Chamari Athapaththu: ‘Want more match time ahead of Women’s World Cup Qualifier’
Sri Lanka Women captain Chamari Athapaththu believes the postponement of the global Qualifier to determine the final three spots at the 2022 Women’s ODI World Cup from its June-July window to December is a “good thing”. Just for context, Sri Lanka, hosts of the qualifying event, haven’t had any form of international cricket for over a year now.
“To get an additional four-five months for our preparation is a good thing because we haven’t played any international cricket in over 13 months,” Athapaththu told ESPNcricinfo. “Things have been uncertain because of the Covid-19 pandemic and I was a bit worried that if the event went ahead as scheduled, we would have been underprepared. I hope that leading up to December we get a few more series apart from the one against Pakistan that our board is trying to organise.”
ESPNcricinfo understands that talks between SLC and the PCB about Pakistan potentially touring Sri Lanka for limited-overs matches before the Qualifier are only at a preliminary stage. Should they come to fruition, the series might be held only after May.
Both teams, along with West Indies, are among the sides part of the 2017/18-2021 Women’s ODI Championship who will vie for the three qualifying berths for the World Cup to be held in New Zealand from March 4 to April 3.
“Getting some match practice on a regular basis is going to be very important for us before the Qualifiers,” Athapaththu said. “Thailand’s debut in the T20 World Cup last year was proof of the kind of challenge teams outside of the top-ranked nations can present on the world stage. We cannot afford to take anyone lightly because it’s qualification to a World Cup that’s at stake.
“If there are long gaps [for teams] without any cricket for say a year or a year-and-a half, even the best look ordinary. I followed the recent series between India and South Africa. India are a top side, but they hadn’t played for a year, so they couldn’t play well. On the other hand, because South Africa had played some games before coming to India, they looked far better even in the absence of some of their senior players.”
Among a raft of world tournaments that the ICC has postponed due to the pandemic is the inaugural Under-19 Women’s World Cup. Originally scheduled for this year in Bangladesh, the tournament has been pushed back to January 2023. In Athapaththu’s assessment, the postponement will rob several deserving young players of the opportunity to play in the world tournament.
“We have a good bunch of Under-19 girls,” Athapaththu said. “The school cricket tournaments were on over the past few weeks and I think a few girls were on the radar as far as making the potential squad for the Under-19 World Cup was concerned. But, unfortunately, most of them will no longer be able to take part in it because a gap of two years is a sizeable one.
“Age-group tournaments come with age-related restrictions, so not having the tournament this year is a very disappointing thing for those young Sri Lankan girls and for me as an international cricketer. I feel bad for them because our qualifiers have also been postponed, but we will still get a chance [to compete in that tournament], but so many of these girls won’t. We will now have to look for pretty much a fresh bunch of girls to field in the 2023 edition.”
Athapaththu hits form in domestic
Since the T20 World Cup last year, where Sri Lanka won only one of their four league games, the only opportunity Athapaththu has had to play any form of top-flight cricket was in the BCCI’s Women’s T20 Challenge in November in the UAE, where she was the leading run-scorer.
On the domestic front, she was part of the recently concluded Women’s Division One Tournament, the eight-team 50-over competition. Athapaththu, who plays for the Chilaw Marians Cricket Club, finished atop the tournament’s run charts with a 429-run tally in seven innings at an average of 61.29, striking at 120.51. The next-best strike rate, 69.49, belonged to Nilakshi de Silva, who took the second place on this list with 246 runs at an average of 49.20.
For the record, the Navy Sports Club, who were undefeated in the league stage, emerged champions after clinching a two-wicket victory over the Army A team in the final in Welisara on April 2.
Inoka Ranaweera, representing Navy, was the leading wicket-taker in the competition, with 25 wickets in seven innings, at an economy of just 2.27. Kavisha Dilhari, the 20-year-old offspin-bowling allrounder with 14 international caps to her name, finished in the top 10 on both charts.
“I am glad we were able to host the women’s inter-club tournament because several of our national-team players, seniors and youngsters alike, got a chance to shake off a bit of the rust,” Athapaththu said. “It also allowed many of us to assess how we are doing individually because we have been mostly training individually in our hometowns because of the pandemic, though we have had a couple of national camps since September last year. The Covid situation has been an obvious a hindrance to hosting games in Sri Lanka but it’s good to have got some competitive cricket this year.”
Although there are substantial Covid-19 restrictions still imposed by the government, with over 90,000 active cases, Sri Lanka has largely avoided the worst of the pandemic, and many aspects of life have returned to normal. The island’s Covid-19 death toll is just under 600.
In the recent past, SLC hosted the Lanka Premier League and a men’s Test tour, and has a schedule lined up for the men’s national team over the next three months. Athapaththu, who is currently training under her personal coach in Kurunegala, was hopeful that the Division One tournament would pave the way for more playing opportunities for Sri Lanka’s women’s cricketers, too.
“The inter-club tournament went well and Kavisha and many of the other national-team players expectedly did better than the others. If youngsters like her get more game time – on the domestic as well as international level – that will be good for the health of women’s cricket in Sri Lanka. SLC is trying to organise practice matches against Under-17 boys, so that, too, could help us.”
Jayaratne Stables outclass peers to record stunning double
It will not be an overstatement to say 15th of April race day in Nuwara Eliya 2021 belonged to Jayaratne Stables. This year Western Wind the horse owned by Jayaratne stables a subsidiary of the Jayaratne Group of Companies produced a stunning victory at the hill country racecourse. Western wind beat former Governor’s Cup and Magic Million winner Alcazeba in the premier event. Western Wind is the undisputed champion in Sri Lanka over 1,800 meters distance.
Gamini Jayaratne the Chairman of Jayaratne Group of Companies is a veteran in horse racing. His passion for horses and horse racing has enabled him to contribute to the sport that he loves. It is over 22 years since he started his stables in Sri Lanka and later began racing in India. Jayaratne is ably supported by his wife Chamari Jayaratne who is very passionate about horse racing. Today the Jayarathne’s own some of the best thoroughbred horses in Sri Lanka and India. Their son Hasanga Jayaratne, Director of the Jayaratne Group oversees the entire horse racing operation, and he was instrumental in the spectacular victories this season.
Jayaratne also has the distinction of being the first Sri Lankan to have started a horse breeding operation in Sri Lanka and also one of the few Sri Lankan’s to have taken part in horse racing in Mumbai, Bangalore, Mysore, and Chennai in India. Being an entrepreneur well known in the country, pioneering some of the most innovative and compassionate services in Sri Lanka his effort to develop the interest among young and able Sri Lankans in horse riding is laudable.
Jayaratne stables have set up a riding center in Dambulla (Forest Park Dambulla) to encourage locals and foreign visitors to learn and enjoy the art of horse riding.
April 2021 is a memorable day for Jayaratne and his horse trainer Sridhar Sivarathnam. Western Wind a thoroughbred horse trained by Sridhar won the premier race in the country the Governor’s Cup a race with a rich history of over 150 years. Jockey K. Vivek flown in from India brought glory to Jayaratne stables by riding the horses to victory in the Governors cup and queens cup the two most sought after races in the country. Sridhar Sivarathnam was the champion trainer in this year’s April season bringing in the most winners and Jayaratne stables has emerged the champion stables.
Bold selections must be lauded
Sri Lanka were in India in 2005, when their selectors brought in a wicketkeeper to the fold. Dinesh Karthik had already established his place in the side so people were actually wondering what was the need to bring in someone who was rarely heard of. Kiran More the Chairman of Selectors said that despite being not known too well, he had seen something special in the wicketkeeper. He was confident that this bloke would go onto make an impact in the game. Well, he had more than just an impact in Indian cricket winning the 50 over World Cup, 20 over World Cup and getting India to number one rank in Test cricket. M.S. Dhoni is his name.
Kudos to Pramodaya Wickramasinghe and his selection panel for some bold selections they have done in recent weeks. When Lasith Embuldeniya was injured and his understudy Duvindu Tillekeratne was also on the mend, the next in line was Prabath Jayasuriya. But he failed the skin fold test placing the selectors on a sticky wicket. The easier option would have been to go back to the tried and tested Malinda Pushpakumara. However, rather than going backwards, they were forward thinking. They backed young Praveen Jayawickrama and it paid off.
Praveen had played a handful of First Class games. Against a team that plays spin well, this must have been a real hard decision to hand him his Test cap, especially with Lakshan Sandakan in the squad. But the selectors were convinced that Praveen was good enough to succeed at the highest level and they were proved right. His was the best debut by a Sri Lankan bowler and in fact the tenth best debut in the history of the game.
Prior to this, the selectors had made another tough call in handing Pathum Nissanka his Test debut in the Caribbean. Despite having Roshen Silva in the squad, instead of going for experience, the selectors backed youth and Nissanka went onto become the first Sri Lankan to score a Test hundred on debut overseas.
Fitness of players have been a huge concern over the years and the selectors have done well to demand players show commitment and to leave out those who do not meet minimum fitness standards.
The performance of the national cricket team in white ball cricket has not been up to scratch in recent years and the selectors have been bold in axing half a dozen seniors and bringing in new blood. Their initiatives need to be commended as Sri Lankan cricket is looking to regain past glories.
Panda and unfulfilled promises
by Rex Clementine
There’s someone in the Sri Lankan cricket team who answers to the name ‘Panda’. The name was coined on Thisara Perera by the Australian players during his IPL days with Chennai Super Kings. We never saw his full potential on the cricket field although there were glimpses of his brilliance over a 12 year career.
His first game was in Calcutta in December 2009 when Kumar Sangakkara wanted him flown in as an injury replacement. Thisara was flying on his own at a time there were no direct flights to Calcutta. He had a transit. SLC officials in Colombo and the team back in India were worried whether he would manage to get the right connecting flight and land the day before the game.
Given Panda’s mannerisms, he gives you the impression that he’s a bit backwards. That’s not the truth actually. He’s more childlike wanting assurances from authorities more than someone of his age should. It’s a trait that has not changed in his life. He loves simple things in life. He is someone who will not hurt another person willingly.
After every game that he plays and after every training session, you can be assured that he will be roaming around the cricket grounds be at RPS, Suriyawewa, Dambulla or Pallekele looking for stray dogs. He packs all the remaining food in the dressing room and feeds the dogs. Not even Ambanis dogs get served food from five star hotels. But the dogs at Sri Lanka grounds have that luxury thanks to Thisara. This was something that was evident when he started his cricket and he continued it even when he was captain.
Cricketers and their love lives are well documented. Most of them get hooked up to air hostesses and marry them. Some of them… well, let’s not go there. Thisara’s been with his childhood sweetheart for nearly two decades now. He’s only 32.
Thisara’s mother is a science teacher. When St. Joseph’s College came in search of him offering a scholarship for cricket, she was reluctant. Eventually she gave in. A decision that she doesn’t regret now for her son has gone onto become a household name although given his potential he could have achieved much more.
At St. Joseph’s Thisara got into trouble constantly. He played the first day of a school fixture and didn’t turn up for the second day’s play. He had been spending time with his girlfriend. He was in trouble and was asked to explain. Thisara came up with a cock and bull story that on his way to the ground, he was stopped at an Army check post and was held up as he did not carry an identity card. Rev. Fr. Sylvester Ranasinghe, the Rector, a career educationist, didn’t buy his story. He was suspended.
Chaminda Vaas, one of the finest products of St. Joseph’s made a plea to Fr. Sylvester to allow Thisara at least play the Big Match. Fr. Sylvester agreed. The rest as they say is history as St. Joseph’s won the Big Match after 35 years. Thisara was Man of the Match. The old boys were excited and gave the team a month long tour of Australia. Which 18-year-old would skip an all expenses paid trip to Australia? Thisara would. Reason? He would be missing his girlfriend.
One of the cleanest strikers of the cricket ball, he will clear the boundary with little effort. But consistency was lacking. He would throw the bat for a few overs and hit it on the air and get out rather than grinding it out and completing games. His bowling was lively when he came onto the scene but in later years lacked penetration.
Thisara’s best moment came in the 2014 during the World T-20 in Bangladesh. All his life, he had lived wanting to emulate Arjuna Ranatunga. As in, Arjuna had scored the winning runs in a World Cup final with a boundary. So Thisara wanted to go the same way. So after a tensed run chase against India, with Sri Lanka one stroke away from victory, Thisara threw caution to wind. He finished a World Cup final better than Arjuna scoring a six. Ravichandran Ashwin nearly had his man. Sensing that Thisara would attempt a big shot, Ashwin bowled it wider, but Thisara had got enough wood and the ball cleared the boundary.
Thisara’s career could have been perhaps more successful with someone to offer him better counseling. Hastily he quit Test cricket feeling that he wasn’t getting much opportunities. His figures are still the best by a Sri Lankan seamer at Pallekele.
This time though he was left with Hobson’s choice. The moment it was announced that he will be not considered for ODIs, he chose to retire from international cricket. You will still see him in different franchise cricket tournaments.
During some of cricket’s dicey moments he has come to Sri Lanka’s rescue. Like when everyone refused to tour Pakistan in 2017. He agreed to take the team to Lahore without any conditions. He was a good player and a great human being.
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