by Rex Clementine
After half a decade of struggle in white-ball cricket, the national cricket team is gradually showing signs of coming out from the slump and they should be a force to be reckoned with at this year’s T-20 World Cup in Australia. The IPL allowed several Sri Lankans to showcase their skills and leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga was the biggest draw. He is Sri Lanka’s best hope when they take on Australia in the upcoming series.
There are several other players who have benefited from the IPL stint like Dushmantha Chameera, Maheesh Theekshana, Matheesha Pathirana, and Chamika Karunaratne. It’s pretty certain that they will form the nucleus of the bowling attack as Sri Lanka will be using the series as preparation for the Asia Cup and the World Cup that is to be followed. The bowling in white-ball cricket looks settled and a lot of credit should go to former coach Mickey Arthur who through some tough times built up a competitive unit.
The same cannot be said of the Test team as they struggled to claim 20 wickets in the Test series against Bangladesh. Kasun Rajitha returning to the side from injury looked a class apart and an improved bowler but spin bowling was disappointing. Leave alone claiming wickets, the spinners were not able to keep things tight, create pressure and then pick up wickets. They offered too many hit me balls.
There are issues with the spin bowling department in Test match cricket and the only way you are going to address the issue is by backing the guys whom you have trusted. Ramesh Mendis and Praveen Jayawickrama had quite a bit of success at home in their short careers but overseas they have struggled.
Usually what we have done is when one set of players do well in one format we take them and let them play in a different format. That doesn’t unfortunately work that way in cricket as young players need to develop temperament to succeed in other formats. As a result, players lose their bearings. It has happened with so many of them and eventually, they are dropped from the format they are really good at.
Oshada Fernando is a case in point. Barely known to many when he was picked to play the Test series in South Africa in 2019, he came up with some solid efforts against an attack that comprised Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada. His efforts helped Sri Lanka win a Test series in South Africa. A classical Test match number three batsman he should have been allowed to play Test matches alone. But he was rushed into the white-ball teams and he was like a fish out of the water.
Oshada is the type of player who will take his time, show patience in abundance, and rarely plays a rash stroke. But suddenly pushed into the T-20 side, he was trying to manufacture shots and as a result cut a sorry figure. Angered by his failure in the T-20 side, he was axed from the Test team too.
Oshada went back to domestic cricket, scored heaps of runs, and made a comeback to the Test side in Bangladesh and did reasonably well. But you do get the feeling that the rashness of the T-20 format is still there in him. Not many players adjust to the formats so quickly unless you are a Sanath Jayasuriya.
So let Test match players develop. We have enough stocks in white-ball format and therefore Praveen Jayawickrama and Ramesh Mendis should only concentrate on red-ball cricket. But selectors rarely agree with those rational thinking. They play by a different set of rules.
We also have the classic example of Lahiru Kumara. He broke down in the middle of the Mohali Test match in March. He has not played any domestic cricket since then and he is in the preliminary squad for all three formats against Australia. First of all, Lahiru Kumara is no Richard Hadlee and then, this bloke has serious fitness issues that need to be addressed.
Every time Kumara plays a Test match, be it Gabba 2019, Centurion 2020, Pallekele 2021, or Mohali 2022, he broke down during the game and it was a massive blow for the team. But we never seem to learn our lessons. Let him go through proper Firsts Class cricket; prove his fitness over four days before being brought into the longer format. Rational thinking is very much needed as arrogance is going to cost us dearly.
Yupun heads to Oregon as the third-fastest sprinter in Asia
by Reemus Fernando
Sprinter Yupyn Abeykoon, who is one of the three Sri Lankan athletes to have secured their passage to the upcoming World Championships in Oregon, finished fourth in the 100 metres at the final Wanda Diamond League meeting in Stockholm’s historic Olympic Stadium on Thursday.
Sri Lanka’s only athlete to have competed at a Diamond League meet, Abeykoon clocked 10.21 seconds for his fourth-place finish. In a social media post after the race, he said that the slow start and the negative wind he encountered in the race would provide stimulation for his next race.
With his post, he has given something for the track and field fans to look forward to when he ends a long wait to see a Sri Lankan sprinter at a World Championship.
It was his second appearance in a Diamond League where only the top-notch athletes compete. Only the names of three Asians, namely, Olympian Abeykoon, India’s Olympic javelin champion Neeraj Chopra and Japanese Olympian Ryuji Miura were to be seen in the results of the Stockholm Diamond League meeting published by World Athletics.
Despite the mere participation being an achievement, Abeykoon has not given reasons to be content. In his post, he said that he was not prepared to rest until he achieves the goals he has set.
“I’m never going to put my head down until I’m satisfied with the goal I want to achieve in my career. No matter how bad a condition could affect me, or no matter how authorities disrespect and undervalue my sacrifices and my ability to do better I will always do it for myself,” Abeykoon said in his post.
Abeykoon came almost close to achieving the tough World Championship qualifying mark of 10.05 seconds this season. His legal best was 10.06 seconds to a headwind of -0.2 though he had a wind-assisted (+2.3) feat of 10.04 seconds in May in Italy where he is based.
His appearance in the men’s 100 metres at the World Championships in two weeks’ time in Oregon ends more than a decade-old drought. After Shehan Ambepitiya competed at the Berlin World Championships in 2009 no Sri Lankan sprinter has taken part in the track and field’s biennial event during the past five editions.
Former national 100 metres record holder Chinthaka de Zoysa appeared in three consecutive championships from 1995 during the period which was widely considered the golden era of athletics in Sri Lanka. There was no one to continue his legacy until Ambepitiya emerged as a true contender following his World Junior Championship heroics (appearing in the final).
Like all track and field events, the men’s 100 metres has seen a dramatic improvement during the last decade. Ambepitiya who had to struggle due to injuries had a best of 10.46 in the year he represented the country at the World Championships. He was the fastest in South Asia but in the Asian region, there were dozens of others who were faster than him. Japan’s Masashi Eriguchi, who featured in both the World Championship and Olympic finals was Asia’s best that year but had only a personal best of 10.07 (+1.9).
This year, when Abeykoon features in the World Championships he is the third fastest in Asia behind Japan’s Ryuichiro Sakai (10.02secs) and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (10.04 secs) and will carry huge expectations. He secured his ticket to the World Championships by virtue of his ranking (42) in the World Athletics’ Road to Oregon list. Not many would bet on him to feature in the final but a sub 10 seconds feat would be within his reach. It would probably be one of his set goals and there wouldn‘t be a better place than a World Championship to accomplish that.
Warne was ahead of his time – Arjuna
Rex Clementine in Galle
Their on field battles were spicy while their off field outbursts targeting each other were legendary. Both Arjuna Ranatunga and Shane Warne minced no words when it came to the other’s game or conduct. Yet, there was mutual respect between the two that was rarely noticed. When Warne wrote a book discussing the 50 greatest players he had played with or against, he had chosen Arjuna high in the pecking order. The World Cup winning Sri Lankan captain also revealed that Warne had wished him when he had become a Minister in 2015. In the public eye, they were sworn enemies. But off the field, their discussions ranged from field placings, fried chicken to kids.
Ranatunga showed up at the Galle International Stadium on Wednesday as Sri Lanka Cricket paid tribute to the leg-spinner who passed away in Thailand in March. The press were quick to catch up with him.
“Everybody knows about the run ins we had on the field but off the field we moved on well. Sri Lankans weren’t big fans of Warne, but soon after the tsunami when he came over to help, people started appreciating him as he touched their hearts,” Ranatunga told reporters.
“His death was devastating and our fans were sad. It’s a huge loss for the game as he was a brilliant student and ahead of his time. As some say, he was the best captain that Australia never had, elaborated Ranatunga.
“During our time, leg-spin was sort of a dying art. Except for Anil Kumble, Mushtaq Ahmed and Warney there weren’t many leg-spinners around. You have spinners with smooth actions and it’s good to watch. But a spinner has to turn the ball. That’s the main thing. Warney was able to do that and that was an indication that this was someone who is going to be special.”
Even to this day, for those who are engaged with the game, Arjuna emphasizes on dressing up smart as they are ambassadors of the game. One of the players he had captained is a prominent official these days and in Galle he had got an earful from the ex-captain for failing to iron his shirt. However, in Australia, a country where he has few friends, Arjuna is seen as someone who played the game ugly and even bent the rules for the advantage of his team.
“That’s something that we learned from Australia. When you go to Australia they are very tough, play the game hard and always want to win. We borrowed it from them and then used it on them. In order to compete with Australia, you have got to match their aggression and you may not be the most popular guy,” remarked Arjuna.
The legend of Warne was born at the SSC in 1992 when Sri Lanka snatched victory from the jaws of defeat losing the game by 16 runs having dominated the match for the most part. Warne cleaned up the tail picking up three wickets for no runs.
“Warne was picked at the right time. He was lucky that he had a clever captain in Allan Border. In that SSC Test, we knew that if he had bowled well in the second innings we would struggle. Still disappointed to lose that Test by the narrowest of margins as that would have been our first Test win against Australia. But that’s how the game goes. We knew from the start that Warne was special.”
“Our plan with Warney was to attack him. We knew that if we played defensively, it was just a matter of time before he got us out. Overall I would like to think that our strategy against him worked but we had bad days as well. He was too good a bowler not to come up with something to counter us. During the initial stages, I thought he wasn’t very comfortable when we attacked him. But then he developed and towards the tail end of my career he was a different bowler.”
The series between Australia and Sri Lanka has been named ‘Warne – Murali Trophy’. Which of the two spinners is the greatest?
“They were great bowlers who played for teams with different outlooks. For example, Warney played in a side that had guys like McGrath, Lee and Gillespie. Those guys had taken about three or four wickets by the time he had come and bowl. In the case of Murali, apart from Vaasy who takes a wicket or two, he had a tough ask. He had to come to bowl earlier on. Sometimes he had to take from wicket number one to last man. That’s not easy. One had a lot of time and opportunities to take wickets. The other had to share his wickets with other bowlers. Australia is a team that had so many great players. In Sri Lanka, Murali was a loner. Their rivalry was great to watch. Murali is a competitive guy and he wanted to take at least one wicket more than Warney. I thought that Murali gave his best when he played the Aussies.”
“I liked listening to Warne in commentaries. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind out. He was outspoken and forthright, which is rare among cricket commentators these days. His cricket brain was ahead of his time.”
Sri Lanka suffer heavy defeat in Galle after dramatic collapse
Rex Clementine in Galle
After an impressive ODI series win, the national cricket team is back to square one as they suffered a heavy ten wicket defeat in the first Test in the most embarrassing way inside three days here in Galle. Sri Lanka were shot out for 113 runs in their second innings in 22.5 overs as it took Australia less than a session to run through the opposition with spinners sharing all ten wickets. It’s Sri Lanka’s second lowest total ever in Galle.
Trailing by 109 runs in the first innings, Sri Lanka started off well as the openers added 37 runs for the first wicket. Mitchell Starc’s first over had gone for 17 runs including four boundaries. That was the end of seam as Pat Cummins reverted to an all spin attack and the trio of Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Swepson and Travis Head ensured that Australia were home before lunch.
The Australian batters had used the sweep shot to great effect and Sri Lankans took a leaf out of them trying to bat themselves out of trouble with the high risk stroke. But there was a significant difference. Sri Lanka’s bowling was wayward and all over the place while the Australians were on the money and it was just a matter of time before the batsman perished.
Dimuth Karunarante and Pathum Nissanka fell in successive overs and then Kusal Mendis and Oshada Fernando departed in the space of seven deliveries as Sri Lanka were reduced to 63 for four.
A 32 run stand followed between Dinesh Chandimal and Dhananjaya de Silva for the fifth wicket and Pat Cummins figured that Swepson had become predictable. Then he threw the ball to part-timer Travis Head, who had never taken a Test wicket in his career. Soon, he became lethal polishing the lower order as he picked up four wickets in 17 deliveries.
Head claimed his maiden Test wicket with his second delivery as Chandimal was bowled neck and crop. The batsman was standing in disbelief after the ball had spun sharply and went through the gate. Three deliveries later, Dhananjaya de Silva was trapped leg before wicket to leave Sri Lanka with the tail. There was not much resistance as the last six wickets fell for 13 runs as Australia wrapped the Test match inside three days. Australia needed just five runs for victory and Warner leveled the scores with a reverse sweep for four off Ramesh Mendis in the third ball of the innings. The next ball he launched for a six to win the game in style before lunch.
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