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Mendis and Babar; careers that have taken different routes

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by Rex Clementine

During the 2018 Asia Cup in Abu Dhabi, a group of us Sri Lankan journalists were discussing how good Babar Azam was. Former Pakistan captain Waqar Younis, who was one of the commentators was behind us. He heard the conversation and interrupted us. ‘You guys have no idea what talent is. If you want to look at real talent and pure class just take a look at that guy,’ he said so pointing his finger at the Sri Lankan team. They were warming up and Kusal Mendis was getting some throw downs.  

Both Kusal and Babar are 26. But the Pakistani has gone places. He is Pakistan’s captain in all three formats. In official ICC Rankings, he is world’s number one ranked batsman in ODI cricket. In Tests, he is in exalted company alongside the likes of Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Marnus Labuschagne at number six while in T-20 cricket he is ranked third.

Just two days ago Babar produced a stunning batting display at Centurion, one of the quickest wickets in the world, as Pakistan chased down a stiff target of 204 with two overs to spare. Babar’s 122 came off just 59 balls at a stunning Strike Rate of 206.

Where is Mendis while all these happened? Axed from the side after his four ducks in a row in January, he has been overlooked for the home series against Bangladesh as he has not done anything significant to merit a place.

From humble beginnings, Mendis became a celebrated sportsman overnight after his stunning 176 against a quality Australian attack spearheaded by Mitchell Starc. But soon anger and frustration replaced that admiration following his hit and run at Moratuwa that killed an innocent man on his way to work.

Mendis’ family and his agent did all within their means to bury the truth. That Mendis was driving on the wrong direction, did not care to take the injured to the hospital and surrendered to Police several hours after the incident were all hushed up. Police ensured that Mendis got bail in less hours than the time it takes Bandula Gunawardene to reverse a gazette.

The media kept the pressure up asking Mendis to behave. At this point, Mendis’ family reached out to the press telling us that young Kusal regretted his actions and has promised to build the family of the deceased a home and look after his child’s education. Later, it emerged that Mendis had not only taken the Police and the law for a ride but even the gullible press. He broke a gentleman’s agreement.

Sri Lanka Cricket handled the issue poorly. Well, what can you expect of them. Rienzie Wijetilleke a former Board Chairman put his foot down when a similar thing happened in 2001 and sacked the leg-spinner who was involved in a hit and run.

In Mendis’ case, SLC CEO said that this was a personal matter and closed the case. Well, a contracted player and the captain in waiting killing someone on the road and fleeing the incident did not deserve such leniency. Mendis’ CCC connections prompted SLC to turn a blind eye, perhaps. No wonder the CEO was exposed well and truly at the COPE hearing.  Ashley de Silva has committed too many blunders and the handling of Kusal Mendis is one such.

Everybody gets dropped from the side. Even the great Aravinda de Silva got the axed, rather unkindly. But not Kusal Mendis. Clearly, he was struggling in South Africa having picked up three ducks in a row. He didn’t want the burdens of Test cricket and probably was better off sorting out his game at RPS with the Batting Coaches and not against James Anderson. But pointing out some bizarre reasons SLC retained him, waited till he completed a fourth duck in a row before axing him.

Young players need good mentors. They get so much of good counseling when they are young by coaches and well wishers. But suddenly when they graduate into the senior side, they fall prey to ruthless player agents who themselves have little values. As some of our finest captains are getting together to restructure the game, they need to look at the role of player agents seriously. Sadly, some of them are under the thumb of crooked player agents themselves having shown more loyalty to Perera Gardens than Maitland Place and there will be not much done to address this issue.



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Jayaratne Stables outclass peers to record stunning double

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It will not be an overstatement to say 15th of April race day in Nuwara Eliya 2021 belonged to Jayaratne Stables. This year Western Wind the horse owned by Jayaratne stables a subsidiary of the Jayaratne Group of Companies produced a stunning victory at the hill country racecourse. Western wind beat former Governor’s Cup and Magic Million winner Alcazeba in the premier event. Western Wind is the undisputed champion in Sri Lanka over 1,800 meters distance.

 Gamini Jayaratne the Chairman of Jayaratne Group of Companies is a veteran in horse racing. His passion for horses and horse racing has enabled him to contribute to the sport that he loves. It is over 22 years since he started his stables in Sri Lanka and later began racing in India. Jayaratne is ably supported by his wife Chamari Jayaratne who is very passionate about horse racing. Today the Jayarathne’s own some of the best thoroughbred horses in Sri Lanka and India. Their son Hasanga Jayaratne, Director of the Jayaratne Group oversees the entire horse racing operation, and he was instrumental in the spectacular victories this season.

Jayaratne also has the distinction of being the first Sri Lankan to have started a horse breeding operation in Sri Lanka and also one of the few Sri Lankan’s to have taken part in horse racing in Mumbai, Bangalore, Mysore, and Chennai in India. Being an entrepreneur well known in the country, pioneering some of the most innovative and compassionate services in Sri Lanka his effort to develop the interest among young and able Sri Lankans in horse riding is laudable.

Jayaratne stables have set up a riding center in Dambulla (Forest Park Dambulla) to encourage locals and foreign visitors to learn and enjoy the art of horse riding.

 April 2021 is a memorable day for Jayaratne and his horse trainer Sridhar Sivarathnam. Western Wind a thoroughbred horse trained by Sridhar won the premier race in the country the Governor’s Cup a race with a rich history of over 150 years. Jockey K. Vivek flown in from India brought glory to Jayaratne stables by riding the horses to victory in the Governors cup and queens cup the two most sought after races in the country. Sridhar Sivarathnam was the champion trainer in this year’s April season bringing in the most winners and Jayaratne stables has emerged the champion stables.

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Bold selections must be lauded

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Sri Lanka were in India in 2005, when their selectors brought in a wicketkeeper to the fold. Dinesh Karthik had already established his place in the side so people were actually wondering what was the need to bring in someone who was rarely heard of. Kiran More the Chairman of Selectors said that despite being not known too well, he had seen something special in the wicketkeeper. He was confident that this bloke would go onto make an impact in the game. Well, he had more than just an impact in Indian cricket winning the 50 over World Cup, 20 over World Cup and getting India to number one rank in Test cricket. M.S. Dhoni is his name.

Kudos to Pramodaya Wickramasinghe and his selection panel for some bold selections they have done in recent weeks. When Lasith Embuldeniya was injured and his understudy Duvindu Tillekeratne was also on the mend, the next in line was Prabath Jayasuriya. But he failed the skin fold test placing the selectors on a sticky wicket. The easier option would have been to go back to the tried and tested Malinda Pushpakumara. However, rather than going backwards, they were forward thinking. They backed young Praveen Jayawickrama and it paid off.

Praveen had played a handful of First Class games. Against a team that plays spin well, this must have been a real hard decision to hand him his Test cap, especially with Lakshan Sandakan in the squad. But the selectors were convinced that Praveen was good enough to succeed at the highest level and they were proved right. His was the best debut by a Sri Lankan bowler and in fact the tenth best debut in the history of the game.

Prior to this, the selectors had made another tough call in handing Pathum Nissanka his Test debut in the Caribbean. Despite having Roshen Silva in the squad, instead of going for experience, the selectors backed youth and Nissanka went onto become the first Sri Lankan to score a Test hundred on debut overseas.

Fitness of players have been a huge concern over the years and the selectors have done well to demand players show commitment  and to leave out those who do not meet minimum fitness standards.

The performance of the national cricket team in white ball cricket has not been up to scratch in recent years and the selectors have been bold in axing half a dozen seniors and bringing in new blood. Their initiatives need to be commended as Sri Lankan cricket is looking to regain past glories.

 

 

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Panda and unfulfilled promises

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by Rex Clementine

There’s someone in the Sri Lankan cricket team who answers to the name ‘Panda’. The name was coined on Thisara Perera by the Australian players during his IPL days with Chennai Super Kings. We never saw his full potential on the cricket field although there were glimpses of his brilliance over a 12 year career. 

His first game was in Calcutta in December 2009 when Kumar Sangakkara wanted him flown in as an injury replacement. Thisara was flying on his own at a time there were no direct flights to Calcutta. He had a transit. SLC officials in Colombo and the team back in India were worried whether he would manage to get the right connecting flight and land the day before the game.

Given Panda’s mannerisms, he gives you the impression that he’s a bit backwards. That’s not the truth actually. He’s more childlike wanting assurances from authorities more than someone of his age should. It’s a trait that has not changed in his life. He loves simple things in life. He is someone who will not hurt another person willingly.  

After every game that he plays and after every training session, you can be assured that he will be roaming around the cricket grounds be at RPS, Suriyawewa, Dambulla or Pallekele looking for stray dogs. He packs all the remaining food in the dressing room and feeds the dogs. Not even Ambanis dogs get served food from five star hotels. But the dogs at Sri Lanka grounds have that luxury thanks to Thisara. This was something that was  evident when he started his cricket and he continued it even when he was captain.

Cricketers and their love lives are well documented. Most of them get hooked up to air hostesses and marry them. Some of them… well, let’s not go there. Thisara’s been with his childhood sweetheart for nearly two decades now. He’s only 32.

Thisara’s mother is a science teacher. When St. Joseph’s College came in search of him offering a scholarship for cricket, she was reluctant. Eventually she gave in. A decision that she doesn’t regret now for her son has gone onto become a household name although given his potential he could have achieved much more.

At St. Joseph’s Thisara got into trouble constantly. He played the first day of a school fixture and didn’t turn up for the second day’s play. He had been spending time with his girlfriend. He was in trouble and was asked to explain. Thisara came up with a cock and bull story that on his way to the ground, he was stopped at an Army check post and was held up as he did not carry an identity card. Rev. Fr. Sylvester Ranasinghe, the Rector, a career educationist, didn’t buy his story. He was suspended. 

Chaminda Vaas, one of the finest products of St. Joseph’s made a plea to Fr. Sylvester  to allow Thisara at least play the Big Match. Fr. Sylvester agreed. The rest as they say is history as St. Joseph’s won the Big Match after 35 years.  Thisara was Man of the Match. The old boys were excited and gave the team a month long tour of Australia.  Which 18-year-old would skip an all expenses paid trip to Australia? Thisara would. Reason? He would be missing his girlfriend.

One of the cleanest strikers of the cricket ball, he will clear the boundary with little effort. But consistency was lacking. He would throw the bat for a few overs and hit it on the air and get out rather than grinding it out and completing games. His bowling was lively when he came onto the scene but in later years lacked penetration.

Thisara’s best moment came in the 2014 during the World T-20 in Bangladesh. All his  life, he had lived wanting to emulate Arjuna Ranatunga. As in, Arjuna had scored the winning runs in a World Cup final with a boundary.  So Thisara wanted to go the same way. So after a tensed run chase against India, with Sri Lanka one stroke away from victory, Thisara threw caution to wind. He finished a World Cup final better than Arjuna scoring a six. Ravichandran Ashwin nearly had his man. Sensing that Thisara would attempt a big shot, Ashwin bowled it wider, but Thisara had got enough wood and the ball cleared the boundary.

Thisara’s career could  have been perhaps more successful with someone to offer him better counseling. Hastily he quit Test cricket feeling that he wasn’t getting much opportunities. His figures are still the best by a Sri Lankan seamer at Pallekele.

This time though he was left with Hobson’s choice. The moment it was announced that he  will be not considered for ODIs, he chose to retire from international cricket. You will still see him in different franchise cricket tournaments.

During some of cricket’s dicey moments he has come to Sri Lanka’s rescue. Like when everyone refused to tour Pakistan in 2017. He agreed to take the team to Lahore without any conditions. He was a good player and a great human being.

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