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Sakuna deserves a second chance  

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by Reemus Fernando  

Many are the school cricketers whose hopes of excelling in their beloved sport were dashed due to the Covid 19 pandemic during the last one and half years. Junior cricketers aspiring to play their schools’ Big Matches and do well during the cricket season had to abandon their hopes after the pandemic prevented all school sports. The Under-19 schools cricket season is the steppingstone to the junior national team. Every season new talent is identified by Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association and Sri Lanka Cricket officials and once in two years some of country’s future prospects get the opportunity to compete at the ICC Youth Cricket World Cup. When Sakuna Liyanage was picked in the 75 member Under-19 cricket pool many were optimistic that the left-hander would go on to secure a place in the final team though he was yet to play a major role for his new school Lumbini College. However, the cricketer from Moneragala was not lucky to get a place in the final squad.

Generally, Sri Lanka Cricket nurtures a pool of junior cricketers for more than two years. Some are selected from the Under-17 level. While those who are not committed get dropped, players who excel during the school seasons are selected to maintain a continuous pool until the Youth World Cup. Such a pool was not maintained during the last two years due to the Covid 19 pandemic. There had been times when cricketers who were not even in the pool have been selected for Sri Lanka Under-19 teams on merit of their performances during the schools season.

At a time (due to Covid 19) when junior cricketers hardly get a second chance to prove their potentials in a tournament, it is doubtful whether the cricketers in the caliber of Liyanage had enough opportunity to display talents. The selectors may have assessed their talents during practice matches but Liyanage has credentials from a Sri Lanka Cricket conducted tournament that deserves selection. He was one of the top performers with the bat during Sri Lanka Cricket conducted Under-23 Premier Cricket tournament 2020.

Liyanage took to cricket at Royal College, Moneragala before he was introduced to cricket on a turf wicket in Colombo. Lumbini College coach Dinesh Weerasinghe invited him to join his school and soon got him a place in the Nugegoda SC Under-23 team as well, as Weerasinghe was the coach there. Liyanage paid back with impressive performances and was among the top scorers. He had an aggregate of 243 runs at an average of 60.75 in six matches and was the fifth-highest scorer behind Kamindu Mendis (249). No Under-19 cricketer had scored that many runs in that tournament.

Hailing from a not so well to do family from Moneragala, Liyanage would not have certainly come this far hadn’t he been introduced to cricket on turf wicket. Unfortunately, there is no other tournament in the immediate future for him to prove his worth and even if schools cricket restarts this year it would be too late as the team for the Youth World Cup is selected before the year ends. If selectors stick to their original squad it will be a huge opportunity lost and his exploits would be missed at the Youth World Cup.



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Youth Athletics Selection Trial will weigh the impact of pandemic

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The First Youth Athletics Selection trial will be held at the Sugathadasa Stadium on November 13 and 14.

First Youth Athletics Selection Trial on November 13,14 

by Reemus Fernando  

The First Selection trial for the Asian Youth Athletics Championship 2022, scheduled for mid November, will be an ideal opportunity to weigh the impact the Covid 19 pandemic has dealt on schools sports.

There had been no schools competitions for track and field athletes since March 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Only a very few coaches had continued training junior athletes amidst trying conditions due to lockdowns and other restrictions during the last two years. Some of the athletes who were aspiring to compete at the Asian Youth Athletics Championship 2021 continued their training only to be disappointed later when the event was postponed to 2022 meaning the athletes who were eligible for competitions in 2021 will not be entitled to compete in 2022 due to the age group difference.

Sri Lanka were almost certain of top medals in at least two events at the Asian Youth Athletics Championships including the women’s 800 metres as young aspirant Tharushi Karunaratne was in top form. She is the top ranked 800 metres athlete in Asia in the Under-18 age category this year according to World Athletics listings but the postponement of the event to 2022 prevents her from emulating her brother Harsha who won a medal at a previous edition.

Sri Lanka Athletics announced November 13 and 14 as dates for the first Youth Trial for the Asian event to be held in Kuwait in March 2022. The eligible athletes are those who were born in 2005 and 2006 and Sri Lanka Athletics has provided entry standards to apply for trials. But almost all eligible athletes in this age category have last competed at national level in 2019 making it impossible to provide proof of their true current abilities to apply for entries. Due to this Sri Lanka Athletics will consider performances registered from August 01 2019 making the forthcoming trial an ideal opportunity to test the impact the pandemic has had on country’s junior sporting structure.

Sri Lanka Athletics has reduced the number of events limiting it only to the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 3,000m, 100m hurdles, 400m hurdles, 2,000m steeplechase, high jump, long jump, triple jump and the javelin for both girls and boys.

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There Are No Clear Favourites, Any Team Could End Up Lifting The Trophy – Muralitharan

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Sri Lanka spin icon Muttiah Muralitharan stated there are no clear favourites for ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 which starts from Sunday. The T20 World Cup will begin with the Round 1 Group B encounter between hosts Oman and Papua New Guinea on Sunday, with Scotland and Bangladesh, the other teams in Group B, clashing in the evening match.

“The most exciting thing about the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 is that there are no clear favourites. Coming into the competition in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, it feels like there is no standout side and as a result, any one of a large number of teams could end up lifting the trophy,” Muralitharan said in an ICC column.

“I’m obviously delighted to see the importance that spinners have taken on in T20 cricket. It is a fast game and is meant to be a batter’s game, but the bowlers have adapted in the 18 years since the format first started in England. Fast bowlers are bowling slow balls and cutters and different balls. Those are the skills you have to develop.”

Muralitharan also shared his experience of T20 cricket as a player and coach/mentor and said one has to approach the shortest format of the game with a ‘defensive mindset’.

“My experience, both as a player and a coach or mentor in T20 cricket, was that you have to approach it with a defensive mindset, whereas in ODIs or Tests, the aim is to take wickets. Defending is attacking in T20 in my mind, you need to aim to go for 6 or 6.5 runs an over and if you can manage that, you will probably take a couple of wickets as well,” he said.

“I have been out in the UAE for the IPL and looking at the wickets, it is clear that the spinners are going to have a huge role to play in the World Cup. It will depend a lot on how the curators have prepared the wickets, but it looks like the spinners will be key as the batters were finding it hard to connect and it made for some low scoring,” the Sri Lankan pointed.

Sri Lanka is placed with Ireland, Netherlands, and Namibia in Group A. The Round 1 matches will run till October 22. The top two teams in each group will proceed to the Super 12 stage of the tournament, beginning on October 23.

“From a Sri Lankan perspective, the team will have to go through qualifying in the first round. The team has gone down in the last five or six years and it’s the first time in our history that it has happened to us. Frankly speaking, we were not good enough, and have not played good enough cricket which is why we are in this position. But the team has capable players who can reach the Super 12s and have an impact, but first they have to qualify,” Muralitharan opined.

“The spinners are very good, whereas the batting is a little bit weaker, but if they can step up and manage decent totals, then the bowlers can defend them. If they make it through, I think they will upset a few teams,” he added.

The first semi-final of the T20 World Cup will be held in Abu Dhabi on November 10. The second semi-final will be hosted by Dubai on November 11. Both semi-finals have reserve days. The marquee clash of the tournament will take place in Dubai on November 14, Sunday, with Monday acting as the reserve day for the final.

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Youth cricketers in action today

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by Reemus Fernando

Sri Lanka Under 19 will play their first match since the last Youth World Cup when Dunith Wellalage led outfit take on Bangladesh Under 19 in the first Youth ODI at Dambulla today.

The team coached by Avishka Gunawardene have been together for just one month while their opponents had been training since October 2020 though their training has been hampered by Covid 19 related issues occasionally.

While the Bangladesh team had competed together before (against Afghanistan) the hosts are meeting an international team for the first time after the last Youth World Cup, which was played in January 2020.

Matheesha Pathirana who bowls with a sling arm action, S. Thomas’ Mount Lavinia paceman Yasiru Rodrigo, Nalanda College all-rounder Raveen de Silva and skipper Wellalage are the only players who have previous experience playing Youth International matches.

“This will give their first match exposure against an international team. This will be the opportunity for them to come together and bond together,” said Avishka Gunawardena speaking to The Island on the eve of the match.

The hosts are likely to field three pacies with Pathirana who is the only player returning from the last Youth World Cup spearheading the attack.

Wellalage will be joined by offie Traveen Mathew from St. Anthony’s, Katugastota to make the spin attack. Mathew is one of the least experienced players in the squad.

Sri Lanka Under-19 will play five Youth ODIs against Bangladesh in this series. With the Under-19 Asia Cup not confirmed yet, the series starting today will be crucial as it will be the final preparation for the Youth World Cup.

Sri Lanka Under-19 From: Dunith Wellalage (Captain), Shevon Daniel, Pawan Pathiraja, Sadisha Rajapaksa, Ryan Fernando, Sadeesh Jayawardena, Raveen de Silva, Jeewaka Shasheen, Traveen Mathew, Yasiru Rodrigo, Matheesha Pathirana, Chamidu Wickramasinghe, Lahiru Abeysinghe.

Others in the squad: Harindu Jayasekera, Lahiru Dawatage, Wanuja Kumara, Malsha Tharupathi, Sasanka Nirmal, Danal Hemananda, Vinuja Ranpul.

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