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Sri Lanka to meet Ireland, Netherlands and Namibia in Group A



2021 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup

Sri Lanka, Ireland, the Netherlands and Namibia will contest Group A in the first round of the 2021 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup for the right to reach the Super 12 stage.

Only the top two teams will progress from the group after all four have played against each other once in the round-robin format, kicking off with the first games on October 18.

Namibia will make history after qualifying for the tournament for the first time, having qualified through the 2019 ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier with victory over Oman.

Ireland and Netherlands also secured their ICC Men’s T20 World Cup berths through the same route while 2014 champions Sri Lanka qualified through their world ranking.

The top seeds from Group A will enter Group 1 of the Super 12 stage along with Australia, England, South Africa, West Indies and the second seed from Group B.

Meanwhile, the second team from Group A go into Group 2 with Afghanistan, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and the top seeds from Group B after the first round of fixtures.

Sri Lanka (seventh appearance)

Favourites on paper to progress as top seeds from Group A, Sri Lanka have been inextricably intertwined with the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup ever since the first one in 2007.

They have contested every single tournament since then, finishing runners-up in 2009 and 2012 before finally lifting the trophy with victory over India in the 2014 final.

Outside the top eight of the MRF Tyres ICC Men’s T20I Team Rankings at the cut-off date and currently ranked 10th, their form going into the 2021 edition has been up and down to say the least.

A landmark 2-1 series win over India in July this year was also bookended by 3-0 series whitewashes to England in their own back yard and the Proteas in South Africa.

But no team has won more T20 World Cup games than Sri Lanka and their experience – along with a talented squad – makes them prime candidates to reach the Super 12 stage.

Captained by Dasun Shanaka, Avishka Fernando, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dushmantha Chameera and Maheesh Theekshana are all potential match-winners for Sri Lanka on their day.

They will open their campaign against debutants Namibia on 18 October in Abu Dhabi before a potentially decisive meeting two days later with Ireland, ranked two places lower in 12th.

Sri Lanka conclude their Group A fixtures on 22 October with a clash in Sharjah against the Netherlands, who they defeated by nine wickets en route to claiming the 2014 title.

Ireland (sixth appearance)

Since missing out on the inaugural tournament in 2007, Ireland have been a regular feature of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup and will contest their sixth in the UAE and Oman.

Their best ever performance to date came on their debut at the 2009 edition hosted by England, progressing from the first round to reach the Super 8s after beating Bangladesh.

Ireland have failed to progress beyond the first round in their last four appearances, missing out on net-run rate in 2014 following group stage wins over Zimbabwe and the UAE.

But as shown by their victory against Bangladesh in 2009, they have made a penchant of beating teams higher in the standings than them at major tournaments over the years.

Pakistan, England, West Indies and Zimbabwe have all fallen to Ireland in the 50-over Cricket World Cup and they will definitely fancy their chances of progressing from Group A.

They booked their place at this year’s tournament by topping their group in the 2019 qualifier on net run rate despite dropping matches to Canada and the UAE in the process.

A series victory over Zimbabwe earlier this year will certainly have encouraged captain Andrew Balbirnie ahead of his side’s opening fixture against the Netherlands on October 18.

And with the likes of Paul Stirling, Kevin O’Brien and rising star Josh Little among their ranks, the world No.12-ranked team possess the experience and talent to cause more upsets.

Netherlands (fourth appearance)

The Dutch showed their pedigree in the shortest format by winning the 2019 ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier, beating Papua New Guinea by seven wickets in the final in Dubai.

Netherlands had already secured their qualification by reaching the semi-final stage, where they defeated Ireland by 21 runs to lay down a marker to their Group A rivals.

In fact, Netherlands have won seven of their 12 T20Is against Ireland and came out on top in their recent ODI series, meaning they will also be targeting a place in the Super 12 stage.

Their squad is packed with experience, with Ryan ten Doeschate and Roelof van der Merwe two of the names who will be expected to play a prominent role during the middle overs.

Stephan Myburgh is another player who will be able to provide plenty of know-how, with the 37-year-old scoring 280 runs at an average of 31.11 in his previous T20 World Cups.

Another dangerous weapon comes in the form of tall fast bowler Paul van Meekeren, who can touch 140kph and possesses a slower ball that could cause plenty of problems.

This is the fourth time that the Dutch have qualified for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, making their debut in 2009 when they stunned England at Lord’s in a last-ball thriller.

But their best performance in the tournament came five years later, topping Group B to reach the Super 10 stage where they notched another famous win over England.

Namibia (debut appearance)

The lowest ranked team in the tournament at 19th, Namibia are making their ICC Men’s T20 World Cup debut this year and will be viewed as underdogs to progress from Group A.

Yet their road to the showpiece event showed that they do not give up without a fight, clinching their maiden appearance with five straight wins after defeats to Netherlands and PNG.

Namibia’s 54-run win over Oman in their semi-final play-off at the 2019 T20 World Cup Qualifier sealed their place and capped an impressive year for Pierre de Bruyn’s emerging side.

They also earned ODI status by winning the ICC World Cricket League Division 2 before securing their berth at this year’s T20 tournament with a string of impressive performances.

While this will be Namibia’s first taste of the T20 World Cup and their first match at an ICC World Cup in either limited overs format since 2003, their squad is not without experience.

Former South African international David Wiese has been included for his second T20 World Cup after the all-rounder qualified for the team through his Namibian-born father.

Meanwhile, potent bowler JJ Smit is another of the team’s stars along with their skipper Gerhard Erasmus, who is capable of anchoring an innings or accelerating when needed.

Namibia’s historic first match will be up against 2014 champions Sri Lanka, a tough examination that will be followed by meetings with Netherlands and Ireland in their bid for a Super 12 spot.

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International Cricket returns to Suriyawewa  



Rex Clementine
at Suriyawewa  

Suriyawewa is the hometown of some notorious gangsters in the country. The area was also notorious for many nefarious activities; cannabis and hooch were freely available until the Special Task Force intervened and cleaned up the area, a decade or so ago.

When former President Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted an international cricket ground in his electorate, Sri Lanka Cricket did a case study and chose Suriyawewa.

While the stadium was under construction around 2010, it took you nearly nine hours to reach it from Colombo. Now, thanks to the Southern Expressway, you can get there in a mere three and half hours. If it is a day game like the Afghanistan-Sri Lanka matches to be held on Friday, you can travel to the ground and return home the same day. Not for the reporters though, whose work starts after the game is over.

Even after getting out of the expressway at Suriyawewa, you tend to marvel at the roads that lead to the ground and the nearby airport. Even the common man feels like Michael Schumacher or Ayrton Senna when behind the wheel on these roads.

Initially, the idea of an international ground in this godforsaken area looked like a left field choice. Not anymore.

There is no better place for playing cricket than Suriyawewa, which is hot and humid. The British and the Aussies love it. That’s why England chose this place for their pre-Test camp when they came here amidst COVID in 2021.

When former leg-spinner D. S. de Silva was handpicked to head the cricket board in 2009, many wondered why. The reason was that President Rajapaksa knew here was a man who could make his wish come true– an international cricket stadium in the Hambantota district.

However, DS may have not presented all the facts to the President. It was thought that the stadium was built on an ICC grant to the SLC. But that wasn’t the case. Eventually, the SLC couldn’t pay the State Engineering Corporation or Ports Authority that built the stadium. President Rajapaksa had to intervene and he wrote off the debts.

The ground was built for the 2011 World Cup, but it fell behind schedule. When Minister of Sports Mahindananda Aluthgamage broke the news to the President, he reportedly launched into a tirade.

Aluthgamage, despite all the criticism he gets, headed straight to Suriyawewa and camped himself at the ground for several weeks to ensure that ICC’s demands were met by the next deadline.

To Aluthgamage’s credit, the project got necessary approvals. It must be mentioned here that some of the leading venues in India like Calcutta were rejected. Calcutta is India’s first ever Test cricket ground and it is the backyard of cricket supremo Jagmohan Dalmiya.

Once the airport at Hambantota came in, the construction of an international stadium close to it made some sense. Teams have flown there directly ahead of cricket series.

More and more teams are exploring the possibility of playing there because cricket boards can afford chartered aircraft. Sadly, due to politics, matches were not played there for some time But authorities are realising the immense potential there and have started treating the ground fairly.

COVID was a good wake-up call, and with options for venues being few and rare, Suriyawewa proved to be a godsend. With a wildlife park in close proximity and other tourist attractions around, we will see more games being played here in years to come.

Obviously, the interest for cricket in the area is tremendous as quite a few time fans have crashed the gates and usually it is house full with 35,000 fans rooting for the Sri Lankan team. Authorities will do well to ensure transportation facilities to fans as many of them walk back home after games across thick jungles.

Lot of cricketing talent is emerging from and around this area as well. Pramod Madushan, Kasun Rajitha, Dilshan Madushanka are all from the Hambantota district. It should be found out why Hambantota produces mostly fast bowlers.

The school that produced a Sri Lankan Test captain in Suranga Lakmal, Debarawewa Central has fallen on hard times and is struggling to make ends meet as cricket equipment is so expensive these days. While international grounds in Hambantota are good, it is of little use if schools in the area cannot afford to play there.

Taking a leaf out of President Rajapaksa’s book, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ensured the Gujarat Cricket Association built a stadium in his beloved Ahmedabad. The IPL final three days ago was played there but there is criticism about the Narendra Modi Stadium as some boundaries are less than 60 metres.

No such problems at Mahinda Rajapaksa International Stadium as every boundary is at least 100 metres. This indeed is a superb facility. There’s seating capacity for over 300 journalists and more importantly the hospitality that you get deep down south is out of this world.

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Sports Ministry delay puts Korea bound athletics team in a quandary  



Junior National Track and Field team leave without originally selected officials  

by Reemus Fernando   

Sri Lanka Under 20 team for the Asian Junior Athletics Championships left the country without the originally selected Team Manager and the Lady Chaperon after the Sports Ministry vetoed the officials selected by Sri Lanka Athletics and delayed the team approval till the eleventh hour.

The eight-member team received the Sports Ministry approval by midday Tuesday just hours ahead of their scheduled departure to Yecheon, South Korea.

The Sports Ministry did not grant permission to the Team Manager and the Lady Chaperon selected by Sri Lanka Athletics putting the athletics administration in a quandary.

It is a prerequisite to have a lady teacher affiliated to the Ministry of Education selected in the team to receive the approval of authorities when there are school girls touring. Sri Lanka Athletics followed the protocol and selected Sunethra Karunanayake, the respected coach and teacher who has produced a number of athletes to represent Sri Lanka in recent times as the Lady Chaperon. As required, she received the approval of the Ministry of Education as well. The Sports Ministry, instead, had picked one of their Sports Officers who has an athlete selected in the touring team as the Lady Chaperon.

Sri Lanka Athletics which had been at the receiving end of the Sports Ministry bungling during recent times had applied for visas and had booked tickets pending Ministry approval to avoid last-minute disappointments. It was not long ago that the athletics governing body received criticism when a couple of athletes could not make it to the World Junior Championships in time due to delays in getting approval and funds for tickets.

Saman Kumara, the secretary of Sri Lanka Athletics said that the athletics administration was hoping to get the approval of the Sports Ministry even at the eleventh hour for the originally selected Manager and the Lady Chaperon to travel with the team. Sadly, with that failing, Karunanayake, who had travelled all the way from Kurunegala to Colombo, had to return home without accompanying the athletes to South Korea on Tuesday.

Sources said that the Sports Ministry had failed to communicate with the athletics administration regarding the changes they had made to the touring team.

Veteran coach Susantha Fernando who has two of his trainees picked in the team was selected by Sri Lanka Athletics to function as the team coach. Now he has been entrusted with the manager duties as well.

Sri Lanka Athletics had sent the names of officials and selected athletes for Sports Ministry approval by May 15, although the latter had taken more than two weeks to grant permission.

With the Sports Ministry not granting funds for junior athletes to represent Sri Lanka this year, Sri Lanka Athletics has used its own funds or the funds collected from benefactors and athletes to honour their international obligations.

The biennial Asian Junior Athletics Championships is a major track and field competition taken part by Sri Lanka. The country has fared well at these championships in recent times. The leading national 400 metres sprinter Aruna Dharshana holds the championship record in the 400 metres, while the women’s 100 metres and 200 metres records of the Championship held by Susanthika Jayasinghe and Damayanthi Dharsha have remained unchanged for nearly three decades.

Sri Lanka Athletics picked a team of eight athletes, five who reached locally set qualifying standards and three others who came almost close to reaching the standards for the event starting on Sunday.

Kahawatta Central Triple Jumper Malith Yasiru, St. Aloysius’ College, Ratnapura hurdler Vinod Ariyawansa (400m hurdles), Ratnayake Central, Walala runner Tharushi Karunaratne (400m, 800m), sprinter Jayeshi Uththara (400m) and Dharmapala College, Pannipitiya high jumper Pehansa Gamage were the athletes who reached qualifying standards for the Asian event.

Gateway College, sprinter Dinara Bandara Dela (100m), Ananda College sprinter Merone Wijesinghe (100m) and Ratnayake Central middle distance runner Shehan Dilranga (800m, 1500m) were included in the team after they produced outstanding feats to merit selection at the recently held Junior National Athletics Championships.

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Thaha wins National Billiards Trophy 



M. Thaha receiving the Champion Trophy from Dhammika Attygalle (President – AAC) in the picture (L-R) Kumar Lanerolle, Ziham Hussain, Ananda Dangalla, Keerthi Gunawardane and Lasitha Gunaratne.

M Thaha defeated Susantha Wickram by 05 frames to 01 to win the 68th National Billiard Championship at the AAC tables recently.

This years championship was conducted by the Billiard and Snooker Association of Sri Lanka (B&SASL) and sponsored by the Automobile Association of Ceylon (AAC).

President of the Automobile Association Dhammika Attygalle was the chief guest at the championship while, Ananda Dangalla (Vice President-AAC), Keerthi Gunawardane (Vice President-AAC), S.V. Ganesh, Dampiya Banagala, Wickrama Punchihewa (EXCO Members – AAC), Lasitha Gunaratne (EXCO Member – AAC and Member of the National Sports Council), Devapriya Hettiarachchi (Secretary – AAC), Ziham Hussain (President – B&S ASL), Shafeek Rajabdeen (Vice Patron B&S ASL), Zuraish Hashim (Vice Patrons B&S ASL) and Kumar Lanerolle (Secretary B&S ASL) were also present.

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