by Rex Clementine
Schoolboy Matheesha Pathirana has become the talk of the town after his new ball burst in the SLC T-20 League that concluded at Pallekele this week. For bowling with a slingy action, Pathirana has been nicknamed Podi Malinga as his action is identical to that of Sri Lankan fast bowler Lasith Malinga.
Still a schoolboy at Trinity College, Pathirana represented Sri Lanka in the Under-19 World Cup last year at the age of 17. Currently, he is 18 and eligible to play the next World Cup as well and he has been included in the pool.
In the recent T-20 League at Pallekele, SLC Greys had maintained an unbeaten run throughout the league stage and for the final, Head Coach and former Sri Lanka cricketer Upul Chandana decided to throw Pathirana in the deep end. It was a gamble. But young Pathirana came off with flying colours.
Usually playing a final against the big boys, it could add pressure to a teenager but Pathirana had been given license by coach Chandana and captain Dasun Shanaka to go out all guns blazing and he gave his team a superb start.
First, he dismissed danger man Avishka Fernando as the opener was dismissed in the third over of the innings. SLC Reds promoted Seekkuge Prasanna to do some pinch-hitting but that backfired as Pathirana in his next over accounted for the experienced Prasanna and Reds never recovered. Pathirana had derailed Reds’ run chase.
Despite being still at school, Pathirana has been in high demand. In February this year, he had international exposure playing in the T-10 League in UAE and was the youngster player in the competition again in the SLC T-20 League.
Pathirana started his cricket at Ranabima Royal and then Trinity offered him a scholarship for the Under-17 season. He has not looked back since then knocking off batsmen with his raw pace and unusual action. Like Malinga in the good old days, most of Pathirana’s dismissals are either bowled or trapped leg before wicket.
Pathirana is a quick learner. Already he is deceiving batsmen with slower balls, yorkers, wide yorkers, and short balls. Although he is young, several batsmen who played in the tournament seem to have conceded that he is a headache. It certainly is a good headache to have given our recent struggles.
Pathirana is of course not the finished product. There are few concerns about how he lands his foot and his follow-through but he has got time to iron out these deficiencies moving forward.
SLC’s coaches were excellent with the way they managed Lasith Malinga. They had identified him as a 17-year-old. They nurtured him so well for three years before letting him loose against the Aussies in 2004 and he was a terror. Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden , and the rest were struggling. Malinga became an icon from thereon.
All in all, the T-20 League in Kandy was very much the need of the hour. It helped us to identify many young players with potential. Podi Malinga was one of them.
Royal-Thomian continues uninterrupted
142nd Battle of the Blues
by Reemus Fernando
The fact that the historic Battle of the Blues had been played uninterruptedly even during the two World Wars and local insurgencies is something that ‘Royal-Thomian’ enthusiasts cherish so dearly. That uninterrupted status of the annual encounter will be intact when S. Thomas’ under the captaincy of Shalin de Mel and Royal skippered by the former Sri Lanka Under-19 player Ahan Wickramasinghe enter the SSC ground for the 142nd edition of the Big Match today.
After the inaugural match was played in 1880, it is the first time the match is played in October as the organizers had to postpone the event twice (May and September) this year due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Except the Royal-Thomian only one other Big Match had been played this year.
With no match exposure during recent months, and some players barely having played matches of innings format, analysts believe that only a special batting effort could make the encounter last for three days if the weather permits. Except the three Sri Lanka Under-19 players who were involved in the just concluded series against Bangladesh, other players have not taken part in matches during recent months due to lockdowns and pandemic related restrictions.
Even the Sri Lanka Under-19 players, namely Ryan Fernando and Yasiru Rodrigo from S. Thomas’ and Sadisha Rajapaksha from Royal competed only in two to three Limited Overs matches during the series concluded on Monday. However, nearly a month-long training camp where they also played practice games is going to stand in good stead for the trio. Both teams played a few traditional matches early this year but those statistics will not make it easy assessing the true strengths of the two teams.
The Thomians are fielding one of the youngest teams in recent history. There are as many as seven freshers lining up with the four colursmen against a team that have as many as six players from the last Big Match and three others who played First XI cricket last season. According to S. Thomas’ coach Dinesh Kumarasinghe, “the present Thomian outfit is the youngest team since 1999.” Some of them have played only in an Under-15 tournament. That too in the year 2019.
The Thomians will heavily rely on skipper De Mel, Sri Lanka Under 19 duo Fernando and Rodrigo, and Caniston Gunarathnam who all played in the last Big Match. Apart from them batting opener Anuk Palihawadana was the only batsman who was among runs during the few traditional matches they played early this year.
Left armer Rodrigo will spearhead the bowling attack with Caniston Gunarathnam with Nethan Caldera providing additional pace options. Offies Palihawadena and Thenuka Liyanage and leg spinner Rajindu Tilakaratne will brace the spin department.
On paper, Royal are the formidable team with the entire batting line up having played First XI cricket for more than two seasons. Skipper Wickramasinghe maintained an average over 85 runs during their traditional matches early this year. Kavindu Pathiratne, Isiwara Dissanayake, Sadisha Rajapaksha and Dasis Manchanayake who excelled at the last Big Match are reliable batsmen.
Kavindu Pathiratne will lead the bowling attack with fellow pacemen Dan Poddiwela and Sonal Amarasekara, while left arm spinner Balasuriya will be joined by Prashan Silva to make strong the spin department.
The match will be played behind closed doors. Organisers said in a statement yesterday that only the sponsor’s media arm will be permitted to cover the match. (Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)
Ahan Wickramsinghe (Captain), Kavindu Pathiratne (V. Capt.), Prashan Silva, Isiwara Dissanayake, Gishan Balasuriya, Sadisha Rajapaksha, Dasis Manchanayake, Sonal Amarasekara, Sehan Herath, Sineth Jayawardena, Dan Poddiwela.
Shalin De Mel (Captain), Ryan Fernando (V. Capt.), Yasiru Rodrigo, Caniston Gunarathnam, Anuk Palihawadena, Romesh Mendis, Nathan Caldera, Thenuka Liyanage, Mahith Perera, Rajindu Tilakaratne, Senesh Hettiarachchi.
Can Gollings reverse Sri Lanka’s rugby fortunes?
by a special sports correspondent
Sri Lanka’s rugby players and fans received inspiring news days ago with the sport’s governing body Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) appointing England rugby union star Ben Gollings as Rugby Director to oversee preparations of the national men’s and women’s squads for the upcoming Asian Sevens Series.
Gollings perhaps knows too well that this cricket crazy nation also has a similar passion for rugby union; especially the abbreviated form of the sport.
Gollings is no stranger to the Sri Lanka rugby scene having had a coaching stint back in the island in 2012. The island’s rugby squads are often loaded with ‘steppers’ (fast runners) when the best players from all the clubs are drafted into the national pool. But this time around the players from Kandy SC and CR&FC will not be considered for selection because these two clubs decided to refrain from contesting the upcoming domestic sevens tournament; participation at the event serving as the criterion for players to be drafted into the national pool.
Strangely Sri Lanka doesn’t know where its priorities are and has been focusing on the 15-a-side version of the sport despite the little success in that form in the international rugby scene.
The rugby clubs that own the players are more focused on the marathon league tournament which absorbs much of the resources and the valuable time the players give to the sport. Speculation is rife that both Kandy SC and CR & FC didn’t see it wise to expose its players to international rugby unprepared and invite injuries to players. Sri Lanka needs an accomplished coach out there in the middle who can lift the islanders’ game to the next level and slowly take the players out of the Covid mentality they are trapped in. Even Gollings had mentioned at a press conference held on Monday that “as sports personalities you won’t forget how to play the game. My responsibility is to boost their confidence and give them the platform to express themselves and accelerate.”
SLR has released its calendar and plans to have two domestic sevens tournaments; the first in January (15-16) and the second in June (17-18).
SLR must stick to plans and drive forward because a sport like rugby union will always attract sponsors. Rugby in Sri Lanka was a little late to start compared to other disciplines. And a star in the calibre of Gollings landing in Sri Lanka goes on to suggest that there is potential for the sport to grow over here. That growth- in the long-run-is possible with a programme under the rugby controlling body; which has the supreme authority to select a side that can represent Sri Lanka in the international scene.
There were rugby officials in the past who tried to shift the focus from club rugby to national rugby, but often they ran into heavy opposition. Clubs in Sri Lanka only cooperate with SLR if events in the calendar are spaced out and players have enough time to recover.
Many years ago, this writer read an article in a foreign magazine which gave a strong message on sport and its people. It was stated there that if one studies a national team in attendance and finds the players disorganised and neglected then most likely the same situation exists with the country’s government and how the latter treats its people.
Right now, the focus is on rugby sevens and on the upcoming ‘Warriors Sevens’ tournament which will serve as the trial to select the men’s national team for the Asian Sevens Series. And given the way rugby was struggling to get its activities off the ground, one noticed the sport’s controlling body being detached from the sports minster or the Minister of Sports distancing himself from rugby officials despite the sports minister himself being a former national rugby player.
In this fiercely personalised era where everyone takes care of himself or herself whether in sport or other form of employment SLR must seriously think of player remuneration during training for national assignments. In the past the state didn’t have that professional thinking nor the clout to turn the players into national assets. Even now the players remain properties of private clubs; just like some of the best players in the world out there. But the difference is that players in other countries have that deeper understanding about representing the country and the notion of taking responsibility is embedded into their psyche from a young age. This is not the case in Sri Lanka. Just rewind the clock and see how many Sri Lankan sportsmen and officials decamped on their return from overseas after a tournament concluded. Luckily, we haven’t seen that in the annals of Sri Lanka rugby as yet.
Coming back to the players, Minister Namal Rajapaksa has the clout and the connections to get the players to think of a national assignment if that be the need of the hour. SLR President Rizly Illyas is a person who has grown old in the sport and is perhaps the ideal person to be in charge of rugby over here because a personality of that vintage is absolutely necessary when ambitious youngsters demand too much too soon and need to be put in their places. It’s a commonly asked question whether the sports minister and the SLR ‘big boss’ are at loggerheads and find it hard to map out a way ‘to agree to disagree’ and move on with the sport.
Rugby produces some of the fiercest battles out there on the pitch and the sport teaches you how to cherish the moments in the game and nurture friendships when you socialize after a match. This lesson must never be forgotten!
Asalanka wants to win more games for Sri Lanka
Rex Clementine in Dubai
Sri Lanka are enjoying a brilliant wave of success having won five games in a row now in the ICC T-20 World Cup. While their bowling has looked formidable, batting has been brittle and it needed a stunning unbeaten 80 from Charith Asalanka for them to overcome Bangladesh. Asalanka, a two time Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year and a former Sri Lanka Under-19 captain has been earmarked for great things and the first signs of a star in the making were on show on Sunday during his stunning knock.
The country is not short of cricketing talent. Kusal Mendis has been the brightest young talent to emerge in recent times but unfortunately young players lose track. Asalanka is someone who has got a good head above his shoulders and there are signs that he is a captain in the making.
“Very pleased that I was able to win a game for Sri Lanka and I am looking forward to win lot more. I was not in the best of form during the home South Africa series and missed the warm-up games here. I was able to mentally prepare for the game during that time and worked with the coaches a lot and there was lot of input from Mahela as well,” Asalanka told journalists.
Providing him good support was Bhanuka Rajapaksa with whom he added 86 runs for the fifth wicket after the top order had collapsed.
“We all know that Bhanuka is an attacking batsman. No matter what the situation of the game is, he will attack. There was a short boundary on one side of the wicket so we wanted to target that and it worked,” Asalanka explained.
“We had done a lot of analysis as to which bowler to target and stuff. The other thing is that in all venues one side of the boundary is short so there was no harm in taking on even their best bowler.”
Sri Lanka will take on Australia today in Dubai and Asalanka said that a lot of planning has gone in ahead of the game. “We have a plan for each of the 11 Australian players. We kept out one day and did the planning against them. Australia is completely different from Bangladesh. Their strength is pace. We have done a lot of training accordingly and looking forward to it,” Asalanka explained.
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