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Of Sports Schools and schools sports



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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New Zealand Tour of West Indies



Akeal Hosein, Alzarri Joseph set up West Indies five-wicket win

On a surface aiding the bowlers, Akeal Hosein made merry with a devastating spell of 3 for 28 in 10 overs while Alzarri Joseph too picked three wickets, bundling out the visitors for just 190 in the 46th over. The chase was not straightforward by any stretch of imagination, but Shamarh Brooks’s calm 79 off 91 balls ensured West Indies tasted rare ODI success in the series opener in Barbados.

Given the tricky conditions, Martin Guptill and Finn Allen made a circumspect start, until the seventh over when the latter took on Jason Holder to clobber one four and two sixes. New Zealand got to 40/0 in 8 overs when the passing showers halted play briefly. Though the break was hardly for 10 minutes, it allowed West Indies to regroup and make quick inroads right after play resumed. First to go was Allen, as he danced down to take on the left-arm spinner Hosein, only for Nicholas Pooran to run back from extra cover and take an excellent, diving catch.

Hosein took out Guptill in his following over to dent NZ further. New Zealand struggled for partnerships from there on as they fell from 53 for 2 to 116 for 5, even as Kane Williamson fought on from one end. That endeavour too was brought to a premature end, as Alzarri Joseph dismissed him for a 50-ball 34 – that ended up being the best batting effort for New Zealand in the game. A 40-run stand for the seventh wicket between Michael Bracewell and Mitchell Santner, followed by a 20-run alliance between Santner and Tim Southee pushed New Zealand past the 150-run mark and close to 200. But Southee and Boult fell in successive overs, leaving New Zealand with 190 in 45.2 overs.

Four balls into the chase, rain arrived again. But this time too it was passing showers that kept the players off the field for 15-odd minutes. When they returned, the senior duo of Boult and Southee saw the back of the West Indies openers by the sixth over, pushing West Indies on the backfoot early in chase. Up stepped Brooks to forge solid partnerships to defy the New Zealand bowlers as he and Keacy Carty added 37 for the third wicket off 48 deliveries. But Santner trapped him leg before to keep the pressure on the chasing side as they were down to 74 for 3. What ensued was the match-winning partnership between Brooks and his captain Nicholas Pooran, as they batted out the next 14.3 overs to add 75 runs.

Southee then came back with some success, as he induced an inside edge off Pooran’s bat that wicketkeeper Tom Latham pouched low. Brooks, who’d got his half-century during his partnership with Pooran, was set to see his team through to the finish line, before Boult too returned to clean him up. But at 149 for 4, New Zealand’s strikes were too little too late. Jason Holder and Jermaine Blackwood – who was playing in his first ODI since 2015 – saw the team through with five wickets and 11 overs to spare.


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Rabada five for floors England 



Rex Clementine at Lord’s

There aren’t too many lethal bowling attacks in the world than South Africa’s. Well spearheaded by Kagiso Rabada, captain Dean Elgar can turn to Anrich Nortje if he wants extra pace or rely on the versatile Lungi Ngidi for control. If variety is what the South African captain is after, he can bring on Marco Jansen, the left-arm quick. Given such a pace attack, the spin option of Keshav Maharaj becomes indispensable and he wasn’t required to bowl as England were shot out for 165 in their first innings.

The Rainbow Nation is well represented with blacks, whites and coloured players forming the nucleus of the attack. Rabada finished with a five wicket haul, becoming the fourth South African since readmission to get his name in the Honours Board; others being Allan Donald (2), Makaya Ntini (2) and Vernon Philander. How Shaun Pollock and Dale Steyn missed out is indeed a good question.

Rabada had overnight batsman Ollie Pope dropped in the first over of the morning but eventually he cleaned him up for 73. The fifth wicket came when James Anderson was trapped leg before wicket, a decision the batsman unsuccessfully reviewed.

Nortje, probably the quickest bowler in the world at the moment, claimed three wickets while Jansen had two scalps. The 22-year-old from Potchefstroom is considered the next big thing in South African cricket. It’s said he could go onto fill the boots of Jacques Kallis but if he could achieve half the things the great all-rounder finished with, South African cricket will benefit immensely.

South Africa had moved to 27 for no loss at lunch. The first day had been interrupted by bad weather with just 32 overs possible.

Sri Lanka have been well represented at Lord’s Test with former captain Ranjan Madugalle functioning as Match Referee while Kumar Sangakkara is a commentator with Sky. The ex-skipper has signed a three years deal with the host broadcaster replacing Michael Holding.

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Emma Raducanu routes Victoria Azarenka in Cincinnati



British number one Emma Raducanu produced another eye-catching display as she routed former world number one Victoria Azarenka less than 24 hours after beating Serena Williams.Raducanu continued her preparations for the forthcoming defense of her US Open title with a 6-0 6-2 win in Cincinnati.

The 19-year-old played Belarusian veteran Azarenka just 18 hours after beating Williams, who will retire after the US Open, 6-4 6-0 on Tuesday.Raducanu faces Jessica Pegula next.The Briton, ranked 13th in the world, will meet the American seventh seed in the last 16 of the Western and Southern Open on Thursday.

“I was playing a great match for sure and to play Vika I had to stay focused throughout,” said Raducanu, who beat 22nd-ranked Azarenka to earn her first top-30 win since last year’s US Open.

Raducanu stunned the sporting world with her unexpected triumph in New York last year, when she became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title in what was only her fourth senior tournament.

The victory propelled the previously little-known teenager into global superstardom, but she has since faced the difficulties often encountered by young players in their first full season on the WTA Tour.Regularly hampered by fitness issues this year as she adjusts to the rigours of the senior tour, Raducanu arrived in Cincinnati with a record of 11 wins and 14 losses this season.But with her fearless and accurate ground strokes, she has so far shown a similar level in the WTA 1000 event to the one which led to her success at Flushing Meadows.

Pegula, however, is likely to provide a sterner test – and a more accurate appraisal of Raducanu’s current level – than Williams or Azarenka.In what was her first career meeting with 23-time major champion Williams and likely to be the last, the teenager clinically took advantage of the 40-year-old’s lack of sharpness by hitting 14 winners and making just one unforced error in a ruthless victory.After that night session, Raducanu returned to Cincinnati’s centre court against 33-year-old Azarenka and produced another dominant display.

The forehand continued to be a potent weapon, while she was also helped by wayward returning from the two-time Grand Slam champion.After cruising through a 26-minute opener to record a second straight bagel, Raducanu raced into a 4-0 lead in the next set, before Azarenka finally got on the scoreboard with back-to-back holds.She offered a little more belated resistance when Raducanu served for the match, earning two break points and saving a match point before the Briton wrapped up victory.

“In the second set I could feel the important moments and a couple of turning points that could have made the second set really difficult,” added Raducanu.

“I am really pleased with how I dug in, and serving it out in that last game was really difficult.”

American teenager Coco Gauff has played down the seriousness of the ankle injury which forced her to retire from a first round match against Czech qualifier Marie Bouzkova on Tuesday.With her home Grand Slam looming, the 18-year-old said it was a minor sprain that “should be healed very soon”.

Romania’s Simona Halep pulled out of the Cincinnati event with a thigh injury before Wednesday’s match against Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, while Polish world number one Iga Swiatek, Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and Tunisia’s world number five Ons Jabeur reached the last 16.

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