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Learning honesty and integrity through cricket

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by Lalith Gunaratne

My father was a very easy-going person but led a very principled life.  When it came to honesty and integrity, he was right there on top even at the expense of his family. He mentioned these two traits often to his children. 

Talking about cricket, he once asked me and my brother, “If you hit a ball and it goes up to be caught by a fielder, what is your status?” 

“Out” 

If you snick a ball and know that you did and if the wicket keeper catches it, what’s your status?” 

” Out” 

“If so, why do you look at the umpire to tell you so?” 

He went on to say, “if you snick and get caught, you walk back to the pavilion without shamefully waiting for another man (umpire) to tell you that you are out”. 

Thanks to my father, I have never looked at the umpire after snicking a catch and am proud of it. 

Taking this a bit further, my father was the Advertising Manager of the Ceylon Observer at Lake House, the year I captained Ananda. He was an extremely popular figure among his colleagues and subordinates. 

I excelled this year as an all-rounder.  I scored heavily, bowled successfully, and fielded extremely well, holding over ten difficult catches in the gully and at short leg. I was also responsible for three direct hit run outs which were rare at that time. 

Ananda were unbeaten after more than 15 years (Ananda were unbeaten also in 1958 under Palitha Premasiri, but the final tally read at 12 matches played, 12 drawn).  We beat St. Thomas’ College, Wesley, and St. Benedict’s College and time deprived us of beating St. Peter’s College and Mahinda College, Galle. 

I captained the victorious Colombo North Schools Cricket Team in the Inter-zonal cricket tournament.  We beat Jaffna Schools in the final.  Jaffna Schools were giant killers the previous year, beating a star-studded Colombo South Schools Team in the Finals. 

I have also had the honor of being selected to captain the Ceylon School’s Cricket team for the Robert Senanayake Trophy tournament and against the Hyderabad Blues team that included Hanumant Singh and ML Jaisimha. 

My friend Anura de Silva of Nalanda was my vice-captain. 

During this time, the results of the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year results were coming out and was announced as follows: 

Best Batsman –

Lalith Gunaratna. 

Sunil Wettimuny the stylish opener was right behind me only because he had scored just a few runs less than what I had got. 

Best Bowler –

Anura de Silva 

Best Fielder –

Lalith Gunaratna 

Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year – Anura de Silva 

I was not too disappointed. Anura in my opinion was the complete cricketer.  That was the official end to my schoolboy cricket career. 

The day I received the much-awaited telegram from the Army stating that I was selected to be enlisted as an Officer Cadet, I went out with my father to buy some items that would be required at Diyatalawa. We stopped for lunch at Parkview Chinese Restaurant. 

While enjoying our lunch, my father dropped a mini bombshell.  He started by saying he has something especially important to tell me. 

He said that he had made a written appeal to his boss Ranapala Bodinagoda, Chairman of Associated Newspapers, and also spoken to him regarding the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year program. 

He had pleaded with Bodinagoda to speak to the selection panel and persuade them not to select me as the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year if my name came up to the final few.  He had a valid reason to sacrifice the glory his son would have achieved even for a short while.  I did not say a word but kept on listening to him. 

He said, “Son, I do not know how far my plea went and although in my mind you deserved it, we would not have been able to stop people from saying that you got the award because I was a manager at Sunday Observer and that I would have influenced the panel. 

Statistics fade away, but insinuations move from generation to generation.” 

 I was more interested in the new way of life I was approaching as a budding Army Officer, I told him I had no issue with it and to forget about it.  Surprisingly, I was not upset about it and was glad that my friend Anura de Silva received the coveted award.                     

My father said,” there would come a time when your son’s friends will tell him that you became the Schoolboy Cricketer only because his grandfather pulled for him.” We laughed over the matter and continued with our shopping after lunch. 

So many years later, thinking back, I agree with what my father did although he had taken an exceedingly rare stand. I still do not know whether my father’s appeal to his chairman was successful. 

Neither do I know whether the panel had a selection criterion where Anura deserved the award despite me having the better statistics and post-school records in captaining Colombo North Schools and Ceylon Schools and also playing for the Board President’s XI against the Hyderabad Blues and scoring 40 runs. 

This was one of the greatest lessons I learned from my father. 

As for Anura de Silva who passed away a few years ago,  had earned my greatest admiration and respect as a cricketer.  He was great on the field.  He was complete.



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Sri Lanka’s contingent prior to the opening ceremony

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by Reemus Fernando 

When Sri Lanka’s Olympic contingent were entering the stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo yesterday, Nimali Liyanarachchi who could have easily become the country’s flag bearer was taking a seat in the business class for the first time in a long career to take wing from Colombo to Tokyo. On the same flight, Sujith Abeysekara who identified the talent at a very young age and helped her blossom into one of the country’s most successful middle distance runners was seated in the economy class.

It was not long ago that Nimali and fellow track and field athletes slept on the floor during transit on their way to the last pre Olympic competition. The country’s sports authorities have decided to provide five star facilities to Olympic bound athletes and that paved the way for NImali to travel in business class for the first time.

A winner of multiple disciplines at National Level, NImali has represented the country at numerous international competitions. No other athlete in the Sri Lankan contingent in Tokyo has excelled at regional events like the athlete from Sooriyawewa. A gold medalist at the Asian Athletics Championships and South Asian Games, the 32-year-old received a wildcard to the Olympics after Nilani Ratnayake, who was in contention for qualification slid in the world rankings. Before the lack of competitions pulled her down in world rankings Nimali was one of the top three Asians in her discipline.  Though Nimali is a wildcard entrant at the Olympics her fellow track and field athlete at the Olympics, Yupun Abeykoon is not. Abeykoon qualified through world rankings and could be the only athlete who could go beyond the first round. Abeykoon, South Asia’s fastest man and badminton player Niluka Karunaratne are probably the only Sri Lankan athletes who are competition ready as Nimali’s preparation too was hampered due to quarantine procedures following their return from India’s Interstate Championship.

Athletics fraternity was curious yesterday as to why the honour of carrying the country’s flag had not been give to track and field athletes. At the time this story was filed, rooky gymnast Milka Gehani and judoka Chamara Nuwan Dharmawardena were scheduled to carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony.

Nearly one third of the countries that took part in the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had handed their country’s flag to track and field athletes. Some of them were legends of the sport. Many time Olympic medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was scheduled to carry the flag of Jamaica at the time this edition went to press. For the first time countries could be represented by two flag bearers at the Olympic Games. Sri Lanka, a country that has won its only Olympic medals in track and field had a gymnast and judoka doing the duty.

Twenty years after Sri Lanka won its last Olympic medal has athletics lost its place as the premier Olympic sport of the country or has other sports come to prominence surpassing track and field as prospective medal winning Olympic sports? It is the first time a gymnast is representing Sri Lanka. She was ranked 114th at the 2019 World Championships but according to NOC, she has received a continental quota spot due to cancellation of the Asian Gymnastic Championship.

Now take a look at Sri Lanka’s track and field athletes. Forget about the two track and field athletes in Tokyo. There are more than half a dozen track and field athletes who were among the top 100 athletes in the world in their respective disciplines including one who produced the 15th best performance of the world this year. They could not improve their rankings due to lack of opportunities to take part in top ranked Championships.

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Sri Lanka on course for consolation win 

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Avishka Fernando anchored the Sri Lankan innings after the hosts were set a target of 227 to win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday.

 

By Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka looked on course for a consolation win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday as they reached 92 for one at the end of 15 overs chasing a target of 227.  Avishka Fernando gave the hosts a solid start in the dead rubber and was unbeaten on 46 when this edition went to print.

Fernando played some exciting strokes and his pulled six off Navdeep Saini was the shot of the day. It reminded of the power hitting of another Moratuwaite – L.R.D. Mendis.

Bhanuka Rajapaksa was unbeaten on 28.

Spinner Praveen Jayawickrama and Akila Dananjaya came up with outstanding performances picking six wickets between them as India were bowled out for 225 after being 157 for three at one stage. 

Sri Lanka did three changes to the side that lost the second ODI while India came in with six changes handing debuts for five players, virtually playing a third string team.

Sri Lanka’s fielding that was a huge let down during the previous game showed some improvement as they backed up the bowlers to reduce India to 225 in 43.1 overs. 

Dananjaya started off poorly conceding three boundaries in his first three balls on his return to limited overs cricket and exhausted a review too in his very first over. Sri Lanka had indicated that they were going to consider the off-spinner only for T-20 cricket but were forced to bring him back following injury to Wanindu Hasaranga.

Jayawickrama, who had claimed 11 wickets on his Test debut against Bangladesh in May, bowled superbly as he claimed the wickets of three middle order batsmen in his second ODI. With the left-arm spinner striking at regular intervals, India never got any momentum in their innings.

Dananjaya dismissed Suryakumar Yadav when he trapped him leg before wicket and claimed two more wickets towards the tail end of the Indian innings.

Skipper Dasun Shanaka, who had got his act woefully wrong in the previous game, had things very much under control yesterday with some clever bowling changes. He himself sent down eight overs and claimed the key wicket of Prithvi Shaw for 49.

Rain had stopped play for 100 minutes during the Indian innings and the game was reduced to 47 overs.

A win is crucial for Sri Lanka as they would gain ten points in the ICC World Cup Super League.

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Meet Harijan, the 400 metres hurdler at Sydney Olympics  

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Waiting for the next Olympic hurdler – Part VIII 

by Reemus Fernando  

The last Sri Lankan man to run 400 metres hurdles at an Olympics is Harijan Ratnayake. That was 21 years ago. He will be in Tokyo next month. Ratnayake who holds the national record of the discipline will not be running hurdles there. Instead he is accompanying his charge Kumudu Priyanga for the Paralympics. Asian Para Games medallist Priyanga is not a hurdler. She will compete in the 100 metres and the long jump in the T47 category.  

“I do not have hurdlers training under me,” says Harijan who alongside Asian medallist Asoka Jayasundara are the only men to know how it feels like to have run the event under 50 seconds.  

Rajitha Niranjan Rajakaruna who won the bronze medal in the 400 metres flat event at the last National Championship is trained by Harijan. He clocked 47.21 seconds at the nationals. According to Harijan athletes willing to take up the 400 metres hurdles and ready to work hard are in short supply. “When Rajakaruna came to me he was running 400 metres in 57 seconds or somewhere around that. To become a 400 metres hurdler you have to be a good 400 metres sprinter as well. When the base is prepared he could be trained for 400 metres hurdles.” 

“I see many future prospects. But I can train only if they come to me,” says Harijan who earmarks Asian Junior Championship (2018) medallist Pasindu Kodikara as one.  

Harijan too was not a hurdler initially. He reached the pinnacle of his athletics career, established records and went on to represent Sri Lanka at Sydney Olympics when he trained under S.M.G. Banda, who was among the best in the business then. Harijan was introduced to Banda by incumbent president of Sri Lanka Athletics Palitha Fernando, who had been in the athletics administration since 1979. Things have change dramatically within the last two decades as athletes have continued to remain with their school coaches even after reaching senior level.   

After Duncan White won silver in the 400 metres hurdles in 1948 Olympics it took Sri Lanka more than five decades to qualify an athlete for the 400 metres hurdles. A clue to the question why had it taken so many years to unearth someone like Ratnayake might lie in a stack of books in an iron cupboard in the department of sports at the Ministry of Education. The event results of all athletics disciplines of the All Island Schools Games are carefully stored according to their year in a steel cupboard at Isurupaya. Our search for the 400 metres hurdles results of all Schools Games found that the event had been only introduced in early 90s. According to Sri Lanka Athletics statistician the Public Schools meet which was the forerunner to the All Island Schools Games had only the 300 metres hurdles.  

Had Ratnayake competed in 400 metres hurdles in his last year, the All Island Schools Games results of mid 90s should have had his performances. The name Ratnayake is not there in the final of any meet in that period. However in one particular meet heats performances shows an athlete from Dharmadutha Vidyalaya, Badulla being placed third in a heat. “When the championship was held in Anuradhapura I went to see the ruins after the heats. I did not even see the final.”   

However it took only five years for him to be Sri Lanka’s number one hurdler and win medals at Asian level and represent Sri Lanka at Olympics. The right athlete training under the right coach can bring the best out of both.

 

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