Loved beyond boundaries
by Aravinthan Arunthavanathan
When AB De Villiers strides out to the middle, the crowd at Chinnaswammy stadium in Bengaluru chant ABeee, ABee. When Lasith Malinga is at the top of his mark at the Wankhede in Mumbai, the echelons echo Maliii….Maliii…. AB De Villers and Malinga are top notch members of an elite coterie in international cricket, who are revered outside their land of origin. The membership in this elite circle extends to a select few like Sir Vivian Richards, Sir Ian Botham in the past to Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Kane Williamson at present. The most recent entrant to this club is Kumar Sangakkara who seems to be captivating the English with his charisma. Kumar may seem to the inventors of Cricket that he is more English than most English. Exuding elegance and captivating with charisma Sangakkara has obtained membership in the elite club interestingly post retirement. However, Kumar isn’t the first such Lankan to be adored in an alien land.
Immigration encounters abroad are not the pleasantest of experiences for any traveler. It does not get any worse when you have made an unknown blunder in your documentation and end up in a soup. It was exactly the case for yours truly in Kolkata two years ago. A lengthy delay seemed inevitable. The immigration official was calling his superior to escalate the issue. The line was not reachable. Luckily that day I was wearing a Sri Lankan cricket T Shirt. It’s my go to clothing when travelling because of the comfort more than anything else. Yet that was good enough for us to start a conversation on Cricket. There was no mention about the present but the past. Unsurprisingly the dominance of a dynamite southpaw from down south was the central topic. Thankfully, I remembered the minute details which many would not regarding Sanath Jayasuriya’s exploits against our neighbors. Surprisingly, immigration official reminded me even more. We stuck a cord instantly. The superior was not even needed. The parting words were “Well Afterall you are from Sanath Jayasuriya’s land, pay attention to detail the next time you come.” I do not know Sanath in person, but he was my savior that day. Every time ever since, there hasn’t been a single visit where I haven’t encountered an Indian who adores Sanath’s exploits. The adulation he garners in a cricket loving nation with surplus of home bred demigods is beyond admiration. If Sangakkara connects with English through charisma and class Sanath was blockbuster material in India through brutal butchery and methodical massacring of Indian attacks during his career. Sanath was a villain to India who was too good not to be liked. Those who witnessed it know it.
Sanath’s rise to prominence came at the Kotla in New Delhi in a 1996 World Cup group game. Sanath’s evisceration of the Indian attack announced to the world loud and clear that Sri Lanka were not push overs anymore. The same year Sanath notched his first century against India at a packed Khettharama making a mockery of another Indian total built around a Sachin century. In the years that followed since 1996 every year saw Sri Lanka play India. Often a Sanath century was a highlight. The 151* in Mumbai, 189 in Sharjah were some of the stand outs during this period. However, since relinquishing leadership in 2003, Sanath’s inconsistencies with the bat became a topic of interest. In 2004 with pressure mounting the skipper Marvan Atapattu was adamant Sanath would come good soon during the Asia Cup in Colombo. Soon Sanath delivered a majestic century in losing cause in a must win game for India. The following period saw fluctuating fortunes for Sanath. Despite winning a game with a dislocated shoulder against India in Dambulla, a lean patch in a disastrous tour of India saw him being left out of a Sri Lankan squad for the first time towards end 2005. Sanath soon rose from the doldrums with a magnificent series against the English in 2006 which helped the audience witness the Matara mauler being reborn and serve Sri Lanka with supremacy till the end of the 2007 World Cup. However afterwards it was a plunge for Sanath. In 2008 Sanath’s place was hanging under the knife. A scintillating century for Mumbai Indians against Chennai Super kings in the inaugural IPL had given rays of hope. The Asia Cup in Pakistan in 2008 had the potential to be the end for Sanath if he failed to deliver. A century against a not so strong Bangladesh was never going to suffice in the long run. When Sri Lanka faced India in the final it was do or die for Sanath. The final is a game which is recollected for the Ajantha Mendis magic which scripted one of Sri Lanka’s best comeback wins. However, in the midst of it, the master blaster’s masterclass is often overlooked.
Having taken first lease of the wicket Sri Lanka got off to the worst possible start. Sanath sold down the river, his opening partner the consistent Sangakkara, who by now had taken over the mantle of being Sri Lanka’s leading batsman by sending him back halfway through a single. Despite the early setback Sanath was not deterred. He carried on his signature way flaying Ishant Sharma and RP Singh to all parts of the ground. Trademark square drives over cover, cuts through third man, pulls over square leg coupled with cute glanced down the leg meant Sri Lanka were off to a solid start. Sanath took a particular interest in Irfan Pathan smashing him for more than 15 runs in the eleventh over. However, a cluster for wickets at the other end meant the Indians were all over the Lankans like a rash. India had seen enough of Sanath in the past. Sanath ensured he reminded them of what was in store by galloping to his half century pulling an 86mPH short delivery from Ishant with disdain over square leg for a six. This was a 39-year-old in the twilight of his career smacking a young pace bowler who had wreaked havoc down under only a few months prior. It was not just a shot but a statement of supremacy. Sanath received a stroke of luck immediately afterwards as he survived an ugly cross batted shot off Ishant missing the stumps and RP Singh missing a skier at mid-on. RP Singh would soon rue the miss with what was to follow. What followed was carnage.
Jayausriya greeted Singh in the most disdainful manner dispatching his for two consecutive sixes over the bowler’s head and long off in the 16th over. The next two balls provided no response for the bowler as they were mercilessly manhandled by the master over covers for consecutive boundaries. As if leaving the leg side untouched was a shortcoming Jayasuriya closed the over with a six over square leg. The over fetched 26 runs and MS Dhoni and India knew the game was far from over. RP Singh was not the first Indian bowler to suffer at the hands of Sanath. Manoj Prabakar, Venkatesh Prasad all had suffered the wrath of Sanath’s willow. But what stood out was all of these bowlers belonged to different generation yet were not spared of Sanath’s mauling. A single batsman dishing out the same to bowlers across generations was truly admirable.
A gentle nudge down to square leg off Virender Sehwag helped Sanath to his 27th ODI century. It was a gentle nudge but there was nothing gentle about the knock. The sheer brutality of the knock was proven by the fact that his century came up in the 24th over and the team score was only 150. Sanath had notched 2/3 of the total score. Finally, when Sanath departed in the 36th over for 127 well-made runs he had scored more than 40% of the team total. A knock of such dominance in a final where the rest of the team faltered was true reflection of how good Jayasuriya was. Whilst Mendis dealt the killer punch later in the day Sanath’s contribution was truly magnificent.
This was not the first time, neither was it the last. Sanath would notch up his final international century in 2009 and another 99 the same year when his career was going down south. It was knocks of such nature with dominance that captured the attention of fans even in a passionate country like India. It is no surprise that his deeds are recollected even today with so much of adulation.
Sanath Jayasuriya was good enough to be loved in his own backyard. He was too good, not to be loved beyond the confines of his country. But being accepted to a coterie which cultivated cult following in a cricket mad nation like India, is the true testimony to the greatness Sanath Jayasuriya exhibited. In an era of social media where access to our favorites’ living rooms is just a fingertip, away being adored in foreign lands is still admirable. But to have achieved the same when even on field exploits were accessible only through print media and television was beyond remarkable. Sanath was not only a national but regional asset in his prime. Like the legacy of Richards, Bothams and Tendulkars, the legacy of Jayasuriya will live forever and we as Sri Lankan fans were truly blessed to have existed in an era to witness the master blaster’s brilliance.
Making Olympic dream a reality
by Rex Clementine
After Duncan White won the nation’s first Olympic medal in London, it took Sri Lanka 52 years to win their second Olympic medal in Sydney. If you believe in law of averages, our next medal should come somewhere in 2052. If you are over the age of 40 now, there is a good chance that you would be dead by the time the nation wins the next medal in Olympics. But then, there’s also something called if there’s a will there’s a way.
Perhaps, you don’t have to wait for as many as 52 years to win an Olympic medal if you can come across a genius like Susanthika. It is a well documented fact that she was a rare talent and she was destined for greatness from the moment her skills were spotted as a teenager. All what you need is someone with immense skill to break all the barriers and she remains an inspiration to millions of Sri Lankans.
But you tend to remember Arjuna’s words. Some players come along once in 50 years; Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan are the examples that he gives. The same is true with Susanthika.
However, some countries seem to be doing it with limited resources. Look at New Zealand. Despite a population of five million, they are among the top ten in the medals tally having already won six golds. Well, they have the sporting infrastructure, one may say. Fine, but what about Philippines, a developing country like us. They have already won two medals including a gold. Well, they have over 100 million population another may say. Then what about Cuba? With a population less than us (11 million), and an economy not so great, they have so far claimed 11 medals including four golds! Fabulous.
What prevents our athletes from reaching greater heights is an interesting question our readers may ask. One of the main issues that sportsmen in our country face is that the games they play are not professional. Except for cricket, all other sportsmen are amateurs. A good majority of them, thanks to their sporting skills find employment in the private sector and then instead of fine tuning their sporting skills, they do 8 – 5 jobs as business establishments are under pressure to perform constantly.
Businessmen who loved sports like Rienzie T. Wijetilleke, Hemaka Amarasuriya and late R. Rajamahendran are a rare breed who wanted their employees to train morning and evening and told them not to turn up for work. They will of course have an axe to grind if their sports stars didn’t perform up to expectations.
This is where the Sports Ministry needs to step in. Usually, the Ministry steps three months prior to a competition requests mercantile establishments to free the athletes to compete in global competitions. But sportsmen and women in other parts of the world are training six hours a day on a daily basis for four years.
Is there any possibility that the Sports Ministry identifies around five sports where there are medal prospects – ideally individual sports – and then offer these athletes annual contracts and ask them to train without worrying about earning a living. Surely, it’s not going to cost them an arm and a leg.
There’s three years for the next Olympics and with expertise coaching, the nation can have some hope of not waiting for half a century to win an Olympic medal. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
How lending a bat to Murali landed Flintoff in trouble
by Rex Clementine
Spin icon Muttiah Muralitharan is a fiercest competitor in cricket, but he is also known for his friendly nature. He is hugely popular among both team mates and opponents. You would hardly come across someone who has something nasty to say about Murali; it’s like finding a needle in haystack. Indian all-rounder Hardik Pandya gifting a bat to his Sri Lankan counterpart Chamika Karunaratne made headlines both here and across the Palk Strait. However, much before this, England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff lending Murali a bat made headlines.
Murali and Andrew Flintoff were great mates. They were team-mates at Old Trafford when Murali was Lancashire’s overseas signing.
In 2003, when England came to Colombo for their winter tour, Flintoff was a rising star. Three years later he would go onto become England captain. In his book ‘Second Innings’, Flintoff recalls his camaraderie with Murali.
“In that series, it panned out that I wasn’t bowling too much short stuff at Murali and he wasn’t bowling too many doosras at me. Which was a bit naughty, I can see that. I’d had dinner with him the night before one match. Murali said, ‘Fred, I haven’t got any bats left. Can I borrow one of yours?’ It was a bit tricky because Nasser Hussein had put a ban on us even talking to Murali. We were supposed to be freezing him out,” Flintoff recalls.
“Murali tried again on the morning of the match, asking for a word. Nasser was glaring at me from a distance, clearly very unhappy. So I said to Murali as quickly as possible, ‘When we go out to field, go into the England dressing room. Just nip in the back door and take one of my bats – but keep the whole thing under your hat.’
“Once the match was under way and we took a few Sri Lankan wickets, Nasser brought me on to bowl out the tail, as was the plan in those days. Out strides Murali, carrying my bat. Nasser, meanwhile, talks me through the plan. ‘I want you to go at him. Short stuff.’
“Hmm. Tricky one this, on lots of levels, especially given the status of bouncers and doosras for me and Murali.
‘Nasser, I think I can get a yorker through him, nice and full will do the job here,’ Flintoff tells Hussein.
But he doesn’t get an approval. ‘No, I just told you,’ Hussein says. ‘I want you to go at him.’
Flintoff doesn’t sour his relationship with Murali. So he decides to pin Sri Lanka’s number 11 with a yorker instead of a bouncer. ‘No, I’m going to try and bowl him. Hit the stumps. Job done,’ he tells himself.
“So, I ran in, trying to bowl a yorker, directly against instructions. Didn’t get through. In fact, it found the middle of the bat, my bat – good middle it had, too.”
“Nasser threw all his toys out of the pram. I was taken off. Then Murali started charging the other bowlers, smashing them.
“After one huge six, Murali walks between me and Nasser at the change of ends. I can see Nasser ready to explode. Murali has a huge grin on his face: ‘F****** good bat, Freddie.”
Sri Lanka won the match by an innings and 225 runs to seal the series. Any guesses about Player of the Series; Muttiah Muralitharan.
Suresh who captained Thomians to President’s Trophy triumph passes away
Former S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia cricketer Suresh Goonesekere who was the captain when the school won the Inaugural President’s Trophy passed away. He was living in the UK.
The S. Thomas’ Sports officials said that Goonesekere will always be remembered as a very good sportsman who brought honour to the school.
A batting opener Goonesekere played in the S. Thomas’ First XI team from 1990 to 1992, captaining the team in his last year. The names of both Suresh Goonesekere and his father P.N.W. Goonesekere are etched in the Battle of the Blues Big Match history.
The Thomians won when P.N.W. Goonesekere captained the team in 1964. When Suresh Goonesekere captained the school in 1992 the Thomians amassed massive 328 for nine wickets and restricted Royal to 145 runs in the first innings. While Royal had scored over 300 runs previously, it was the first time the Thomians had scored over 300 runs in the historic Battle of the Blues.
The Thomians were the winners of the Inaugurai President’s Trophy Day-Night Tourney when Goonesekere skippered team beat Ananda in the final in 1992.
Goonesekere also played for SSC in the Division I tournament.
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