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Killi; Sri Lanka’s Mr.Cricket 

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Personal recollections of a great benefactor: Mr. R. Rajamahendran

by Sidath Wettimuny 

I embarked on my working life towards the end of 1976. I had to decide between two offers – one from The Maharaja Organisation (‘MO’), and one from Ceylon Tobacco. I opted to join Maharaja’s, especially because my brother Mithra was an accountant there and as I was not keen to work for a company that sold cigarettes.

I went to work with great excitement looking forward to an induction of sorts. To this date, I smile when I think of that unique briefing I received from Mr. E.C. Baha, the then Assistant to the Managing Directors, Mr. Maharaja and Mr. Rajamahendran (‘Killi’ to most, but always ‘Sir’ to me). It was short, sharp and to the point.

‘Sidath, you can cut work. But do not cut cricket practices. You will be in serious trouble!, Mr. Baha declared. Highly amused, I left the meeting and got down to work at Maharaja’s.

Mercantile cricket was serious business, and the MO team was the team to contend with at the Mercantile tournament. Our team was star studded with many Sri Lankan national players. Prior to every match, Killi gave us a briefing. Besides strategizing, he inculcated and instilled in us the importance of being professional in our attitude. He always stressed that the difference between an amateur and a professional was that of attitude and approach to the game. This advice, no doubt, progressively made us better players.

During this period, there was a popular belief that playing in the League in England would provide our budding national players valuable experience and exposure, especially to different types of wickets. I was one of the many beneficiaries to be sponsored by Killi to play a season of League Cricket in the North of England.

I will never forget my introduction to England!

After a long and tiring Aeroflot flight, via Moscow, I landed in the UK and had the most bizarre and horrendous experience. The immigration queue was very long and two of the cricketers who flew in with me, Tony Opatha and Anura Ranasinghe, had gone through ahead of me. Due to a misunderstanding about the purpose of my visit, I ended up spending almost 24 hours at the immigration waiting room.

At the point of deep despair, fearing I could be sent back, I was utterly relieved to see the figure of Killi striding towards me.  He chuckled and informed me that he had been in Austria, heard of my detention, and took the next flight to London, to sign a bond and get me released. I had tears pouring down my face as I walked out beside him. Yet again, thanks to him I was able to experience and enjoy my first season of League Cricket during the summer.

In the following years, the MO supported and sponsored many aspiring and already selected Sri Lankan national players, including giants like Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias, to play League Cricket in the UK. Killi was totally focused on ensuring that we cricketers developed our skills, and gained experience in the game at a more professional level of cricket. He strongly believed that our skills matched that of any other nation, but what we lacked was a professional attitude. He gave us the impetus and motivation to think and dream big about what we can achieve as national cricketers. Killi employed and supported nearly 100 national cricketers– a statistic unmatched by any other organization or individual. His contribution to cricket in Sri Lanka cannot be quantified!!

Another unforgettable incident I had with him was when I was sitting for my ACCA Part II examination. I found it hard to balance the hours of cricket with my studies. I had a lot of pressure from home to secure my accountancy qualification.  When my boss refused a request for study leave, I had to make a decision on whether to continue working and playing cricket, or to leave and focus on accountancy studies.  I appealed to Killi, as I grappled with this decision. I recall meeting him and his brother in the MO Boardroom where, dressed in his typical dapper style, he was standing behind his chair.  On hearing my predicament, he told me ‘I say, may I give you some advice?  I can find ten accountants down the road, but if you do something for your country as a national cricketer, I will value you more. You will have greater opportunities in the future.’

Those words of advice stayed with me and comforted me as I kept postponing my studies. In the meantime, cricket took centre stage in my life.  To date, I am extremely grateful for Killi’s words of wisdom, as even the business that I currently am in was initiated through my cricket contacts in the UK, after I stopped playing cricket.

The spirit of cricket at the MO was very special.  In the early 1980s, a one-off ‘Super Tournament’, comprising winners of the different tournaments, was held in a very competitive atmosphere. The MO qualified as the winners of the Mercantile Tournament. Duleep and I were in a peculiar situation, as we were playing for the MO against our own Club, the SSC.  Sunil and Mithra, who were stalwarts of the SSC team, teased us about how the SSC would thrash the MO team. Their continuous teasing made us determined to score.  At the match, Duleep and I both made hundreds and helped secure a win for the MO…much to the chagrin of my two brothers!

When the powerful combination of Hon. Gamini Dissanayake and Killi took over the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka their invaluable contribution and tireless efforts helped Sri Lanka gain Test status. Even in this aspect Killi’s contribution to cricket in Sri Lanka was huge!

Before our historic maiden cricket tour of England in 1984, Killi sponsored five national players to go ahead of the team to London. He arranged for practices at the Lord’s indoor facilities, which gave us the opportunity to play a practice match for an MCC team. I have no doubt that this initial exposure helped us to build our confidence and to cope with our maiden Test at Lord’s.

I’m certain gratitude and tributes to Mr. Killi Rajamahendran from all the cricketers who had the privilege of knowing him, will be endless. Behind his tough exterior was a heart of gold; we are all hearing more and more of his generosity to many, on many fronts.

One regret I personally have is when, in 2015, while Chairing the Interim Committee of SLC, I was very keen to name all the Hospitality Boxes at the Khettarama Stadium with the names of personalities who significantly contributed to the game of cricket.

The first two boxes were to be named after Hon. Gamini Dissanayake and Mr Rajamahendran. However, due to the premature departure of that Interim Committee, this naming did not happen. It would have been appropriate to name a box after Mr. Rajamahendran, the single largest benefactor to Sri Lankan Cricket. In any event, in my opinion, Mr. Rajamahendran will always be Sri Lanka’s ‘Mr. Cricket’.



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A championship in November might hurt athletes’ preparation for next year’s key events

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by Reemus Fernando  

Sri Lanka Army’s decision to schedule their flagship athletics event to November is likely to hurt top athletes’ preparations for next year’s major international events. The Army’s decision has come just a couple of weeks after Sri Lanka Athletics decided to windup the pandemic plagued season in October to allow enough time for off season as top athletes will have several crucial international competitions in 2022 including the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.

“Sri Lanka Athletics took the decision to conclude the season with the remainder of the National Championship in October in consultation with coaches as we have a busy schedule in 2022. Most of the coaches whose athletes had already completed their National Championship disciplines had started off-season training when the Army decided out of the blues to conduct their championship in November,” a senior coach told The Island.

Most of the top track and field athletes of the country are employed by Sri Lanka Army and athletes are bound to give equal prominence to the Army Athletics Championship. However, preparing them for the championship in November is likely to derail training plans of coaches who are eager to bring the best out of their athletes at two major international events in 2022.

Not having a proper Competition Calendar has been a problem that has hurt track and field athletes for decades now. Though Sri Lanka Athletics continue to announce their competition calendar in advance other stakeholders in the sport including the tri forces and the Sports Ministry have at times failed to announce theirs.

True the Covid 19 pandemic has hampered all schedules but it is important that all stake holders come together to take decisions vital for national athletics.

Despite the Covid 19 pandemic hampering sports events, Sri Lanka Athletics conducted a number of disciplines of the National Championship 2021 at the first leg in May to give opportunities for athletes who are closer to earn Olympic qualifying standards. The remaining legs of the National Championship 2021 which were rescheduled several times due to the pandemic will now be held on October 30 and 31.

The track and field governing body which will celebrate its centenary year in 2022 is eager to prepare strong teams for both the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games as it has not experienced medal success at these championships for years now. Country has won 46 medals at the Asian Games. Of them 27 are from track and field sports. From the 11 gold medals it has won in the history of the Games ten have come from track and field. However, Sri Lanka has not won a medal in track and field after the men’s 4×400 metres relay team won a bronze in 2006. Sri Lanka has won only three track and field medals at the Commonwealth Games but non during the last two decades.

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MJ to work as consultant during World Cup

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Sri Lanka’s ICC T20 World Cup campaign has received a massive boost after former captain Mahela Jayawardene agreed to work with the team as a consultant during the tournament.

MJ will not be available for the entire campaign as his stint will last just one week, which means he will be only available for the qualifying round. He will not be available beyond the games against Namibia, Ireland and Netherlands.

SLC also stated that MJ has accepted a consultancy role with Sri Lanka Under-19 team for a period of five months lead up to next year’s ICC Under-19 World Cup. He will be working alongside his former SSC team mate Avishka Gunawardene, who is the Head Coach of the Under-19 side.

MJ known as a brilliant tactician in the game was one of Sri Lanka’s most successful captains across all forms of cricket. He was skipper when Sri Lanka won overseas Test matches in England, New Zealand and West Indies. He was also captain when Sri Lanka blanked England 5-0 in their own backyard. Under his leadership, Sri Lanka reached the finals of the ICC World T20 in 2012.

Since retiring from the game, he’s been a highly sought after coach having guided Mumbai Indians for multiple IPL titles and having worked with the England team as a consultant.

Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur welcomed the appointment. “I have worked with Mahela before and really looking forward to having him with us. He is one of the best cricket brains I have worked with and just very excited to have him with us,” he told The Island.

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Sri Lanka Athletics gives priority to Asian Games

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by Reemus Fernando

 Sri Lanka Athletics will give priority to Asian Games over the Commonwealth Games as the two major sports events take place within five weeks from each other in 2022. The track and field governing body indicated their priorities at a meeting with the National Olympic Committee yesterday.

“Our best chances are at the Asian Games. We are trying to get the best out of the talent we have. To achieve that we have set our priorities right. Though we are going to select a team for both events at the same stage we might not send some athletes for the Commonwealth Games,” a senior official of Sri Lanka Athletics told The Island after a meeting with the NOC yesterday.

“For example our best chances for the men’s 4×400 metres relay team is at the Asian Games. We might not field that team for the Commonwealth Games,” Saman Kumara, the statistician of Sri Lanka Athletics said.

“In 2002 we had both the Commonwealth Games (July 25- August 4) and the Asian Games within a span of two months. We had three men who could run 400 metres in 45 seconds. We had the best chance of winning the 4×400 metres gold in Busan but the Commonwealth Games had its toll on the runners when the time came for the Asian Games,” said Saman Kumara who has experience as both a selector and manager of teams for these games.

While the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be held from July 28 to August 8 in Birmingham, the Chinese city of Hangzhou will host Asian Games from September 10 to 25.

“We are almost certain of fielding a men’s 4×100 metres relay team for the Commonwealth Games provided they meet selection criteria. The men’s 4×400 metres relay team will be reserved for the Asian Games.”

Though medal prospects are dim in track events at the Commonwealth Games, Sri Lanka’s men’s 4×100 metres relay team consisting of Himasha Eshan, Shehan Ambepitiya, Vinoj Suranjaya and Mohamed Ashrafu had a memorable outing at the last edition in Gold Coast where they established the current national record clocking 39.08 seconds.

That record will be in danger now with Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon improving the national record this year and showing the ability to further improve the record.

Sri Lanka Athletics will update the current elite and national pools after concluding the remaining events of the National Championship at the end of next month. That pool will be maintained till March 2022 when the teams for both the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are selected. The centenary National Championships in 2022 April (8,9,10) will be the final selection trial for both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.

Sri Lanka Athletics will also target forming a mixed relay team for the Asian Games as there are two strong contenders to fill the women’s spots in Nadeesha Ramanayake and Dilshi Kumarasainghe. While Kalinga Kumarage and Aruna Dharshana are the front runners for the men’s sports in the mixed relay, the next few months will be crucial for the rest of the sprinters aspiring to win a place in the team for the men’s 4×400 metres relay.

Given their current form, the 100 metres, 400 metres, 4x100metres, 4×400 metres, high jump, long jump, and javelin throw, in the men’s category, 800 metres, steeplechase, long jump, and marathon in the women’s category and the mixed relay are the disciplines in which athletes have shown potential in reaching qualifying standards.

Sri Lanka has won the majority of Asian Games medals in track and field events though the country has not witnessed medal success after the men’s 4×400 metres quartet of Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Rohitha Pushpakumara, Prasanna Amarasekara and  Ashoka Jayasundara won the bronze in 2006 in Doha. Since 2006 the country has won only two medals, both in cricket.

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