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Pathum Nissanka story brings tears to your eyes

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by Rex Clementine 

There have been very few positives to write about our cricket team in recent times, but watching the first Test in Antigua was fully worth burning the midnight oil as young Pathum Nissanka became the fourth Sri Lankan to score a hundred on debut. This is a guy who has averaged 67 in First Class cricket over the last three years. Okay, we know records in our First Class cricket aren’t much to boast about, but such stats were worthy of earning someone a maiden Test cap because our stars aren’t exactly covering themselves in glory.

After being snubbed for the ICC Under-19 World Cup despite being a prolific run-getter, Pathum Nissanka Silva kept pursuing his dream by piling up hundred after hundred for NCC before finally being drafted into the senior side ahead of the tour of the West Indies. If his on-field exploits have been stirring, his off-the-field story is even more heart touching. 

Sunil Silva, Pathum’s father, was the ground boy of Kalutara Esplanade, the cricket ground in the heart of the town. The ground is not visible from the road, but if you happened to travel to Galle or Matara by train, you cannot miss this ground. Having a bit of cricket knowledge made Sunil his son’s first cricket coach. They lived in abject poverty and to make ends meet, Pathum’s mother sold flowers near the Kalutara bodiya (temple) to devotees.

Colombo schools are constantly on the lookout for fresh faces, asking District Coaches to keep them in the loop if there’s any bright talent around. Pathum was making big runs for Kalutara Vidyalaya and quite a few schools including S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia were interested in him. But it was Isipatana that got to him first. It was quite a struggle.

Sunil Saluwadana, the brilliant cricket coach of Kalutara Vidyalaya, reluctantly agreed to let him go so that he could make progress in Colombo, but convincing his parents turned out to be not so easy. Not that they didn’t like the move to Colombo. It was just that locating their tiny house turned out to be a nightmare for the visiting party. 

Isipatana Coach Pradeep Nishantha had travelled with one of his friends, Nilantha Amarasinghe, whose son captained Isipatana recently. As they were struggling to locate the house, Pradeep asked Pathum’s parents to come to Kalutara bodiya. It was at the bodiya that Pathum’s admission papers to Isipatana were signed. That both his parents didn’t have even basic education is a different story. “Not too sure whether any other child has signed his admission papers at Kalutara bodiya. This is the greatest blessing you can get. You will have a bright future,” Pradeep recalls telling young Pathum five years ago.

To reach Pathum’s house, you have to turn left from Kalutara junction and go some six kilometers along the Palathota road. He lives in one of the government-built houses for people affected by the tsunami.

Colombo life is hectic and expensive too. Pathum needed some assistance to make ends meet. While Isipatana College’s Junior Old Boys’ Union did chip in, that wasn’t enough to meet costs. So his coach turned to his friend Nilantha Amarasinghe. Nilantha is employed at Jayaratne Florists, and apprised his bosses of this bright prospect. The premier florists helped him with a monthly allowance. They were the happiest to know that young Pathum had been picked for the tour of West Indies and gifted him Rs. 250,000 as pocket money during his visit to the Caribbean. 

Arjuna Ranatunga played with a bat that promoted his friend’s chicken shop – Sam’s. Mahela Jayawardene played with a bat that promoted Thilanga’s newspaper – Lakbima. Pathum may well use a logo for the bat that says, ‘The best undertakers in town – Jayaratne’.

After finishing up at Isipatana, Pathum went back to Kalutara and represented Badureliya CC.  Then, former Test captain Hashan Tillekeratne persuaded him to make a shift back to Colombo to play for NCC.

Not just asking Pathum to make the move, Hashan made sure he looked after the boy, treating him like one of his own sons. NCC has a reputation for looking after young talent from outstation. Another tradition at NCC is to treat everyone as an equal – seniors and juniors all get paid the same amount. It helped that he had some very good seniors in the club like Upul Tharanga, Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Perera.  There were good mentors at the club as well like Ranjit Fernando, Malan Ranasinghe, Duminda Perera and Leslie Hewage.

There were temptations, of course. There is this notion that you have a better chance of representing Sri Lanka if you cross the road from NCC. More recently, another neighbouring club of NCC has got more political clout, with one of our former Test captains calling the shots at the Sports Ministry. So the done thing these days is to jump over the fence of NCC and not cross the road. But Pathum remained loyal to NCC, and has been richly rewarded.

Often, when things go well, we tend to forget that there are issues which need to be addressed. Here’s one of them. Pathum has been a top-order batsman all his life. Why Sri Lanka played him at number six is beyond comprehension.

There was similar hope when Kusal Mendis came on to the scene in 2015. A son of a three-wheeler driver, Kusal’s was a case of sheer hard work being able to take you places, irrespective of your social status. But Kusal’s father has turned out to be such a social menace that he is not only influencing senior police officers but is alleged to be threatening victims as well after his notorious son’s infamous hit-and-run last year.

It is very important that when young players earn millions on a monthly basis, they are properly guided. Most agents who are managing players only bother about promoting their images on social media. Values mean nothing to them. Hence, we are left with incorrigible youngsters like Kusal Mendis. Let’s hope Pathum’s story will be different. Sri Lankan cricket needs it to be different, badly.



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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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