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Preview: Bledisloe Cup

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

The annual Bledisloe Cup matches between the NZ All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies start on Saturday the 8th of August in Eden Park. Two games in Eden Park this year and one in Perth. Eden Park they say is the bastion of the New Zealanders a line of thinking that I don’t subscribe to. When a superior team comes to Eden Park they win, and it has little to do with the mysticism created by overly dramatic scribes! Hauling the All Blacks from a single-digit winter to the sub-tropical climes of Perth however will most likely result in a token victory for the Wallabies, badly needed to bolster a flagging fan base, in the light of the depths to which Australian rugby has fallen in recent times.

Great decisions by the All-Black selectors. The captaincy very deservedly given to Sam White lock in the absence due to the injury of Sam Cane. A fantastic midfield with Anton Lennert-Brown exactly where he should be and ably supported by David Havili. Final acknowledgment that Riekko Ioane is not a center and will do a much better job on the wing. Albeit grudging acknowledgment as he will no doubt make many forays into the midfield from his slot in no 11 but hopefully to simply use his speed and not his non-existent passing or decision-making skills! No Barrett’s in the starting lineup a huge call but how can one overlook the silky skills of Ritchie Mo’uanga and the fact that he put the hard yards in during the domestic season in Aotearoa – NZ. “Clutch” McKenzie probably playing for his kicking skills to supplement Mo’uanga whose only weakness seems to be in this area, because his diminutive size as the last line of defence may be questionable. Jordie Barret with his booming kicks to touch and 6’7″ frame is a surprising omission from the starting line-up as full-back. There is some talk however among the pundits of the game that Jordie doesn’t fit the role, another theory that I find hard to subscribe to. Brodie Retallick who seemed to have got a bit soft by playing in Japan, in the second row to join his old mate and captain maybe a 50 – 50 selection as against Scott Barret (who captained the Canterbury Crusaders and played the entire local tournament) but then that is what battle-hardened combinations and the mate ship derived from them is all about.

An incredible bench for the ABs with 3 Barret’s, Dane Coles, and Brad Webber waiting to create havoc in the Wallaby ranks in the last quarter of the game. The Wallabies suffering a major setback with their star winger Marika Koroibete suspended from the game for a late-night drinking session. An already green team full of rookies will definitely miss one of the best wingers in the business.

Writing the Aussies off is always a mistake as breaking the All-Blacks rhythm and spoiling their moves has resulted in the Argentinians and the Brits winning in the recent past. The power of the off-field referee to change the course of the game has also been made very apparent to the detriment of the game. The Wallabies have a Kiwi coach and nothing to lose, a combination not to be scoffed at. Forget the hype about the venue and look forward to some top-class Southern Hemisphere Rugby!



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India downgrading Sri Lanka for two Tests; a wake-up call

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Indian cricket chief Sourav Ganguly with his favourite newspaper during a tour of Sri Lanka when he was the captain of the Indian team.

by Rex Clementine

The Board of Control for Cricket in India announced their home fixtures for next year and Sri Lanka have been slotted in for a Test series. However, unlike three Tests that has been customary between the countries, this time around, India has reduced the series for just two Test matches.

Accordingly, Sri Lanka will play in Bangalore and Mohali early next year, the first time they will play in a southern state since 2005.

Interestingly, it seems that the big three – India, Australia and England – are now content in hosting Sri Lanka for two Tests only although all three nations have hosted the team for three Tests overs the years.

England and Australia, the founder members of the ICC, restricting Sri Lanka for two Tests is understandable but India’s stance will be a bitter pill to swallow for traditionally they have been Sri Lanka’s strongest ally.

It can be easily pinned down to Big Three wanting to engage in more games between them. This year alone, England and India have played eight Test matches (four in India and four in England) and a ninth Test in Manchester was cancelled due to fears of outbreak of COVID.

However, the fact that Sri Lanka have own problems to sort out cannot be ignored as the standard of our cricket has downgraded rapidly

The last time Sri Lanka beat one of the Big Three was back in 2016, against Australia. Since then, they have lost five Tests to England, four Tests to India and two to the Aussies. Into the bargain, both India and England have handed Sri Lanka 3-0 whitewashes in our own backyard.

There are few ways for Sri Lanka to win back the recognition and their dues. One of that is by improving their rankings. Currently, Sri Lanka are ranked eighth in Test match cricket while none of their players; batsmen, bowlers or all-rounders are ranked among the top ten. Basically, that sums up the story and status of our cricket.

India has been a huge pillar of strength over the years, bailing out Sri Lanka Cricket umpteen times. Whenever there has been a financial crunch at Maitland Place, it is not Dubai, Lord’s or Jolimont Street that our cricket bosses dial up but Bombay.

India have never said no and their tours have brought in millions in foreign exchange that help SLC to invest on the game.

In recent times however, instead of sending their full strength sides, India have sent their back up players; like when they won the Nidahas Trophy in 2018, a tournament in which Sri Lanka didn’t even reach the finals. Then, again early this year when Rahul Dravid magnanimously continued the series scratching the barrel when the Indian bubble was compromised and several players were down with COVID. Incidentally, India was fielding two teams at the same time. While Virat Kohli was leading their Test side in UK, Shikhar Dhawan was in Colombo skippering the white ball team.

India’s second string teams beating full strength Sri Lankan sides is no good sign and we have only ourselves to blame.

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Jadeja stars in CSK’s sensational last-ball win over KKR

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In a game full of twists and turns, Ravindra Jadeja’s sensational finish helped Chennai Super Kings beat Kolkata Knight Riders by two wickets. CSK chased down 171 on the last ball with Jadeja smashing 22 off 8 before falling on the penultimate delivery. CSK picked up their eighth win and also took the top spot away from Delhi Capitals.

Good start. Bad progress.

KKR, having opted to bat, made a scratchy beginning. Shubman Gill struck two consecutive boundaries against Deepak Chahar, overturned an lbw call with the help of DRS but was eventually run out. Venkatesh Iyer couldn’t really find the rhythm he had in the last two matches and made just 18. KKR had 50 in the opening five overs and had lost just one wicket. In the next five, they scored only 28 for 2 as Shardul Thakur dismissed Iyer in the sixth. Eoin Morgan fell in the tenth as KKR slipped to 78 for 3.

Rana builds, Karthik finishes

While other batsmen failed to get going, it was Rahul Tripathi’s assault that kept the scoreboard moving for KKR. He struck 45 off 33 but had his share of luck. He was caught behind trying to upper-cut a Sam Curran bouncer. The umpires deemed the pacer had delivered his second bouncer of the over and signalled a no ball. Tripathi fell in the 13th with 89 on the board. The stage was set for Andre Russell but the slow nature of the track didn’t allow the allrounder the pace he needed. Russell did strike two boundaries and a six but fell for 20 off 15.

At one stage, Nitish Rana was batting on 22 off 21. KKR needed a move on and it came from Dinesh Karthik. In the 19th, Karthik struck 19 against Curran to lift the side past 150. Rana finished strong and ended with unbeaten 37 off 27.

CSK’s solid start

At the 10-over mark, batting coach David Hussey felt 170 was going to be a winning score. Ruturaj Gaikwad (40 off 28) and Faf du Plessis (43 off 30) made 74 in 8.2 overs. The plan was clear as they not only took on the pacers but also put pressure on Varun Chakaravarthy (4 overs, eight dots, 22 runs and one wicket) in the first over. The spinner was struck for two boundaries by du Plessis and leaked nine in the over. Sunil Narine’s first two overs too proved to be expensive with 25 runs.

Chakaravarthy gave five in his second – the eighth of the innings – and that out pressure on the openers to keep going at a sustained higher pace. Gaikwad fell in the ninth – to Russell – but CSK eased past 100 in the 12th. Du Plessis fell in the 12th to Lockie Ferguson but Moeen Ali’s brisk start ensured CSK continued to stay ahead.

The KKR choke and Jadeja’s grand finish

Narine continued to be expensive but dismissed Ambati Rayudu in the 15th to start CSK’s wobble. Iyer too did a great job as he gave away just five in the 16th. CSK needed 40 off 24 and lost Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni from there on. That was the only joy for KKR as Ravindra Jadeja turned things around in grand style in the penultimate over.

Prasidh Krishan crumbled under pressure 6, 6, 4, and 4 to leave CSK needing 4 off 6. The drama, though, didn’t end there. Narine dismissed Curran and Jadeja before Deepak Chahar got the one run needed for the win on the last ball. (cricbuzz)

Brief scores:

Kolkata Knight Riders 171/6 in 20 overs (Rahul Tripathi 45; Shardul Thakur 2-20) Chennai Super Kings 172/8 in 20 overs (Faf du Plessis 43; Sunil Narine 3-41).

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Sajeewa wins bronze at the World Military Boxing Championships  

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Sri Lanka’s leading light fly weight (49kg) pugilist Sajeewa Nuwan Kumara of the Army lived up to his promise to deliver on the international stage by winning a bronze medal at the 58th World Military Boxing Championships in Russia. Armed with sound technique, the 29-year-old Lance Corporal has been almost unbeatable at home but has been found wanting against international opposition even failing to win a medal at the 2019 South Asian Games in Kathmandu. However, the two-time national champion who has carried away the Best Boxer awards in all three major local meets – Layton Cup, Clifford Cup and the Nationals – in the recent past, dispelled any doubts that he lacked the temperament to perform on the big stage when he fought the fight of his life to beat Mozambique’s Yassine Nordine Issufo in the quarter-final.

Sajeewa Nuwan dominated the opening round out-boxing and outscoring the southpaw and displaying quicksilver footwork to slip away when his opponent attacked. However, he changed tactics in the next two rounds fighting toe-to-toe and aggressively with tenacity against his tough adversary. It turned out to be a scrappy affair with the referee having to break them from clinching often. Nonetheless, the Sri Lankan soldier landed enough scoring blows especially solid rights to earn a split decision. Sajeewa lost to Leanderso Conceicao Siqueira of Brazil in the semifinals.

Army’s Ishan Bandara who has displayed indifferent form since winning a bronze medal at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, showed that he is not a spent force when he advanced to the quarter-finals in the fly weight (52kg) category defeating Pakistan’s Muhammad Dawood with the bout being stopped in the third round because of an injury. Up against a southpaw Damir Abdikadir from Kazakhstan who stopped Aliaksandr Butrym of Belarus, Bandara gave another good account of himself though the volume of punches he threw was less. The Kazak fighter craftily maintained his distance to outbox Bandara who attempted to stun his opponent with solid rights. Bandara did finish strongly being on target in the final round but it was too little too late, missing out on a podium finish.

Sri Lanka were also assured of another bronze medal when Gayani Nisansala competed in the semifinals of the middle weight (75kg) category against Viktoriya Kebikava of Belarus.

The rest of the 15-member strong Sri Lanka team were eliminated in the preliminaries with leading woman pugilist Sajeewani Cooray failing to go the distance against France’s LoryeRuyer in the light weight (57kg) contest.

Fly weight boxer Sanduni Priyadarshani was outpointed by world champion Ekateria Paltseva of Russia while Barbara dos Santos from Brazil had a fast victory over Kashmi Thiwanka in the first round of 69kg contest. The other Sri Lankan boxers lost unanimous decisions to fighters from Jordan, Kazakshtan and Iran.

Boxing Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) president Dian Gomes was buoyed by the medal winning effort of Sajeewa Nuwan.”We have three bronze medals from the recent past. Nadeeka Ranasinghe at the Asian Championships in Dubai and Sajeewa Nuwan Kumara and Saduni Kaluarachchi at the World Military Championship, proving yet again that boxing has the potential to win medals in the international arena,” said Gomes.

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