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Sprinting with giants yet feeling dwarfish

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For two years Ambepitiya had the rare privilege of having sprint king Usain Bolt and his closest contender to world titles Yohan Blake as his training partners but what became of his long cherished ambitions after heavy loads of training in Jamaica is something that should be seriously studied by those who propose foreign training for Sri Lankan athletes. Shehan Ambepitiya flanked by Usain Bolt and Glean Mills.

Foreign training for local athletes

Story of a Lankan youth who trained alongside Bolt

by Reemus Fernando

Sprinter Shehan Ambepitiya had the privilege of being trained by probably the best sprint coach in Sri Lanka. He had bagged several coveted international medals by the time he turned 20. By 2010 he was just three milliseconds behind the Olympic qualifying mark for 100 metres (judging by the 2008 qualifying standards) when the highly excited National Olympic Committee provided him with an IOC scholarship to be trained by Glean Mills alongside world record holder Usain Bolt. For two years Ambepitiya had the rare privilege of having sprint king Usain Bolt and his closest contender to world titles Yohan Blake as his training partners but what became of his long cherished ambitions after heavy loads of training in Jamaica is something that should be seriously studied by those who fancy foreign training for Sri Lankan athletes.

There are many Sri Lankan track and field athletes who benefitted from foreign training and reached Olympic qualifying standards and international medal winning standards. Olympians from S. L. B. Rosa and Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam to Manjula Kumara, who had US University scholarships and from Olympic medalist Susanthika Jayasinghe to Asian Championship medalist Sachith Maduranga, high performance training overseas had a huge positive impact on their sporting careers.

But from sprinters Ambepitiya to Chandrika Subashini to long jumper Sampath Dissanayake it was a different story as they struggled to reach their personal best after undergoing training meant for track and field’s super stars. Current sprinter Himasha Eshan, who also had a training stint in Jamaica also had to face a similar predicament and remodel his training plans after returning from Jamaica.

“It was a good experience to train alongside the likes of Bolt and Blake but I never ran closer to my personal best after training in Jamaica,” said Shehan Ambepitiya in an interview with The Island on Monday.

“I was following the same training schedule Bolt and Blake was following. It was not an individualised training plan. Obviously, the focus during training was on Bolt.”

By 2008, Ambepitiya had burst like a rocket into international scene under Sunil Gunawardena’s guidance. He had shown lot of promise at a very young age that he was looked up to as a future medal prospect at senior World level. That year he became the first Sri Lankan male athlete to feature in a final of a World Athletics event when he finished seventh in the 100 metres final at the U20 World Championships. The same year, the former Gateway College and President’s College, Rajagiriya, athlete won three gold medals at the Commonwealth Youth Games in India.

In 2010, Ambepitiya clocked his personal best of 10.31 seconds as he won gold to become South Asia’s fastest man. Athletics had unearthed a wonderful talent. Something had to be done.

Neither the NOC nor the authorities who influenced him to take up the IOC scholarship to be trained in Jamaica meant bad for Ambepitiya. But Sunil Gunawardena, the person who had the knowledge of the athlete was not consulted. Would it have made a difference if had they consulted Gunawardena?

Ambepitiya said: “Sir [Sunil} did not give his consent. At that time I also did not understand why he was not willing to send me for training in Jamaica.”

When he returned from Jamaica, Ambepitiya had a nagging hamstring injury to cope up with and those who were expecting miracles to happen wondered why he had not qualified for the 2012 London Olympics.

“Everything was different in Jamaica from food to training. Sunil Sir was yet to introduce me to lift heavy weights in training here. In Jamaica, I was introduced to them without any evaluation.

But when I returned I was far behind my personal best. It took years before I could run below 10.50 seconds again.”

Despite failing to improve his personal best, Ambepitiya continued training under Gunawardena with a lot of commitment for years and was a part of the team that established the current national record in the men’s 4×100 metres at the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

Asked for his views on foreign training for local athletes, Ambepitiya opined that he would not recommend it for track and field athletes.

Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa has highlighted the need to provide foreign training for country’s best athletes. It has been reported that the best athletes selected from this year’s competitions would be sent abroad for training. It is doubtful whether there would be competitions this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But when the competitions are held and future prospects emerge it would be advisable to weigh the pros and cons of overseas training carefully. Foreign training which is perfect for one may not be so for another as in the case of Ambepitiya.



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Devapathiraja stun Isipatana, Mahinda oust St. Joseph Vaz’s

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Under-19 Cricket

by Reemus Fernando

Devapathiraja secured their first ever semi-final place in an Under-19 Division I tournament with a six wicket victory over Isipatana and Mahinda cruised to the semis with a crushing 131 runs victory over St. Joseph Vaz’s in the Tier ‘B’ quarter-finals played on Thursday.

An unbroken 94 run stand for the fifth wicket between Jeewaka Shasheen (56n.o.) and Sudeera Weerarathna (31n.o.) helped Devapathiraja turn tables on Isipatana as they recovered from 58 for four wickets at one stage to seal their semi-final place with six wickets to spare.

Mahinda posted 252 runs in 43 overs thanks to a quick fire half century by Dhanuja Induwara, who hammered 73 runs (in 32 balls) inclusive of six sixes and six fours. St. Joseph Vaz’s were shout out for 121 runs as Kushan Madusha , Navod Paranavithana, Subanu Rajapaksha and Kavidu Lakshan shared bowling honours.

Mahinda will now meet Ananda in the semi-final, while Devapathiraja take on Dharmasoka.

Results

Division I Tier ‘B’

Mahinda beat St. Joseph Vaz’s by 131 runs at Moratuwa

Mahinda

252 for 8 in 43 overs (Navod Paranavithana 62, Subanu Rajapaksha 62, Dhanuja Induwara 73; Kaushan Wijerartne 2/28)

St. Joseph Vaz’s

121 all out in 38.2 overs (Chamath Fernando 18; Kushan Madusha 2/25, Navod Paranavithana 2/23, Subanu Rajapaksha 2/11, Kavidu Lakshan 2/08)

Devapathiraja beat Isipatana by six wickets at DSS ground

Isipatana

151 all out in 39.5 overs (Tharusha Nethsara 31, Naveen Kanishka 23, Themiya Gunaratne 18; Sasanka Nirmal 2/21, Sudeera Weeraratne 2/24, Irushka Thimira 3/28)

Devapathiraja

152 for 4 in 43.2 overs (Irushka Thimira 32, Jeewaka Shasheen 56n.o., Sudeera Weerarathna 31n.o., Thevindu Dickwella 4/28)

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Daunting task ahead after Bangladesh pile up runs

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Rex Clementine at Pallekele

Twenty years ago, Test matches against Bangladesh were a cakewalk for Sri Lanka. There was a game at SSC where Marvan Atapattu scored  a double hundred and retired followed by Mahela Jayawardene who retired on 150. Sanath Jayasuriya was least bothered smashing 89 off 59 balls with 11 fours and four sixes. The entire Bangladesh team managed one run more than Jayasuriya in their first innings. Now the roles are reversed. Bangladesh seem to be giving the Sri Lankans a taste of their own medicine. Has Bangladesh cricket really improved or has Sri Lankan cricket become so bad?

You can not say that Bangladesh cricket is on a high. They lost a recent Test series to West Indies at home and last year lost to Afghanistan. Some 90 percent of their wins in Test cricket have been against Zimbabwe. So why is Sri Lanka playing catch up in this game is an interesting question. The answers will be known by stumps on day three when Sri Lanka get a chance to bat.

It was a remarkable effort by the tourists who are without their main match winner Shakib Al Hasan and their lead bowler Mustafizur Rahman, both of them are at IPL.

Bangladesh finished day two on 474 for four after resuming on 302 for two with Mominul Haque and Najmul Shanto posting big hundreds. The pair shared a record 242 run stand, a new record for Bangladesh in Test match cricket. It’s also a joint record at Pallekele for the third wicket with Younis Khan and Shan Masood posting 242 runs six years ago.

Sri Lanka’s  bowling lacked venom as no wickets fell in the morning session. Lahiru Kumara provided the breakthrough when he took a return catch to dismiss Shanto. The left-hander who posted his maiden Test hundred on Wednesday finished on 163 having batted for seven minutes short of nine hours. He faced 378 deliveries and hit 17 fours and a six. Niroshan Dickwella’s dropped catch early on in his innings proved to be costly.

For Mominul it was his 11th Test hundred and the first overseas. He was dismissed when he edged part-timer Dhananjaya de Silva to Lahiru Thirimanne at first slip.

The scoreboard doesn’t look good for Sri Lankans but their bowlers did a decent job to stop the run flow on day two having sent down too many loose balls on day one. Suranga Lakmal in particular was impressive bowling some tight spells. He was unlucky and needed more backing from others.

Play was called off early due to bad light and 25 overs were not bowled. The game will resume today 15 minutes early.

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May the educated continue to run cricket!

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by Rex Clementine

While the Test series  involving Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is on at Pallekele in a bio-secure bubble, the media has been allowed to cover the series in what is called the  ‘outer bubble’. The press can file their stories from the press box and carry on with their day today activities. The only thing that we can not do is to come face to face with players and support staff.

Sri Lanka Cricket is at the moment run by a respected doctor – Professor Arjuna de Silva. Apart from being a brilliant physician, he is proving to be an outstanding administrator as well. Glad he does not wish to avoid the press like the plague in these testing times.

The press discussed a similar method during the England series, but it fell on deaf ears of those who were running the sport at that time. Leave alone giving us a fair hearing, it took SLC more than a week to respond to our collective mail.

Then there were lies all around.  SLC first said that it was impossible to accommodate the press as the England and Wales Cricket Board had objected to our presence. We referred the matter to the ECB, who denied it outright saying that they had no issues with press covering the series. Then there were more lies, even misguiding the Minister of Sports.

The same SLC Executive Committee a few weeks either side of the England series had requested the media to cover their press briefings and they were well attended. But cricket matches for some mysterious reasons were out of bounds for us. Obviously, SLC hierarchy were getting advice from the wrong people.

South Africa, Australia, England, Pakistan and even India where COVID cases are at a staggering high had allowed the media to attend cricket matches but SLC was an exception. Did they have an axe to grind with the press for constantly highlighting daylight robbery at Maitland Place?

There was a storm of protest at the treatment meted out to the media. Former players, administrators and fans expressed their disappointment at what was happening but SLC bosses were thick skinned. Its President boasted that he was going to get more than 100 votes at the AGM. He was all too powerful. But the law of the land proved to be more powerful than him as the entire Executive Committee was dismissed on technical grounds. The CEO continues, although his time is hanging by a thread.

Further woes followed at the COPE hearing as the Parliamentary watchdog found large scale corruption and no accountability. The Secretary to the Sports Ministry was informed to initiate legal proceedings against officials who were responsible for corrupt deals that included money that broadcasting partners owed the board being transferred into offshore accounts.

It remains to be seen what action the Sports Ministry intends to take with the game suffering several blows both on and off the field in the last five years. The slide started during the Yahapalana regime and not much has been done to address the woes under the present government. The Sports Minister backdating a letter legalizing the term of the Executive Committee was the last straw. The move was opposed and the Minister was forced to dismiss the Executive Committee and bring in fresh faces amidst much criticism.

The same Ex Co did not bother to take disciplinary action against misbehaving players. This coupled with poor on field performances saw cricket’s ardent fans turning away from the game. While the national cricket team was involved in a series in the Caribbean, the retired players were featuring in a Legends tournament in India. Strangely, the fans preferred to watch the former players in action than their national team. This was extremely disturbing news.

Soon after the administration was changed, a clear message has been sent that misconduct will be sternly dealt with. An opening batsman who had got into constant trouble was hauled up for an inquiry on Tuesday and has been warned to behave or pack his bags. This is the way forward. When there is discipline, results will follow automatically.

The elected officials who were in power before that had double standards. For example, captain Dimuth Karunaratne who was involved in a late night accident was fined Rs. one million. This was despite him buying a brand new three wheeler to the other party involved in the accident. Kusal Mendis who was involved in a hit and run was treated with kids’ gloves. The board closed the case claiming it was a personal matter. That a poor man on his way to work was killed wasn’t a serious enough issue for them. That was not on.

Thankfully, the attitude of the administration has changed now. The powers that be need to ensure that the educated run cricket. Let the corrupt rot in jail.

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