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Playing five specialist batters, dangerous ploy

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Rex Clementine at Pallekele

Successful Sri Lankan teams of 1990s and 2000s had a straightforward formula for ODI cricket; they played seven batsmen. That was the case even when we had terrific match winners like Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya in the 90s and a decade later in 2000s when we had the luxury of T.M. Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene in the batting order. Sri Lanka are heading into the three match ODI series against Zimbabwe that gets underway today (Sunday) at Pallekele with just five specialist batters. That means, we will have two all-rounders – Dasun Shanaka and Chamika Karunaratne at number six and seven respectively.

This is a dangerous ploy that could backfire after Avishka Fernando and Dhananjaya de Silva two of the team’s premier batsmen had to pull out from the series.

Shanaka told the media that he is ready to accept the challenge at number six. While Shanaka is an excellent leader and should be given the long rope to establish himself, entrusting him to occupy the number six slot is placing too much on his plate. The selectors would have been better off to beef up the batting department especially as batting has been their Achilles’ heel unable to bat out the quota of 50 overs. The team is also thin on experience and a struggling Dinesh Chandimal is their most experienced batter.

People can brush aside our concerns saying that after all it is Zimbabwe. Well, mind you that an unfancied Zimbabwe side humbled Sri Lanka five years ago and Angelo Mathews stepped down as skipper as the tourists recorded a come from behind win at Suriyawewa.

In modern day cricket, there are no dead rubbers and weak teams. Every game matters as qualification for ICC events are based on your performances in every game and if you are not in the safety zone, you will have to play qualifying rounds for premier events. Having already played a qualifying round last year, Sri Lanka will play another this year down under and looks like the trend is going to continue given the team’s poor standings in official ICC Rankings.

It is true that Dasun Shanaka has done wonders with limited resources. Making him to bat at six is not only asking too much but silly as well. There are already questions as to whether he merits a place in the ODI side. One good thing is that he’s got his priorities right. His primary focus remains cricket and not business.

Dasun is such a humble soul that even if a ground boy comes and gives him some ideas, he will listen, ponder and then take a decision.

Number six is a batting position occupied by some of the best finishers the game has seen like Michael Bevan of Australia or our own Hashan Tilakaratne and Russel Arnold. Those are the big shoes that Dasun has to fill apart from holding a young team together.

Slow over rates has been another issue that has haunted successive Sri Lankan teams in the last seven or eight years. Little has been done to address this issue. The other worrisome area is the reviews. Sri Lanka’s reviews have looked impulsive and imprudent in recent times and although our coaches have come up with various theories, very little progress has been made.



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Nestomalt presents sponsorships to marathoners

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Top performers of the National Sports Festival Marathon (front row- from left), W.M.S. Kumara, Muththusami Sivarajan, Thissa Gunasekara, Velu Krishanthini, Madhushani Herath and Samanthika Dilhani pose with officials after they received Nestomalt sponsorships. Officials in the back row are (from left) Madura Perera (Coach), Amal Edirisooriya (Director General – Department of Sports), Anuradha Wijekoon (Secretary – Ministry of Youth and Sports), Ruwan Welikala (Vice President, Ambient Dairy – Nestlé Lanka PLC), Sugath Sajeewa (Senior Manager, Sponsorships and Activations – Nestlé Lanka PLC) and Sajith Jayalal (Director – National Institute of Sports Science).

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.

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Let Test cricketers develop

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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.

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Naseem, bowlers take Pakistan to series win against Sri Lanka

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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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