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Ranindu takes the lead as top seeds collide, Nethmi unbeatable

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As the opening weekend of the National Chess Championships comes to an end, the second seed Ranindu Dilshan Liyanage (Ananda College) came on top by holding the top seeded Susal de Silva to draw in a double rook ending using a French defense. Liyanage then went on to win against Maheesha Dabarera (Maliyadeva College) who was leading the championship at the start of round five through a game where Maheesha opted for Sicilian Kan variation, but Ranindu used a sacrificed exchange in the late middle game to gain an attacking advantage which brought himself to the top of the points table.

Earlier in the day, two former National Chess Champions Minul Doluweera and GC Anuruddha faced off each other in a Caro-Kann set up and a blunder by Minul gave the veteran Anuruddha a comprehensive win on the 26th move of the game.

The evening round gave Anuruddha another favorable result in a match up against Dhanushka Bandara from his club Kandy YMCA where he made a ferocious king side attack in the early stages of the game to have one of his pawns in the 7th rank of the opponent by the 15th move. While Minul was held off for a draw by Theekshana Denuwan (Ananda College) using a Semi Slav set up.

Further in the mid table battles, Buddika Amarasinghe from Jpura Chess Club had a strong finish to the week by scoring 2 wins against Rasika Samaranayaka from Peradeniya University and S Sivathanujan from Grand Prix Chess Club by winning with and against the Sicilian defense. While wins were scored today by IM Romesh Weerawardane and Maheesha Dabare to move them up on the standings.

At the end of the fifth round Ranindu leads the championship by one full point while Minul and Maheesha are stacked behind him to round off the top three according to points.

The start of day 3 for the senior contingent of the Women’s Chess Nationals was not according to plan as reigning champion Sayuni Gihansa faced defeat against the unbeaten Nethmi Fernando from Girls High School-Kandy whereas Ashvini Pavalachandran defeated the strong WIM Sachini Ranasinghe and young Ehsha Pallie won against the experienced Thilini Koswatte. The 4th round did not see any drawn results while Nethmi Fernando finished with a one-point lead after round 4 with Hashara and Ehsha at 3 points.

In the 5th round Nethmi again kept her unbeaten streak in tact by winning against WCM Lasandi Wickramsinghe to finish the day at the top of the table. The chasing group lead by Ehsha and Hashara also scored full points against their opponents to keep the title battle open when both of them will face off against Nethmi in the following 2 rounds. Sachini came good against Niklesha to score a vital point in an effort to push herself towards the upper half of the table while defending champion Sayuni had to settle for a draw against the young Ashvini who was 4th in the ranking table after the end of the 5th round.

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Tokyo Cement Group renews Foundation of Goodness partnership

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Tokyo Cement Group pledged its support to the Foundation of Goodness for another year, to extend their multi-prongged activities aimed at rural cricket development. 2020 marks the fifth year of partnership between the two organizations, who have united to unearth talented young cricketers from rural Sri Lanka.

The Company’s long-standing partnership with the Foundation of Goodness (FoG) established cricket training facilities, that included upgrading two school grounds in Hikkaduwa and Seenigama, to undergo formal cricket training. Hikkaduwa Sri Sumangala MCC Lords and Seenigama Sri Wimala Buddhi Surrey Oval, are the two cricket grounds that are managed and operated by FoG under the patronage of Tokyo Cement Group, where regular training sessions are held. Budding school cricketers in the area are welcomed to enroll themselves for regular Cricket Coaching Camps conducted free of charge by reputed coaches at the two training centers, that have indoor and outdoor practice nets.

Founded on the vision of Kushil Gunasekera, Founder/Chief Trustee of the Foundation of Goodness, the Tokyo Cement Group’s partnership intends to make a positive impact on the lives of talented young cricketers from remote backgrounds who have very limited access to quality training facilities to pursue their dreams. Anura de Silva, Director of Sports at the Foundation of Goodness heads the Cricket Academy together with a pool of coaches and qualified physical trainers. The special monthly training sessions are conducted by renowned cricket coach Hemantha Devapriya, a former Head Coach of Sri Lanka’s National Ladies’ Cricket Team, with his team of cricket coaches. From time to time, the Academy gets the service of famed local and international cricket stars who get involved in the program on a voluntary basis.

Since inception, the Academy has so far trained over 1,100 promising young cricketers from nearly 20 regional schools in the area. The program also conducts an elite coaching camp for star performers, where they get to hone their innate talents under specialized supervision. The Southern Coaching Camps produced several top-notch National U19 Players who now represent various Division I clubs in the country. In August 2017, the partnership extended the Cricket Coaching Camps to the North and East, conducting programs in Jaffna, Killinochchi, Oddusuddan, Mankulam, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar, Batticaloa, Kalmunai and Ampara, to unearth young cricketing sensations.

Speaking on the impact the Cricket Academy makes on the lives of young school boys and girls, Anura De Silva pointed out that, having access to top quality training facilities under the wings of world class coaching expertise is itself a great contribution to uplift the future of Sri Lankan cricket. He also said the success of the Academy lies in allowing these novices to maintain and polish up their natural style in either bowling, batting or fielding, so that they grow in confidence, as much as in their skill while undergoing the coaching program.

The number of cricketers who have risen from District / Provincial level to various National-level teams speak volumes for the Academy’s ability to unearth unique cricketing talent. Among them is Navod Paranavithana who is the Sri Lanka U-19 World Cup opener and captain of the Mahinda College Cricket Team, Galle, who shattered the batting records by becoming the first schoolboy to score a quadruple century in a school match. Navod joined the Cricket Academy at U-13 level and is a recipient of a MCC Cricket scholarship offered through The Foundation of Goodness. Kavisha Dilhari is another 17-year-old cricketing prodigy hailing from the Academy, who created the record as the youngest school girl cricketer to score a triple century at school level and also became the youngest person to represent Sri Lanka as part of the National Ladies Cricket Team. Furthermore, four young cricketers from the Seenigama Ladies Cricket Squad were selected to play for Sri Lanka at the Women’s Cricket World Cup 2020 in Australia.

With the extension of the partnership this year, Tokyo Cement Group and the Foundation of Goodness will continue the training sessions that gives schoolboy and schoolgirl cricketers the chance to hone their dormant skills. During this year, FoG has completed 12 coaching camps in the South, maintaining the training momentum of the players while looking after the facilities in their top condition, despite the many disruptions that occurred. Anura and his team of FoG coaches, together with Hemantha Devapriya and his team of coaches remain fully committed to this far-reaching initiative with the patronage of Tokyo Cement Group, whose objective is to provide the youth new opportunities to polish up their talent in the game of cricket. The Foundation of Goodness conducts a wide range of holistic development programs aimed at bridging the urban rural gap, that touch the lives of over 31,500 beneficiaries annually, free of cost, from over 400 villages island-wide. The two organizations united their forces in this endeavor with the shared objective of creating foundations for the future generations to become well-rounded leaders.

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Plight of school coaches Some working as pump attendants

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by Reemus Fernando

His love for the game of cricket forced Aman Uditha to take up one of the toughest coaching assignments at Vijayaba National School, Hungama (Hambantota District), a place that does not have a strong cricket culture to attract highly qualified coaches. The school which has produced a pace bowler in the Sri Lanka Under-19 team in recent times is one of the many lower division schools struggling to pay their coaches after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coaches in almost all the Division III and a majority of Division II cricket playing schools and some Division I schools are paid by the School Development Societies (SDS), which largely rely on contributions from parents. Schools have found it difficult to sustain these funds due to the Covid 19 pandemic.

Many such schools have either totally stopped paying their coaches or have reduced their salaries by big margins, forcing them to look elsewhere for a living. Unlike well-established schools, those in the lower divisions depend on a single coach to train all age group teams in the school. Uditha is responsible for coaching the Under-13, 15 and 17 teams of Vijayaba National School.

Affairs in some of the premier Division I cricket playing schools too have fallen to the same level as the underprivileged schools thanks to the pandemic. Many coaches, contacted comment, lamented about the unprecedented salary cuts they had been compelled to bear with in the recent months.

Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association with the help of Sri Lanka Cricket recently granted some concessions to coaches affected by the pandemic but it is just a short-term measure, and the coaches continue to suffer.

“I have been a cricket coach for years. I do not have experience in any other field and at this age, I cannot train myself for any other job; I am in a dilemma,” a level I coach of a Big Match playing school from the suburbs of Colombo told The Island. The coach of the premier cricket playing school has been training all age group teams (U13, 15, 17 and 19). His salary was first reduced by 25% due to the pandemic; it has been reduced by 50% during the recent months.

A group of coaches mentioned that some of their colleagues from underprivileged schools had been compelled to work at filling stations to keep home fires burning.

Meanwhile, some coaches whose contracts were terminated following the first wave of the pandemic are looking forward to securing new contracts elsewhere for the new season. But a recent Ministry of Education circular, which canceled all sports competitions in schools, has shattered their hopes.

However, a few coaches have been lucky. All coaches contracted by S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia continue to receive their full remuneration. The 70 plus coaching staff, training young Thomian sportsmen in 27 sports, are lucky while hundreds of their counterparts, employed by public and private schools are experiencing severe hardships.

A senior sports administrator of S. Thomas’ College told The Island: “We have paid all coaches their full salaries though we had to cancel training following Ministry of Education directives. We are paying them through the budget allocated in December,”

Uditha comes from the same district Suranga Lakmal, who was lucky to find a place in the Richmond College team before earning a place in the Sri Lanka team. Uditha found a place for his medium pace at Devananda College, Ambalangoda before taking up coaching. It is coaches like Uditha who spot talent like that of Lakmal for Sri Lanka Cricket. Sri Lanka Cricket, which is the richest sports body of the country and the Ministry of Education, should, therefore, look into the grievances of coaches and redress them.

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Sri Lanka to play at Bull Ring and Centurion

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The Wanderers also known as the Bull Ring for its intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams will host the New Year Test.  Sri Lanka have played two Tests there and lost both – by innings margin.

by Rex Clementine

Cricket South Africa (CSA) seem to have learned from their embarrassment last year, when Sri Lanka became the first Asian nation to win a Test series in South Africa and have left no room for complacency when they host Dimuth Karunaratne’s side in December this year. Accordingly, CSA has chosen Wanderers in Johannesburg (also known as the Bull Ring for its intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams) and Centurion for the two Tests.

While officially CSA would say that logistically the two venues, half-hour drive from each other, were ideal to host the two Test series, they are also the quickest tracks in South Africa and Asian teams usually don’t  last three days in those venues.

Sri Lanka for example have played two Tests at Wanderers and have lost both games by innings margin with the two games ending inside three days. At Centurion, meanwhile, Sri Lanka have played four Tests and lost all four (two games by an innings).

The blunder that CSA committed last time Sri Lanka toured South Africa was to schedule the games in the slowest tracks in the country – Durban and Port Elizabeth. That backfired as Sri Lanka clinched the series 2-0. Test match cricket is such a tough game in South Africa, that apart from England and Australia no other team had won a series in that country and Sri Lanka’s achievement surprised many.

Several members of the current squad have unhappy memories of Wanderers and Centurion and they will not be pleased that the games had been slotted there.

The team will stay in one hotel during their month long stay in South Africa and will shuttle between the grounds which are in close proximity to each other. Centurion will host the Boxing Day Test while the Wanderers will host the New Year Test.

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