by Rex Clementine
The cricket fans of Sri Lanka are truly amazing. They know pretty well that the chances of the team reaching the semi-finals in UAE is as low as that of Maithripala Sirisena winning a future Presidential election, but they keep believing that their team will deliver. It is only fair that the players come up with a decent show, unlike Maithripala.
If the IPL is any indication, there aren’t going to be too many high scoring games over the next four weeks and spin is going to play a huge part. That will certainly be a good indication for Sri Lanka’s bowlers.
Their batsmen, however, it remains to be seen what lessons they have learnt on sweeping. Grant Flower seemed to be having little tricks up his sleeve on the advantage of the sweep, both the conventional, paddle and reverse. Hopefully, now that Sri Lanka have a fine sweeper in their coaching staff in Mahela Jayawardene, the issue has been discussed at length.
Lack of smart options against spin has been one reason for Sri Lanka’s decline in the shorter formats of the game. Ours was a team where the sweep was the batsmen’s bread and butter and it’s quite perplexing how the current lot have forgotten to sweep and the coaching staff have failed to address the issue.
Avishka Fernando has been tremendous to watch. He has always been an exciting player and such a shame that he failed a fitness test in January and was banished from the team hotel. He was so close to making his Test debut against England and failing the fitness test was a bitter pill to swallow. But glad that the selectors and the coaching staff had the conviction to do it. They have spared the rod and spoilt too many young children. Avishka has bounced back; leaner, fitter, stronger and hungrier. IPL teams will be watching and the gut feeling is we are talking of a future billionaire in this space.
There is some school of thought that Avishka should bat at number four. He has come up with some consistent performances in that position this week. It’s true that he is Aravinda’s heir apparent, but Sri Lanka has to make the most of the Power Plays and Avishka should open batting with Kusal Perera to make most of the field restrictions. You sense that you have enough fire power in Dasun Shanaka, Wanindu Hasaranga and Chamika Karunaratne to take care of the death overs.
Oppositions will focus a lot on Hasaranga’s leg spin as he has had quite a bit of success in the lasts 12 months and ended up earning a contract in the IPL. World Cup is a superb occasion for him to stamp his authority as one of world’s leading wrist spinners.
Maheesh Theekshana, the new kid, has a bit of surprise element in him and could trouble teams that have not seen him much as he proved during his debut against Proteas last month. It will be interesting to see how teams that do not play spin that well handle him.
The last minute decision to include Akila Dananjaya while axing Praveena Jayawickrama hasn’t gone down too well with some supporters. But it’s a smart move. There’s no denying of the fact that Akila has looked a pale shadow of his former self since remodeling his action and in recent months has looked awful. But then, Sri Lanka have to qualify. The team is thin on experience after our selectors chased away half a dozen seniors and Akila has a surprise element about him and that could come in handy; particularly in the qualifying round.
The spin trio is not Sri Lanka’s only strength. Their main weapon is pace with Dushmantha Chameera picking up wickets with the new ball consistently and he will be their key weapon. Such a shame that the team will miss the services of Nuwan Pradeep, a clever bowler in death overs.
All hope is not lost for Sri Lanka though. One good thing is that they are not playing any Asian teams. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are all in Group ‘B’. Sri Lanka will have Australia, England, West Indies, South Africa and one more qualifier and if their spin fires, they could spring a few surprises. Can they go onto book a semi-final berth?
In T-20 cricket anything can happen. So don’t just rule out the Sri Lankan team. The same can be said of our voters. Don’t rule out Maithripala.
A land like no other!
Nissanka targets improved rankings in 2022
Rex Clementine at Pallekele
Nondescripts Cricket Club (NCC) has many good things and rarely do you find players leaving the less popular Maitland Place club once they get themselves established. One of the club’s biggest strengths is Mr. Ranjit Fernando, the former Sri Lanka wicket-keeper batsman. ‘Uncle Ranjit’ as players call him, is not the President or Secretary of the Club but he’s a live wire and he’s been that for the last 40 years mentoring dozens of Test cricketers and half a dozen Sri Lanka captains from Ranjan Madugalle to Upul Tharanga. The latest prodigy he’s groomed is Pathum Nissanka.
The 23-year-old Nissanka has been a revelation since he made his Test debut last season. A historic one at that as he became the first Sri Lankan to score a Test hundred on debut overseas.
West Indies is not the type of opponents that give you a true picture of a caliber of a player. But there was no denying of the fact of his temperament and holding the nerve on the biggest day of his life.
Nissanka has proven that he’s no basher of weak opponents or a flack track bully like he did during his stunning 74 against a South African attack that had Rabada, Nortje and world’s number one ranked bowler Tabraiz Shamsi.
The year 2021 ended with Nissanka smashing three half-centuries in four innings against West Indies. That’s consistency for you which most young players lack. There is new hope as well that a dawn of a new era for Sri Lankan cricket is near. Nissanka was impressive in Sri Lanka’s first game in 2022 with the team chasing down the highest target at Pallekele and he was the key setting the tone for the run chase.
At the post match media briefing, Nissanka told journalists that he’s going to make the new year a productive one wanting to improve his international rankings. According to official ICC Rankings for batsmen, Nissanka is ranked 63 in Test cricket, 66 in T20s while he does not feature in the top 100 ranked players in ODIs.
Nissanka wanting to make progress is a good sign. Currently, only Test captain Dimuth Karunaratne is ranked amongst the top ten players in Tests while Sri Lanka don’t have any players in the top ten in ODI or T20 cricket.
Nissanka’s start has been stunning with him turning everything that he touches into gold. But the bigger challenges are ahead. Not just necessarily on the field. There are more distractions off the field and we have seen many a young player going astray. Hopefully Nissanka will have the work ethic of a Virat Kohli and the smartness of a Kumar Sangakkara.
The second ODI will be played today at Pallekele.
Chamari’s team commence campaign for the Commonwealth Games slot today
The ICC Commonwealth Games Qualifier 2022 commences at the Kinrara Oval in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday as Bangladesh, Kenya, Malaysia, Scotland, and Sri Lanka vie for the lone remaining slot at the Commonwealth Games 2022 in Birmingham.
The round-robin T20 tournament to decide who joins the seven teams already qualified for Birmingham – Australia, Barbados, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, and South Africa – commences with a match between Bangladesh and Malaysia and will see Bangladesh and Sri Lanka face off on the last day.
Sri Lanka captain Chamari Athapaththu said that it was vital for their team to win the tournament after having missed qualifying for the 50-over World Cup. Her team will encounter Scotland today.
Chamari Athapaththu: “Apart from the World Cup, the Commonwealth Games (cricket competition) is the other major tournament to be held in 2022. Obviously, it won’t wipe out the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup but will give us some amount of solace.
“We have a very good chance of winning this tournament and qualifying for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. We have experienced players as well as talented youngsters in our side, with the likes of Harsitha Samarawickrama and Kavisha Dilhari the ones to look out for.”
England and six other highest-ranked ICC Members in the MRF Tyres ICC Women’s T20I Team Rankings as of 1 April 2021 qualified directly for the Commonwealth Games, with the slot for the West Indies going to Barbados since athletes from the Caribbean will be representing their countries and not the West Indies (as they are affiliated with the ICC). Barbados were nominated by Cricket West Indies (CWI) on the basis of their win in the 2019 CWI T20 Blaze Tournament.
Women’s cricket will be part of the Commonwealth Games for the first time ever in what is seen as a huge opportunity to take the game to new fans. It will only be the second time that cricket will feature in it after a men’s competition was part of the Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.
Bangladesh captain Niger Sultana has the chance of leading her team into the Birmingham Games to cap a fine year that has already seen them qualify for the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand in March-April.
Nigar Sultana: “We are very confident. It was not easy for us to return to competitive cricket after the disruptions of training and matches because of Covid-19. However, we are well prepared now, having played in different conditions during the past few months.
“I think our middle-order batting has been excellent in recent times. As this is a T20 tournament, I am expecting the opening batters to get us off to quick starts. We have experienced campaigners to compliment the youthful exuberance in our team. It’s going to be a combined effort from all of us if we do well here.
Scotland captain Kathryn Bryce understands that it won’t be easy for her team but is still aiming to win the Qualifier.
Kathryn Bryce: “Every time we go into a tournament the main objective is to try and win. There’s only one qualification spot available, so we know it’s going to be a challenging task coming up against the likes of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh who’ve been near the top of the world stage for a long time now. They have a lot of experience but we’re looking forward to testing ourselves against them.
“It’s been a challenging build-up with COVID-19 still affecting things, but we’ve managed to get together as a squad to train together regularly. We’ve been indoors over the winter period, but I think there have been some good camps during the preparation and I’ve seen some good progression, so I believe we’ll be ready for the tournament.
“There are lots of players in the team who are starting to stand up and as a team we’re not really relying on a small number of people anymore which is really exciting to see. Obviously, Abtaha Maqsood has a really big summer playing in The Hundred and I think her quality will hopefully come through and has the potential to win us some matches.”
Kenya captain Margaret Ngoche wants to make the most of the opportunity of playing against teams like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Margaret Ngoch: “We want to utilize and maximize all the opportunities that will come our way in terms of experience and talent showcasing. We want to interact with other teams with the aim of building a great cricketing network and learn more from them. We want to ensure that we are among the top teams, and we are coming with a winning mentality.”
“We know that this is a tournament like we have never experienced before. We will be playing with teams that have played in the World Cup. One of our major weapons is our mental capacity and experience that we have gathered through the years. The training and practice matches are just a way to polish the already effective tools that we possess. We have really invested in our mental capacity because our 100% is better than the rest.”
Malaysia captain Winifred Anne Duraisingam is hoping to gain the edge from familiar home conditions.
Winifred Anne Duraisingam: “It feels good to play hosts after not being able to play the last two years. Malaysia is blessed with good weather and of course, our hospitality and food will, I hope, be a great experience for the teams coming in.
“In terms of advantage, we are certainly comfortable as we know the ground conditions and we hope this will give us an edge as we do our best. Without a doubt, the strength of our team is in fielding and bowling. We are currently hard at work with our batting and we can see the improvements.
“Kinrara Oval has hosted many international tournaments including ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2008, the Women’s Asia Cup, and many other ICC and ACC (Asian Cricket Council) events. The pitch is very lively and is good for both batting and bowling.”
Match schedule (local time):
Malaysia vs Bangladesh (09h30); Sri Lanka vs Scotland (13h15)
Kenya vs Bangladesh (09h30); Scotland vs Malaysia (13h15)
Kenya vs Sri Lanka (09h30)
Scotland vs Kenya (09h30); Sri Lanka vs Malaysia (13h15)
Bangladesh vs Scotland (09h30); Malaysia vs Kenya (13h15)
Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka (09h30)
Let the ‘OLY’ recognize Olympians’- Kulawansa
Olympian Sriyani Kulawansa said that Sri Lanka Olympians would give emphasis to promoting the ‘OLY’ title, a post-nominal letters granted by the World Olympians Association (WOA) to athletes who have participated in Olympics. The World Olympians Association took the initiative in 2017.
Kulawansa speaking to The Island said that all sportsmen and women who represented the country have the ‘OLY’ title and her Association would like to promote the title as it would give due recognition to Olympians in a country dominated by a non Olympic sport.
“All Olympians have the OLY title. Representing the country at the Olympics is like obtaining a PHD. The OLY title is a complement for the efforts put in to be an Olympian,” Kulawansa said in an interview.
“We felicitated the athletes who became eligible for the title with their participation at the last Tokyo Olympics including Yupun Abeykoon and Nimali Liyanarachchi at the AGM. Some of the new Olympians who were not in the country will be awarded their pins at a future date,” said Kulawansa.
Former national track and field champions Kulawansa, Sugath Thilakaratne and Damayanthi Dharsha who still hold national records of their pet events more than two decades after retiring were elected to top positions of the Sri Lanka Olympians at its Annual General Meeting held at the NCC premises on Saturday.
Newly elected Committee members of the Sri Lanka Olympians (from left) Julian Bolling, Ruvini Abeymanna, Sugath Thilakarathna (Secretary) Sriyani Kulawansa (President), Damayanthi Dharsha (Vice President), Nimmi de Soyza (Treasurer), Anurudda Rathnayake and Mahesh Perera.
Kulawansa who represented Sri Lanka at three Olympics from 1992 was elected as the president for a term of four years. Asian Games medallist Thilakaratne who produced the current national record in the 400 metres in 1998 was elected as the secretary of the apex body.
Asian Games medallist Dharsha was elected vice president while Nimmi de Soyza was elected treasurer.
The other members who were elected to the committee are Julian Bolling, Mahesh Perera, Anurudha Ratnayake and Ruvini Abeynayake.
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