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Selling your skippers down the river



by Rex Clementine 

Last month, Kusal Janith Perera was made to look like a superstar. Sri Lanka’s selectors got him to captain the side, keep wickets, and open batting.  Not even the ice cool M.S. Dhoni had been saddled with that many responsibilities. 

This month, however, it has dawned onto the selectors that KJP is no superstar. Not only has he been sacked as the captain, he is also likely to be relieved of wicket-keeping duties. Don’t be surprised if they tell KJP to bat in the middle order during the ODIs. 

Every defeat needs a scapegoat. We found a good one in KJP. Selling your skipper down the river, however, is nothing new. It is an age-old practice that successive establishments have used to make ends meet or even teach people lessons. Politicians have a lot to learn from our cricket. 

We all know that Bandula Warnapura is not the mastermind of the rebel tour to South Africa. Those who plotted got away but Warnapura bore the brunt of it all. The commonly known fact is that he was banned for 25 years but there are lesser-known factors. For example, the second tour to South Africa that Dr. Ali Bacher had promised when he wooed the unsuspecting Sri Lankans never happened. That left the players high and dry. Warnapura had taken on a powerful government minister by taking the team to South Africa and he was made to suffer as the government made sure that his appeal for electricity was repeatedly turned down. 

Simply because being the nephew of Bandula, young Malintha suffered too as he couldn’t get a school admission. None wanted to associate with the name of Warnapura. 

Marvan Atapattu was an exemplary leader. He was destined to lead the team for a few years but a back injury forced him out of the side. When he returned, the captaincy was never given back to him. He was in fact ridiculed. Picked for the 2007 World Cup but wasn’t given a game and instead made to carry drinks. His persecutors today are legends of the game. Cricket is a funny game they say. 

T.M. Dilshan took up the captaincy at a time when nobody wanted it. With Murali retired, Dilshan’s bowling resources were thin. He was in for a rude shock when the team’s premier fast bowler announced his retirement from Test cricket at the age of 27. Two of our captains on IPL duty in India justified the fast bowler’s retirement from Test cricket. The script and the plot had been written and planned at Perera Gardens. It was nicely executed too. 

With limited resources Dilshan was rebuilding the team. Then the unthinkable happened. Usually when Sri Lankan teams go to South Africa Test matches barely last three days and often the tourists lose by an innings. But under Dilshan, Sri Lanka recorded their first Test win on South African soil in 2011. Before the tour was over, he was sacked as skipper. There had been a coup. A bloodless coup. 

Poor Dinesh Chandimal was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea during contract negotiations ahead of the 2014 ICC World T-20 in Dhaka. He turned his back on the administration showing solidarity with seniors. Cricket’s bigwigs promised to teach him a lesson. Some seniors sensed the opportunity to settle old scores. So they slowed down the over rate. That resulted in Chandimal being suspended. The poor bloke suffered in silence and ever since has been a reluctant leader.  

Angelo Mathews is a smart kid. He knew what some of these chaps were up to. So when he was captaining he told one of our legends that unless he finished his six balls in a stipulated number of minutes, he is not going to get a bowl again in the game. The fast bowler behaved. No more slower over rates. 

Mathews, however, couldn’t win all his battles. He got fed up and gave up the captaincy in July 2017. Six months later there was a change in team management. They pleaded with Mathews to take up captaincy again. Reluctantly, he took it up and soon realized that it was a poisoned chalice with the very people who requested him to take up the role accusing him of under-performing. It’s just not cricket.


Sri Lanka Athletics gives priority to Asian Games



by Reemus Fernando

 Sri Lanka Athletics will give priority to Asian Games over the Commonwealth Games as the two major sports events take place within five weeks from each other in 2022. The track and field governing body indicated their priorities at a meeting with the National Olympic Committee yesterday.

“Our best chances are at the Asian Games. We are trying to get the best out of the talent we have. To achieve that we have set our priorities right. Though we are going to select a team for both events at the same stage we might not send some athletes for the Commonwealth Games,” a senior official of Sri Lanka Athletics told The Island after a meeting with the NOC yesterday.

“For example our best chances for the men’s 4×400 metres relay team is at the Asian Games. We might not field that team for the Commonwealth Games,” Saman Kumara, the statistician of Sri Lanka Athletics said.

“In 2002 we had both the Commonwealth Games (July 25- August 4) and the Asian Games within a span of two months. We had three men who could run 400 metres in 45 seconds. We had the best chance of winning the 4×400 metres gold in Busan but the Commonwealth Games had its toll on the runners when the time came for the Asian Games,” said Saman Kumara who has experience as both a selector and manager of teams for these games.

While the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be held from July 28 to August 8 in Birmingham, the Chinese city of Hangzhou will host Asian Games from September 10 to 25.

“We are almost certain of fielding a men’s 4×100 metres relay team for the Commonwealth Games provided they meet selection criteria. The men’s 4×400 metres relay team will be reserved for the Asian Games.”

Though medal prospects are dim in track events at the Commonwealth Games, Sri Lanka’s men’s 4×100 metres relay team consisting of Himasha Eshan, Shehan Ambepitiya, Vinoj Suranjaya and Mohamed Ashrafu had a memorable outing at the last edition in Gold Coast where they established the current national record clocking 39.08 seconds.

That record will be in danger now with Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon improving the national record this year and showing the ability to further improve the record.

Sri Lanka Athletics will update the current elite and national pools after concluding the remaining events of the National Championship at the end of next month. That pool will be maintained till March 2022 when the teams for both the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are selected. The centenary National Championships in 2022 April (8,9,10) will be the final selection trial for both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.

Sri Lanka Athletics will also target forming a mixed relay team for the Asian Games as there are two strong contenders to fill the women’s spots in Nadeesha Ramanayake and Dilshi Kumarasainghe. While Kalinga Kumarage and Aruna Dharshana are the front runners for the men’s sports in the mixed relay, the next few months will be crucial for the rest of the sprinters aspiring to win a place in the team for the men’s 4×400 metres relay.

Given their current form, the 100 metres, 400 metres, 4x100metres, 4×400 metres, high jump, long jump, and javelin throw, in the men’s category, 800 metres, steeplechase, long jump, and marathon in the women’s category and the mixed relay are the disciplines in which athletes have shown potential in reaching qualifying standards.

Sri Lanka has won the majority of Asian Games medals in track and field events though the country has not witnessed medal success after the men’s 4×400 metres quartet of Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Rohitha Pushpakumara, Prasanna Amarasekara and  Ashoka Jayasundara won the bronze in 2006 in Doha. Since 2006 the country has won only two medals, both in cricket.

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SL begin World Cup preparations today



by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka’s cricketers who are in a bio-secure bubble at the Cinnamon Grand in Colombo will end their three day quarantine today and will start group training. Following the group training, there will be full squad training stimulating match situations and after ten days of practices in Colombo, the team will leave for Oman where they will play two T-20 Internationals.

Former captain Kusal Janith Perera, who sustained a hamstring injury during the South Africa series and was doubtful for the World Cup is in the bubble and The Island learns that there is a good possibility that he will recover by the time the World Cup starts.

KJP was axed as captain after just two tours and he missed the home series against India with a shoulder injury. He then tested positive for COVID and missed the ODI leg of the South Africa series and hurt his hamstring during the last T-20 International against the Proteas.

Sources said that KJP will tour with the squad to Oman but he is likely to be kept out of the games there and will be available for the qualifying round of the World Cup.

Sri Lanka’s bowling too is thin on experience for the Oman leg with SLC freeing Wanindu Hasaranga and Dushmantha Chameera, who are contracted with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. Both players are expected to join the squad just before the World Cup qualifiers.

Sri Lanka are slotted alongside Namibia, Netherlands and Ireland in the qualifying round and need to win two of those games to qualify. The games against Namibia and Netherlands will be played in Abu Dhabi while the crunch game against Ireland will take place in Sharjah. While Namibia and Netherlands do not pose much of a threat, Ireland can challenge Sri Lanka given all the troubles they have had in T-20 cricket in recent years.

Sri Lanka’s form lead up to the World Cup is not ideal having been blanked 3-0 by the Proteas at home. The two match series in Oman hopefully will give them momentum ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.

Apart from the squad of 15 players, the ICC allows four travelling reserves to be with the squad in case of replacements are needed in these uncertain times. Sri Lanka also are carrying five additional players at the board’s cost so that they will not be caught off guard in case of an emergency.

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SLC keen to help Pakistan and looking for a window



by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka Cricket is keen to help Pakistan once again after cricket in the country came to a standstill with New Zealand and England pulling out from their bilateral tours. Pakistan cricket chief former Test captain Ramiz Raja had reached out to his counterparts at SLC requesting the possibilities of a short tour. However, SLC is cramped for room for an immediate tour but will consider travelling to the country for a white ball series, possibly this year, SLC sources told The Island.

Sri Lanka are set to leave for Oman on the 3rd of October and that ruled out a series in Pakistan before the ICC T-20 World Cup. Soon after the World Cup, Sri Lanka will host West Indies for two Tests and the board will look at the possibility of touring Pakistan after that series.

Cricket in Pakistan stopped after the 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore. Pakistan were forced to play their home games in UAE, an exercise that cost the PCB an arm and a leg.

In 2017, Pakistan made a huge step forward when the last game of a bilateral series against Sri Lanka was played in Lahore. In that series, two Tests, five ODIs and two T-20s had been played in UAE and the final T-20 in Lahore.

Since, then Pakistan has hosted Bangladesh, West Indies and Zimbabwe in limited overs cricket while South Africa had played Test match cricket. Sri Lanka had toured Pakistan for both white ball and red ball games.

PCB was looking to bring all international teams back to the country but the pulling out of New Zealand in the 11th hour followed by England’s no show have been massive blows. Pakistan officials have been bitter about the cancellations and have promised to take up the matter with the ICC.

SLC was highly impressed by the security arrangements that were in place for the team and officials during all their visits and had sent senior Air Force officer Roshan Biyanwala to assess the situation before the team travelled to Pakistan. Biyanwala had given a clean slate and the tours completed successfully.

Pakistan has been one of Sri Lanka’s strongest allies in cricket. Several Pakistan players including former great Wasim Akram played a hastily arranged exhibition match in Colombo along with leading Indian stars before the 1996 World Cup when Australia and West Indies pulled out due to security reasons.

Much before that, Pakistan was a pillar of strength when Sri Lanka applied for full member status with the ICC in 1970s. Abdul Hafeez Kardar in his capacity as Chairman of the Pakistan board aggressively pushed Sri Lanka’s case. He was responsible in training Sri Lankan coaches and curators in Pakistan to uplift the standard of the game in the island.

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