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Rugby remembers Nizar Haji Omar

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By a Special Sports Correspondent

Domestic rugby in Sri Lanka kicked off three weeks ago and most of the top clubs are playing cohesive rugby and entertaining appreciative crowds that made it to the grounds. Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club (CR&FC) produced a surprise package in their encounter with Colombo Hockey & Football Club (CH&FC) to record a 27-22 win and keep alive hopes of doing well. The match was played for the Nizar Haji Omar Memorial Trophy and CR & FC did well to win the game and bring respect to the late Omar who was a rugby stalwart this Longden Place club produced.

In an era where the average individual can become a star overnight using social media outlets real heroes like Omar must be remembered and spoken of through our rugby fraternity. He passed away in 2009. Former CR&FC and Royal College player Jehan Canaga Retna writing about Omar in this newspaper, some years ago, rated him as a kind-hearted and respectful player who never lost his cool. Wow! That’s the stuff rugby players must be made of. Today we see more of self-centred players who are committed players alright, but they could learn much about human relations from the generations who played the game before them.

In life we get to see and meet people who have achieved much in a short period of time and also at a very young age. Omar was the youngest President CR & FC produced at age 36 and he was also the youngest SLRFU president; taking the hot seat at age 38. He was to be appointed life member of the SLRFU, but death came in the way. Perhaps nice people, who have to go fast, get the blessings of the Almighty and the nature to achieve their targets at a young age. He had been a successful career man and also a keen traveller and reveller. When this writer reads appreciations about the late Omar it is evident that he made it a point to enjoy life, where ever he was and both on and off the field. In the good old days rugby games were followed by socializing and this built much camaraderie among players; hence we rarely saw players leaving a ‘nest’ which nurtured them. Players were not paid for their availability and commitment. Instead players were willing to sweat to maintain their reputation and names which they worked on like nurturing a child.

This piece about him would not be complete if we didn’t say that Omar represented Sri Lanka at rugby from 1966-74 and captained the national side in 1969. He was also the president of the SLFRU when Sri Lanka won the ‘Bowl’ competition at the famed Hong Kong Sevens in 1984; a feat which has to date not been emulated by any Sri Lankan side. He played for the Red Shirts alongside players like Dushyantha Samarasekare, Bumpy Jayasekera, Sari de Sylva, Eric Roles, Mohan Sahayam, Tony Sirimanne, Regi Bartholameusz, Didacus de Almeda, Kamal Ratnapala and Ajith Abeyratne.

During these Covid days we also lost some rugby players of repute like Chandrishan Perera, Ibrahim Hamid, Gamini Fernando Shyam Sideek, Kamal Jayawardene, Iswan Omar and Vajira Jayatilake and the rugby fraternity misses them while remembering their contributions to the game.

Coming back to the game a young CR&FC side had done well to record a memorable win where the difference in score was an unconverted try. It would have been hard for the CH side to stomach the defeat given that the Maitland Crescent side is buying the best players and also has the influence of elite members of the family clan who are the decision makers of this country.

After major layoff from the game Kandy Sports Club too has returned to the field and maintains its winnings ways. Last week it got the better of Navy Sports Club (35-30) in a close game where the ‘Sailors’ came back fighting in the second half. The Nittawela Club is a hot prospect in the league rugby tournament and it has the player resources in the likes of Bawantha Udangamuwa, Buddhima Piyaratne, Jason Dissanayake, Roshan Weeraratne, Lavanga Perera, Danush Dayan and Skipper Nigel Ratwatte to take them a long way this season. The professional environment they train in make the players committed to the game and raise their game to the next level. In the hills up here in Kandy no king on the hill is assured of his place because there are other hungry ‘wolves’ climbing up the hill and wanting ‘the life of a rugby player’.

Havies, also known as the Park Club, is another team knocking on the door this season to be considered as a winning outfit. It did well to down the ‘Soldiers’ 36-14 and much is expected of this side led by Shenal Deelaka. Air Force Sports Club is also there with much fire power and did remarkably well in their January 29th game against CR & FC where they recorded a handsome 19-11 win. The captain of the side Nuwan Perera, the scrum half, is expected to marshal the side. The other side that can spring some surprises this season is Navy Sports Club which has some dedicated and tough as nails players.

On the financial side of the tournament Sri Lanka Rugby had to start the tournament sans a sponsor because negotiations with Dialog Axiata PLC didn’t reach the stage of inking an agreement and having a working document in terms of a sponsorship deal. The president of SLR Rizly Illyas received the approval of the council members to go ahead with the tournament without a sponsor. All this goes on to prove that the club rugby structure in Sri Lanka is strong and can survive a ‘journey on rough sea’.



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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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Asitha rips through Bangladesh as Sri Lanka win Test series

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Asitha Fernando finished with a career-best six for 51 as Sri Lanka thrashed hosts Bangladesh by ten wickets in the second Test yesterday to win the two match series 1-0.The visitors bowled out Bangladesh for 169 runs in their second innings with 24-year-old Asitha playing a starring role at the National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka.

“We knew we needed a couple of wickets to go our way,” said Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne.

“The fast bowlers did the job for us, both in the first innings as well as the second.”

Sri Lanka made 506 runs in the first innings after bowling out Bangladesh for 365.

Oshada Fernando sealed the devastating win with an unbeaten 21 in three overs.Play had resumed on the fifth and final day with the hosts at a precarious 34-4 and Sri Lanka upped the pressure when Kasun Rajitha bowled Mushfiqur Rahim for 23 in the eighth over.Shakib Al Hasan and Liton Das both hit fifties in a 110-run stand and held on through the first session with a mix of caution and aggression.

Shakib’s counter-attack saw him hit Rajitha for three fours in one over, forcing Sri Lanka to widen their field set-up, while Liton played an anchor role after resuming on one overnight.Liton was given out caught behind off Rajitha on nine as he attempted to flick a ball going down the leg, but survived on review.It was the fourth caught behind decision overturned in the match, all given by West Indies umpire Joel Wilson.

A counter-punching Shakib brought his 27th Test fifty in the last ball before lunch with a boundary off Dhananjaya de Silva, before Asitha drove the hosts’ collapse after lunch.He took the scalps of both Liton and Shakib soon after the break, claiming four of the last five wickets after dispatching openers Mahmudul Hasan Joy and Tamim Iqbal the previous day.Ramesh Mendis trapped Mosaddek Hossain for nine before Asitha wrapped up the Bangladesh innings with the wickets of Taijul Islam and Khaled Ahmed in successive deliveries.

“A disappointing performance,” said Bangladesh captain Mominul Haque.

“They put us under pressure with the new ball, we’ll have to handle it better next time,” he added.

Asitha conceded 144 runs for his first 10-wicket Test match haul, with 4-93 in the first innings.He and Rajitha had Bangladesh reduced to a pitiful 24 for five at the start of the first day before Mushfiqur (175 not out) and Das (141) staged a recovery.But Sri Lanka rode on man of the series Angelo Mathews (145 not out) and Dinesh Chandimal’s 124 to take a commanding 141-run first-innings lead.

Bangladesh collapsed again at the start of their second innings, losing the first four wickets for 23 runs to leave Sri Lanka in full control.The first Test in Chittagong ended in a draw.Bangladesh will now tour West Indies for two Tests, three Twenty20 internationals and three one-day internationals starting in June.Sri Lanka host Australia next month — despite anxieties about the island nation’s protracted economic crisis — for three T20Is, five ODIs and two Tests.

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Yupun continues record-breaking spree  

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Yupun Abeykoon improved the men’s 100metres national record at a championship held in Germany on Wednesday.

Sri Lankan is the Asian leader

by Reemus Fernando  

Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon continued his record-breaking spree at a championship in Dessau, Germany as he clocked the fastest time in the men’s 100 metres in Asia this year to win ahead of Kenyan world leader Ferdinand Omanyala on Wednesday.

Abeykoon, who is also the South Asian record holder in the 100 metres clocked 10.06 seconds to win as he took a good chunk of 0.09 seconds off his previous national record.

It is the third time that the 27-year-old has improved the national record in 100 metres.

Abeykoon first took the national record of the 100 metres (10.16 secs) in 2020 before improving it to 10.15 seconds last year.

Abeykoon’s 10.06 seconds is the fastest time in Asia this year as he overtook Abdullah Abkar Mohammed (10.14) of Saudi Arabia and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (10.15) of Japan who had both produced their seasonal best in March.

With Abeykoon winning the 100 metres against a quality field inclusive of Ferdinand Omanyala, who had clocked a world-leading time of 9.85 seconds early this month, it is expected that the South Asian Games medallist would produce the tough qualifying standard of 10.05 seconds for the World Championship soon rather than later.

Athletes are selected for the World Championship through direct qualifying standards and through the world rankings. Of the 48 slots allocated for the track’s showpiece discipline, 27 are selected from those who achieve the tough qualifying standard of 10.05 seconds, for which Abeykoon is just a millisecond behind.

The remaining slots are filled according to the ‘Road to Oregon 2022’ list in which Abeykoon is placed in the 58th position at present. That ranking is set to improve when stats are updated next week.

Abeykoon’s remarkable achievements have come at a time when some of the country’s promising athletes struggle to improve their rankings due to lack of quality competitions here in Sri Lanka.

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