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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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Dialog powers Warrior Trophy Rugby 7s

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The speed and power of 7’s rugby action is back this month after a lapse of more than a year due to the Covid 19 pandemic, as Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, Dialog Axiata PLC in partnership with the steering committee, which comprises of the Sri Lanka Army, Navy, Air Force and Police will kick-off the Warrior Trophy Rugby 7s at 9am on October 30 at Police Park.

The commanders of the Sri Lanka Army, Navy, Air Force together with the IGP of the Sri Lanka Police have assured the fullest support in making this event a success. The Warrior Trophy will also perform as a platform for national selectors to pick the squad for the Asian Rugby men’s 7s series that will be played on November 19 and 20 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The tourney will be played behind closed doors. However, it will be broadcast live on the terrestrial channel Supreme TV (Dialog Television channel number 20) and will also be available via live stream on ThePapare.com and Dialog VIU mobile app. The grand final will be played at the same venue on October 31 from 4 pm onwards. The tourney will be officiated by the Sri Lanka Society of Rugby Football Referees.

Sri Lanka Club Rugby 7’s giants CH & FC and Havelock SC will field their best teams, while Army SC, Navy SC, Air Force SC and Police SC will play with two teams each for the Warrior Trophy Rugby 7s 2021 powered by Dialog.

The Warrior Trophy Rugby 7s will be played in accordance with health and safety guidelines mandated by government health authorities to minimize the risk of spreading of Covid 19. Teams will practice in isolation via a bio bubble set up in advance and will undergo regular PCR checks and rapid antigen tests to ensure safety.

“Sports is an integral part of Sri Lankan lives and I’m pleased for the initiative taken by the Steering Committee of Warrior Trophy Rugby 7s to restart rugby in Sri Lanka and the support given by the National Team and Club Rugby sponsor, Dialog Axiata to meet the challenges of organising a tourney of this magnitude in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic,” Namal Rajapaksa, Minister of Youth and Sports said. “A tournament of this level is critical for selection and to prepare players before a grueling tourney like the Asian Rugby men’s 7s series. I wish the Steering Committee and Dialog the very best for two days of excellent 7s play,” he added.

“I’m indeed pleased that one of Sri Lanka’s biggest supporters of national sports, Dialog Axiata has once again come forward to support the game of rugby,” Senior DIG Ranmal Kodituwakku, Chairman, Steering Committee of the Warrior Trophy Rugby 7s said.

“With the assistance and guidance of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Sports, the Steering Committee of the Warrior Trophy Rugby 7s will ensure the tourney will be played in keeping with the health, safety and wellbeing of the participating teams,” Kodituwakku further added.

“As the sponsor of the National Rugby team and Club Rugby, Dialog is pleased to see the progressive steps taken by the Steering Committee of the Warrior Trophy Rugby 7s to organise a tournament of this magnitude,” Harsha Samaranayake, Senior General Manager – Brand and Media, Dialog Axiata said. “Rugby is one of the most followed sports in Sri Lanka and the fans are looking forward to see their clubs back in action. I wish the Warrior Trophy Rugby 7s for a successful tourney.”

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Vaas proud of fast bowling strength at Sri Lanka’s disposal

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Rex Clementine in Sharjah

Former fast bowling great Chaminda Vaas has done well to develop a potent fast bowling attack since being roped into the role. The pace that Sri Lanka possess at the moment is quite formidable with three bowlers clocking over 140kmph. While Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Kumara have clocked above 145 kmph during the ongoing ICC T-20 World Cup, this week, the third seamer Chamika Karunaratne broke the 140 kmph barrier.

“What we have seen is three guys bowling over 140kmph in tandem. We right now have two guys bowling at 145kmph and Chamika Karunaratne slightly slower than them. Great to see that. I am looking forward to see how they will fare in Test cricket as well. We will have a good time moving forward and exciting times are ahead,” Vaas told a group of Sri Lankan journalists.

Lahiru Kumara was a late addition to the squad but has been quite a handful. He used to be erratic despite possessing raw pace, but right now has got his act together bowling with more accuracy. He also has added a new weapon to his armoury, bowling deadly yorkers.

“Lahiru was in the pool but wasn’t in the squad of 15. We have been doing a lot of work with him trying to develop his skill. He was desperate to get a few things right. His stats in T-20 cricket were not good enough for his immense talent. To his credit, he put in the hard yards. Did a lot of work with our trainer Dilshan Fonseka. I guess those things have stood in good stead during the tournament,” Vaas explained.

The strategy to include Kumara seems to have stemmed from the fact that Sri Lanka realized that teams playing the qualifying round like Ireland, Netherlands and Namibia had not faced extra pace and Kumara had got a last minute nod. “That was the plan. We know these teams play medium pace bowlers lots of the time. So once you have extra pace it can be quite handy. What I am impressed is not just the pace but the control they are showing with the pace. The accuracy has been spot on and I wish they keep doing it as we move forward,” Vaas pointed out.

Vaas has done a few technical adjustments to Kumara’s games and it is paying dividends. “Did a few changes like his run-up and wrist position and especially he trained a lot on bowling yorkers. Just keep a cone and try hitting that. He’s been terrific to be honest. The more you do this stuff as a fast bowler you keep improving. Glad to see Lahiru having that desire to get his act together and the results are there for everyone to see”

Dushmantha Chameera is the leader of the bowling unit and some impressive performances in the home series against India and South Africa earned him an IPL contract. “He has been terrific in the last eight months. He has learned the art of swinging the ball and when you do that with his pace that can be quite handy. He is another guy who works hard on his bowling. You have got to give him credit. He is a very passionate guy who wants to see Sri Lankan cricket doing well.”

Traditionally, your quickest seamers share the new ball, but in T-20 cricket there is a whole lot of new dimension that has come in and it is not so anymore and instead Sri Lanka have opted for Karunaratne. “Chamika can bowl at any point. We used him early because one-side of the Abu Dhabi ground is smaller. When you give him the first over, you can make the best out of Dushmantha and Lahiru. We can keep them for the middle overs and the death overs which is vital. That’s the thinking behind. When we want a wicket we try to bring in the extra pace of those two,” Vaas elaborated.

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Badminton players to fight for half a million rupee prize bag at WPBA Open Championships

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The tournament, organized jointly by WPBA and SLB, will see events conducted under 31 categories, including open men’s and women’s singles, doubles, and mixed doubles as well as age group events for several categories including Under 17, 19, and over 35. 

A total of half a million rupees will be on offer for the winners of the Li – Ning Western Province Badminton Association (WPBA) Open Badminton Championship, which will take place at St. Joseph’s College Indoor Stadium from November 11-14, Sri Lanka Badminton (SLB) announced.

The high profile tournament, organized jointly by WPBA and SLB, will see events conducted under 31 categories, including open men’s and women’s singles, doubles, and mixed doubles as well as age group events for several categories including Under 17, 19, and over 35.

All events will contribute towards national rankings and will be based on SLB Rankings published on the official web portal of the badminton governing body. The shuttlecocks to be used during the matches will be Li Ning, the official partner of the event.

Apart from the lucrative cash awards, all winners, runners-up, and semi-finalists of the Championships will be awarded certificates and trophies/medals.

The Championships will run on a knock-out basis and all matches will be played according to the rules and regulations approved by the BWF and as adopted by SLB.

SLB said that all entries should be handed over to Sri Lanka Badminton, Maitland Place, Colombo 07. According to them, no postal entries would be entertained. Entries close on November 3 at 7.00 pm and accepted entries can be viewed on the SLB website and displayed on the notice boards at SLB from November 5.

The draw will take place on November 8 at SLB Headquarters at 11.00 am and will be published on the SLB Notice Board and the website (www.srilankabadminton.lk) and their facebook page.

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