By A Special Sports Correspondent
Tennis coach Niranjan Cassie Chetty is a versatile personality. When he is not into coaching he is an avid reader and enjoys music. And above all what’s interesting about this man is that one can have an interesting chat with him because his interests in life and sport spread far and wide.
We know little about the people who contribute to players from ‘behind the curtain’. Niranjan is a coach who shuns the limelight and prefers his chargers to bask in the glory of success and take home the silverware and decorate their trophy cupboards.
This year he produced two national singles champions-Yasitha De Silva (Men’s Singles winner) and Anjalika Kurera (Women’s Singles winner). These feats were recorded at the 106th Tennis Nationals worked off recently.
During an interview Niranjan had with ‘The Island’ newspaper he spoke about the importance of balancing both studies and sport in a country like Sri Lanka. This he said is important because in Sri Lankan school and university players don’t get any aid as concessions where classroom education is concerned. He cited Yasitha De Silva’s journey in tennis and said that the champion had a hard time balancing his studies and the sport and before emerging as the national champion and also completing his degree at the Colombo University.
“In other countries players at university can attend training in the mornings and then do some home studies where education is concerned. This helps immensely when players are training for international competitions and training is demanding,” said Niranjan who had played competitive tennis during his young days.
Niranjan opined that it would be ideal for the Sri Lanka Tennis Association, Sports Ministry and the Education Ministry to come together and have an arrangement for the national tennis players so that they can pursue education in a flexible manner which doesn’t hinder their training.
Niranjan advises strongly against taking a break for studies because staying away from tennis for a year or so can really jeopardize a career. “When you are around 16 years of age players are forced out of the tennis court due to academic commitments and this can be costly in terms of seeing a drop in performance. After age 16 players start their A Levels and some move on to university and this reduces time spent on the court which eventually causes a drop in volume in the players,” he explained. His advice is to not take that break from the game and move to another level where individual capacity is concerned; regarding handling studies and sport. “They have to study and maintain their game as well” he underscored.
He rues the fact that the game was severely affected by the pandemic when the entire world experienced Corona. “But I think the Sri Lanka Tennis Association (SLTA) managed the difficult time well and we were able to have some tennis and even take part in international competitions. The SLTA allowed three players and one coach in the court in 2020 during training. I downloaded some training apps and we were able to retain the condition of players to a certain extent. But overall it was an opportunity lost,” he said.
As a coach he is concerned about the country losing talented players after age 16 to education. This leaves Sri Lanka with no other option, but to play junior players at the Davis Cup; where Sri Lanka is at present playing in Group 4. There have been occasions where Sri Lanka has contested this event in the Group 3 and even Group 2, but for that challenge the best senior players must make themselves available.
Just the other day Singles champion Yasitha De Silva was quoted during an interview with a daily newspaper recently saying that he would face a tough challenge in the future when retaining his slot as current champion because he would be playing against young schoolboys who are full time players. Does this go on to state that the present national champion is a part-time tennis player?
Niranjan is of the opinion that Sri Lanka’s players must consider playing abroad in events organised by their academies because this arrangement guarantees players would remain active during the tour period and get to play sufficient tennis whereas in a tournament one runs the risk of getting knocked out and being a spectator thereon-wards. But this he said was only till the country is able to once again retain the senior players in the game. And if this is done, it would guarantee Sri Lanka’s chances in overseas competitions. He said players from Sri Lanka have the habit of playing in academy events in countries like India and Spain.
He hailed the efforts of the tennis authorities to have tournaments and conduct tennis events in the outstations. But he added that the tennis hub is in Colombo and the tennis fraternity was a small community. “I think I stuck on with the sport because I started young and there was a culture supporting the players in the game from my time. I can remember my parents listening to commentaries through the radio when Wimbledon matches were on and that kind of culture generates a lot interest for tennis,” recalled Niranjan.
Coaches like Niranjan have a lot to offer to the sport and it will augur for tennis’ future if they are offered a platform to speak from and positively influence the sport.
Nestomalt presents sponsorships to marathoners
Nestlé Lanka’s flagship brand, ‘Nestomalt’ presented sponsorships to six national marathon champions at an event held recently. As a brand that has inspired many Sri Lankan athletes, Nestomalt offered financial assistance, athletic training kits and a year’s supply of Nestomalt to help power the winners of the marathon race at the 46th National Sports Festival held in March 2021.
Let Test cricketers develop
by Rex Clementine
After half a decade of struggle in white-ball cricket, the national cricket team is gradually showing signs of coming out from the slump and they should be a force to be reckoned with at this year’s T-20 World Cup in Australia. The IPL allowed several Sri Lankans to showcase their skills and leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga was the biggest draw. He is Sri Lanka’s best hope when they take on Australia in the upcoming series.
There are several other players who have benefited from the IPL stint like Dushmantha Chameera, Maheesh Theekshana, Matheesha Pathirana, and Chamika Karunaratne. It’s pretty certain that they will form the nucleus of the bowling attack as Sri Lanka will be using the series as preparation for the Asia Cup and the World Cup that is to be followed. The bowling in white-ball cricket looks settled and a lot of credit should go to former coach Mickey Arthur who through some tough times built up a competitive unit.
The same cannot be said of the Test team as they struggled to claim 20 wickets in the Test series against Bangladesh. Kasun Rajitha returning to the side from injury looked a class apart and an improved bowler but spin bowling was disappointing. Leave alone claiming wickets, the spinners were not able to keep things tight, create pressure and then pick up wickets. They offered too many hit me balls.
There are issues with the spin bowling department in Test match cricket and the only way you are going to address the issue is by backing the guys whom you have trusted. Ramesh Mendis and Praveen Jayawickrama had quite a bit of success at home in their short careers but overseas they have struggled.
Usually what we have done is when one set of players do well in one format we take them and let them play in a different format. That doesn’t unfortunately work that way in cricket as young players need to develop temperament to succeed in other formats. As a result, players lose their bearings. It has happened with so many of them and eventually, they are dropped from the format they are really good at.
Oshada Fernando is a case in point. Barely known to many when he was picked to play the Test series in South Africa in 2019, he came up with some solid efforts against an attack that comprised Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada. His efforts helped Sri Lanka win a Test series in South Africa. A classical Test match number three batsman he should have been allowed to play Test matches alone. But he was rushed into the white-ball teams and he was like a fish out of the water.
Oshada is the type of player who will take his time, show patience in abundance, and rarely plays a rash stroke. But suddenly pushed into the T-20 side, he was trying to manufacture shots and as a result cut a sorry figure. Angered by his failure in the T-20 side, he was axed from the Test team too.
Oshada went back to domestic cricket, scored heaps of runs, and made a comeback to the Test side in Bangladesh and did reasonably well. But you do get the feeling that the rashness of the T-20 format is still there in him. Not many players adjust to the formats so quickly unless you are a Sanath Jayasuriya.
So let Test match players develop. We have enough stocks in white-ball format and therefore Praveen Jayawickrama and Ramesh Mendis should only concentrate on red-ball cricket. But selectors rarely agree with those rational thinking. They play by a different set of rules.
We also have the classic example of Lahiru Kumara. He broke down in the middle of the Mohali Test match in March. He has not played any domestic cricket since then and he is in the preliminary squad for all three formats against Australia. First of all, Lahiru Kumara is no Richard Hadlee and then, this bloke has serious fitness issues that need to be addressed.
Every time Kumara plays a Test match, be it Gabba 2019, Centurion 2020, Pallekele 2021, or Mohali 2022, he broke down during the game and it was a massive blow for the team. But we never seem to learn our lessons. Let him go through proper Firsts Class cricket; prove his fitness over four days before being brought into the longer format. Rational thinking is very much needed as arrogance is going to cost us dearly.
Naseem, bowlers take Pakistan to series win against Sri Lanka
Pakistan survived an early wobble with the bat to ease to a seven-wicket victory over Sri Lanka, wrapping up a series win with a game to spare. In a game that almost felt like a carbon copy of the first, Sri Lanka won the toss and batted first, only for a tight, disciplined bowling performance from the hosts, limiting them to a sub-par 102. Just like the first game, there was a touch of circumspection about Pakistan’s chase to begin with, losing three early wickets. But a classy partnership between Ayesha Naseem and Bismah Maroof took control of the proceedings, their unbeaten stand yielding 70 runs off 58 balls, and a game that looked like it would get bogged down finished in a hurry.
As in the first game, Sri Lanka lacked intent at the start, and Pakistan were all over them in the powerplay. The first five overs saw just 14 runs scored, and Anam Amin removed Chamari Athapaththu once more. Nida Dar struck soon after to dismiss Oshadi Ranasinghe, leaving Sri Lanka to try and regroup while they were well behind the asking rate.
Last match’s star Tuba Hassan was responsible for the removal of Sri Lanka’s top scorer Hasini Perera, and was the pick of the bowlers once more, allowing just 13 runs in her four overs. As each of the Pakistan bowlers chipped in with a wicket, the Sri Lankan batting began to fall away. In a somewhat insipid, uninspiring innings, the visitors stumbled to 102.
Pakistan lost Gull Feroza early, thanks to a sensational diving catch from Nilakshi De Silva, and for a while, it looked like that might charge Sri Lanka to a spirited defence of a low total. Muneeba Ali, who wasn’t quite able to find her timing, fell trying to sweep Inoka Ranaweera to fine leg, and soon after, the belligerent Iram Javed got a leading edge of Ranasinghe, leaving Pakistan tottering at 34 for 3. The asking rate, too, had begun to flirt with a run a ball, meaning Maroof and Naseem, two new batters, had significant pressure on their shoulders.
They, too, began with caution, aware that taking the game deep would only help the hosts. Once they got their eye in, the pair seemed to have set defined roles for themselves, with Maroof taking a back seat while Naseem took the attack to Sri Lanka. It was after the 15th over that Pakistan really began to move through the gears, a stunning back-foot six by Naseem setting the tone for what was to come. Sloppiness crept into the Sri Lankans’ game, too, epitomised by five careless overthrow runs that brought Pakistan to within ten runs of victory.
The win was sealed with an aerial slap off Ranasinghe by Naseem that landed just inside the rope as she finished with an unbeaten 45 off 31 balls, with the last 28 runs coming off just ten balls. The result means Pakistan have the chance to seal a clean sweep when the sides meet again for the final T20 on Saturday.
Brief scores: Sri Lanka Women 102 for 6 (Hasini Perera 35, Tuba Hassan 1-13) lost to Pakistan Women 104 for 3 (Ayesha Naseem 45*, Bismah Maroof 22*, Achini Kulasuriya 1-11) by seven wickets
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