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Pietermaritzburg is a distant memory

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by Rex Clementine

Pietermaritzburg is a lovely city in South Africa, a short drive from Durban. It’s known mostly for one reason. It was here a young Indian lawyer was thrown off a train for travelling in a white only compartment. He’s known to the world as Mahathma Gandhi. Pietermaritzburg is also known for cricketing reasons. Chaminda Vaas took a hat-trick here off the first three balls of a World Cup game against Bangladesh. The game was over early and we filed our copies and were back in the hotel for lunch. Pietermaritzburg of course is a distant memory. Nowadays, Bangladesh is giving Sri Lankans a taste of their own medicine.

Sri Lanka lost the three match ODI series against Bangladesh without a fight. The first two games were painful to watch as the run chase had little planning and the batsmen caved in after being put under pressure.

Pace and bounce used to be Sri Lanka’s problems but suddenly you find that young players struggling against spin. The batting coach’s explanation was that there’s nothing wrong with technique or skill levels. They seem to be having no issues in the nets but suddenly out in the middle they run out of options.

In the first two games something that was evident was that the batters were unable to rotate the strike and the dot ball pressure resulted in them taking the aerial route.  On a track that is two paced, it is just a matter of time you miss time one attempting to clear the field. That is what happened to the Sri Lankans in the first two games.

That is why your domestic cricket has to be so important. Young players struggle to find their feet when they graduate to international cricket from domestic cricket and unless we fast track the Inter-Provincial tournament, make it an annual event; young players are going to struggle. Thankfully the Cricket Committee headed by former captain Aravinda de Silva are pushing for the Inter-Provincial tournament to be introduced without any delay.

The desired result, which is a series win, wasn’t achieved in Bangladesh. But that should not force us to go back to square one for our next assignment in England. Despite the defeat, the energy levels that were shown by this side was good to see. Based on this and given the fitness standards, the selectors have something to build up for the 2023 World Cup.

Yes, there’s the danger of the team missing out on automatic qualification. But that was a danger that was present even had they persisted with seniors. What will happen now is even if Sri Lanka is relegated to the qualifying round, they have given exposure for young players who will be up for the challenge against weaker nations and earn the team a slot for the World Cup.

Bangladesh currently are formidable opponents. Four of their players have gone onto play over 200 ODIs each and that’s quite a lot. Sri Lanka’s most experienced player has barely 100 games to his name. So while the defeat is hard to stomach, you have got to look at the larger picture than crying over spilt milk.

It doesn’t mean that everything is honky-dory. For example not playing Niroshan Dickwella was a mistake. On a wicket where spinners were dominating his sweeps and reverse sweeps were missed. Also the team was depending too much on all-rounders than sticking to specialists. Ramesh Mendis looks a class act and his off-spin helped dismiss Mushfiqur Rahim in the third ODI. The series was lost by then. Mushfiqur made more than 200 runs in the first two games. Should they have played Ramesh from the start?

Whilst looking at the long term plan, the selectors also need to keep an eye on the short term plans.  For example, before the 2023 50 over World Cup, we will have two T-20 World Cups this year and next year. Can some of the seniors still contribute in the T-20 format or are we in good hands with the youngsters is an interesting question.

For some time the team has underachieved and not put in their best efforts you sensed from the outside. They perhaps needed a jolt like this to drive home some harsh points.



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The English expedition: puzzles to unravel

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The number five slot will be occupied by Dananjaya de Silva who is fast evolving in to Tilekeratne Dilshan lite version.

 

by Aravinthan Arunthavanathan

Nuwan Pradeep nails an accurate yorker. The ball trickles down to fine leg. It must be just two, but inexplicably turns into a three. The game that was almost sealed is yet alive. Next ball, the final ball of the innings, Pradeep cannot repeat the same. Liam Plunkett, England’s number ten smacks it over long off to tie the game. Early in the day England were six down for 92 and eight down for 235 requiring more than 50 from 28 balls. Still, they managed to tie. This is how the first game of the last bilateral ODI series Sri Lanka and England played in the UK began. This in a way symbolizes the journey both teams have taken ever since. England have found ways to win from hopeless situations whereas Sri Lanka have managed the opposite. This is mainly because England have always managed to find answers to all the questions they were faced with. In fact, they have provided distinction answers thinking out of the box, resulting in them being crowned as the World Champions in 2019. Sri Lanka on the other hand have not even figured out which subject the questions are being asked from. As both teams square off this week their priorities are opposite. England possess squads which outweigh Sri Lanka in every aspect. Most of them are hot picks in T20 leagues. Sri Lanka on the other hand is composed of a bunch of players who do not even find a mention during most auctions. Nothing to be disheartened. Sri Lanka have often punched above their weight when unnoticed. Post 2015, that is the only hope that has kept fans attached to a team which has forever being on life support. But there is hope, in fact plenty of it. The law of averages should correct the trend sooner rather than later. That statement too is more out of hope than conviction. The selectors have walked the talk for once. Almost the same team apart from Ashen Bandara have found a place in the flight to UK. Pathum Nissanka looked set to be another casualty, but thankfully the selectors have chosen otherwise. He need not play, but merely existing in the set up will benefit him. Consistency in policies will be the key to build trust in a broken system where mistrust is the norm. Sri Lanka have plenty of questions. The consistency at the top, combinations to overcome the middle overs muddle with bat and ball and players to step up under pressure at the death are problems of highest priority. With plenty of options at the top of the innings Danushka Gunetileke will be looked upon with keen interest. It’s time to put aside his inconsistencies and deliver. With a top-heavy unit Danushka isn’t indispensable. Avishka Fernando on the other hand ever since hooking Joffra Archer out of the ground in 2019 has grown not on only in stature but apparently in circumference too. Now that the latter is addressed, fans would hope Avishka would be in the news for his batting and not fitness. The two Kusals have been entrusted with massive responsibility of leadership and forming the backbone of the batting. Kusal Perera’s ambidexterity with the bat and Kusal Mendis’s fleet footedness have the potential to help Sri Lanka break the shackles in the middle overs as batsmen they can’t ask for more than the true surfaces of UK. It is worth noting Mahela Jayawardena too heralded a golden run for Sri Lanka in 2006 with some high-class batting on the England tour. It was a turn around for a struggling unit at that point. Both the Kusal’s can do well to orchestrate a revival following those footsteps. The number five slot will be occupied by Dananjaya de Silva who is fast evolving in to Tilekeratne Dilshan lite version. An ultra-lite version even would do a world of good for the team balance. Danajaya’s bowling adds much needed balance to the side. If Niroshan Dickwella is to play in the middle order it will be a race between Dickwella and Dasun Shanaka for the number six slot. Dickwella’s busy approach at the crease would make him an ideal option in the middle overs as well. A phase Sri Lanka have struggled for an eternity. He may well help overcome the spin strangle that often throttles Sri Lanka. Dasun and Dickwella whoever plays would play a huge role if Sri Lanka are to turn the tide. In a team which lacks muscle Dasun and Wanindu Hasranga have a major role in propelling the tail end of the innings. Being able to do so consistently under pressure will be the key for Sri Lanka’s turn around in fortunes. Sri Lanka would have to try different combinations to crack the code to succeed in this pivotal phase. All teams that are performing well are relying on a superstar allrounder. If there is one person who can be Sri Lanka’s savior in this regard it has to be Wanindu Hasaranga. Proper batting capabilities with a hard to pick googly makes Wanindu a hot stock in international cricket. How successful would he be on the biggest stage against the masters of white ball format makes a case for compelling viewing. The fast-bowling all-rounder’s role would be taken by Isuru Udana, who has promised a lot in recent past. So much so that even Virat Kohli and Mike Hesson entrusted him with closing the death overs for Royal Challengers Banglore not so long ago. Ever since his performance has been attracting denigration. But in the interest of Sri Lankan cricket, we shall hope Isuru finds his charm back leaving no room for the above. Isuru and Wanindu will provide the additional dimension Sri Lanka is looking for, to be a force to reckon with. Dananjaya Lakshan is a name sure to keep Udana on his heels. Especially following the praise heaped by Lasith Malinga who without a doubt has one of the best cricketing brains. Laskhan will surely get a look in at some point. How easily he graduates to international cricket is to be seen with interest.

In the spin department mystery is mysteriously missing in a nation that churned out masters of spin. Ramesh Mendis looked impressive in the final game in Bangladesh. With confidence behind him, Mendis deserves at least a run in the first few games. Akila Dananjaya and Lakshan Sandakan have promised for long but not yet become reliable. Will they ever graduate is an eternal question plaguing many fans. If England provides a hint regarding the answer either way, it would be a welcome relief. Pravin Jayawickrama can wait. It would be in the best interest of the youngster not to expose him to a monster line up. The same can be applied to the other youngsters who have got a well-deserved look in as well.

In the fast-bowling department, Dushmantha Chameera will be expected to lead as he did in Bangladesh. The rest of the slots will be up for grab on rotation. Death bowling and breakthroughs in the middle remain a concern. Whether the selectors will fall back on Nuwan Pradeep’s experience going forward will be interesting to see. Sri Lanka have enough ammunition. Who decides to take the opportunity is what is left to be seen. England haven’t been a happy hunting ground for bowlers. Hence the hopes can be subdued. Attitude and the heart for the fight would be what fans would love to see. Hasaranga will be the key in the middle with Chameera and Udana expected to look after the death overs. Overall Sri Lanka’s present state is not a reflection of scarcity of resources. It is instead an outcome of a messed up eco system. It’s not a problem arising out of scarcity but a problem arising out of no clear-cut role descriptions and lack of trust. Talent is plenty but that’s the least that matters on the international stage. The bigger nations have thrived upon proper systems being put in place, supplemented by carefully crafted strategies built upon big data. While we have no insight about the later, Sri Lanka clear lacks a framework. For long we have been the troubled child who promises but fails to deliver. The child has the genes to succeed but the chaos at home is not providing the ideal launching pad. We have spoken a lot about getting the home in order, nothing seems to have changed. Chances are it may not any time soon. But at least there is a group of decision makers in selectors who are showing signs of consistency. Would that be adequate to make the English tour any better? Only time will reveal. But for the diehard fan there are enough puzzles to be unraveled to make a compelling case to view the proceedings in UK sacrificing precious sleep

(The Author’s blog can be found at Cricketing perspectives on facebook)

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Sri Lanka take on England with an eye on World T-20

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Avishka Fernando returns to the side after being axed in January.

 

One of the joys of covering the Sri Lankan cricket team in the UK is that you get to go to all the small cricket centers of the country such as Cardiff, Bristol, Chester-Le-Street, Taunton and Canterbury while big boys like India and Australia frequent Lord’s, Trent Bridge, Old Trafford and Headingley. The Sri Lankans are in the Welsh capital of Cardiff where today’s first T-20 International will be played.

A two hour train ride from London and a ten minute walk from the train station to the ground passing Wales’ gigantic rugby stadium and the 12th century Cardiff Castle, the city is a mixture of modern marvels and ancient monuments.

The Sri Lankans don’t have much fond memories here though. It was here Thisara Perera put down a sitter off Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed to be kicked out of the Champions Trophy in 2017. Pakistan went onto win the title beating arch-rivals India and Sarfraz rubbed salt into Sri Lankan wounds by conceding that he would remember that drop catch for the rest of his life and Thisara would remember for the rest of his life.

It was also here that Sri Lanka were blown away just over a session for 82 runs in 2011, their lowest total ever against England.

The thing with Cardiff is that it always moves around and you are never settled. You can be 200 for one at one moment and 20 minutes later 225 all out.

This is a T-20 though so the batters will throw caution to wind.

If you ask the Sri Lankans, they will tell you that they want to win the series desperately. But to be honest, they have bigger things to worry about. Already forced to play the qualifying tournament of this year’s T-20 World Cup, the Sri Lankans will be getting their unit right for that challenge. A series win will be the last thing on their minds.

Avishka Fernando returns to the side after being axed in January having failed multiple fitness tests. He was overlooked for back to back international assignments and that forced him to get his act together. He is expected to open the innings with Danushka Gunathilaka with Kusal Perera slotted to bat at number three followed by Kusal Mendis.

There will be lot of focus on Dushmantha Chameera as well who with his raw pace has impressed many in recent months.

England have recalled all-rounder Chris Woakes and left-arm quick David Willey.

The first two T-20 Internationals will be played in Cardiff followed by the third game in Southampton.

Sri Lanka

(Probable XI): Danushka Gunathilaka, Avishka Fernando, Kusal Perera (Captain), Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dasun Shanaka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Isuru Udana, Dushmantha Chameera, Nuwan Pradeep, Lakshan Sandakan or Akila Dananjaya.

England

(From) : Eoin Morgan (Captain), Moeen Ali, Jonathan Bairstow, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Liam Dawson, Chris Jordan, Liam Livingstone, Dawid Malan, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, David Willey, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood.

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Nilani to fight for Tokyo ticket as team leave for Patiala

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by Reemus Fernando

A ten member athletics contingent inclusive of country’s highest ranked runner Nilani Ratnayake was schedule to leave for India today with the latter aiming to retain her hard earned berth for Tokyo Olympics at the Interstate Athletics Championship in Patiala.

The Athletics Federation of India is hosting the 60th National Inter State Senior Athletics Championships from June 25-29 to provide Indian athletes with a qualification opportunity for the Tokyo Olympic Games. The June 29th is the last date of the qualifying period for the postponed Tokyo Games. India’s top national athletes had been training in a bio secure bubble in Patiala and Sri Lanka’s athletes too will be competing under same conditions.

The Athletics Federation of India invited their Sri Lankan counterparts to send a team inclusive of a women’s 4×100 metres relay team as they look forward to qualify their women’s 4×100 metres team for the Games. South Asian Games medallist Amasha de Silva will anchor the Sri Lankan team.

The other five members of the team are the highest ranked Sri Lankan athletes closest to Olympic qualifying standards in their respective disciplines but it will be a tough ask for them to improve on their world rankings during the last week of the qualifying period as some of them have slipped down in rankings due to lack of competitions.

Ratnayake, who was the first Sri Lankan to secure a top position in the ‘Road to Olympic Rankings’ has slipped to the 39th position during the last couple of weeks. Her participation in the Tokyo Olympics is under threat. While her counterparts in Europe and elsewhere have quality competitions to improve their rankings, Ratnayake has only the competition in Patiala to retain her position. A win in Patiala will not earn her much points. If she falls below the 45th position in the World Ranking she will lose her ticket to Olympics. However it will be a totally different scenario if she clocks sub nine minutes and 30 seconds which only 28 athletes have achieved so far in the race to Olympics.

Rio Olympic participant Sumedha Ranasinghe who is ranked 46th in the Road to Olympics Rankings has a tough target as he has to climb 14 positions up to secure the Olympic berth in men’s javelin throw. A mighty throw of 85 metres is the only other option.

Nimali Liyanarachchi, 55th in the Road to Olympics Rankings in 800 metres, Nadeesha Ramanayake 57th in the 400 metres and Kalinga Kumarage (400m) have to reach the top 48 if they are to brush shoulders against the world’s best in Tokyo. Analysts consider it as a tough ask for them even if they reach their personal best in India.

Sri Lanka Athletics had earlier intended to send a bigger team to provide competition starved athletes a chance to gain exposure as the air tickets and lodgings of a better part of the team had been taken care of by the hosts. But the team had been pruned after the Sports Ministry advice.

However that has disappointed many top ranked athletes as the missed opportunity will affect their chances of improving the world rankings, which is a must for future events.

Local athletes missed vital opportunities to improve their world rankings when the Asian Athletics Championship, Asian Relay Championship and a number of other international events were cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemic.

Team:

Sumeda Ranasinghe (Javelin), Kalinga Kumarage (400m), Nadeesha Ramanayake (400m), Nimali Liyanarachchi (800m), Nilani Ratnayake (3,000m steeplechase).

4x100metres Relay Team:

Amasha de Silva, Shelinda Jansen, Medhani Jayamanne, Shafiya Yamick, Lakshika Sugandi.

Officials:

Vimukthi Zoysa, Sujith Abeysekara.

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