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Our fans were our biggest strength 

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World Cup Winning captain relives the nation’s greatest sporting moment

by Arjuna Ranatunga  

During one of my visits to South Africa, I came across an interesting saying — ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.’ 

This sentence is so true. As we celebrate the Silver Jubilee of us winning the World Cup, we owe the success to our wonderful team spirit. I treat each of the other 13 members of the World Cup-winning squad not as teammates, but as brothers. They mean so much to me. And I know they will do anything for me. This was the secret of our success.  

I experienced the value of team spirit during the semi-final against India in Kolkata. It was hard for the 110,000 Indian fans to witness their team crashing out of the World Cup. As stones and bottles were hurled on to the ground, Upul Chandana, on as substitute for Roshan Mahanama, came up to me and asked for Aravinda to be relieved from boundary duties. Ara was fielding in the deep and Upul warned me that if a stone hit Ara and hurt him, he would be in doubt for the final.  Instead, Upul said, he’d field in the deep. That was a very touching moment. This was more than a team.  

During that campaign, there were occasions when I wanted to change the team. But some young players would come for a chat and tell me not to change the winning combination. That camaraderie will be very hard to find in any other sporting environment.   

Our biggest strength was our fans. During good times and tough times, they were there with us. I remember when I ran into problems with the cricket board, how well the fans supported me. The same goes for other players. Whenever they were going through a rough patch, the fans were well behind them, giving all the support. That’s why it hurts me to see the national team playing behind closed doors in these unprecedented times.  

I know when we play big tournaments; our fans conduct ‘bodi pujas’. Others go to churches, kovils and mosques to invoke blessings for us. This goodwill from our supporters and their best wishes help us immensely always.  

Never have I doubted the skill levels of our players. Our talent has been on par with the rest of the world, if not better than other countries. Personally, I was someone who was always tough mentally.  But I could see that the rest of my team-mates toughened up during our tour of Australia just prior to the World Cup.  

I remember the day before the World Cup final. An Indian journalist came up to me and said I must transfer pressure back on the Australian players. He wanted me to say something uncomplimentary about the opposition so that would distract them. I saw the point. I knew the Aussies were good at sledging but when you say something back, they don’t like it. They tend to react aggressively and at times lose it.   

So, before the final, Ravi Shastri interviewed me. He asked me about the Waugh twins. I told him they were overrated. Then he asked me about Shane Warne. I said Warne was a media myth. Now, these are all very fine cricketers. But that was my way of getting under their skin. It worked. Ian Chappell told me that when he went to interview Warne after Ravi had done mine, Warne had asked him, ‘What did that fat b****** have to tell about me now?’ Mission accomplished. 

I also know that one of the things that really irritated the Aussies was when I walked those singles. So I made sure I walked as much as possible. Sometimes, they would try to run me out and there would be overthrows. Then, I would sprint hard for those extra runs just to rub salt into their wounds.  

It is very important in sport to pay attention to minute details. The day before the final, Duleep (Mendis, the manager) and I visited the ground at night without telling anyone. We were surprised to see the amount of dew that night. We knew dew was going to be a factor the following evening.  

At the team meeting the next morning, we decided to bowl first if we won the toss. Not everyone agreed, but we explained our reasons for wanting to do so.  

As I walked out for the toss on match day, I ran into Imran Khan. Now, Imran is from Lahore, and knows this venue as well as anyone. He asked me what I intended to do if I won the toss, and I said I had decided to bowl. He told me not to be silly, urging me to set a target as this was a fine batting track. Aravinda overheard the conversation and tried to persuade me to bat first. I was in a dilemma. Imran was not only from Lahore but he was also the last captain to win a World Cup. I also have immense respect for the man. So I consulted Duleep. 

Duleep is someone who respected Imran as well, so he would have had his second thoughts. But we came back to that one point – the dew in the night, which was very unusual at that time of the year. So we decided to stick to our original decision as we knew our bowlers would struggle in the night with a wet ball. Not often would I have disagreed with Imran. But sometimes, as a leader, you have got to back your instincts although that’s not the most popular choice.  

I would be failing in my duties if I don’t recall the role played by the late Gamini Dissanayake in our success. He was a visionary and much ahead of his time. I remember going to meet him just before a tour of Zimbabwe, and he reminded me to get the combination right as the World Cup was around the corner. That, unfortunately, was our last meeting as he was killed shortly after that. It’s so sad he didn’t live to see us win the World Cup.  

His death was a massive blow for the game of cricket, but an even bigger setback for the whole nation. He was an astute statesman who loved his country immensely.  

There are others I would like to remember like Neil Perera, Nisal Senaratne, Abu Fuard, Major General Heyn, WAN Silva, Ranjit Fernando, Anuruddha Pollonovita and T.B. Khelgamuwa, all honourable men who did much for our cricket in the early days when there was no money. More recently, we have had far-sighted administrators like Ana Punchihewa and Upali Dharmadasa.  

I was lucky to be the captain when we won the World Cup and enjoyed success, but this fortress of our cricket was built by men like Mahadevan Sathasivam, C.H. Gunasekara, Michael Tissera, Anura Tennekoon and Bandula Warnapura, to name a few. Thanks to them, we enjoyed this success.  

I appreciate the efforts of my parents in giving me the right values in life. I thank the contributions of my coach sir Lionel Mendis. I am always indebted to my school Ananda College and all the teachers of this great institution. I thank the parents of rest of my team mates, their coaches, teachers and their schools for giving them the right values in life.

I would like to also remember with gratitude the role played by our coach Dav Whatmore, our physio Alex Kountouris and Duleep.  

Do bear with me if I have inadvertently missed out any names.



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A championship in November might hurt athletes’ preparation for next year’s key events

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by Reemus Fernando  

Sri Lanka Army’s decision to schedule their flagship athletics event to November is likely to hurt top athletes’ preparations for next year’s major international events. The Army’s decision has come just a couple of weeks after Sri Lanka Athletics decided to windup the pandemic plagued season in October to allow enough time for off season as top athletes will have several crucial international competitions in 2022 including the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.

“Sri Lanka Athletics took the decision to conclude the season with the remainder of the National Championship in October in consultation with coaches as we have a busy schedule in 2022. Most of the coaches whose athletes had already completed their National Championship disciplines had started off-season training when the Army decided out of the blues to conduct their championship in November,” a senior coach told The Island.

Most of the top track and field athletes of the country are employed by Sri Lanka Army and athletes are bound to give equal prominence to the Army Athletics Championship. However, preparing them for the championship in November is likely to derail training plans of coaches who are eager to bring the best out of their athletes at two major international events in 2022.

Not having a proper Competition Calendar has been a problem that has hurt track and field athletes for decades now. Though Sri Lanka Athletics continue to announce their competition calendar in advance other stakeholders in the sport including the tri forces and the Sports Ministry have at times failed to announce theirs.

True the Covid 19 pandemic has hampered all schedules but it is important that all stake holders come together to take decisions vital for national athletics.

Despite the Covid 19 pandemic hampering sports events, Sri Lanka Athletics conducted a number of disciplines of the National Championship 2021 at the first leg in May to give opportunities for athletes who are closer to earn Olympic qualifying standards. The remaining legs of the National Championship 2021 which were rescheduled several times due to the pandemic will now be held on October 30 and 31.

The track and field governing body which will celebrate its centenary year in 2022 is eager to prepare strong teams for both the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games as it has not experienced medal success at these championships for years now. Country has won 46 medals at the Asian Games. Of them 27 are from track and field sports. From the 11 gold medals it has won in the history of the Games ten have come from track and field. However, Sri Lanka has not won a medal in track and field after the men’s 4×400 metres relay team won a bronze in 2006. Sri Lanka has won only three track and field medals at the Commonwealth Games but non during the last two decades.

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MJ to work as consultant during World Cup

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Sri Lanka’s ICC T20 World Cup campaign has received a massive boost after former captain Mahela Jayawardene agreed to work with the team as a consultant during the tournament.

MJ will not be available for the entire campaign as his stint will last just one week, which means he will be only available for the qualifying round. He will not be available beyond the games against Namibia, Ireland and Netherlands.

SLC also stated that MJ has accepted a consultancy role with Sri Lanka Under-19 team for a period of five months lead up to next year’s ICC Under-19 World Cup. He will be working alongside his former SSC team mate Avishka Gunawardene, who is the Head Coach of the Under-19 side.

MJ known as a brilliant tactician in the game was one of Sri Lanka’s most successful captains across all forms of cricket. He was skipper when Sri Lanka won overseas Test matches in England, New Zealand and West Indies. He was also captain when Sri Lanka blanked England 5-0 in their own backyard. Under his leadership, Sri Lanka reached the finals of the ICC World T20 in 2012.

Since retiring from the game, he’s been a highly sought after coach having guided Mumbai Indians for multiple IPL titles and having worked with the England team as a consultant.

Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur welcomed the appointment. “I have worked with Mahela before and really looking forward to having him with us. He is one of the best cricket brains I have worked with and just very excited to have him with us,” he told The Island.

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Sri Lanka Athletics gives priority to Asian Games

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by Reemus Fernando

 Sri Lanka Athletics will give priority to Asian Games over the Commonwealth Games as the two major sports events take place within five weeks from each other in 2022. The track and field governing body indicated their priorities at a meeting with the National Olympic Committee yesterday.

“Our best chances are at the Asian Games. We are trying to get the best out of the talent we have. To achieve that we have set our priorities right. Though we are going to select a team for both events at the same stage we might not send some athletes for the Commonwealth Games,” a senior official of Sri Lanka Athletics told The Island after a meeting with the NOC yesterday.

“For example our best chances for the men’s 4×400 metres relay team is at the Asian Games. We might not field that team for the Commonwealth Games,” Saman Kumara, the statistician of Sri Lanka Athletics said.

“In 2002 we had both the Commonwealth Games (July 25- August 4) and the Asian Games within a span of two months. We had three men who could run 400 metres in 45 seconds. We had the best chance of winning the 4×400 metres gold in Busan but the Commonwealth Games had its toll on the runners when the time came for the Asian Games,” said Saman Kumara who has experience as both a selector and manager of teams for these games.

While the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be held from July 28 to August 8 in Birmingham, the Chinese city of Hangzhou will host Asian Games from September 10 to 25.

“We are almost certain of fielding a men’s 4×100 metres relay team for the Commonwealth Games provided they meet selection criteria. The men’s 4×400 metres relay team will be reserved for the Asian Games.”

Though medal prospects are dim in track events at the Commonwealth Games, Sri Lanka’s men’s 4×100 metres relay team consisting of Himasha Eshan, Shehan Ambepitiya, Vinoj Suranjaya and Mohamed Ashrafu had a memorable outing at the last edition in Gold Coast where they established the current national record clocking 39.08 seconds.

That record will be in danger now with Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon improving the national record this year and showing the ability to further improve the record.

Sri Lanka Athletics will update the current elite and national pools after concluding the remaining events of the National Championship at the end of next month. That pool will be maintained till March 2022 when the teams for both the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are selected. The centenary National Championships in 2022 April (8,9,10) will be the final selection trial for both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.

Sri Lanka Athletics will also target forming a mixed relay team for the Asian Games as there are two strong contenders to fill the women’s spots in Nadeesha Ramanayake and Dilshi Kumarasainghe. While Kalinga Kumarage and Aruna Dharshana are the front runners for the men’s sports in the mixed relay, the next few months will be crucial for the rest of the sprinters aspiring to win a place in the team for the men’s 4×400 metres relay.

Given their current form, the 100 metres, 400 metres, 4x100metres, 4×400 metres, high jump, long jump, and javelin throw, in the men’s category, 800 metres, steeplechase, long jump, and marathon in the women’s category and the mixed relay are the disciplines in which athletes have shown potential in reaching qualifying standards.

Sri Lanka has won the majority of Asian Games medals in track and field events though the country has not witnessed medal success after the men’s 4×400 metres quartet of Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Rohitha Pushpakumara, Prasanna Amarasekara and  Ashoka Jayasundara won the bronze in 2006 in Doha. Since 2006 the country has won only two medals, both in cricket.

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