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Of Sports Schools and schools sports

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The absence of infrastructure at Ratnayake Central was compensated by well laid out individualized training plans for each sports scholarship holder. It was the key to Ratnayake Central dominating All Island Schools Games.

by Reemus Fernando

Introduced to the education structure with the objective of nurturing future sportsmen and women of Sri Lanka, the two dozen Sports Schools doting the island from north to south have lasted three decades without going through a proper scrutiny. Names of majority of Sports Schools are not even heard of when the All Island Schools Games are held annually. While semi government, private and international schools have gone on to dominate school sports, some half a dozen Sports Schools have survived the gross negligence of education authorities and storms of change that have swept through the schools set up during the last two decades to perform relatively well.

The success of these few schools were purely due to the dedication of a few qualified individuals who had gone out of their way to uplift standards. With the Education Ministry and the Sports Ministry preparing to upgrade the standard of Sports Schools around the country it should be noted that while addressing the infrastructure needs, emphasis should also be given to appoint qualified and dedicated officials to take responsibilities of these institutions.

When the Sports Schools were started in 1989 with the Ibbagamuwa Central as the first such school the project was overseen by an Education Ministry official who had obtained his sports education qualifications from a reputed institution in Germany. The decisions relating to physical education and sports in the Ministry of Education had his influence. Results were available to see in the form of success in athletics at Asian level during the late 90s and early 2000s with athletes who came through that system later graduating with the help of top level coaches. Ministry of Education has a handful of qualified individuals who are operating as instructors or coaches but at decision making level they do not have a say.

Infrastructure verses qualified officials

Ratnayake Central Walala, the only Sports School to have maintained the supremacy in track and field sports right throughout does not have a proper ground to date, not even a proper 200 metres track. The absence of infrastructure was compensated by well laid out individualized training plan for each sports scholarship holder. Susantha Fernando who was instrumental in guiding the destiny of many top level athletes also had an eye for talent identification and made sure the school had a continuous supply of raw talent every year. The school boasts of Asian Junior Athletics Championships medallists to Olympic participants to South Asian Games medallists. Fernando’s training was responsible for the majority of medals won at the last South Asian Games as well.

Sumana Balika, Ratnapura was probably the next best Sports School in the girls category taking in to consideration the number of times the school became runners-up to Ratnayake Central. Once again it was the coaching qualifications of an individual that mattered. Sumana Balika excelled as long as R.B. Palitha was their instructor. Seevali Central the other Sports School of Ratnapura had a similar experience. They could dominate as long as Palitha was their mentor.

Henegama Central did well during Prabath Fernando’s stint and Rajasinghe Central is the only Sports School in the Western Province to maintain its stature as a Sports School with Jayalal Ratnasuriya, a qualified World Athletics coach overseeing the progress of its athletes. Vijitha Central, Dickwella and Kuliyapitiya Central are among few other Sports Schools to have made their presence felt during the last several years.

No amount of infrastructure development can make a Sports School competitive. Once a stronghold of Sri Lanka’s national sport, volleyball, the name of Sports School Senanayake MV, Madampe is hardly heard these days. Ibbagamuwa Central, the first Sports School is not functioning though the school’s instructor trains a few high jumpers. Some of the 23 Sports Schools are either not operating at all or are performing below par. Had there been qualified individuals in the Ministry of Education to scrutinies these institutions.

Talent identification failures and emergence of private schools

One of the brightest prospects to emerge from the schools system during the last few years is Asian Junior Athletics Championship gold medallist Aruna Dharshana. Hailing from Seruwila, Trincomalee, Dharshana bypassed several Sports Schools in two other districts to find refuge at Weera Keppetipola MV, Akuramboda. He was lucky to have the guidance of Asanka Rajakaruna at that Sports School. Wasn’t there a system to identify his talent at his home place? Trincomalee is home to two Sports Schools.

While the standards of Sports Schools were crumbling, a good number of private and government schools had given priority to sports and athletics in particular. A number of schools in Colombo and Kandy and International Schools elsewhere started investing heavily on sports during the last one and half decades. Sports training at these schools are no longer overseen by officials attached to Ministry of Education. For example, the track and field coach of a leading government school in Colombo is a sports officer of the Ministry of Sports and a qualified World Athletics coach and instructor. These schools have been responsible in producing many athletes to represent Sri Lanka at junior Asian and junior World level. The emergence of these schools has also given rise to an unprecedented talent exodus from outstations.

A particular school in Colombo launched a recruitment drive during the last three years to an extent that that school now has the luxury of winning the All Island Schools track and field title with their second string. Some of these schools hellbent on winning have gone on to the extent of jeopardizing the education of these recruits from outstations. Many junior athletes recruited from outstations find themselves out of place in the midst of their English-speaking classmates and hardly attend classes. They are guaranteed jobs when they are recruited and find education non essential. To be continued…………….. 



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Sebs’ cricket stalwart Cooray retires after more than three decades of service

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by Reemus Fernando

Franklyn Cooray, the former Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association official, retired as the Master in Charge of Cricket of St. Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa after completing more than three and half decades of yeoman service recently. Franklyn Cooray who was popular in cricket circles as Frank Cooray, was the longest serving team official at the time of his retirement. During his 37 year association with schools cricket, Cooray witnessed the evolution of First XI cricket from mere Traditional matches to present day tournaments of varying divisions and was involved in St. Sebastian’s cricket as a coach and Master in Charge guiding the destiny of many future national cricketers.

Cooray played First XI cricket for St. Sebastian’s from 1962 to 1966 and was among the very few Sebs cricketers of his era to have tasted Big Match success. He captained all age group teams of St. Sebastian’s. After leaving school he worked at the Irrigation Department as a Senior Technical Officer and played in the Government Services ‘A’ Division Cricket tournament until making a premature retirement in 1983.

He was entrusted with the responsibility of training cricketers of St. Sebastian’s in 1984 by Rev. Bro. Nimal Gurusinghe, when coaching was voluntary. Three years later Cooray was included in the tutorial staff by Rev. Bro. Granville Perera. He was the coach cum Master in Charge of St. Sebastian’s from 1987 to 1994 and held the latter position until his retirement this year.

During his tenure as a coach, Cooray provided guidance at different levels to several Sebs who later became household names. Of them Dulip Mendis, Roger Wijesuriya, Susil Fernando, Romesh Kaluwitharana and Sajeewa de Silva went on to play Test cricket. “Kaluwitharana was coached by Brother Gurusinghe before he came under my supervision at senior level,” Cooray recalled in an interview with The Island.

Cooray was the Master in Charge of Cricket when the likes of Prasanna Jayawardena, Dinusha Fernando, Vishwa Fernando, Amila Aponso, Avishka Fernando and Oshada Fernando learnt their ABC of cricket at St. Sebastian’s.

While being the MIC, Cooray was also entrusted with the responsibility of the curator after a turf wicket was laid at the St. Sebastian’s ground in 1990.

He was selected to SLSCA Executive Committee in 1988 and a year later became the Under-19 tournament secretary, a position he held until 2006. He was among the leading officials of SLSCA who were instrumental in introducing the two-day league tournament and the Under-19 tournament structure with three Divisions. As of late it has undergone many changes.

However he was against introducing the points system that determined winners on first innings points. “That system would promote the culture of playing for trophies. I never encouraged the point system for first innings wins. We gave points only for outright victories. During our time we hardly batted after tea. We would try to score as much as possible in the morning and declared and get the opposition to bat in the afternoon. That way we would try to win outright. That was lost after the points system was introduced,” opined Cooray.

Cooray also lamented the absence of natural stroke play among present day cricketers. “Players going for their natural strokes is something that we are missing greatly these days. You must encourage batsmen to go for their natural strokes,” said Cooray.

He was the Under-19 tournament secretary of the SLSCA at a time when computers were yet be utilized for calculation of points and to make points tables of the league tournaments. Yet as schools cricket reporters would recall he was readily available with a near accurate points table of the tournament at the end of every week during the schools cricket season.

Apart from holding the Under-19 tournament secretary position, Cooray also held the junior national coach position briefly. He was the coach of the Sri Lanka Under-15 side that toured England for the Under-15 Lombard World Challenge.

His contribution to cricket was recognized by the International Cricket Council in 2009 when he was presented with a medal during its Centenary Medals Presentation for Volunteers.

As he steps in to retirement with loads of fond memories from cricket, Cooray thanked former administrators of St. Sebastian’s Rev. Bro. Nimal Gurusinghe and Rev. Bro. Granville Perera, late Rev. Fr. Bonnie Fernandopulle who made it possible for him to take up coaching and cricket administration and coaches including Kanishka Perera who helped during his tenure.

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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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The brand of cricket we want to play is free and relaxed:  – Sangakkara

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The 2008 IPL champions employed five opening pairs in the previous edition.

As many as five opening pairs were experimented with by the Rajasthan Royals last season. Ahead of their season opener against Punjab Kings, Sanju Samson, the newly-appointed captain of the franchise says that this year around, more stability can be expected from the side that chopped and changed so much to the extent of being unable to settle on a side until much later in the tournament.

“Myself and Sanga will try to give the best combination,” said Samson on Sunday (April 11). “From my point of view, it’s crucial to give an individual or a pair of opening partners enough time in the tournament. So, I think a bit of stability will be seen in this tournament. The rest it depends on how we go.”

Much has been debated about the batting order. Whilst Jos Buttler’s record at the top speaks for itself, Ben Stokes has been their go-to man for the opening slot. With Robin Uthappa gone this year, will they persist with Stokes at the top with Yashasvi Jaiswal, or will they promote Buttler up to a position he loves? Without committing too much either way about their preferred sequence, Kumar Sangakkara, the director of cricket at the Royals said the combination will be a decision they will undertake with the “full buying of the players involved”.

“We look to finalise (combinations) later on today before we go for training and we want we want to keep our options open,” said Sangakkara. “The most important thing is that players are communicated to clearly as to what their roles are and get them to commit to it.

“What we planned to do is get a balanced side, everyone available, a full squad, try and have a consistent philosophy of cricket. The brand of cricket that we want to play is quite free and relaxed. Also in terms of preparing well and executing well… to get everyone prepared to think and to be problem-solvers. To think for themselves. It helps Sanju a lot on the field when people are thinking for themselves and know what’s going on. It builds a lot of trust within the group as well. Everyone has individual strengths that they bring into the side which are highly valued. We try and build that into a good unit where everyone knows what they’re doing, what their value is and what their roles are. Then we’ll go and try to play some good cricket.”

An overhaul in how the Royals went about their business was needed, having had finished last in 2020. Rajasthan just couldn’t crack the code of winning matches consistently and a lot of it had to do with the lack of the team striking together. There were moments of brilliance before they fell back.

“We have a lot of match-winners who are absolutely wonderful players…in Sanju Samson, Rahul Tewatia, our fast bowlers. The key is to have different people who do something a little bit special on the day and the point of a great team performance is to have your regular players performing consistently and once in a while. Someone stepping in to do a little bit extra. If it’s a different player most of the time and not the same person, it’s even better.”

Another area of concern last year was the lack of support from the contingent of pace bowlers around Jofra Archer, who was named MVP. Archer missing the first few games will be a big blow for Rajasthan. Sangakkara, however, threw his support behind the inexperienced Indian bowlers in their squad to come good.

“I think inexperience sometimes can work for you and against. Inexperience would probably mean that the opposition has not really seen them either, but fast bowling, specially in the IPL is not an easy task and we saw that yesterday as well. Sometimes the wickets are really good for batting or most of the wickets are, so you have to be quite skillful. So I’m pretty confident that our young fast bowlers will step up. We’ve had Kartik Tyagi who did very well last season in patches in various phases of the game and this year we have a new additions in Kuldip Yadav and Chetan Sakariya. So I think it’s about you know keeping them again focused on what their job is really and get them trained and prepared to execute all the different deliveries and scenarios and match plans for the opposition. But at the same time concentrate in giving them confidence of their own strengths.”

When asked if despite all his years in the game, the highs and lows, he feels pressure of expectations in his new role, Sangakkara didn’t mince his words.

“I think there are always expectations and pressure. You can’t get away from that and you got to accept it. And the only way you deal with it is really, you know ticking off the boxes that you want in terms of training, in terms of preparation, getting combinations right. Get the players involved take ownership of not their own roles, but also the team plans and that makes things a lot easier. You can’t guarantee what will happen on the day of a match, but what you can guarantee is that you can go out and control what you control. Take a great attitude out, and Sanju always talks about playing with passion and with heart. I think that’s a very important point as well. That can really lift a team to do some special things out there when the pressure is on.

“So for me personally, know my job is to get everyone ready and once they get on the field my job is actually secondary. It’s about them going out there and expressing themselves playing really good smart cricket. But we wait and see. I think everyone’s really looking forward to starting the tournament,” he added.

 

 

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