball in Test cricket in Sri Lanka. His time in Test cricket was short lived having got on the payroll of Dr. Ali Bacher opting to go to apartheid South Africa.

Morally it was not the right thing to do. South Africa was whites only those days. As a black, you would be made a honourary white citizen so that you could move around Wanderers, Newlands and Kingsmead.

His conscience would have told Bandu that this was not the right thing to do. But there comes a time in life where all of us have to make choices. Having lived through COVID for 18 months now where there have been so many financial challenges, you tend to break a few rules. Not to rob a bank but set aside your values and settle for something that provides you some financial security to look after your family. Some of us get away with these things. Some of us pay a small price. Some others pay a heavy one. Bandu lost everything having been banned for 25 years.

Eventually, Gamini Dissanayake mellowed. He reduced the ban to eight years. But that was for the players. The captain had to serve one more year before he could be allowed into cricket.

Bandu went places at SLC. He was only second in command to Duleep Mendis holding the post of Director, Cricket Operations. From there, he went to Malaysia and joined Asian Cricket Council and went a step further joining the ICC. He was hugely popular among his colleagues and superiors. Quite efficient too as he oversaw the development of several up and coming teams.

There was no better story teller in cricket than Bandu. He had one for every occasion. Television channels used his expertise in reality shows where he held his own.

But cricket could have used his services more than local television stations. They chose not to. Bandu was in a different camp. Actually, he was an independent man. What is it with our cricket that we keep our captains at arm’s length or maybe even avoid them like the plague? Bandu had no role to play in recent years. Duleep has no role to play. Arju has no role to play. Sanath has no role to play. Marvan has no role to play. Mathews has no role to play. The list goes on.

Bandu will be missed. May he attain the supreme bliss of nibbana.

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Sri Lanka U19s pull off one run win

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Sri Lanka Under 19s took a 2-0 lead with a stunning one run victory over Bangladesh as bowlers did well to defend a total of 228 runs in the second Youth ODI at Dambulla on Monday.

Chasing a target of 229 runs to win Bangladesh were in control after top order did well to take them past 100 runs for the loss of two wickets. They were troubled by spinners Dunith Wellalage and Treveen Mathew and paceman Matheesha Pathirana in the middle overs but the visitors still had hope as they needed just 19 runs in the last three overs. That was when Pathirana changed things picking up two wickets in the 48th over.

The match went to the last over with visitors just eight runs behind the target but Sri Lanka kept their cool to inflict a run out to pull off a stunning win with three balls remaining in the Bangladesh innings.

Earlier electing to bat first home team lost their first wicket for 11 runs before the St. Joseph’s College pair Sadeesh Jayawardena and Shevon Daniel added 66 runs for the second wicket. While Jayawardena top scored with 58 runs (4x4s) Daniel added 34. That was before Trinity batsman Pawan Pathiraja came up with his second consecutive half century of the series to make the middle order strong.

The late order batting by Raveen de Silva and Chamindu Wickramasinghe who added valuable 20s and a run a ball 15 by skipper Wellalage enabled the hosts reach their eventual total.

The two teams will next meet in the third Youth ODI on Wednesday.

Scores:

Sri Lanka U19s

228 for 8 in 50 overs (Sadeesh Jayawardena 58, Shevon Daniel 34, Pawan Pathiraja 51, Raveen de Silva 25, Chamindu Wickramasinghe 27; Ashikur Zaman 2/54, Ripon Mondol 3/49)

Bangladesh U19

227 all out in 49.3 overs (Mahfijul Islam 75, Iftikher Hossain 36, SM Meherob 33, Ariful Islam 23; Dunith Wellalage 3/30, Treveen Mathew 2/47, Matheesha Pathirana 3/26)

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Sri Lanka one step closer to World Cup qualification

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Sri Lanka completed a seven wicket win over Namibia yesterday in Abu Dhabi.

Rex Clementine in Abu Dhabi

They say, well prepared is half done. Sri Lanka’s intense preparation ahead of the ICC T-20 World Cup stood in good stead for them as they cruised to a seven-wicket win with 39 deliveries to spare winning their first qualifying game against Namibia here at Sheikh Zayed Stadium yesterday. Following the comprehensive win, the former champions are one more win away from qualifying for the showpiece event.

Sri Lanka’s bowling was too strong for the Namibians as they were shot out for 96 with three deliveries to spare.

Maheesh Theekshana was going to be their trump card in the qualifying round and he was on the money picking up a wicket off his first ball and finished with figures of three for 25.

Leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga and Lahiru Kumara, a last minute addition to the squad finished with two wickets each. However, the bowler who impressed most in the game was Dushmantha Chameera, who bowled a quick spell clocking 149 kmph at one point.

Sri Lanka’s obvious target would be to qualify but if they need to go further in the competition, Chameera with his ability to pick up early wickets is going to be the key.

Sri Lanka chased down the target in 13.3 overs and the big win helping them to sit comfortably with a healthy Net Run Rate.

There was bit of a scare as Sri Lanka lost three wickets for 26 runs inside the Power Play. But a 74 run unbroken stand in 51 balls between Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Avishka Fernando helped them to get over the line comfortably.

Avishka has been scoring heavily leading up to the competition and he has been the in-form batsman. Sri Lanka will be feeling happy that Bhanuka ended up top-scoring with 42 runs as his form has been patchy. He ended the game with a flicked six. His unbeaten 42 came off 27 balls and contained four fours and two sixes.

Avishka Fernando was unbeaten on 30 off 28 balls with two sixes.

As expected, Sri Lanka held Avishka back playing him at number four. With their batting sorted, Sri Lanka, written off by many, look to make an impact in the competition.

Sri Lanka’s next game is on Wednesday where they take on Ireland at the same ground. They will move to Sharjah for the final qualifying round game against Netherlands on Friday.

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