by Rex Clementine
A senior sports writer warned us that less than ten percent of people who read this article are going to like it. But facts are stubborn. As one visionary priest – late Fr. Bernard Quintus OMI used to say, ‘cheap popularity is not going to get us anywhere.’ With the stepping down of Ashantha De Mel, cricket has found a scapegoat on whom all sins are pinned. It’s as if Sri Lankan cricket hit rock bottom due to De Mel’s blunders. The truth is far from it.
De Mel has been shredded to pieces in social media. At this rate, he will be even blamed for the extreme heat that people are experiencing in Mannar these days and not Rishad. Most of the things said about De Mel are not true. For example that his wife is related to Shiranthi Rajapaksa, the wife of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa! That’s a total fabrication.
However, what is true is that De Mel was Chairman of Selectors when Sri Lanka reached the finals of three World Cups – in 2007 in the Caribbean, in 2009 in London and in 2012 at RPS. For record’s sake, he was also Chairman of Selectors when Sri Lanka whitewashed England in their own backyard 5-0 in 2006. During his tenure, the national cricket team won Test matches in Pakistan, New Zealand, England, West Indies and South Africa.
There’s a lot to like about De Mel; lot of things that people dislike. The foremost of them being that he minces no words and calls a spade a spade. Selectors are supposed to take unpopular decisions. He has taken plenty of them, including the sacking of Arjuna Ranatunga. He was the Chairman when Marvan Atapattu was picked in the 2007 World Cup squad but benched for all games. When Marvan vented his anger calling his selection panel ‘a bunch of puppets headed by a joker’, at the Gabba, De Mel bore the brunt of it and never spoke against Marvan. That’s a hallmark of someone who has matured doing the job.
People who have stoned and crucified him have conveniently forgotten that he was Chairman of Selectors when Sri Lanka recorded one of their greatest wins in the history 18 months ago – a Test series win in South Africa. He was vilified when he picked Oshada Fernando and Lasith Embuldeniya out of the blues. The press, including yours truly, asked what they had done to merit selections. But as uncle Percy says, ‘De Mel knows his onions’. He has this rare ability to spot talent and persevere with them.
Those two selections proved to be a masterstroke. Both players made match winning contributions as Sri Lanka became the first Asian nation to win a Test series in South Africa.
We Sri Lankans by nature tend to find quick fixes rather than going to the bottom of an issue. So as our batting crumbled against England, all blame was placed on De Mel’s doorstep. Is he also doubling up as Batting Coach apart from his multiple roles as Chairman of Selectors and Manager? It’s so sad to see that nobody is holding Grant Flower accountable.
This is not to say that we agree with all decisions of De Mel. His biggest blunder was appointing Lasith Malinga as T-20 and ODI captain. Once he gave the captaincy to Lasith, it was extremely difficult to get it back. Lasith and captaincy is like Ranil and UNP leadership. Cricket being a gentleman’s game Lasith eventually gave in. Ranil bats on regardless – no shame whatsoever. Sir John Kotelawala must be spinning in his grave.
De Mel’s other biggest fault was giving in to political pressure and accommodating that ‘three dimensional’ cricketer Jeevan Mendis into the World Cup squad in 2019. We always think that Jeevan Mendis is the Michael Jordan of Sri Lanka. Once in every four years the Bulls legend made a cameo appearance for the Dream Team during the Olympics and so does our hero who is indispensable when a World Cup is around the corner. His Thomian pedigree took him places – if you can read between the lines.
You can blame De Mel as much as you want but you better find out a new scapegoat by April when Bangladesh are going to be here. We have already got one in mind – Ashley de Silva.
Cricket authorities need to take both long term and short term steps to avoid a catastrophe against Bangladesh. The short term answers are getting two ‘A’ teams to visit Sri Lanka and get our second string to play competitive cricket and try and see whether the replacements for Dilruwan Perera and Niroshan Dickwella can be found. At the moment, these guys have had it too easy. There’s no one breathing down their neck.
The long term solution is fixing domestic cricket. This SLC is hell bent on not doing because they will be antagonizing those clubs who vote them into positions. The Sports Minister has promised to address the issue to introduce a competitive domestic tournament. So did his predecessors. The only thing that is certain about a politician and his promises are that they can be broken.
So instead of blaming De Mel, we need to address the real issues. Unless we do that, we are fooling ourselves. No individual is at fault for this mess. The blame needs to be placed on the doorstep of SLC and their short sighted policies. The initial plan was to have eight teams play First Class cricket. When people triple it, we are asking for trouble. And then we are blaming De Mel for all our problems.
As said at the start, there is a good possibility of 90% of our readers not liking this article. Thank you for being one of them.
Super Rugby 2021 Aotearoa
by Rajitha Ratwatte
We are still in summer in the Southern Hemisphere and international cricket is still being played here in Aotearoa – New Zealand. However, the rugby season has started, and we are into our second week. I guess the media Moghuls have to keep getting richer and certainly we are seeing lots of great running rugby due to the drier conditions.
There are a few new rules being trialled in this largely domestic tournament. Among them the captain’s challenge, a rule that allows 10 seconds to implement and has resulted in the appointment of co-captains, one from the forwards and one from the backs. More on that later.
We saw a game between the Waikato Chiefs and Otago Highlanders played on Friday evening. Chiefs of course being captained by the All-Blacks captain himself, Sam Cane with co-captain, Brad Webber the busy half back or scrum-half as we used to call them. Webber got a run with the All Blacks in preference to the incumbent understudy T.J. Peranara, last year and gave a good account of himself. The Chiefs were also trying out a new no10 Bryn Gatland, pinched from the Highlanders. This probably means that Damian Mackenzie will start at full-back this season, something that he (Damian) may not be too happy about. Liam Squire who was recovering from hip surgery and resulting complications was also starting at no6, a welcome return for a great-hearted player.
The Highlanders were being led by veteran hooker Ash Dickson and the co-captain was Aaron Smith who incidentally didn’t start the game, with new boy Folau Fakatara being picked in the no 9 jersey. Fakatara is a highly talked-up player with a rather fancy hairstyle (reminds me of the tail of a bird of paradise!) who played well but failed to show exceptional skills. The Highlanders were playing in white jerseys and khaki shorts which may be a suggestion for our Police or Army teams back in the Pearl. They looked rather smart. The Highlanders also had Jonah Nareki who had shown so much skill last season at no11, the old number of no doubt, the person whose first name he had been given.
The Waikato Chiefs were tipped by almost everyone to win as they were at home albeit without the loud cowbells of the home team due to Covid 19 restrictions. One factor that should have tipped off any punter was that Sir John Kirwan, the well-known ex All-Black winger tipped the Chiefs to win. JK is also known to get these things horribly wrong and will find it hard to live down his prediction of an Argentine loss to the All Blacks before that historic win by the Pumas!
Things started off on cue with Sam Cane earning a penalty off a ruck within 22 seconds of the start and Damian Mackenzie slotting it with ease. The first 30 minutes or so belonged entirely to the Chiefs and they raced to a 20 – 6 lead. The Highlanders were penalized continually and had two yellow cards dished out, including one to their skipper Ash Dickson. The Chiefs made maximum use of having an extra man on the field and scored twice in quick succession during this period. The only weak link in the Chiefs seemed to be their no10 Gatlin, who consistently made mistakes and made one too many when an attempted chip kick, in the opposition 22, was smothered by the opposition, ended up in the hands of Jonah Nareki who ran the length of the field and scored a try against the run of play. This could be called the turning point of the game and even though the Chiefs still had a healthy lead 20 – 11 at half time, this resurgence of spirit combined no doubt with an expletive-laced “talking to” from their coach (his own admission) at half time saw an amazing turnaround.
The Highlanders didn’t take kickable penalties in the second half and chose to kick for touch and go for the attacking line outs. Shannon Frazelle the All-Blacks blindside flanker who had been steady in the first half was showing more fire and commitment. Five minutes into the second half the hard-tackling Chiefs center and All Black, Lennert- Brown injured his arm and had to go off. “Bird of Paradise” no 9 Fakatava wormed his way through traffic and scored a try for the Highlanders in the 49th minute and was promptly substituted by the one and only Aaron Smith! What a player to be able to bring on at this stage of the game to add weight to a great fightback. The score read 20 -18 with the Chiefs still in the lead.
From this point, it was the Jonah Nareki show! First a scything run, at the end of which he found the inspired Shannon Frazelle, who strolled over the line. They say Nareki has low hips and is hard to tackle, be that as it may, the loss due to injury of hard tackling Lennert- Brown may have also contributed as Nareki kept coming in off his wing and running through the midfield. Nareki completed a hat trick of tries and took the Highlanders to victory with the final score reading 23 – 39.
However, there was one more drama in store. The captain’s challenge or captain’s referral is a new rule that allows the captain to challenge a decision by the referee once during the game. The captain has only 10 seconds to do it in. Hence the need for co-captains in case one of the captains is detained elsewhere in the field. The Chiefs scored a try almost at full time, but the run of play had led to one of the Chiefs players going into a tackle “leading with his arm” a possible red card offense that was missed by the referee. Aaron Smith was quick to point this out to the ref and the resulting video check showed this challenge was valid. The try was disallowed, and a simple penalty awarded to the Highlanders. This was the first time this trial “rule” was invoked. It needs a few more instances to prove its worth.
The overall refereeing was good with the officials even spotting crooked throws into lineouts, which was refreshing. Usually, the referee stands to one side of the line out and misses these offenses. The commentators tried to insinuate that a large number of penalties and yellow cards awarded against the Highlanders were excessive but when the highlanders got their act together in the second half, things returned to normal. In fact, it may have been these penalties that resulted in a better second half of rugby. Jonah Nareki is a name to remember for the future! Even though the national team has a wealth of wingers, this young man can even play center and is certainly a better choice than Ricco Ioane of the Auckland Blues, who seems to be being groomed for the job and is nothing but a no 11 or 14.
Methvan wins U14 singles title
SSC Open Ranking Tennis
Number two ranked Methvan Wijemanne overcame a set defeat to beat Tharuk Marasinghe in a all-Royal final to win the Under-14 boys singles title of the SSC Open Ranking Tennis tournament in Colombo on Sunday.
Wijemanne scored 2-6, 6-2, 10-4 in the final to beat the third seed. While Wieemanne beat number five seed Sandas Usgodaraachchi in the semis, Marasinghe eliminated top ranked player Lisal Goonetilleke in a Royal-Thomian clash.
In the men’s doubles final Yasitha de Silva and Sankha Atukorale beat Thangaraja Dineshkanthan and Gayanga Weerasekara 6-3, 6-4.
Meanwhile, the semi finalists were found in the Under-18 boys’ and girls’ singles yesterday.
Anithra Dharmarathne, Ruvi Lewkebandara, Wishmi Serasinghe and Nelani Jayasuriya secured semi final places as they won their quarterfinals.
Hasal Ahangama, Matheesha Nettasinghe, Ransath Peiris and Anujaya Abeywickrama advanced to the semis in the boys category.
Under-18 girls’ quarter-finals
Anithra Dharmarathne beat Senulya Wijayawardhane 6-4, 7-6 (5)
Ruvi Lewkebandara beat Nishka Vivekanandan 6-1, 6-0
Vishmi Serasinghe beat Oneli Perera 7-6(5), 6-1
Nelani Jayasuriya beat Sethmi Sumanaweera 7-6(4), 6-3
Under-18 boys’ quarter- finals
Hasal Ahangama beat Wenuka Kithnula 6-3, 1-0 retired
Matheesha Netthasinghe beat Nisal Hemakumara 6-4, 2-6, 10-8
Ransath Peiris beat Heshika Perera 6-4, 7-5
Anujaya Abeywickrama beat Vichinthaya Nilaweera 7-6(4), 7-5 (RF)
SLC to make cricket most popular sport among girls
Cricket is by far the popular sport among boys’ schools. On the contrary, cricket doesn’t even feature among the top three popular sports among girls’ schools. While netball remains the number one sport among girls at schools, they also give preference to basketball followed by swimming and athletics. Apsari Tillakaratne, the convener of women’s cricket, is on a mission. Her plan is to make cricket the most popular sport in school. That’s one of her long term plans.
Apsari also has short term plans. The foremost of them is to pick a decent team for the upcoming ICC Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh in December.
She had her plans set in putting up a formidable outfit for the first ever Under-19 World Cup for girls, but those plans received a severe blow due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Now she goes about her business meticulously, visiting schools and encouraging interested young players.
The support she has received from District and Provincial coaches and the talent search manager of SLC has been enormous. Sri Lanka Schools’ Cricket Association and the Ministry of Education have also provided full support for her efforts.
With December in mind, there is not enough time to put through teams at schools. Instead, her plan has been to encourage individual players and direct them to coaches. District and Provincial Cricket Associations have been tremendous help as Apsari reaches out to outstations where there are many talents.
While doing all these activities, strict health guidelines have been followed as safety of players and coaches is paramount.
Apsari does keep an eye on schools and those who are in-charge of the sport at schools for the enthusiasm they show and if there is keenness, she is happy to invest on those schools as a start.
The interest for women’s cricket has grown by many folds in the last decade and these initiatives will surely help create more awareness.
The interest for cricket among girls has gone through the roof in the last ten years. Regular ICC events in both 50 overs and 20 overs being conducted are one such reason and more importantly these games are televised nowadays.
India has taken a huge lead in promoting women’s cricket given their recent good showing in global events and more girls are taking part in cricket. Sri Lankan girls like Chamari Atapattu making it to the Big Bash League and other televised franchise based events is creating interest and you will see more and more schools taking to the sport.
Cricket among girls at schools has been promoted through Big Matches but as we move forward Apsari sees the need to have regular competition for girls. Parents who are keen to see their children taking part in sports tend to channel their little ones to cricket when they see regular competitions being held.
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