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Sorry state of South Africa cricket

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by Rex Clementine

Most players will not pick South Africa as their favourite destination but most cricket reporters would pick it. There are many reasons. A vast country, South Africa has much to offer. While most love the wildlife and weather, others prefer the variety of beers and meat. The visa process is the easiest while it literally takes you less than five minutes to complete the accreditation process. Like Sri Lankans, the people in South Africa are the most friendly. Then their cricketing centers are right up there with other world class facilities be it Kingsmead in Durban, Newlands in Cape Town or Wanderers in Johannesburg.

But cricket in South Africa is facing hard times at present. Some observers have even pointed out that the country is facing the threat of suspension from the International Cricket Council due to government interference. If the unthinkable happens, it will be a black day for one of the greatest sporting nations.

Three decades ago, when South Africa were readmitted to the ICC following the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, which ended the apartheid regime, there was new found hope.

The cricketing world witnessed Alan Donald for the first time during the 1992 World Cup. He was so quick and earned the nickname ‘White Lightning’

A year later, when South Africa made their maiden visit to Sri Lanka, the players had discussed at length how they were going to tackle Donald. But they were blown away by someone called Brett Schultz, whose left arm thunderbolts were unplayable.

As long as Mandela was in power, he ensured fair play. Mandela was a generous man. He was perhaps too honest. The South African constitution allowed him two terms. But he decided to retire after serving just one term. His successors were not so generous.

The racial quota introduced in South Africa has had a devastating effect in sports. Of the 11 South Africans in a cricket team, there can be only five whites. That is for international cricket and the chances of whites playing domestic cricket is even more less. Hence, the whites have moved in massive numbers to greener pastures in England, Australia and New Zealand. As a result, we have seen the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Marnus Labuschagne and Grant Elliott playing the sport for other countries.

The worst is that white South Africans giving up their international status and moving to the UK to play First Class cricket taking a KOLPAK deal. A KOLPAK deal briefly means that countries that have trade agreements with European Union (EU) also have same rights as member countries of EU.

Duanne Olivier debuted for South Africa when Sri Lanka toured that country. He bowled some hostile spells and Sri Lankans were in full awe given the pace he generated. But he opted for a KOLPAK deal giving up his chances of playing for South Africa. That was in 2019. In 2018, Morne Morkel turned KOLPAK and in 2017 Kyle Abbott had done the same. These are some of the finest fast bowlers produced by South Africa.

South African authorities don’t have to force it on the system to have a certain number of non white players. Equal opportunities for everyone means fine talents will emerge. Take the case of Hashim Amla, one of the finest batsman to play the game. Or go and ask Kumar Sangakkara who among current fast bowlers he hates facing. You can be assured his answer will be Kagiso Rabada. The quota system has only created unwanted issues. A non-white player effectively carries the stigma of representing his country not on merit. Not just players, even those none whites who were in administration had splendid careers. Haroon Lorgat was initially Chairman of Selectors and then went onto become CEO of the board and headed the ICC. There was also Lerato Malekutu, the long standing Media Manager of the team who did a splendid job.

Cricket South Africa recently has been unstable. In the last three years, the board has had four CEOs. They have also lost several sponsors in the last few years and could be heading for a financial crisis.

A vibrant South Africa is very much needed for the sport to thrive. With the Big Three again flexing their muscle, it is South Africa that can lead other smaller nations like Sri Lanka and Pakistan to keep the sport strong.

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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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Wickramasinghe comes up with guidelines to train during the pandemic

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Training programmes of a number of top track and field athletes were interrupted at various training venues due to Covid 19 concerns last week. Some of the interruptions were reported in areas where no new Covid 19 positive cases were reported. With the second wave of pandemic starting to disrupt daily life, sports training too is set to suffer badly. But senior track and field coach Upali Wickramasinghe believes that training can proceed without an interruption even during the pandemic by changing the coaching or training style.

Wickramasinghe in his instructions for coaching during the Covid 19 pandemic lists out important guidelines to follow during training, pre training and post training.

Being equipped with a clearance certificate issued by health authorities and submitting parental consent with regard to training juniors will help avoid disappointments at venue entrances according to Wickramasinghe. Sanitizing participants and checking their temperature are the other prerequisites before starting training.

Maintaining social distancing, limiting the training to small groups or individuals, avoiding physical contact (no high-fives, no handshakes) and prohibiting of spitting and clearing of nasal respiratory secretion are the instructions for sportsmen engaged in non contact sports.

Training can be continued even for minimal contact games by classifying training areas into three or four and sticking to training partners and avoiding body blocking.

Training for full body contact games can be done by focusing more on promoting individual skills and technique, utilizing alternative practice equipment, prohibiting sharing of personal equipment and making sanitization mandatory even during training.

Disinfection of training equipment like javelin, shot put, relay batons, shuttlecocks and balls is a major requirement immediately after training. Wickramasinghe also advices participants to exit venues immediately after their training schedules are completed. He also advices not to share personal equipment like rackets, helmets shin – guards, water bottles and T – Shirts.

A former national athlete, Upali Wickramasinghe has been in the field of coaching after his retirement as a Major in the Sri Lanka Army. He has produced a number of top national athletes and was the first coach of Olympian Anuradha Indrajith Cooray, who holds the Sri Lanka National record in the men’s marathon. (RF)

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Sri Lanka to take 20 players to South Africa

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Left-arm seamer Vishwa Fernando outperformed South African quicks Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn during Sri Lanka’s tour to South Africa in 2019 as they won the series 2-0. Here he traps Francois Du Plessis leg before wicket.

by Rex Clementine

Cricket South Africa has  come up with one of  the simplest health guidelines in these testing times and it could turn out to be  the  blueprint other sporting bodies will follow in conducting international sporting events.  The Sri Lankan team will be in South Africa in December for the Boxing Day Test and New Year Test and they will not be required to go through lengthy quarantine periods.  All what the players need is a negative PCR report before boarding the flight to Johannesburg and another negative report upon landing in Oliver Tambo International Airport.

Two negative reports are good enough for players to resume training immediately within the team bubble. The method is quite a contrast to what other countries follow. Sri Lanka’s mandatory 14 day quarantine period resulted in the Test series against Bangladesh being postponed.

The Sri Lankan team will not be given any warm-up games although they are expected to be in South Africa for two weeks prior to the Boxing Day Test match.  With the team in a bubble, net bowlers also will not be provided and hence Sri Lanka will be carrying 20 players in the squad. This avoids the risk of last minute replacements being called up due to injuries as well.

CSA is yet to announce the venues for the tour. England who will be in South Africa prior to Sri Lanka will be secluded in Cape Town and nearby Paarl. England will play three ODIs and three T-20 Internationals in South Africa.

This series will mark Sri Lanka’s return to international cricket after the outbreak of the pandemic in March this year. This year was supposed to be full of international cricket for SLC with several bilateral series at home including tours by India and England that bring much needed television revenue. SLC was also set to host this year’s Asia Cup but all that now has been pushed back due to the pandemic. SLC officials are confident that they will be able to reschedule all postponed series within the next 18 months.

SLC is expected to host England in January next year for two Tests. The national cricket team will then undertake a tour of West Indies.

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