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It needs a mastermind to win in South Africa

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by Rex Clementine

Indian cricket had reached new heights last year winning in Australia, sealing the series of all places at the Gabba, where the Aussies had been unbeaten for three decades. Given such an epic performance, you thought this Indian team will complete a series win in South Africa as well. But the Indians were cut to size as the Proteas chased down a tricky target showing guts in plenty with their skipper Dean Elgar putting up a super show at the Wanderers this week.

The series is leveled 1-1 and India could still go onto win it by emerging victorious in the final Test in Cape Town next week. The point is that you thought the series for this Indian side is a walk in the park given the parity between the two sides. If India do not win in Cape Town, Sri Lanka will be the only Asian nation to have won a Test series in South Africa. If you don’t get the impact of it, let us put it in simpler terms; only Sri Lanka, Australia and England have won Test series in South Africa where Test cricket has been played since 1889.

India’s got a formidable Test side that played in the finals of the World Test Championship. Sri Lanka’s is a weak unit where their best player is always injured. They have just got one bowler with 100 plus Test wickets and their batting is as brittle as a Chinese smart phone. So how did they win a series of all places in South Africa? Francois du Plessis and Dale Steyn were still part of the South African side when Sri Lanka won in Durban and Port Elizabeth in 2019. This should be a good case study for any student of the game.

This is where the brilliance of Chandika Hathurusinghe comes into the equation. There aren’t many smarter brains in cricket than his. Through meticulous planning he achieved the impossible. That leaked dressing room video moments after winning the series where players adore their coach just gives you a glimpse on the wonders that Hathurusingha could do and how much players respected him.

To start with there was some crazy scheduling. Sri Lanka toured New Zealand in December from where they went to Australia for a two Test series in February and then flew straight to Johannesburg from Canberra to play two more Tests in March. The players and coaching staff had not come home for four months and had been on the move constantly shifting from one hotel to the other and flying from one city to another. Usually when the scheduling is that hectic, the last leg turns out to be a nightmare and players are impatient to return home. Hathurusinghe found a way to keep them fresh and pull off the greatest heist in the annals of Sri Lankan Test cricket history.

It’s a bad idea to head into a Test series in South Africa without a warm-up game. That’s exactly what Sri Lanka had to do as the scheduling was so tight. Hathurusinghe had just five days to get the team ready. The biggest challenge that he faced was that a week before that the Aussie quicks had sent Kusal Perera and Dimuth Karunaratne crashing down with vicious bouncers. Both spent a night in the hospital. Hathurusinghe knew that with Steyn, Rabada and Olivier the short ball will be used to good effect. One of the things that he constantly worked on was the hand speed. Be prepared for the short ball and play positive cricket looking for methods to score. That worked. As we have seen time and again, when put under pressure, South Africa give in.

In Durban, KJP played a blinder with the last wicket stand with Vishwa Fernando taking the team over the line. In the second Test, Sri Lanka’s limited bowling resources did wonders. The seamers hardly had any threatening pace but Hathurusinghe’s method of staying discipline, sticking to good lengths did the trick. He proved yet again even though your attack did not possess anyone who bowled at 140kmph, there were means to take 20 wickets to win a Test match.

That series win was Hathurusinghe’s finest hour in his coaching career. Sadly, a few months later it was all over. It’s hard to find a better brain in cricket than that of Hathurusinghe. He could have, however, done far better things had he not compromised on his principles.

When Hathurusinghe came on board everyone told us that he will not tolerate indiscipline. That was a lie. He had favourites and tolerated them even when they had brought the game into disrepute.

Some of the resources he employed was just a waste of money. He roped in a psychologist from Brisbane who had a proven track record. But the point is, barring one or two players not many understood what the psychologist was trying to convey due to language barriers.

You also tend to get the feeling that Hathurusinghe only wanted to have in the coaching staff those whom he trusted. That was unprofessional. He did not place proper emphasis on fielding and as a result Sri Lanka’s fielding standards dropped so alarmingly that they were the worst fielding unit in the world. Again the issue could have been addressed with a professional fielding coach, but Hathurusinghe was against it and was happy to get the job done using amateurs. Steve Rixon was Fielding Coach when Sri Lanka won in South Africa and that recruitment was forced on the Head Coach.

When things were going off the track, Hathurusinghe was looking for scapegoats. His public condemnation of Angelo Mathews was in poor taste. Lasith Malinga was past his prime when Hathurusinghe decided to recall him. Those who were close to him literally were pleading not to do so as it may harm the team’s culture and unsettle a settled unit. He dismissed those suggestions saying that he could handle Lasith. That turned out to be wishful thinking.

Despite many flaws, Hathurusinghe is a super coach. He is meticulous with planning, unconventional, unafraid and understands the game and his players so well. Although he may not be back in the Sri Lankan fold again, here is a man who has got much to offer. Winning a series in South Africa was just unimaginable. India have just proven how tough it is to win a series in South Africa.



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Dialog powers SLAF ‘Commander’s Cup 2022’ golf tournament

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The Sri Lanka Air Force will commence its sports program for the new year with the prestigious ‘Commanders Cup 2022’ golf tournament powered by Dialog Enterprises.

The 9th edition of the Commander’s Cup golf tournament will take off at the picturesque Eagle golf links at China Bay on the 22nd of January with the participation of over 100 local and foreign golfers. The 18-hole course offers nearly seven kilometers of challenging rounds of golf for a par of 72. (Competitors will have the opportunity to play a practice round on the 21st).

In addition to the ‘Commander’s Cup’  tournament male and female golfers presently serving in the tri-forces will vie for the Eagle’s Challenge Trophy.

The awards ceremony will take place on the 22nd evening.

At a media briefing held at the SLAF headquarters to announce the tournament,  Group Chief Officer of Dialog Enterprises Navin Peiris said that Dialog was honoured to partner Sri Lanka Air Force to make the prestigious Commander’s cup golf tournament a success. He added that the tournament brings together the top ranking players and provides players from the tri-forces to hone their skills.”Throughout the past year Dialog Enterprises has maintained a close association with the sport of golf in Sri Lanka by sponsoring golf clubs, tournaments,  golf development clinics for children, supporting leading golfers at national and international level and uplifting the livelihood of communities connected to the sport,” he said

Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana and Group Chief Officer of Dialog Enterprises Navin Peiris unveiled the ‘Commander’s Cup’ after which Pieris handed over the sponsorship check to the Air Force Commander.

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Sakuna, Dunith guide Sri Lanka to hard-fought victory 

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ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup

Skipper Dunith Wellalage and middle order batsman Sakuna Liyanage played vital roles as Sri Lanka Under 19s registered a 40 run victory over Scotland in their opening match of the ICC Under 19 World Cup in Georgetown on Friday.

Wellalage’s canny left-arm spin saw him rack up formidable figures of five for 27 from nine overs as Scotland were unable to ever get going in pursuit of their 219 target.

Liyanage was the hero with the bat, striking a majestic run-a-ball 85 to haul his side up to a total that left the game intriguingly poised at the halfway mark.

Raveen de Silva (30) delivered some important runs from the tail while contributions from top order batters Chamindu Wickramasinghe (28) and Sadisha Rajapaksa (24) left Charlie Peet’s Scots with considerable work to do.

Sean Fischer-Keogh (3-56), Jack Jarvis and Oliver Davidson – two wickets apiece – starred with the ball but underdogs Scotland were unable to mount a viable attempt with the bat as Sri Lanka’s spinners turned the screw.

Spearheaded by Wellalage’s brilliance, the 2000 runners-up suffocated the Scots as Shevon Daniel (2-16), Matheesha Pathirana and Wanuja Sahan also took important wickets.

Only middle-order batter Jarvis, who notched 55 off 61 balls after arriving at the crease with scoreboard pressure intensifying, scored over 20 for Scotland after the top four failed to fire in the face of some accurate Sri Lankan bowling.

A flurry of late wickets saw Scotland eventually dismissed with eight balls of the innings remaining, 40 runs short of Sri Lanka who will look to build valuable momentum ahead of their mouth-watering Monday meeting with fellow Friday winners Australia.

Australia delivered a dominant early statement of intent as the hotly-anticipated ICC Under 19 Men’s Cricket World Cup kicked off on Friday.

The three-time champions breezed past West Indies by six wickets to get their tournament off to a flyer and inflict an early blow on the hosts in Guyana.

Cooper Connolly’s side required just 40.1 overs to take all ten West Indian wickets and spearheaded by opener Teague Wyllie, chased down their target of 170 to win with ease.

West Indies were punished for a below-par batting performance as Australia cruised to a comfortable triumph at Providence.

After Ackeem Auguste’s side had been bowled out for just 169 – with almost ten full overs to spare – Wyllie’s polished 86 not out helped Australia complete the most impressive display of the day and win within 45 overs.

Australia’s seamers had caused havoc with the new ball as opening bowlers Tom Whitney – three for 20 – and William Salzmann – one for 19 – reduced the hosts to 12 for three after 5.1 overs. Skipper Auguste’s defiant 57, bolstered by wicket-keeper Rivaldo Clarke’s 37, propelled them to a fourth wicket partnership of 95 but wickets at regular intervals after Clarke’s dismissal proved the West Indians’ downfall.

Australian captain Connolly and off-spinner Nivethan Radhakrishna took three wickets apiece as West Indies, winners of the ICC U19 Men’s CWC in 2016, were unable to muster a match-winning total.

And that inability was ruthlessly capitalised on by the Australians, who overcame the early dismissals of top order batters Corey Miller and Isaac Higgins to power to a straightforward victory.

Wyllie’s impressive innings was assisted by Radhakrishnan’s 31 and Connolly’s 23 as Australia, crowned champions back in 1988, 2002 and 2010, got their tournament off to the perfect start in the Caribbean.

Sri Lanka U19 beat Scotland

Brief Scores:

Sri Lanka U19

218 all out in 45.2 overs (Chamindu Wickramasinghe 28, Sadeesha Rajapaksa 24, Sakuna Liyanage 85, Raveen de Silva 30; Sean Fischer-Keogh 3/56, Jack Jarvis 2/27, Oliver Davidson 2/50) 

Scotland U19

178 all out in 48.4 overs (Jack Jarvis 55; Dunith Wellalage 5/27, Shevon Daniel 2/16) 

Australia U19 beat West Indies

Brief Scores:

West Indies U19

169 all out in 40.1 overs (Rivaldo Clarke 37, Ackeem Auguste 57, McKenny Clarke 29; Tom Whitney 3/20, Nivethan Radhakrishnan 3/48, Cooper Connolly 3/17) 

Australia U19

170 for 4 in 44.5 overs (Teague Wyllie 86n.o., Cooper Connolly 23, Nivethan Radhakrishnan 31)  

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Chandimal and Asalanka star in thrilling Sri Lankan win

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Rex Clementine at Pallekele

Having been given a fresh life in white ball cricket, former captain Dinesh Chandimal grabbed the opportunity with both hands posting a match winning 75 to help Sri Lanka to a thrilling five wicket win over Zimbabwe at Pallekele last night.

Set a daunting target of 297, the hosts got home with nine deliveries to spare as Charith Asalanka and Chandimal starred sharing a 129 run stand for the fourth wicket to help Sri Lanka go 1-0 up in the three match series. It’s now the highest successful run chase at Pallekele improving on Sri Lanka’s 288 for eight against Pakistan in 2015.

Çhandimal was not part of the ODI squad but was a late replacement as a COVID scare forced the selectors to withdraw several players.

Pathum Nissanka had batted superbly for his less than run a ball 75 but with his dismissal Sri Lanka were down to 147 for three in the 25th over. With the hosts not having much batting depth, the fourth wicket pair of Chandimal and Asalanka had to rise to the occasion and they did it so well.

Going into the last ten overs, Sri Lanka needed a run a ball and without taking any undue risks Chandimal and Asalanka finished off the job. When the partnership was eventually broken, Sri Lanka needed 21 runs.

The fourth wicket stand was worth 129 and came off 127 deliveries as Sri Lanka started off the new year with a win.

Earlier, the experienced Sean Williams was the mainstay of Zimbabwe innings hitting his fifth ODI century and in the process he became the seventh Zimbabwean to score 4000 runs. He is the fourth fastest Zimbabwean to the milestone behind the Flower brothers and Brendan Taylor.

Williams  half-century came in 52 balls and he required only 34 more deliveries to complete his hundred. His knock contained nine fours and two sixes.

Williams  knock followed after a good partnership by the openers. Regis Chakabva was dropped on two by Charith Asalanka at slip off Nuwan Pradeep and he went onto post his third half-century.  Chakabva made 72 and shared a 80 run stand for the first wicket with Takudzwanashe Kaitano, who was on debut.

Sri Lanka were sloppy with their fielding putting down two straight forward chances and their over rate too was well below par taking 20 minutes more time than the stipulated time limit.

The hosts handed ODI debut to Chamika Gunasekara but after sending one over, the 22-year-old quick returned to the pavilion with a left hamstring strain and never returned.

At 248 for four with six overs remaining, Zimbabwe were threatening to post a total beyond 300 but Sri Lanka pulled things back as there was a flurry of wickets.

Chamika Karunaratne was the pick of the bowlers finishing with three for 69. He picked up two wickets in the last over of the innings and his figures were spoilt as last man Richard Ngarava smashed a six and a four off the last two deliveries of the over.

SLC had decided to allow half of the capacity crowd and close to 10,000 supporters turned up.

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