The hills were alive with the swish of rackets and smashing shuttles as the popular Summer Season Badminton Level I Championships came to a close last week. What was noteworthy was the performances of Sri Lanka’s top shuttlers who left no room for contention by winning all the plums of the scintillating competition. With Olympic prospect Niluka Karunaratne away on the international qualifying circuit and brother Dinuka domiciled in the UK on an advanced training program, the rest of the Elite Squad were equal to the task.
Ranthushka Karunatilake, for long in the shadows of his more renowned exponents came out fighting to get the better of the seasoned Buwaneka Gunetileke. The hunger Ranthushka displayed was plain to see for after giving up the first set, he clawed his way back to surprise the senior partner with a nerve wracking battle that went to the wire with a 21-19 score in the two following sets. Earlier, he partnered Buwaneka to clinch the men’s doubles with an overwhelming victory against evergreen contenders Clarence Homer and Hasitha Chanaka.
In the Women’s Open, Dilmi Dias had no major opposition clinching the women’s singles with ease against the up and coming Ranithma Liyanage before taking the women’s doubles with her partner, Kavindika de Silva. Young Ranithma just 13 years of age, though beaten in the final, is certainly making an emphatic statement in the sport. Badminton fans are sure to hear about her in the not-too-distant future.
Other top ranked players to impress were Rasindu Hendahewa and Viren Nettasinghe in the men’s category, while Panchali Adhikari and Madushika Dilrukshi were notable in the women’s category. Many others in the elite squad were not present due to on-going examinations, the likes of Lochana de Silva and Thulith de Silva and yesteryear champions Thilini Hendahewa and Kavidi Sirimanage. Sachin Dias and Hasini Ambalangoda are nursing injuries following the Nationals and are expected to return to the courts in the Southern Open, late May.
Watching their charges keenly were the National Coaches led by Pradeep Welagedera assisted by Yukthi Perera, Rajitha Dahanayake and Subash Chanaka, while Chairman of the National Pools, Palitha Hettiarachchi had a good look at the National Pool players, especially those in the Elite Squad who have undergone a very high-level training and conditioning over several months.
SLB President Rohan de Silva who is always seen among the Badminton Masters winning several medals both here and abroad was at hand to witness the performance of est players in the country and also give the Summer Season event a big boost by ensuring all arrangements were fully supported to achieve a very high level of organization amidst the stringent Covid 19 protocols.
Harsha returns with personal best
Lack of competition leaves Olympic hopefuls lagging behind standards
by Reemus Fernando
Youth Asian Championship medallist Harsha Karunaratne made a remarkable return to competition to continue the family trend and his school’s tradition as he won the men’s 800 metres at the Stage One of the Sri Lanka Army Athletics Championship at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Tuesday.
Former Ratnayake Central, Walala athlete, who won the Youth Asian Championship silver in 2017, was out of competition for more than two years due to a health condition, for which he needed surgery. Harsha, who inspired his younger sister also to produce record breaking feats at junior level, turned tables on Asian Championship participant Rusiru Chathuranga during the last 80 metres at yesterday’s event.
In winning the 800 metres title, the athlete trained by Susantha Fernando clocked 1:51.06 seconds, his personal best.
It was a joyous moment not only for Sri Lanka Army Service Corps, his regiment, but also for the athletics strong hold of Walala, who have established their dominance in this discipline in Sri Lanka.
While the discipline’s men’s and women’s national records are held by former Ratnayake Central athletes, namely Dilshi Kumarasinghe (women’s) and Indunil Herath, Sri Lanka Junior records are also written against names of former Ratnayake Central athletes.
Like the National Athletics Championship, the Sri Lanka Army Athletics Championship too is conducted in stages due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
Yesterday’s stage one witnessed just two meet records being established and some of the Olympic aspirants struggling to improve their seasonal best performances.
Sprinter Himasha Eshan broke the meet record with a feat of 10.34 seconds in the men’s 100 metres. Chamod Yodasinghe finished second in a time of10.73 seconds. National champion Amasha de Silva lived up to her reputation clocking 11.93 seconds to win the women’s 100 metres dash.
The other meet record was established by W.S.M. Fernando who threw the put to a distance of 16.89 metres.
In a strange move national champion Kalinga Kumarage did not feature in the men’s 400 metres final despite winning his heat in a time of 46.59 seconds. Aruna Dharshana won the final in a time of 47.05 seconds.
In the corresponding women’s event Nadeesha Ramanayake was hampered by lack of competition. Ramanayake who is ranked 56th in the Road to Olympics rankings returned a time of 54.48 seconds. Kaushalya Madushani was placed second with a time of 58.11 seconds.
Rio Olympic participant Sumeda Ranasinghe cleared 73.57 metres which is well behind the tough qualifying standard but that could help him retain his ranking.
Dilhani Lekamge’s winning throw of 56.94 metres in the women’s javelin was nearly three metres further than that of the second placed Olympian Nadeeka Lakmali’s best throw.
Steeplechase athlete Nilani Ratnayake, who is the only Sri Lankan track and field athlete so far to be within the required ranking position (as of yesterday) to earn Tokyo Olympic qualification, won her event in a time of 10:05.02 seconds.
In the men’s long jump Janaka Prasad Wimalasiri cleared a distance of 7.94 metres.
Learning honesty and integrity through cricket
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?”
If you snick a ball and know that you did and if the wicket keeper catches it, what’s your status?”
“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 –
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 –
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.
The kid who came to Colombo to study law
by Rex Clementine
In late 1990s, there was a kid from Kandy who came to Colombo to pursue his studies in law. In 1980s, the universities had been closed due to the JVP insurrection and as a result there was a backlog in enrolling students to complete their degrees. The kid from Kandy had to wait for two years for his chance to enter university in a bid to become a lawyer going in the footsteps of his father. So with lot of spare time at his disposal, he decided to play some cricket and was employed by Informatics for a salary of Rs. 4000. Brendon Kuruppu was running cricket at Informatics.
Around the same time, the national cricket team fared so poorly in the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1999 in England despite being defending champions. Captain, seniors, cricket board and the selectors were all sacked. President Chandrika Kumaratunga wanted change. The new selection panel headed by Sidath Wettimuny was looking for youth. Kuruppu was part of the selection committee and told his colleagues about this immensely talented kid from Kandy at Informatics. He was a hit with Sri Lanka ‘A’ and soon ended up in the senior side. The nation may have lost a successor to Romesh de Silva (PC) but cricket found someone who could fill the big shoes of Aravinda de Silva. Kumar Sangakkara is his name.
On Sunday night Sanga became just the second Sri Lankan to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame. The Kandyans were having a field day on social media so proud of the fact that both inductees from Sri Lanka into that rare club are from Kandy. Muttiah Muralitharan was inducted in 2019 and two years later now Sanga has joined him.
Sanga’s first cricket coach was his father – Kshema Sangakkara, a leading lawyer in the Central province. As his son was growing up he hired Kandy’s best cricket coach – Sunil Fernando to tutor his son. A few years later, he raised the bar even further hiring of all people the legendary Bertie Wijesinghe.
Yet, young Sangakkara was nothing spectacular in school cricket. The standout performers in his age group were mostly Colombo based. There was little doubt that Mahela Jayawardene, Tilan Samaraweera, Avishka Gunawardene and even Upehka Fernando were going to represent Sri Lanka one day but Sangakkara was nowhere close.
But the basics of his game were rock solid thanks to some fine coaching. Success followed in international cricket after the selectors persevered with him patiently. Sanath Jayasuriya, Sangakkara’s first captain needs lot of credit for backing the young player under his charge and letting him express himself freely batting at prime number three slot.
Sangakkara would soon go onto become Sri Lanka’s most prolific batsman. He dominated bowling attacks in the world while his leadership skills were highly impressive. In his first assignment as captain, Sri Lanka reached the finals of the ICC World T-20 in 2009. In his next assignment, the team recorded their first series win against Pakistan at home.
There was more success as Sri Lanka won a first ever series in Australia under his leadership. His father Kshema remained unimpressed though. Even after he had smashed the most stunning double hundred against an attack that comprised Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akthar, Kshema Sangakkara would tell his son, ‘you batted like a donkey today’.
During a tour of Australia, Sanga had been woken up in the middle of the night by the hotel receptionist who informed him that he had received a fax from home. Bit worried as to what was happening back home he went to pick the copy of the fax. It was from his father. So what was in the fax? Dad had sent some batting tips from Sir Don Bradman’s book ‘The Art of Cricket’ and with that there was a message, ‘read it before you go out to bat tomorrow.’
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