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It needs a mastermind to win in South Africa



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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Naseem, bowlers take Pakistan to series win against Sri Lanka



Pakistan survived an early wobble with the bat to ease to a seven-wicket victory over Sri Lanka, wrapping up a series win with a game to spare. In a game that almost felt like a carbon copy of the first, Sri Lanka won the toss and batted first, only for a tight, disciplined bowling performance from the hosts, limiting them to a sub-par 102. Just like the first game, there was a touch of circumspection about Pakistan’s chase to begin with, losing three early wickets. But a classy partnership between Ayesha Naseem and Bismah Maroof took control of the proceedings, their unbeaten stand yielding 70 runs off 58 balls, and a game that looked like it would get bogged down finished in a hurry.

As in the first game, Sri Lanka lacked intent at the start, and Pakistan were all over them in the powerplay. The first five overs saw just 14 runs scored, and Anam Amin removed Chamari Athapaththu once more. Nida Dar struck soon after to dismiss Oshadi Ranasinghe, leaving Sri Lanka to try and regroup while they were well behind the asking rate.

Last match’s star Tuba Hassan was responsible for the removal of Sri Lanka’s top scorer Hasini Perera, and was the pick of the bowlers once more, allowing just 13 runs in her four overs. As each of the Pakistan bowlers chipped in with a wicket, the Sri Lankan batting began to fall away. In a somewhat insipid, uninspiring innings, the visitors stumbled to 102.

Pakistan lost Gull Feroza early, thanks to a sensational diving catch from Nilakshi De Silva, and for a while, it looked like that might charge Sri Lanka to a spirited defence of a low total. Muneeba Ali, who wasn’t quite able to find her timing, fell trying to sweep Inoka Ranaweera to fine leg, and soon after, the belligerent Iram Javed got a leading edge of Ranasinghe, leaving Pakistan tottering at 34 for 3. The asking rate, too, had begun to flirt with a run a ball, meaning Maroof and Naseem, two new batters, had significant pressure on their shoulders.

They, too, began with caution, aware that taking the game deep would only help the hosts. Once they got their eye in, the pair seemed to have set defined roles for themselves, with Maroof taking a back seat while Naseem took the attack to Sri Lanka. It was after the 15th over that Pakistan really began to move through the gears, a stunning back-foot six by Naseem setting the tone for what was to come. Sloppiness crept into the Sri Lankans’ game, too, epitomised by five careless overthrow runs that brought Pakistan to within ten runs of victory.

The win was sealed with an aerial slap off Ranasinghe by Naseem that landed just inside the rope as she finished with an unbeaten 45 off 31 balls, with the last 28 runs coming off just ten balls. The result means Pakistan have the chance to seal a clean sweep when the sides meet again for the final T20 on Saturday.

Brief scores: Sri Lanka Women 102 for 6 (Hasini Perera 35, Tuba Hassan 1-13) lost to Pakistan Women 104 for 3 (Ayesha Naseem 45*, Bismah Maroof 22*, Achini Kulasuriya 1-11) by seven wickets

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Asitha rips through Bangladesh as Sri Lanka win Test series



Asitha Fernando finished with a career-best six for 51 as Sri Lanka thrashed hosts Bangladesh by ten wickets in the second Test yesterday to win the two match series 1-0.The visitors bowled out Bangladesh for 169 runs in their second innings with 24-year-old Asitha playing a starring role at the National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka.

“We knew we needed a couple of wickets to go our way,” said Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne.

“The fast bowlers did the job for us, both in the first innings as well as the second.”

Sri Lanka made 506 runs in the first innings after bowling out Bangladesh for 365.

Oshada Fernando sealed the devastating win with an unbeaten 21 in three overs.Play had resumed on the fifth and final day with the hosts at a precarious 34-4 and Sri Lanka upped the pressure when Kasun Rajitha bowled Mushfiqur Rahim for 23 in the eighth over.Shakib Al Hasan and Liton Das both hit fifties in a 110-run stand and held on through the first session with a mix of caution and aggression.

Shakib’s counter-attack saw him hit Rajitha for three fours in one over, forcing Sri Lanka to widen their field set-up, while Liton played an anchor role after resuming on one overnight.Liton was given out caught behind off Rajitha on nine as he attempted to flick a ball going down the leg, but survived on review.It was the fourth caught behind decision overturned in the match, all given by West Indies umpire Joel Wilson.

A counter-punching Shakib brought his 27th Test fifty in the last ball before lunch with a boundary off Dhananjaya de Silva, before Asitha drove the hosts’ collapse after lunch.He took the scalps of both Liton and Shakib soon after the break, claiming four of the last five wickets after dispatching openers Mahmudul Hasan Joy and Tamim Iqbal the previous day.Ramesh Mendis trapped Mosaddek Hossain for nine before Asitha wrapped up the Bangladesh innings with the wickets of Taijul Islam and Khaled Ahmed in successive deliveries.

“A disappointing performance,” said Bangladesh captain Mominul Haque.

“They put us under pressure with the new ball, we’ll have to handle it better next time,” he added.

Asitha conceded 144 runs for his first 10-wicket Test match haul, with 4-93 in the first innings.He and Rajitha had Bangladesh reduced to a pitiful 24 for five at the start of the first day before Mushfiqur (175 not out) and Das (141) staged a recovery.But Sri Lanka rode on man of the series Angelo Mathews (145 not out) and Dinesh Chandimal’s 124 to take a commanding 141-run first-innings lead.

Bangladesh collapsed again at the start of their second innings, losing the first four wickets for 23 runs to leave Sri Lanka in full control.The first Test in Chittagong ended in a draw.Bangladesh will now tour West Indies for two Tests, three Twenty20 internationals and three one-day internationals starting in June.Sri Lanka host Australia next month — despite anxieties about the island nation’s protracted economic crisis — for three T20Is, five ODIs and two Tests.

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Yupun continues record-breaking spree  



Yupun Abeykoon improved the men’s 100metres national record at a championship held in Germany on Wednesday.

Sri Lankan is the Asian leader

by Reemus Fernando  

Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon continued his record-breaking spree at a championship in Dessau, Germany as he clocked the fastest time in the men’s 100 metres in Asia this year to win ahead of Kenyan world leader Ferdinand Omanyala on Wednesday.

Abeykoon, who is also the South Asian record holder in the 100 metres clocked 10.06 seconds to win as he took a good chunk of 0.09 seconds off his previous national record.

It is the third time that the 27-year-old has improved the national record in 100 metres.

Abeykoon first took the national record of the 100 metres (10.16 secs) in 2020 before improving it to 10.15 seconds last year.

Abeykoon’s 10.06 seconds is the fastest time in Asia this year as he overtook Abdullah Abkar Mohammed (10.14) of Saudi Arabia and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (10.15) of Japan who had both produced their seasonal best in March.

With Abeykoon winning the 100 metres against a quality field inclusive of Ferdinand Omanyala, who had clocked a world-leading time of 9.85 seconds early this month, it is expected that the South Asian Games medallist would produce the tough qualifying standard of 10.05 seconds for the World Championship soon rather than later.

Athletes are selected for the World Championship through direct qualifying standards and through the world rankings. Of the 48 slots allocated for the track’s showpiece discipline, 27 are selected from those who achieve the tough qualifying standard of 10.05 seconds, for which Abeykoon is just a millisecond behind.

The remaining slots are filled according to the ‘Road to Oregon 2022’ list in which Abeykoon is placed in the 58th position at present. That ranking is set to improve when stats are updated next week.

Abeykoon’s remarkable achievements have come at a time when some of the country’s promising athletes struggle to improve their rankings due to lack of quality competitions here in Sri Lanka.

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