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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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Under 19 Division III cricket tournament to be concluded after schools reopen

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The knockout stage matches of the Under-19 Division III cricket tournament will be played only after the schools reopen, the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) said.

The SLSCA managed to conclude the Under-19 Division I and II tournaments before the third wave of the Covid 19 pandemic forced cancellation of all public events. But the Division III tournament largely consisting of outstation and up and coming schools was stranded at the quarter-final stage as the schools were closed due to the third wave of Covid 19.

The Sri Lanka Cricket conducted Under-19 Inter Provincial Tournament too was postponed due to the third wave of the pandemic.

Nishantha Kumara, the Under-19 tournament secretary of the SLSCA said that the Division III Level one and two tournaments will be concluded after schools reopen.

He said that there were no health issues emanating from the concluded phase of the tournament as the matches were conducted according to guidelines stipulated by health authorities.

“We were able to conclude the Division I and II tournaments successfully as all schools, players and parents of players and match officials cooperated well to conduct the tournament according to guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education,” said Nishantha.

“We will try our best to conclude the Division III tournament in a similar manner after normalcy returns,” said Nishantha.

Meanwhile player registrations for the Under-15 and 17 tournaments is now on. The SLSCA has introduced an online registration method for the schools to register their players for various age category tournaments.

“We invited officials from schools to introduce the system before hand and now those officials nominated by the respective schools are conducting the registrations online successfully. We are requesting all schools to conclude the registration process. So that we can commence tournaments when the authorities grant permission,” an official of the SLSCA said.

The SLSCA conducted the Under-19 tournament as a curtailed limited overs tournament after the Ministry of Education granted permission to hold events within a short period of time from March to April. Generally the Under-19 tournament commences in September and concludes in April with matches of two innings format (of two-days of duration) being played in a league tournament.

Schools cricket tournaments remained suspended for a year from March 2020 due to the pandemic. (RF)

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Karunaratne closes in on top 10 of ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings

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Dimuth Karunaratne has closed in on a top-10 spot in the ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings after a successful second Test against Bangladesh in Kandy which Sri Lanka won by 209 runs to clinch the two-match series 1-0.

The opening batsman struck 118 and 66, moving up four slots to 11th position in the list led by New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. Karunaratne’s career-best ranking is sixth, attained in August 2019. He is the top-ranked Test batsman from Sri Lanka with Angelo Mathews next in the list in 24th position.

Niroshan Dickwella (up four places to 31st), Oshada Fernando (up 10 places to 58th) and Lahiru Thirimanne (up 13 places to 60th) are the other Sri Lanka batsmen to advance while left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama’s player of the match haul of 11 for 178, the best figures by a Sri Lankan on Test debut, sees him enter the rankings in 48th position.

Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal’s knocks of 92 and 24 have helped him gain three places to reach 27th position while Mushfiqur Rahim and captain Mominul Haque have inched up a slot each to reach 21st and 30th positions, respectively, in the latest men’s weekly update that includes the first Test between Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

Pakistan fast bowler Hasan Ali’s haul of nine for 89 in the first Test against Zimbabwe in Harare not only won him the player of the match award for starring in the innings victory but also enabled him to gain 15 slots and reach a career-best 20th position among bowlers.

Left-arm fast bowler Shaheen Afridi (up two places to 31st) and left-arm spinner Nauman Ali (up 12 places to 54th) have also advanced in the list for bowlers while left-handed batsman Fawad Alam continues his fine run, moving up 31 places to a career-best 47th position after scoring 140, his fourth century in 10 Test matches. Abid Ali is up six places to 78th position. 

For Zimbabwe, Regis Chakabva has gained two slots to reach 97th position while fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani has progressed 26 slots to reach 55th position with figures of four for 73.

(ICC)

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The story of Devapathiraja’s rise to glory

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by Reemus Fernando

When the Devapathiraja team visited Colombo for the knockout stage matches of the just concluded Under-19 Division I tournament Lumbini and Wesley generously provided free lodgings for the team. When they host teams, Richmond come to their rescue providing accommodation for the visiting teams. Foundation of Goodness has been providing them team kits. Except the umpire fees, all their other expenses on cricket are met by the cricketers’ not so well to do parents. Their coach had done a voluntary job for a better part of the last two decades. In return, Devapathiraja College, Ratgama boxing their way up in the country’s schools cricket rankings have not disappointed.

When schools with over 100 years of rich cricket history and substantial funds to nurture the sport struggle in lower divisions in the premier Under-19 cricket tournament, Devapathiraja, a little known entity at the start of the millennium, have improved by leaps and bounds during the last two decades. Their latest achievement was reaching the final of the just concluded Under-19 Division I Tier ‘B’ cricket tournament.

Devapathiraja were the babies of the Tier ‘B’ of the Division I tournament inclusive of power houses of cricket namely Ananda College, Thurstan College and St. Peter’s College from Colombo and strongholds of Southern Province, Mahinda, St. Servatius’, St. Aloysius’ and Dharmasoka. Against many odds Devapathiraja reached the final. After being bowled out for a low score they made Mahinda College, Galle toil hard for victory.

Devapathiraja started playing cricket when their current coach Ranjan Lasantha de Silva was a student at the school. Many schools started playing hard ball cricket following the 1996 World Cup win. Ranjan, like the rest of the youth of his era was craving to play cricket. Unfortunately there was no cricket team or facilities for the sport at the school. He requested in writing that cricket be started at his school. Fortunately the principal, late T.A.C.N. Gunasekara had come from a cricket playing school (Revata College) and facilitated the start. Like the majority of schools which started playing cricket after 1996, the sport started with a Big Match against Sri Sumangala College, Hikkaduwa in 1997. But the sport did not really kick off until the correct combination of coach, Master in Charge and the sports loving youth got together a couple of years later.

With no previous coaching experience Ranjan after leaving school started training the school’s teams. By 1999 the school had started training all four age groups.

“I was influenced and helped by the likes of Tedlal Silva and Viraj Chaminda to pursue qualifications in coaching. So I did the Level I coaching course conducted by Sri Lanka Cricket. Also followed whatever other courses available to be qualified for the job. I must also thank former District Coach Lasith Chaminda and officials like, Jayananda Warnaweera for their support,” said Ranjan in an interview with The Island.

When cricket Devapathiraja commenced playing cricket they did not have a proper ground and the teams took refuge at the Ratgama Public ground. The school received a boost when Nishantha Kumara, who had the experience in running cricket at Neluwa National School received a transfer to Devapathiraja in 2000. He did all the necessary correspondence for all age group teams to play in Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association conducted tournaments and worked hand in hand with Ranjan until they were promoted to Division I.

Devapathiraja achieved their first breakthrough when they reached the final of the Under 19 Division III tournament in the 2013/14 season. They were the runners up to Debarawewa National School that season and earned the all important promotion to Division II the following year. It did not take too long for them to graduate from Division II to Division I.

“You have to play in the Division I category for your players to get recognition. Players in the lower divisions too are called for selection trials but it is highly unlikely for them to get the selectors’ nod. That realization compelled us to strive for Division I qualification,” said Ranjan.

However by the time they had reached the top Division they had already produced several cricketers to club level and one of their products, Tharindu Kaushal had played several Tests for Sri Lanka.

They were the Division II champions in the 2017/2018 season and commenced their Division I campaign in the 2018/19 season where they struggled but managed to avoid relegation.

Devapathiraja have done well in the lower age category tournaments as well and has produced players who have represented the Sri Lanka Schools Under-15 teams and National Youth Teams. Dilshan Kanchana, Umesh Mayurakantha, Pathum Madusanka, Raveen Yasas and Thikshila de Silva are among them.

According to Ranjan, cricket at Devapathiraja survives thanks to the contributions made by the cricketers’ parents who are not from well to do families. “The Schools Development Society provides umpire fees. But all other expenses are taken care of by cricketers’ parents. But there are others who help like the Foundation of Goodness which provides several scholarships for students and playing kits. Principal of Richmond College and the Masters in Charge of Cricket of both Mahinda and Richmond support us when we host teams. When we went to Colombo for the knockout stage matches Wesley College and Lumbini College provided lodging” said Ranjan.

Ranjan also appreciated the support given by the school’s Principal Sam Silva and current Master In Charge of Cricket Ranjith Kumbalathara.

Ranjan said that cricket at Devapathiraja has not only helped the national team find raw material but has also helped youth of the area to engage in sports in a meaningful way.

Devapathiraja Team:

Sudeera Weeraratne (Captain), Irushka Thimira, Dinitha Prabanka, Pawan Sandesh, Jeewaka Shasheen, Sasanka Nirmal, Tharindu Rukshan, Matheesha Saranga, Darshaka Sandeepa, Sandaru Theekshana, Chaminda Sandaruwan, Pathum Shaminda, Pradeep Rangana, Hiran Chamikara, Chanuka Sulakshana, Simash Dilunja.

 

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