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Hurricane force in dead rubber

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

It was emphasised that the game between bottom of the table Hurricanes and the Otago Highlanders was not a dead rubber, in view of the trans-Tasman stage of the super rugby tournament that is due to commence in two weeks time. If the Highlanders won this, it would give their coach some satisfaction as it would mean that they had beaten all the participating Aotearoa teams at least once. The conditions started off perfect with no wind and great conditions underfoot. Rain was predicted later.

The first scrum was in the second minute of the game, it had to be reset twice and finally the Hurricanes conceded an easily kickable penalty due to their tight head prop Tyrell Lomax being pinged for collapsing the scrum. Mitch Hunt the Otago number10 made no mistake, 3 -0 lead to the visitors. A series of kicks for territory ensued, reminding one of the old days when Rugby Union used to be referred to by its detractors, particularly from rugby league as “kick and clap”! Seven minutes into the game Karefi of the Hurricanes in the no seven jersey broke through the ‘Landers defence and found that irrepressible playmaker Dan Coles who wears the no two jersey but plays more like an open side flanker and also spends a lot of time lurking on the wing, he then passed inside to the no eight Flanders who showed good speed to canter over the line and score. Jordie Barret converted 3–7 and the Hurricane gathers force. The ‘Canes were awarded two kickable penalties in the course of the ensuing play but chose the touch option each time. Meanwhile in the 15th minute Dan Coles who characterises his brilliant loose play with the occasional “push and shove” got into a brawl with the Highlanders no10 Mitch Hunt. The resultant TV replay saw both parties at fault and two concurrent yellow cards were issued to two key players in either side! The referee Ben O ‘Keefe gave a long-winded explanation and justified his actions.

The Otago team was able to take advantage of the 14 man per side game first, with Josh Dickson the brother of their captain scoring right of the posts in the 17th minute. Easily converted even in the absence of Mitch Hunt and the ‘Landers back into the lead at 10 – 7. Now it was the Highlanders turn to turn down kickable penalties probably due to their first-choice place kicker being in the sin bin and two such opportunities were disregarded for territory gains. The penalty count was reading 2 – 6 against the Hurricanes and at this point both yellow carded players came back on the field. Jonah Nareki that highly rated young winger from Otago who started his super rugby career with a bang scoring two tries on debut, streaked over the line to score mid left after some great phase play with the Otago no eight, Japanese international Kazuki Himeno participating on two occasions. Additional points for conversion added and the score reading 17 – 7 for the Otago boys. The 33rd minute saw a penalty right in front of the posts disregarded for a scrum and the 20-year-old Hurricanes no10 Rueben Love dropped the ball on the line! Rueben Love has loads of talent and will be a star of the future but right now straight out of school, he looks a little lost at this level of the game. This is a real case for taking the club game to a higher level from the sponsor ship money that will become available if the senior players in NZ rugby agree to the mega bucks sponsorship deal that is pending from an American organization.

36 minutes into the game a captain’s referral made by Aaron Smith the All Blacks and Otago no nine against Dan Coles who was up to his tricks again, went against the challenger and the penalty was reversed and Otago lost their right to challenge for the rest of the game. This penalty although easily kickable for points was not taken and territory was preferred once again. The weather decided to support its namesake the Hurricanes with a fresh breeze and some rain coming down at this stage of the game. Dan Coles continued his impact on the game scoring a try mid left off some bruising loose play. Jordie Barret was unable to convert, and the score read 17 -11 with Otago ahead. A long kick by Jordie Barret went over the goal (probably due to the wind and rain) and a simple touch down would have resulted in a goal line drop out but a brain freeze by midfielder Gilbert of the ‘Lander saw him slice the attempted clearance and give the ‘Canes just what they wanted, an attacking line out well inside Otago territory. A penalty was awarded to the Wellington side from the ensuing maul, right in front of the posts and with the half time hooter echoing across the ground Jordie Barret took the home side even closer to their opponents 17 – 15.

The first minute of the second half saw Nani Laumape of the Hurricanes playing mid field and making a real bid for a place in the national side, beating Aaron Smith with a sprint for the goal line off a chip kick and scoring far left. Barret converted from a difficult angle and the ‘Canes into the lead 17 -22. It looked like the Highlanders came back straight away, stringing together 13 phases of play and Smith with a great pass sending no14 Sam Gilbert over the line. However, a captain’s challenge from the canny Dan Coles pointed out a marginal knock forward by the attacking side and the try was disallowed. The wind and the rain started up in earnest and a rather messy and scrappy period of play ensued. We have been spoilt in Aotearoa this Autumn, having lovely sunshine and little rain. We have forgotten that most of our Autumn rugby is usually played in wet and muddy conditions with the forwards dominating play! 52 minutes into the game and Dan Coles was subbed off, as no doubt the coaches were satisfied with his contribution to the game.

One minute later Rueben Love decided to showcase some of his talent by hitting a gap, showing a fantastic turn of speed and passing to Karefi from the third row who scored within easy converting distance for their strapping full back and the youngest of the Barret brothers, Jordie. 17 – 29 Hurricanes blowing hard! The Otago lads were not done yet and in the 57th minute another possible 3 pointer was disregarded, and the ensuing line out saw their skipper Ash Dickson score far right of the posts. The conversion was missed 22 -29 Hurricanes prevail. There was a lot of aggression from both sides, uncharacteristic for a local derby and also a virtual dead rubber. In the 70th minute Nani Laumape made another great break and Braydon Iose wearing the no20 jersey and in as a substitute third rower scored after a long thrilling run, far left of the posts. Barret missed the conversion, 22 -34 Hurricanes surging ahead. Less than 3 minutes from the end Solesi Rayasi scythed his way through the Highlander defence for over 35 meters and scored mid left. This was converted and the final score read 22 – 41 with the Wellington Hurricanes finally living up to their potential even in the absence of their regular captain Aardie Savea.

An item that may have caught the readers interest could have been the mention of the pending Mega sponsorship deal pending from an American organization. New Zealand Rugby has received a $465 million offer from US technology investment giants Silver Lake for a 15 per cent share of commercial rights valued at $3.1 billion. All provincial and club rugby organizations have voted in favour of this deal. However the current All Blacks players have the final say as it may result in less money for them in the form of match fees. The sponsorship money is expected to flow down to the lower levels of the game and NZ rugby has never seen such sums before. The players decision is awaited with trepidation and anticipation.

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Jayaratne Stables outclass peers to record stunning double

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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

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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

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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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