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Marvan on spin and way forward for cricket

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Rex Clementine in Dubai

There’s no better sight in cricket than Marvan Atapattu in full flow. Technically sound, naturally gifted but mindset bit unsettled; five ducks in six innings and all that at the start but he went onto end with more Test runs than his mentor Arjuna Ranatunga. Marvan can be a nervous starter. Wasim Akram sent him down tumbling to the ground with a vicious bouncer at Asgiriya in 2000. Marvan shook off the setback and went onto compile a stunning double hundred against Wasim and Waqar. He also had a successful stint as a coach and was Head Coach when Sri Lanka won their maiden Test series in England in 2014.

Marvan joined a group of journalists here in Dubai virtually from Colombo to discuss on various aspects of the sport and particularly playing spin bowling, Sri Lanka’s Achilees’ heel in recent times.

“I have seen guys like Arjuna and Aravinda murdering Abdul Qadir and Shane Warne. I remember when Warne came over to Sri Lanka for the first time, Arjuna telling the team meeting not to smash 16 runs off him in one over. Instead milk his bowling. That was his plan,” explained Marvan. In other words, don’t smash Warne all over the park as the opposition captain could take him off the bowling. Instead, pick four runs an over, give a false sense of security that the leggie has things under control and end up scoring big runs.

“I can tell a player this is how you play the sweep, where to get your head, where to get your body position, whether you come forward or go on the back foot. It is the players’ skills after sometime that enable him to succeed. The reverse sweep is not in the coaching manual but a stroke that’s quite unique and can produce runs. Warner plays the reverse sweep differently and Maxwell plays it differently. Nobody taught Dilshan to play the scoop. That’s the confidence he had. That’s ‘uncoachable’. But the important things about playing spin is to get your basics right.”

“You either go to the pitch of the ball or you go on the back foot, wait till the ball turns and then play. You can’t play spin half hearted. It’s a matter of time before you are exposed. Aravinda had an interesting theory. Don’t play the same spinner for six balls. If you take Arjuna, when he was struggling to play spin, very smartly he taps the ball to a vacant area and gets the single. Then if Sanath is in the other end, he will smash the next ball for a six to take the pressure off. Now the spinner has forgotten that he is bowling to a different batsman and he will be smashed all over. That is psychology. You have got to be street smart playing spin.”

Sri Lanka’s options against spin at times have been too risky; sweep. But is it a risk worth taking? “Waruna Waragoda is the best player of spin bowling I have seen. I have tapped into Waruna’s brains on playing spin. I actually asked him to come and help the team on how to play spin when I was coach. But he is a reserved kind of guy and he politely turned it down. He has some amazing tips on playing spin. He had learned the art from Mr. Stanley Jayasinghe. Basically, to play spin, you have to have good feet movement. What most players do right now is to sweep against spin. It’s a high risk shot. You don’t take a risk for one run. That’s what they taught me when I was small. These are basics of the game,” elaborated Marvan.

Sri Lanka performed creditably in the ICC T-20 World Cup and Marvan was pleased with the way the young team went about things. “Given the way we played; skill, attitude, passion and moral. I don’t think I have seen that from a Sri Lankan side for a long time. It started happening during the India series at home and then there was more improvement in the South African series that followed. That momentum continued for the World Cup. To be honest, even I was surprised by the way they performed in the World Cup.”

“I am bit old school; if you take Charith Asalanka and Pathum Nissanka they have very good foundation and technique. That’s the most important thing. Apart from that, they have the additional factor on how to improvise and innovate when it comes to T-20 cricket. They are smart lads especially Charith. The decisions he takes, which ball to hit which side to target, that’s pretty clever. Avishka Fernando was an opener and to drag him to number four maybe put some pressure on him. So Pathum came in as an opener instead of Avishka. He was able to find gaps, play the new ball well and he succeeded there but for Avishka it did not work. In a team game that can happen.”

Thanks to the impressive performances of youngsters, Sri Lanka were able to win two games in the second round and came close to beating South Africa and England. “T-20 is the format that gives you most surprises. It’s the format that creates more upsets. In Test cricket, we say that the team that wins most sessions wins the game. It doesn’t work like that way in T-20 cricket. It can go either way. Against South Africa, Lahiru Kumara, the lengths that he bowled weren’t the right lengths. I don’t think he wanted to bowl those lengths. If you ask him, he will say that. Mistakes can happen. More importantly, he will learn from that experience and when he is faced with a crunch situation, he will have better options. On the other hand, the batsman was very lucky. Had he missed or if one had gone high in the air, the tide would have turned in Sri Lanka’s favour. That’s cricket.”

Since the 2015 World Cup, Sri Lanka have been rebuilding and the process has not gone well for them with the country now forced to play qualifiers for ICC events and if they were to have a Champions Trophy, Sri Lanka would miss out as only the top eight teams qualify.

“I learned something from Arjuna and Aravinda. They always said that Sanath and Kalu can get us 90 runs in the first 15 overs, but once we lose wickets, we need to consolidate and need to keep wickets at hand to cash in the last ten overs. That’s the blueprint that we followed except against Pakistan. You can’t do that against Pakistan because you know Wasim and Waqar will bowl the last ten overs. You have to score as many runs as possible in the middle overs and then when it comes to death overs, you have got to play it safe. Against other teams, no matter how much you score earlier on, you have got to consolidate till the 40th over and then you have to break free. Up to the World Cup in 2015, we had some momentum. We tried to maintain the same tempo after the World Cup. We did not believe in building a team and building an innings and stuff like that. Once our seniors were out, we expected too much from our players and we panicked. So, we faced setbacks and we had to take desperate measures and we appointed too many coaches, too many captains and too many managers. We kept doing this and our downfall was steep. We did not look to rebuild on players who had a good base.”

Have we got things right at the moment? “What we saw during the T-20 World Cup, there were lots of positives. We have utility players, solid batsmen, good fielders and bowlers with a bit of mystery aspect. So, we have got most bases covered. But we have to be patient. Simply because we won five games in the World Cup, we are not going to win the next Test series, especially away from home. We need to categorize players. Who is going to play which format and on what conditions. We tend to pick players who do well in T-20 cricket to play Test cricket and vice-versa. It’s not fair on the player too for he will struggle to adjust. There are players who can do that, no doubt about it. But there are also players who need some time to settle in.”

Marvan’s three-year tenure as Sri Lanka captain from 2003 to 2006 was a landmark era. There were good results but more importantly, he had introduced a team culture where players were made to be mindful of the fact that they were ambassadors of their country. For example, in a Test match, all players had to wear their Test cap for the first session of the game like they used to do when they were schoolboys. Every Sri Lankan captain who followed continued the tradition until Dimuth Karunaratne broke it. Under Dimuth, there is a new culture now. Currently, you see a debutant in Praveen Jayawickrama on the field with his shirt not tucked in. These maybe minute things but is that an indication that discipline is eroding? Well, when your three premier players get banned for breaching bio-secure bubble that’s an indication that something is wrong.

“People might say that a cap doesn’t make a difference to your cricket. But these things, small things go a long way. We used to for example start off a game by spending a few quiet moments thinking of our faiths. These are things that I picked up from my former captains and dressing rooms that I was part of. I always believe that you need to know the history of something, whether it’s cricket, religion your grandparents or whatever. If you don’t then you lose your values. Young players should be taught that this is how we gained Test status. When did we win ICC Trophy? This is how much former players earned for a Test match. There’s no future without a past. We have to respect our past.”

“I am told Mahela Jayawardene wants a documentary done on how we started our Test cricket and what’s our past. If you ask the current players, some may not know that Bandula Warnapura was our first Test captain. I still have the HNB cap that was given for our inaugural Test match. I have the stamp that was issued to mark the occasion. My father got it for me and I cherish those things a lot.”

“Grooming a player is not about developing his skill. We should develop his confidence, should develop him socially. We should not only look to develop his batting, bowling and fielding. We should look to develop his social etiquettes, how to handle media, table etiquettes, what to do when they fly overseas. When you teach players those things that gives them lot of confidence. Then only you get a well-roundedplayer. We don’t follow certain protocols. When we are desperate, we look for quick results. We are not methodical. When I was Head Coach, I gave SLC these plans. I took them from England Lions program. But it was not executed. Sad!”



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Thehan clinches men’s singles tennis title  

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Thehan Wijemanne won his first Colombo Championships open singles title on Wednesday. (Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

106th Colombo Championships

Royal College player Thehan Wijemanne clinched the men’s open singles title of the 106th Colombo Championships as he beat Chathurya Nilaweera in the final played at the Sri Lanka Tennis Association courts on Wednesday.

Wijemanne who partners Nilaweera in the men’s open doubles was tied 1-1 in the singles final before pulling off a 10-7 win to seal his victory. The final scores read 6-4, 4-6, 10-7.

The Royalist beat Kiran Vairavanathan and Archana Lokuge in a row to book his final place to meet the champion of the Under 18 age category.

Wijemanne registered a 6-2, 6-2 victory against Lokuge in the semis after beating Vairavanathan 4-2, 3-5, 11-9 in the quarter-final.

It is the first Colombo Championships singles title for Wijemanne who will celebrate his 18th birthday later this month. He is also the reigning Clay Courts Singles champion after winning the March final against Luca Knese.

Meanwhile, Gehansa Methnadi of Musaeus College reached the Under 12 girls’ singles final after recording a convincing straight sets win in the semi-final played on Wednesday. She beat Movindi Fernando 4-1, 4-1 in the afternoon.

In an Under 12 girls’ singles quarter-final Akeesha Silva beat Venuli Jayasinghe 4-1, 4-0 to reach the semi-final.

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Karunaratne climbs up in Test Player Rankings 

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Sri Lanka’s win in the first match of the ICC Men’s Test Championship has put the team on top of the table powered by MRF (on percentage points), and several players including skipper Dimuth Karunaratne have improved their rankings after the first Test in Galle.

Captain Karunaratne’s Player of the Match effort of 147 and 83 has lifted him four places to seventh, just one below his career-best sixth position attained in August 2019. Former captains Angelo Mathews (up two places to 23rd) and Dinesh Chandimal (up four places to 46th) have also advanced.

Left-arm spinners Lasith Embuldeniya (up four places to 37th) and Praveen Jayawickrama (up six places to 44th) and off-spinner Ramesh Mendis (up 28 places to 57th) have improved in the rankings for bowlers.

Fast bowler Shaheen Afridi has made it to the top five of the MRF Tyres ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings for the first time in his career after a fine show in the first Test against Bangladesh which Pakistan won by eight wickets.

The 21-year-old left-arm bowler, who grabbed seven wickets including a haul of five for 32 in the second innings of the Chittagong Test, has moved up three places to fifth position after overtaking James Anderson, Kagiso Rabada and Neil Wagner.

Shaheen’s new-ball partner Hasan Ali too is at a career-best position after finishing with a similar seven-wicket match haul that included a five-for in the first innings. Hasan has advanced five places to 11th place. His previous best in Tests was 14th, reached in May this year.

Pakistan’s opening batters were not the ones to be left behind. Abid Ali may have missed out on a century in each innings but his scores of 133 and 91 helped him shoot up 27 slots to a career-best 20th position while Abdullah Shafique enters the rankings at 83rd with scores of 52 and 73.

For Bangladesh, Mushfiqur Rahim is up four places to 19th with scores of 91 and 16 while Liton Das has moved up 26 places to a career-best 31st position after accruing 114 and 59. Left-arm spinner Taijul Islam has progressed two places to 23rd after an eight-wicket match haul that included seven scalps in the first innings.

The thrilling draw in Kanpur between India and New Zealand had quite a few performances from either side that reflect in the latest weekly update that also includes the first Test between Sri Lanka and the West Indies at Galle, which the host side won by 187 runs.

Debutant Shreyas Iyer’s Player of the Match effort of 105 and 65 helped him enter the rankings in 74th position while opener Shubman Gill (up six places to 66th) and Wriddhiman Saha (up nine places to 99th) also made notable progress after notching half-centuries.

Ravindra Jadeja is up two places to 19th among bowlers with five wickets in the match and is also up one place to second among all-rounders. Ravichandran Ashwin is the third-ranked all-rounder and 79th among batters.

For New Zealand, Tom Latham’s knocks of 95 and 52 place him back in the top 10 as he goes up from 14th to ninth. Fast bowler Kyle Jamieson is ninth among bowlers, his three wickets in each innings resulting in a gain of six places. Tim Southee has gained 15 rating points to reach within one point of second-placed Ashwin (840) after his eight-wicket match haul.

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Mickey’s ‘sloppy cricketers’ hand Windies the edge

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This could be the series defining moment as Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne is run out by a direct hit during Sri Lanka’s second innings of the second Test in Galle yesterday. West Indies have never won a Test match in Sri Lanka. 

Rex Clementine in Galle

Sri Lanka Head Coach Mickey Arthur once told The Island that he hates ‘sloppy cricketers’. Given how Sri Lanka approached batting in their second innings here in Galle yesterday, the 53-year-old would have given them a firm dressing-down. Having conceded a first innings lead of 49 in the second Test, Sri Lanka had to bat well to set West Indies a decent target. With the wicket turning square, the batsmen already had their work cut down and to gift West Indies two wickets through run outs was not ‘sloppy cricket’ but committing hara-kiri.

There’s a lot at stake here. Sri Lanka have never lost a Test match at home to the Windies and everyone is looking forward to give Arthur a grand send off. To make things worse, Angelo Mathews is down with a hamstring injury and that leaves a huge hole in the batting line-up. Sri Lanka’s batsmen barring Dimuth Karunaratne have been susceptible against spin and unless they bat out at least two full sessions on day four, history could be in the making for West Indies.

Dimuth was the first to be dismissed. Having pushed one to backward of point, he attempted a risky single, but instead of rushing he was watching the fielder. Kyle Mayers picked up the ball one-handed and threw down the stumps with a  direct hit to find the batsman well short.

The comedy of errors continued when Oshada Fernando was run out with the total on 39. Having pushed one to point, Oshada was walking down the track, half-hearted not knowing whether a run was on. There was none there and by the time he was sent back by the non-striker it was all too late and not even a dive could save him.

Sri Lanka’s batsmen spoiled the brilliant efforts of their spinners who did well to bowl out West Indies for 253. The tourists were well placed at one stage at 166 for two but then Ramesh Mendis’ career best figures of six for 70 saw Sri Lanka bounce back. West Indies at one stage slumped to 208 for eight, losing six wickets for 42 runs. But a ninth wicket stand of 38 runs between Mayers and Veerasammy Permaul ensured they ended up with a decent lead.

Kraigg Brathwaite was brilliant as he top scored with 72 runs that came off 185 deliveries with nine fours. A peach of a delivery from Lasith Embuldeniya accounted for the captain. The ball pitched outside of the leg-stump, spun viciously past the right-hander and clipped the top of off-stump.

Spinners accounted for all ten wickets to fall with Embuldeniya and Praveen Jayawickrama sharing four wickets between them well supporting Mendis.

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