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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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Argy – Bargy meets BLACK WALL!

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

The much anticipated ‘payback’ match for New Zealand’s All Blacks against the Argentinian Pumas had finally arrived. In one of the hottest days recorded in decades, in Newcastle Sydney, the Pumas fielded a different team to their last game, with over ten changes. Probably looking for fresh legs as this was their third international in three weeks. Joe Moody the All Black number one, loose head prop was playing his 50th game in the black jersey. Akira Ioane was back in the starting XV in the number six jersey.

The Pumas’ were mourning the death of their football legend Diego Maradona and the All Blacks made a wonderful gesture before they started their Haka, in honour of their opponents. Sam Cane the skipper walked up to the Argentinian team who were facing up to the haka and laid down a black jersey with the name Maradona and the no10 on it. A very impressive move by the All Blacks and very much in keeping with the standards and behaviour that New Zealanders expect from the All Blacks! A very suitable honour for El Pibe de Ora – The Golden Boy.

The first scrum happened in the second minute and it was the All Blacks who dominated. The resulting scrum penalty was around 45 meters out and rather surprisingly, Jodie Barret was given the ball to take a shot at goal. He missed!

In the ninth minute, the All Blacks playing under a penalty advantage, well inside Puma territory saw Beauden Barret chip kick over the defence and center Lennert-Brown knocked on when collecting the ball. Usually referees play a much longer advantage but, on this occasion, and few others as the game progressed, the advantage for All Blacks was forgotten and a defensive scrum awarded to the blue and white team.

In the 12th minute a great long pass by Ritchie Muanga to Dan Coles the hooker, who has a penchant for lurking on the wing, saw him go over and score far right. Muanga converted and the Kiwis were into a 7 – 0 lead.

Aaron Smith who had a pretty average game showed some good clear, incisive thinking on this occasion, as he spotted a gap behind the Argentine line and kicked ahead gaining a lot of territory. A very kickable penalty was awarded to the All Blacks right in front of the posts and the three points were a mere formality. 10 – 0 to the New Zealand All Blacks.

The ABs were starting to dominate both in loose play and in the set pieces, particularly the scrums. However, the Argentine defence seemed impregnable and the Kiwis may even have been accused of trying too hard. Aaron Smith didn’t see a couple of opportunities to run with the ball and possibly score from five meters out and kept passing to heavily marked team members.

There were a few “pedantic” high tackle penalties awarded to the Pumas and some rough play from Argentina duly overlooked by the ref. A penalty advantage for the Blacks was also terminated rather quickly, again, but they kept their cool and refused to succumb to the mental games. There were a few uncharacteristic handling errors by the Pumas, possibly due to the high humidity levels and a greasy ball. In the 38th minute a penalty was awarded to the NZ team after many phases of dominating forward play. It was around 25 meters out and mid right, should have been an easy kick for Muanga but he struck the left upright and missed! So, the All Blacks went into half time with a 10 – 0 lead after having 76% of the possession and 77% of the territory! A tribute to the Argentinian defence. The All Blacks also missed two penalties, was this to prove costly?

The second half started with two All Blacks players crashing into each other when trying to collect the kick off from Argentina. Scott Barret and Caleb Clark both went for the ball and Clark came up with it, from what looked like a nasty clash. However, Scotty Barret sprang to his feet, but it left the spectators wondering what was going on. Akira Ioane who the referee had pinged a few times for largely imaginary offences, (one wonders if the officials earmark certain players who have reputations to watch closely during the game!) ripped the ball away for a turnover, from the Pumas during a possibly dangerous phase of loose play.

This was further emphasis of the dominance that the All Blacks had in loose play and one of the main reasons for their victory.

The Argentinian skipper was caught offside from kickable range, but the All Blacks chose to go for territory. The Argentinian defence was rock solid and it finally took a back peel from a line out, in the 52nd minute of the game, with Aardie Savea who stood at number two even though he was wearing the number eight jersey, charging through the defence to score mid left. Muanga managed the balance two points and 17 – 0 to the New Zealanders.

Sam Cane the skipper and hard-working wing forward of the All Blacks was impeccable in attack and defence. It was a treat to watch and a real lesson for an aspiring young player. He ensured the dominance in loose play and at the breakdown. From the 55th minute onwards both teams started resorting to their bench players. A couple of remarkable changes that made an impact on the score line was Sam Whitelock going off for Patrick Tuapoletu in the second row and Caleb Clark being replaced by Will Jordan in the wing.

In retrospect it was rather obvious that these players, particularly Jordan had been sent on to look for attacking opportunities as it was essential to win this game with a bonus point to have a better chance of securing the silverware at the end of the tournament.

Sure enough Will Jordan picked up a wild pass to nowhere by the Pumas, scythed his way through the defence and scored under the posts in the 68th minute, 24 – 0 to the All Blacks. This in the view of all New Zealanders was more like it.

In the 69th minute Jordan again intercepted an Argentine pass and ran around 35 meters to score far left. The replay showed Jordan out of position for defence as the Pumas were attacking, he was looking for the intercept! Muanga was back in kicking form and slotted it brilliantly, 31 – 0, bonus point under control and a fine clinical and professional performance from the New Zealanders.

In the 80th minute, after the hooter had gone, Ricco Ioane went over the line, but the try was disallowed as Lomax was pinged by the TV referee for a foul and yellow carded. I wonder when he will serve his time in the sin bin? As the rugby season is over. Maybe by eating his Christmas dinner 10 minutes late!!

The Pumas could have ended the match at this stage, but they chose to continue in a desperate attempt to cross their opponents line at least once. There was a penalty awarded when Sam Cane was cleaned out in what could even be deemed as a spear tackle. Cane got up bleeding from a gash on his right eye and this was too much for some of his team mates who went for the Argies. The penalty was promptly reversed in the mindless interpretation of the rules which has begun to characterise and degrade this game we love. However, the All Blacks were having none of this and found enough in the engine room to set replacement number four Patrick Tuapoletu off on a 20-meter run to score mid right. Insult to Injury for the Pumas with the final score 38 – 0 to the All Blacks.

All in all, a very ‘satisfying’ (in the words of Sam Cane) assertion of the quality of All Black rugby. Full kudos for sending Will Jordan on with the brief he had and the ability to ‘pick up the plums’ (in the words of the Coach). Respect your opponents by all means but beat them convincingly by playing professional rugby football. That is what this great game is all about.

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Andre Russell hammers 65 off 19 balls, Colombo Kings make 96 to win five-over shootout

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With this innings, Andre Russell basically crash-landed at the LPL like an alien from a way bigger-hitting planet than earth, clobbering what seemed like nine dozen sixes (apparently four sixes, according to the scorecard) and half-a-million fours (nine fours) in the space of five overs, to send Colombo Kings sky-rocketing to some ludicrous total that – let’s be honest – Galle Gladiators never really had a hope of chasing down.

This was utterly remorseless from Russell, who was like a 12-foot giant running wild in a playpen full of toddlers. He blasted two sixes and three fours in Mohammad Amir’s first over, at the end of which Kings were 26 for no loss, before hitting a six and three fours off the next over, bowled by Asitha Fernando.

It didn’t seem to matter where the bowlers went, or whether they seemed to execute their deliveries or not. Around every corner was Russell, bat raised and a glint in his eye. Of the Gladiators’ four bowlers, only Mohammad Shiraz did not concede a six to Russell.

Laurie Evans was outstanding at the other end too, hitting back-to-back sixes off Amir’s second over (Amir ended up conceding 46 from his two overs), and a four off Shiraz. He was 21 off 10 balls when in the last over, Russell clubbed Shahid Afridi to long-on, before turning down the single so he could keep the strike for the rest of the over.

On the surface, this seems disrespectful to Evans, and it kind of was. But then Russell crashed a four through long-on next ball, and a six over backward square leg the ball after. So, you know, you couldn’t really fault that decision either.

That the match had been shortened to five overs a side was down to the three hours of rain that had fallen this evening. The weather conspired to bring Russell out as an opener, and in some ways, this innings was more entertaining than many regular T20 matches.

(cricinfo)

 

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Exodus of white South African cricket talent  

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by Rex Clementine

Every time Sri Lankan teams go to South Africa, they ask the locals one question. ‘What happened to Marchant de Langa?’ The six foot seven inch tall quick, made his Test debut against the Sri Lankans in Durban in 2011. He took seven wickets in the first innings and his victims included Kumar Sangakkara, Angelo Mathews, and Tilan Samaraweera et al. Yet, after that, he was hardly heard of. So what actually happened to de Langa? Well, he turned ‘Kolpak’ preferring County Cricket in England instead of Test cricket for his country.

Isn’t that absurd? One may wonder. The ultimate joy for any player is to represent your country. That too, after you had proven yourself in Test cricket, why do you want to return to First Class cricket? Well, the reason being, white South African cricketers get a raw deal in their country and they are seeking greener pastures in Europe or in places like Australia and New Zealand. Not just cricketers, this includes farmers, businessmen and other professionals. Australia in particular welcomes South African farmers with open arms.

For decades, the black South Africans suffered at the hands of white rulers and those terrible apartheid laws not only segregated them but deprived them of equal opportunities. The world took notice and imposed trade embargos on South Africa. Sports associations followed banning bilateral sporting ties with South Africa and in the end; they were left with Hobson’s choice but to give in for fair play.

Sadly, now white South Africans are at the receiving end due to the ‘quota system’ that is prevalent across all walks of life. When seeking employment, black South Africans get the preference, followed by coloured and those of Indian origin and the whites come last. So opportunities for them are few and rare. In sports too talent alone won’t get you there. The quota system encourages more black South African representation and as a result the whites are moving out.

In the Lanka Premier League, two South Africans share the new ball for Jaffna Stallions – Kyle Abbott and Duanne Olivier. Both were successful international cricketers before they turned Kolpak settling in England to play County Cricket.

Abbott was playing the New Year Test against Sri Lanka in Cape Town in 2017. That he had signed a Kolpak deal was a poorly kept secret and the news was out during the Test match. Cricket South Africa reacted angrily and wanted to separate.  The fast bowler announced his retirement at the conclusion of the Test match. This was the second Test.  So for the third game in Johannesburg, the Proteas were short of a fast bowler. They drafted in Duanne Olivier.

Olivier on debut was on the money and his pace was too much to handle for the Sri Lankans. The game was lost inside three days. Two years later when Sri Lanka returned to South Africa, Olivier along with Kagiso Rabada was South Africa’s premier bowlers. Yet, after the second Test, Olivier too turned Kolpak and South Africa lost yet another fine talent in his prime.

All South Africans who have turned Kolpak are doing a terrific job for their respective counties. Their country meanwhile is struggling to make an impact in the sport. South Africa are ranked sixth in Tests and fifth in ODIs and T-20s. Not the true reflection of their sporting greatness.

What the Kolpak ruling means is that citizens of the country who have trade agreements with the European Union countries are eligible to work as locals. Now South Africa is not part of the EU, but they have a trade agreement with EU and that qualifies their citizens. So when English counties hire South Africans, it’s not considered an overseas signing.

In the last few years with Britain exiting from the European union more South Africans turned Kolpak in order to qualify. Cricket authorities in South Africa must be hoping that now their problems will end as Kolpak deal is no longer valid once Britain exits EU. However, unless they deal with serious issues like equal opportunities to all, they are going to face more problems.

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