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India win thriller, eliminate England in race to WTC final



After a day in which wickets fell in a flurry, India emerged victorious to boost their chances of cementing a place in the ICC World Test Championship final, even as they eliminated England from the race.

Axar Patel claimed 11 wickets in the match and R Ashwin became only the fourth Indian to reach 400 Test wickets as India bundled England out for 81 in their second innings, giving themselves a target of 49. Rohit Sharma brought up the winning runs with a six as the hosts wrapped up victory within two days.

India now need to avoid defeat in the final Test at the same venue in Ahmedabad to ensure they progress to the WTC final. Australia, meanwhile, will hope England can still get something out of the series and win the final Test, which would result in a Trans-Tasman event in the inaugural WTC final.

The day began with India resuming their first innings on 99/3, trailing England by 13 runs. However, the scale of the task awaiting both teams on a turning track became evident when, within six overs of the morning, Ajinkya Rahane was trapped in front by Leach, attempting a cut but misjudging the degree of the turn. 

The wicket opened the floodgates. Rohit Sharma, who had scored an authoritative 66 till that point, became Leach’s second wicket four overs later, attempting a sweep that didn’t account for the lack of turn. The dangerous Rishabh Pant, who could have taken the pitch out of the equation with his adventurous strokeplay, fell in the very next over, when England captain Joe Root brought himself on.

Root built on that wicket to return his best ever bowling figures. He ran through the tail, dismissing Washington Sundar (0), Axar Patel (0), Jasprit Bumrah (1) and eventually Ashwin (17) to claim a phenomenal 5/8. All the while, Ashwin and Ishant Sharma, who was unbeaten on 10*, had boosted India’s lead to 33.

England had fought their way back into contention in the match, but unfortunately, their batsmen couldn’t capitalise. India’s bowlers, primarily Axar and Ashwin, were superb with the ball, displaying immense control to run through the England line-up. 

Axar opened the bowling, and had England reduced to 0/2 in an eventful first three balls. He cleaned up Zak Crawley with the first ball, and dished out the same treatment to Jonny Bairstow with his third ball, after the batsman overturned his lbw dismissal on the second ball. 

Dom Sibley looked to grind his way through, but missed a sweep and was caught behind, his dismissal upheld despite a review. Root and Ben Stokes then briefly resisted India, putting on a 31-run stand for the fourth wicket, with Root having a dismissal overturned on review en route. 

Their partnership helped England take the lead, but Ashwin came in to break the stand with the one that straightened and rammed into Stokes’ pads. The visitors lost six wickets for 31 runs, with Root’s dismissal by Axar in the next over being a blow they never recovered from. Ashwin proved too good for England’s lower order as he brought up his 400th Test wicket in just his 77th Test – he became the quickest bowler after Muttiah Muralitharan to reach the mark.

England’s collapse left India a target of 49. Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill, the India openers, knocked off 11 runs in what remained in the second session, and it didn’t take them long to finish things off in the final session, batting freely and assuredly. 

The final Test will begin at the same venue on 4 March.


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Dilshi stamps her class with national record



Shanika qualifies for World Junior Championships

by Reemus Fernando

Former Ratnayake Central Walala athlete Dilshi Kumarasinghe stamped her class with a new Sri Lanka record performance in the 800 metres while emerging 800 metres runner Shanika Lakshani reached qualifying standards for the World Under 20 Championships and sprinter Mohamed Safan broke shackles to win the 200 metres as the first Selection Trial produced its best on the final day at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Friday.

Kumarasinghe who registered her maiden 400 metres triumph at national level on Wednesday bagged the 800 metres win as well in style on Friday when she clocked the fastest time for the distance by a Sri Lankan in history. Her time of two minutes and 2.55 seconds erased the four year-old national record held by experienced Gayanthika Abeyratne who finished third(3rd 2:03.64 secs) yesterday. Asia’s third ranked 800 metres runner Nimali Liyanarachchi was placed second in a time of 2:03.15 seconds. Former record holder Abeyratne is ranked fifth in Asia.

The 21-year-old athlete trained by Susantha Fernando maintained a steady pace right throughout to win the event for the second time within months. She won her first 800 meters title at senior level at the last National Championships in December. “I am happy to have broken the record. We planned for the record but I am not satisfied with the time,” Kumarasinghe told The Island. Her coach Fernando expressed similar sentiments. “We were planning to produced a far better timing as she has the potential to reach international level,” said Fernando.

Kumarasinghe who is currently ranked sixth in Asia behind local counterparts Liyanarachchi and Aberatne is set to improve her ranking when the World Athletics update statistics next week.

Holy Cross College, Gampaha athlete Shanika Lakshani became the second junior runner at this championships to earn qualifying standards for the World Under-20 Championship which will be held in Nairobi, Kenya next August. Her coach Madura Perera said that it was a huge relief to witness his trainee accomplish the target after missing it by a whisker at the National Championships in December. Lakshani, running alongside the veterans clocked 2:07.02 seconds (Qualifying mark: 2:08.70 seconds).

On Wednesday Isuru Kawshalya Abewardana of Ananda Sastralaya Matugama reached qualifying standards for the World Under-20 Championship when he returned a time of 47.24 seconds in the Junior Men’s 400 metres final.

In the men’s 200 metres, Mohamed Safan turned tables on National Champion Kalinga Kumarage as both clocked sub 21 seconds, a rarity at local athletics. Safan was playing second fiddle to Kumarage at the last National Championships where he clocked 21.41 seconds. Yesterday Safan returned a time of 20.81 seconds, while Kumarage clocked 20.85 seconds.

In the women’s 200 metres, Nadeesha Ramanayake was the winner. She clocked 24.28 seconds.

The men’s 800 metres, conspicuous by the absence of national record holder Indunil Herath, was won by the Asian Championship participant Rusiru Chathuranga, who clocked 1:49.82 seconds.

Herath was not the only leading athlete who was absent at the First Selection Trial which was organized by Sri Lanka Athletics to provide much needed competition opportunity to top athletes vying to reach Olympic qualifying standards.

The next track and field competition for top athletes will be the next month’s National Championship.

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COPE; a toothless tiger?



by Rex Clementine

Parliamentary watchdog COPE – Committee on Public Enterprises has made a scathing attack on some of the corrupt practices at Sri Lanka Cricket. COPE Chief, Professor Charith Herath has gone onto claim that by fighting out certain legal battles and writing off money that companies and member club owed SLC, insiders may have been receiving kickbacks. This is a very serious allegation by the  legislature.

Professor Herath wants legal action taken against SLC officials. It remains to be seen whether any culprits can be hauled up before courts or whether COPE is just a toothless tiger.

In the absence of SLC bigwigs, CEO Ashley de Silva bore the brunt of the criticism. In January this year, in these pages we wrote that Ashley’s time was up. While there are many questions about his efficiency and decision making abilities, it can be safely said that Ashley is no crook. The real crooks are hiding behind the CEO.

There have been some decent men as well at SLC like Mohan de Silva, who was President in 2004. De Silva had warned his colleagues that their excesses could tarnish the reputation of the institution, but his concerns fell on deaf ears.

Not only the guardians of SLC but even those who let them enter into these corrupt deals need to be probed. While most of these allegations will take time to prove, certain things can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. For example fixing a domestic match in 2017 by some prominent members of SLC.

However, four successive Sports Ministers – Dayasiri Jayasekara, Faizer Mustapaha, Harin Fernando and Namal Rajapaksa – failed to take action. All four turned a blind eye despite having overwhelming evidence in front of them. Ravin Wickramaratne, the number one suspect, went places in cricket circles. He is now SLC’s alternate ICC Director.

At a time when the game has been so badly managed, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa’s decision to backdate a gazette notification extending the term of SLC’s Executive Committee has not gone down well with many. Rather than giving a clean bill of health to SLC hierarchy, he should have perhaps taken the bad eggs out.

The ball is back on Namal’s court. It is his Ministry that has to now decide which deals need to be proved and against which officials’ action needs to be taken in courts of law.  From the start, Namal has treated SLC hierarchy with kids’ gloves. Now that their deficiencies have been exposed well and truly, he needs to watch his steps. If he continues to play politics with cricket governance, his popularity is going to wane, fast.

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Saha wins U12 boys’ singles title  



Saha Kapilasena beat Sasen Premaratne to win the Under-12 boys’ singles title of the Clay Court Nationals conducted at the Sri Lanka Tennis Association courts on Friday. 

Kapilasena scored 6-3, 6-1 to win the title. Kapikasena ousted third seed Aahil Kaleel in the semi-final, Premaratne eliminated number one seed Methika Wickramasinghe in the semi-final. 

In the mixed doubles final Anika Seneviratne and Thangaraja Dineshkanthan were the winners as they beat Sanka Athukorale and Neyara Weerawansa 7-5, 6-4. 

Sanka Athukorale and Yasita de Silva beat Rajeev Rajapakse and Renouk Wijemanne 6-4, 6-0 to clinch the men’s doubles title.  

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