by Reemus Fernando
When Sri Lanka’s Olympic contingent were entering the stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo yesterday, Nimali Liyanarachchi who could have easily become the country’s flag bearer was taking a seat in the business class for the first time in a long career to take wing from Colombo to Tokyo. On the same flight, Sujith Abeysekara who identified the talent at a very young age and helped her blossom into one of the country’s most successful middle distance runners was seated in the economy class.
It was not long ago that Nimali and fellow track and field athletes slept on the floor during transit on their way to the last pre Olympic competition. The country’s sports authorities have decided to provide five star facilities to Olympic bound athletes and that paved the way for NImali to travel in business class for the first time.
A winner of multiple disciplines at National Level, NImali has represented the country at numerous international competitions. No other athlete in the Sri Lankan contingent in Tokyo has excelled at regional events like the athlete from Sooriyawewa. A gold medalist at the Asian Athletics Championships and South Asian Games, the 32-year-old received a wildcard to the Olympics after Nilani Ratnayake, who was in contention for qualification slid in the world rankings. Before the lack of competitions pulled her down in world rankings Nimali was one of the top three Asians in her discipline. Though Nimali is a wildcard entrant at the Olympics her fellow track and field athlete at the Olympics, Yupun Abeykoon is not. Abeykoon qualified through world rankings and could be the only athlete who could go beyond the first round. Abeykoon, South Asia’s fastest man and badminton player Niluka Karunaratne are probably the only Sri Lankan athletes who are competition ready as Nimali’s preparation too was hampered due to quarantine procedures following their return from India’s Interstate Championship.
Athletics fraternity was curious yesterday as to why the honour of carrying the country’s flag had not been give to track and field athletes. At the time this story was filed, rooky gymnast Milka Gehani and judoka Chamara Nuwan Dharmawardena were scheduled to carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony.
Nearly one third of the countries that took part in the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had handed their country’s flag to track and field athletes. Some of them were legends of the sport. Many time Olympic medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was scheduled to carry the flag of Jamaica at the time this edition went to press. For the first time countries could be represented by two flag bearers at the Olympic Games. Sri Lanka, a country that has won its only Olympic medals in track and field had a gymnast and judoka doing the duty.
Twenty years after Sri Lanka won its last Olympic medal has athletics lost its place as the premier Olympic sport of the country or has other sports come to prominence surpassing track and field as prospective medal winning Olympic sports? It is the first time a gymnast is representing Sri Lanka. She was ranked 114th at the 2019 World Championships but according to NOC, she has received a continental quota spot due to cancellation of the Asian Gymnastic Championship.
Now take a look at Sri Lanka’s track and field athletes. Forget about the two track and field athletes in Tokyo. There are more than half a dozen track and field athletes who were among the top 100 athletes in the world in their respective disciplines including one who produced the 15th best performance of the world this year. They could not improve their rankings due to lack of opportunities to take part in top ranked Championships.
Cricket moans nation’s first Test captain’s death
by Rex Clementine
There are some who always back underdogs. While the winners’ men go places, those who support the underdogs remain at odds with the system. With the larger circle of course, the fans for example, which is what matters, they remain hugely popular. One such breathed his last yesterday after a brief illness. Bandula Warnapura the nation’s first Test captain was 69.
Two of his contemporaries, Roy Dias and Duleep Mendis, also 69ers, were speechless. They had played lot of cricket together. The trio had toiled to put Sri Lanka in the world map and after retirement had shaped Sri Lankan cricket to great heights. While Roy and Duleep still contribute sharing the wealth of their knowledge, Bandu has gone, too soon and leaving a huge void.
Bandu was not an authoritative captain. You don’t have to be to succeed as captain. There was bit of Kane Williamson in him; friendly, trustworthy and authentic. His best virtue as skipper was his instincts. Filling in for injured skipper Anura Tennekoon during the 1979 World Cup, Bandu sensed an opportunity. Not because Sri Lanka were better than India. Man to man, India with Gavaskars, Vengsarkars, Viswanaths, Kapils, Amarnaths and Bedi, were a far better side. But there was in fighting among Indians and as a result none of the above captained the side. Venkataraghavan had become captain, by default. Bandu went for the kill and Sri Lanka were victorious. There was no denying of Test status from thereon.
The fact that Bandu faced Sri Lanka’s first ball in Test cricket made him the nation’s first Test cricketer as Bob Willis delivered the first ball in Test cricket in Sri Lanka. His time in Test cricket was short lived having got on the payroll of Dr. Ali Bacher opting to go to apartheid South Africa.
Morally it was not the right thing to do. South Africa was whites only those days. As a black, you would be made a honourary white citizen so that you could move around Wanderers, Newlands and Kingsmead.
His conscience would have told Bandu that this was not the right thing to do. But there comes a time in life where all of us have to make choices. Having lived through COVID for 18 months now where there have been so many financial challenges, you tend to break a few rules. Not to rob a bank but set aside your values and settle for something that provides you some financial security to look after your family. Some of us get away with these things. Some of us pay a small price. Some others pay a heavy one. Bandu lost everything having been banned for 25 years.
Eventually, Gamini Dissanayake mellowed. He reduced the ban to eight years. But that was for the players. The captain had to serve one more year before he could be allowed into cricket.
Bandu went places at SLC. He was only second in command to Duleep Mendis holding the post of Director, Cricket Operations. From there, he went to Malaysia and joined Asian Cricket Council and went a step further joining the ICC. He was hugely popular among his colleagues and superiors. Quite efficient too as he oversaw the development of several up and coming teams.
There was no better story teller in cricket than Bandu. He had one for every occasion. Television channels used his expertise in reality shows where he held his own.
But cricket could have used his services more than local television stations. They chose not to. Bandu was in a different camp. Actually, he was an independent man. What is it with our cricket that we keep our captains at arm’s length or maybe even avoid them like the plague? Bandu had no role to play in recent years. Duleep has no role to play. Arju has no role to play. Sanath has no role to play. Marvan has no role to play. Mathews has no role to play. The list goes on.
Bandu will be missed. May he attain the supreme bliss of nibbana.
Sri Lanka U19s pull off one run win
Sri Lanka Under 19s took a 2-0 lead with a stunning one run victory over Bangladesh as bowlers did well to defend a total of 228 runs in the second Youth ODI at Dambulla on Monday.
Chasing a target of 229 runs to win Bangladesh were in control after top order did well to take them past 100 runs for the loss of two wickets. They were troubled by spinners Dunith Wellalage and Treveen Mathew and paceman Matheesha Pathirana in the middle overs but the visitors still had hope as they needed just 19 runs in the last three overs. That was when Pathirana changed things picking up two wickets in the 48th over.
The match went to the last over with visitors just eight runs behind the target but Sri Lanka kept their cool to inflict a run out to pull off a stunning win with three balls remaining in the Bangladesh innings.
Earlier electing to bat first home team lost their first wicket for 11 runs before the St. Joseph’s College pair Sadeesh Jayawardena and Shevon Daniel added 66 runs for the second wicket. While Jayawardena top scored with 58 runs (4x4s) Daniel added 34. That was before Trinity batsman Pawan Pathiraja came up with his second consecutive half century of the series to make the middle order strong.
The late order batting by Raveen de Silva and Chamindu Wickramasinghe who added valuable 20s and a run a ball 15 by skipper Wellalage enabled the hosts reach their eventual total.
The two teams will next meet in the third Youth ODI on Wednesday.
Sri Lanka U19s
228 for 8 in 50 overs (Sadeesh Jayawardena 58, Shevon Daniel 34, Pawan Pathiraja 51, Raveen de Silva 25, Chamindu Wickramasinghe 27; Ashikur Zaman 2/54, Ripon Mondol 3/49)
227 all out in 49.3 overs (Mahfijul Islam 75, Iftikher Hossain 36, SM Meherob 33, Ariful Islam 23; Dunith Wellalage 3/30, Treveen Mathew 2/47, Matheesha Pathirana 3/26)
Sri Lanka one step closer to World Cup qualification
Rex Clementine in Abu Dhabi
They say, well prepared is half done. Sri Lanka’s intense preparation ahead of the ICC T-20 World Cup stood in good stead for them as they cruised to a seven-wicket win with 39 deliveries to spare winning their first qualifying game against Namibia here at Sheikh Zayed Stadium yesterday. Following the comprehensive win, the former champions are one more win away from qualifying for the showpiece event.
Sri Lanka’s bowling was too strong for the Namibians as they were shot out for 96 with three deliveries to spare.
Maheesh Theekshana was going to be their trump card in the qualifying round and he was on the money picking up a wicket off his first ball and finished with figures of three for 25.
Leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga and Lahiru Kumara, a last minute addition to the squad finished with two wickets each. However, the bowler who impressed most in the game was Dushmantha Chameera, who bowled a quick spell clocking 149 kmph at one point.
Sri Lanka’s obvious target would be to qualify but if they need to go further in the competition, Chameera with his ability to pick up early wickets is going to be the key.
Sri Lanka chased down the target in 13.3 overs and the big win helping them to sit comfortably with a healthy Net Run Rate.
There was bit of a scare as Sri Lanka lost three wickets for 26 runs inside the Power Play. But a 74 run unbroken stand in 51 balls between Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Avishka Fernando helped them to get over the line comfortably.
Avishka has been scoring heavily leading up to the competition and he has been the in-form batsman. Sri Lanka will be feeling happy that Bhanuka ended up top-scoring with 42 runs as his form has been patchy. He ended the game with a flicked six. His unbeaten 42 came off 27 balls and contained four fours and two sixes.
Avishka Fernando was unbeaten on 30 off 28 balls with two sixes.
As expected, Sri Lanka held Avishka back playing him at number four. With their batting sorted, Sri Lanka, written off by many, look to make an impact in the competition.
Sri Lanka’s next game is on Wednesday where they take on Ireland at the same ground. They will move to Sharjah for the final qualifying round game against Netherlands on Friday.
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