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Rajive’s Big Match – A skipper’s recollections after 50 years

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St. Joseph’s Team Standing from left: K. Jansen, T. Gunawardene, S. Dep, C. Fonseka, R. de S. Wijeyeratne, R. De Silva, L. Jayasinghe, T. de S. Wijeyeratne, N. Wijewickrema, R. Martin, C. Sebastian. Seated from left: A. Johnpillai, Fairlie Dalpathado (Coach), Rohan Fernando (Captain), Rev. Fr. Mervyn Weerakkody (Rector), Gary Melder (Vice-Captain), Angelo Rayer (Master in Charge), R. Benedict.

The 38th Battle of the Saint’s between St. Joseph’s College and St. Peter’s College was played on the 17 and 18 of March 1972 (50 years ago) at the Colombo Oval. I was the captain of the St. Joseph’s team whilst the great Roy Dias led the Peterite team. Both sides were evenly balanced although it was reported that St. Joseph’s had the edge as we had won more games during the season.

My team was naturally confident although the Big Match was always treated with respect as the Peterites were never to be underestimated. Our team had no stars as our affable coach Mr. Dalpathado would say except perhaps Gary Melder whilst the stylish Roy Dias was at his peak, and much was expected of him. The team was confident, yet big match jitters seemed to bother the boys.

The 17th of March dawned and St Joseph’s won the toss and put St. Peter’s into bat, and they were bowled out for 112 runs in their first innings. Rajive Benedict took two wickets, whilst Rohan de S. Wijeratne had the best figures of 4-34 and paceman Chandana Fonseka took three wickets. St Joseph’s got off to a good start but later slowed down to be 127 for one at close on day one. There were mixed feelings after the first day’s play including some criticism towards me for a slow innings.

One newspaper headline read “St Joseph’s well away but a decision unlikely.” Another headline said, “An early declaration is vital.”  Whilst yet another said “Josephians in commanding position.”  However, none of us dreamed of what was to take place on that historic second day.

St Joseph’s continued the innings from the first day and declared at 235 for seven wickets at the milk interval on day two. Gary Melder scored a quick fire 50 runs, whilst Rohan Martin made 36 and I scored 73 runs.

St. Peter’s went into bat soon after the milk interval, and what took place could only be described as a miracle. Rajive Benedict who once again opened the attack was simply unplayable and ripped through the Peterite batting, recording the remarkable figures of eight wickets for six runs and the Peterites were bowled out for a paltry 36 runs. This was the lowest ever total in the history of the Joe-Pete series. Roy Dias was fortunately out cheaply, caught behind by Rohan Martin off the bowling of Paceman Chandana Fonseka. How I thanked my lucky stars that Rajive and I were on the same side. The match was over before the tea break, much to the annoyance of some of the Josephian supporters who had to cut short their revelry.

Hence it is nostalgic to re-live that memorable victory exactly after 50 years.

The architect of that great victory was left arm paceman Rajive Benedict who not only had the remarkable figures of eight wickets for six runs in the Peterite second innings but ended up with a match bag of 10 for 24 in this match. I recall with affection my teammates, coach and Master in Charge of that memorable year. Mr. Dalpathado the coach was a father figure and a shrewd tactician ably supported by Mr. Angelo Rayer who was the Master in charge. He could read the game better than most coaches at that time. He is now 80 years young.

I also fondly recall three of my teammates who have moved on to heavenly shores, Gary Melder my vice-captain, off spinner Ranjan de Silva, our scorer Sunimal de S Wijeratne and our great coach Mr. Dalpathado. Many of my teammates are overseas, namely, Rajive Benedict, Keith Jansen and Cecil Sebastian are in Canada, whilst Sirimath Dep the all-rounder is in Australia and Chandana Fonseka is in Dubai.  Rohan Martin my opening partner and wicket keeper, Ajith Johnpillai the hard hitter, all-rounder Rohan de S Wijeratne, middle order bat Turlough de S Wijeratne, opening bat and wicket keeper Tony Goonewardene, off spinner Lalith Jayasinghe and the brilliant fielder Nihal Wijewickrema are in Sri Lanka and so is our cheer leader Rohan Wijesooriya, who was an integral part of the team.

The Peterite team too had some fine players, in of course Roy Dias, Lalith Obeysekera, Bernard Wijetunge, Edgar Tavaryan, Mohan Abeysekera, to name a few. Many of them have remained close friends to this day. Our record stood for 36 years until St. Joseph’s had another Big Match victory in 2008. Leading this exceptional team, where team spirit was so high, was an honour and privilege and a high point in my life. I consider this a blessing from the Almighty God.

Rohan Fernando (Fido)



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SLR sees tradition challenged during troubled times 

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by A Special Sports Correspondent 

Rugby in Sri Lanka is at a standstill and there are many reasons for this. The main reason for this is Asian Rugby (AR) suspending the membership of Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR); the controlling body for rugby in Sri Lanka. The other reason is the chaotic situation in the country which has been brought about largely by the economic crisis.

This puts paid to Sri Lanka taking part in any regional tournaments. That could mean Sri Lanka’s chances of contesting the rugby sevens event of the upcoming Commonwealth Games is also in jeopardy. But there could be a way out of this murky situation for SLR if it conducts the AGM and has a free and fair election. AR is monitoring the rugby activities in Sri Lanka and even sent one of its representatives here to study the situation. AR proposed having the SLR AGM.

Our investigations into the events that have taken place in Sri Lanka’s rugby scene reveal that AR has found out that a democratic atmosphere doesn’t exist within the fraternity that the SLR controls. A representative from AR was here in April to conduct a probe on the rugby set-up here. The probe, according to news reports published in the web and leading national newspapers, revealed that all stakeholders of the game are not equally represented in SLR’s decision-making environment. Also, it has been revealed that the decision taken to suspend the SLR’s membership has been taken with the interest of maintaining Asian Rugby’s principles which are equality, transparency, and accountability.

It is also learned that the AR representative had made it known that the rugby set-up here in Sri Lanka was in need of an Annual General Meeting (AGM). This AGM would be called upon by the National Olympic Committee as desired by AR. A letter indicating the above has been sent to the minister of sports. According to the SLR its AGM is scheduled for August 27.

One of the major issues in local rugby is that Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU)-the union with the highest number of rugby clubs-has been denied voting rights at past AGMs due to the nonpayment of membership fees to the SLR. The clubs within the WPRFU have come together as a force and made a request through the competent authority- appointed by the former sports minister to control rugby-to grant voting rights to individual clubs at the AGM. This is because the WPRFU is facing obstacles in contesting this AGM. This practice of clubs voting at the SLR AGM was done away with many years ago. An SLR official asked why these clubs representatives now want to return to an old system of having voting rights for clubs when most of these individuals, when serving the SLR as officials, were quite happy with provincial unions having voting rights some years ago?

Rugby in Sri Lanka was once a happy family. This writer remembers the manner in which tradition was preserved at past AGMs. There was one year when the bidding present of the SLR (Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union then) Michael Jayasekara was challenged at a vote by another candidate for the post of president. Jayasekara withdrew his nomination at the last hour to ensure maintaining the tradition of the bidding present of the SLR not be contested at a vote.

Rugby AGMs in the past have been ‘healthy’ and camaraderie has prevailed even during a voting for other posts. These get-togethers have been like parties and representatives of clubs and provinces have caught up on old times after the voting concluded and new committees were formed. At present provincial unions are fighting for their ‘pound of flesh’ and dirty politics exists.

Just a few weeks ago the WPRFU organised an open club rugby sevens tournament and received much response from clubs. Several schools were also invited to take part in the tournament. WPRFU officials were quoted in newspapers saying that the purpose of organizing the rugby sevens tournament was to give an opportunity to club players to play rugby sevens because they were denied chances of playing rugby due to the  obstacles caused by the COVID pandemic during the past couple of years.  But the chaotic political and economic situation in the country didn’t support the commencement of this tournament, which was scheduled for May 14. As many as 18 teams had confirmed participation. For the record, last year, the WPRFU conducted the ‘Warriors Cup’ sevens tournament with much success.

In the same manner, the inter-club league rugby tournament is to be discontinued. This is due to the chaotic situation in the country. According to SLR President Rizly Illyas the council is in the process of naming table leaders Kandy SC as the winner; by taking into consideration points accumulated.

When contacted SLR President Rizly Illyas said that he together with his committee, overseeing the rugby operations in the island, has always given blessings to each provincial union to conduct its own tournaments.

The SLR headed by Illyas recorded a victory recently when they managed to bring an interim order suspending the enactment of the Gazette issued by the Ex-sports minister suspending the registration of the SLR with the Ministry of Sports. The interim order was issued by the Court of Appeal and is effective till June 30, according to news reports.

Illyas said that he hopes that there would be a free and fair election.

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Mathews and Dhananjaya keep Sri Lanka alive in second Test 

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Angelo Mathews and Dhananjaya de Silva each hit a fifty and put on a 102-run partnership to keep Sri Lanka going strong in the rain-hit second Test against Bangladesh yesterday.

Mathews remained unbeaten on 58 after de Silva went out with the same score to take Sri Lanka to 282-5 at stumps on the third day, still trailing Bangladesh by 83 runs.

Rain washed out entire post-lunch session but the duo stepped up their scoring rate to make up for lost time, with de Silva striking nine fours before Shakib Al Hasan got his wicket.

The right-hander, who faced 95 balls, was initially given not out on a caught-behind appeal before Bangladesh successfully reviewed.

Mathews, who smashed four fours and a six, was batting with Dinesh Chandimal on 10 at stumps.

Bangladesh made early inroads after Sri Lanka resumed on 143-2, Ebadot Hossain bowling nightwatchman Kasun Rajitha for a duck with the second ball of the day.

A gem of a delivery from Shakib dismissed Dimuth Karunaratne for 80 soon afterwards, with the Sri Lankan skipper adding 10 to his overnight score.

Shakib tossed the ball up on off-stump and Karunatne went for a drive but saw the flighted delivery dip and turn between bat and pad before crashing into his stumps.

Karunaratne, who was dropped on 37, struck nine boundaries in his 15th Test fifty.

De Silva hit Ebadot for three fours in one over just before the break after he and Mathews survived a difficult spell from the right-arm pace bowler and Shakib.

Shakib, the most successful bowler for Bangladesh so far, has claimed 3-59.

Apart from Shakib and Ebadot, the rest of Bangladesh bowlers failed to keep the pressure up serving too many boundary balls and the visitors were quick to cash in.

After losing Karunaratne early in the day, Mathews and de Silva were watchful and waited till the final session to up the tempo.

Sri Lanka will be eying a big first innings score and bat just once and then put the hosts under pressure with six more sessions remaining in the game. The wicket has offered some assistance for spinners but Sri Lanka’s spin duo of Ramesh Mendis and Praveen Jayawickrama hardly troubled the batsmen in the first innings. All nine Bangladesh wickets to fall for the bowlers were claimed by quicks with Kasun Rajitha accounting for his first five wicket haul. Asitha Fernnado finished with four wickets.

 Bangladesh staged a remarkable recovery after being reduced to 24 for five as Liton Das (141) and Mushfiqur Rahim (175*) added a record 282 run stand for the sixth wicket.

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Karunaratne solid in Sri Lanka reply after Mushfiqur heroics

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Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne made an unbeaten 70 as Sri Lanka reached 143 for two at stumps on day two of the second Test against Bangladesh on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Oshada Fernando struck half-centuries to help the visitors end the second day of the first Test against Bangladesh on 143 for two in Dhaka on Tuesday. While Oshada Fernando fell for 57, Dimuth Karunaratne stayed unbeaten on 70 with Sri Lanka still trailing by 222 after restricting Bangladesh to 365.

The day, however, belonged to Mushfiqur Rahim, who struck an unbeaten 175, and Kasun Rajitha, who bagged his maiden five-wicket haul. Bangladesh had staged a remarkable recovery in the opening day when they went from being 24 for five to ending the day on 277 for 5.

Litton Das was the first to fall on the second day – for 141 – as the 272-run stand with Rahim came to an end. Taijul Islam resisted for a bit while Rahim kept the runs coming but Sri Lanka too kept chipping away. Asitha Fernando ended with four with Ebadot Hossain becoming the last man to fall – to a run out as Rahim was left stranded.

Both Fernando and Karunaratne came out attacking and scored 84 in the first 22 overs to take the side to tea without any loss.

Fernando successfully reviewed a caught-behind decision against him to survive a close call while Karunaratne fetched his first boundary of the innings when he flicked Hossain behind square. The start was completely in contrast to the one Bangladesh made against the new ball on the first day. With wickets not appearing to come anytime soon, Mominul Haque turned to spin as early as in the eighth over as he brought on Shakib Al Hasan and Mosaddek Hossain.

Bangladesh finally struck in the fourth over post tea when Fernando fell to a poor shot against Ebadot. The pacer could have had two in the over but the team decided against a review against Karunaratne on the second ball of the over. Karunaratne was then given another reprieve when a sharp chance was dropped by the short leg fielder off the bowling of Taijul Islam.

Three overs before close, Kusal Mendis fell lbw to Shakib al Hasan after a patient 49-ball 11as Bangladesh managed to even things out but will be well aware there’s plenty of work remaining to be done on the third day, especially on a good track.

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