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Stop treating Dickwella like Gilchrist 

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by Rex Clementine 

For some strange reason, Sri Lankan teams have failed to compete in Test matches in India. Despite Sri Lankan teams travelling there for 40 years, the closest they came to win a Test match was on their first trip, way back in 1982. Even teams comprising some of the greats of Sri Lankan cricket have failed miserably in Indian conditions over the years. Strange for a nation that is the only Asian team to have won a Test series in South Africa, where most teams struggle.

One of Sri Lanka’s decent tours of India was the one in 2017. Having been whitewashed 3-0 at home by the same opposition, not many had given a chance when Sri Lanka landed in Calcutta for the return series in November 2017. The tourists lost the Nagpur Test but came out with their heads held high at Eden Gardens and Feroz Shah Kotla having drawn both games. The Delhi Test in particular was a thriller as Sri Lanka played out of their skins to earn a draw.

One of the standout performers on that tour was Niroshan Dickwella. He kept wickets so well, batted responsibly and often got under the skin of the opposition. The Sri Lankan wicketkeeper was particularly a thorn in the flesh when Indian captain Virat Kohli came out to bat.

Kohli never one to take a backward step, picked up a few fights with Dickwella, but at the end of the series was the first man to applaud the young Sri Lankan, who was 24 at that time. Kohli even predicted a bright future for the man who was once earmarked as a future Sri Lankan captain. Alas! Since then, very little has gone right for Dickwella.

After 47 Test matches, Dickwella is yet to score a Test hundred. How have his contemporaries fared in the meantime? There’s Rishab Pant of India, he has already scored four hundreds after 30 Tests. There’s Mohammad Rizwan of Pakistan who has two Test hundreds after 11 Tests. Bangladesh have Litton Das, who has scored two hundreds after 29 Tests. The Kiwis have Tom Blundell, who has scored two hundreds after 17 Tests. All of them have played a lot lesser than Dickwella, but have come up with match winning or back to the wall match saving efforts.

Dickwella continues to disappoint. He would walk in with the team in trouble, the opposition would place two players square on the leg-side for his pet sweep shot and you can be assured that Dickwella will find one of those two fielders. Want proof, well that was exactly what happened in the first innings in Mohali this month.

India had posted a mammoth 574 for eight declared, Sri Lanka had slumped to 161 for five and in walks Dickwella. He sweeps straight away, misses a couple, tries it again, gets a top edge and finds Shreyas Iyer.

Hansie Cronje once said that he is not addicted to tobacco or alcohol but he’s addicted to money. Similarly, Dickwella is addicted to the sweep.

Mind you this is a man who is making a comeback after a suspension. Usually, when players have been dealt bitter blows in their careers, they are determined to prove their detractors wrong. But here’s Dickwella, walking in like Adam Gilchrist and playing the fatal cross-batted shot straightaway. The message he is passing onto the selectors is clear, ‘drop me if you can’.

It was a crucial stage of the game with Pathum Nissanka involved in a lone battle and he needed some company. Dickwella proved to be bad company.

The national cricket team is no joke and we can certainly do without comedians like Dickwella. At least, until, he learns his lessons.

Dickwella’s antics continued in Bangalore in the next Test.

Sri Lanka made a breakthrough in the second over when Mayank Agarwal was run out. None had a doubt. Not the umpires, not the batsman or the Indian captain Rohit Sharma, who was the non-striker. But we have a doubting Thomas in Dickwella. He wanted a review for leg before wicket!

It is our earnest hope that someone in the dressing room questioned Dickwella’s actions. The best explanation that can be given is that he had a brain fade. Giving Dickwella license to review is like giving license to Ajith Nivad Cabraal to fix the economy.

Ending the suspension of Dickwella and brothers early was a no brainier. Some players Sri Lanka Cricket has treated with kids’ gloves and they continue to disappoint. Their callous disregard for the game doesn’t augur well moving forward.

A closer look at Dickwella after the suspension tells you many stories. One of them is that he has not learned his lessons. He remains incorrigible.

Take a look at Rishab Pant. He was just an ordinary keeper but his keeping has improved leaps and bounds while his batting has reached new heights. He can now walk into the Indian side as a specialist batsman. Anyway, he’s batting at number five.

Dickwella’s talent is far superior to that of Pant. But our man lacks conviction and simply doesn’t want to be the best he can. Going out of comfort zone is not his forte. Someone needs to remind him the meaning of ‘Respice Finem’.  You don’t expect Dickwella to know the meaning and someone like Kumar Sangakkara, Ravi Ratnayake or even Ranjan Madugalle better explain it to him.

It helps that India had Rahul Dravid as the Director of the National Cricket Academy. When he moved on as the Head Coach of India, BCCI did not choose just another coach. They chose a legend of Indian cricket. VVS Laxman is his name. Laxman is from Hyderabad and from there he shifted to Bangalore where India’s National Academy is. Can you have better mentors than Laxman and Dravid! That exactly what Sri Lankan cricket needs at the moment. By the way, Laxman has given up all his commentary and IPL commitments. His sole focus is on the National Cricket Academy. Let one of our legends follow suit too.

Dickwella needs a lot of mentoring. This is too precious a talent to go waste. Who in his right mind would have the guts to scoop a 145kmph thunderbolt from Kagiso Rabada. That too first ball in the game. Insane!

As of now, Dickwella needs to be given a break. He can not continue to disrespect the game and remain in the side. Let him be axed and learn a lesson or two the harsh way.



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Kandy, Galle, Puttalam Schools win combined schools hockey titles

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Kandy Schools ‘Blues’ and Galle Schools ‘Golds’ were declared as boys’ joint winners.

Kandy Schools ‘Blues’ and Galle Schools ‘Golds’ were declared as boys’ joint winners and Puttalam Schools were the girls’ winner at the 55th Sri Lanka Combined Schools Under 20 boys and girls Hockey Nationals held from 27th to 30th June at the Torrington Astro Turf .

The boys’ final, between Kandy and Galle ended in a one-all draw; both goals scored in the first half, Kushan Ratnasuriya scoring for Galle and the equalizer by Bhanuka Ranasinghe for Kandy.

In the play off for the third and fourth places, Colombo beat Matale 1-Nil.

In the Semi Finals – Galle beat Colombo 4/3 on penalties and Kandy beat Matale 4/3 also on penalties.

Tharusha Pallewatte from Kandy ‘Blues’ was adjudged the best player and Anushka Maduwantha from Galle ‘Golds’ was picked as the best Goal Keeper.

In the girls’ final, Puttalam Schools beat Kandy Schools by two goals to nil. Both goals were scored in the second half via Madushika Fernando and Dinuli Nihansa.

In the play-off for the third and fourth places, Matale beat Colombo ‘Reds’ 1-nil.

Puttalam Schools were the girls’ winners.

In the Semi Finals – Kandy beat Colombo, 3-nil and Puttalam beat Matale, 4-nil.

Nipuni Ishara Fernando was adjudged as the best player and Neeliya Kaushini was picked as the best Goal Keeper (both from Puttalam).

The finals & the closing ceremony was attended by Athula Jayawardhana, Director of Sports, Central Province Education Department, (Chief Guest), Deva Ellepola, Vice Patron /Mercantile Hockey Association (Guest of Honour), Shashikala Senadheera (President), Anuruddha Herath Bandara (Secretary), Chandrakanthi Karunanayake, ( Deputy President), Wasantha Kumara (Vice President), Indrawansa Herath (Vice President) – All from Sri Lanka Schools Hockey Association.

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More barriers ahead for hurdler Dharshana

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by Reemus Fernando

In the Under 20 age category, athletes of only four countries in Asia have run the men’s 400 metres hurdles under 52 seconds, this year. One of them is a Sri Lankan. Dhanuka Dharshana, who is only 18 years old, has been the hurdler to beat during the last two years in his age category in Sri Lanka. In April, the athlete trained by reputed coach Anura Bandara turned the tables on his senior counterparts to emerge the national champion in the men’s 400 metres hurdles at the Centenary National Athletics Championships.

One of the first Sri Lankan juniors to qualify for the World Junior Athletics Championships to be held in Cali, Colombia in August, Dharshana is the most consistent performer in the men’s category among the Sri Lankan juniors to qualify for the event. However, like the few junior athletes who showed potential to excel in the future in the pet event of Olympic Medalist Duncan White during the last two decades, will Dharshana find track and field not so exciting to pursue after leaving school?

“It is incumbent upon us to motivate our athletes to remain in the sport. But how can you do so when they do not get the opportunity they deserve. Participation in World Junior Championship is something that young athletes cherish. It is a huge learning opportunity for the up-and-coming athletes and will motivate them to remain in the sport,” said Dharshana’s coach Bandara.

Like Dharshana many others who reached qualifying standards for the World Junior event remain uncertain about the prospect of competing in Cali due to the financial constraints the country is currently facing though Sri Lanka Athletics has sent the names of seven out of the nine athletes who reached qualifying standards for the World event for the Sports Ministry approval and financial assistance. The Ministry has given only the approval and their participation will heavily depend on Sri Lanka Athletics’ ability to find much-needed funds for the costly trip.

Dharshana’s pet event, the 400 metres hurdles is the discipline that has won the highest number of medals for Sri Lanka at the junior Asian level during the last decade though a vast majority of the athletes who won those medals did not pursue track and field after leaving school. The most prominent female hurdler to emerge during the last one and half decades also came from Dharshana’s school, Ambagamuwa Central and was trained by Anura Bandara. Yamani Dulanjali won the first Asian Youth Championship hurdles gold medal in 2015, held the Under 20 Junior National Championship 400 m hurdles record until this year. With impressive performances as a junior, she was expected to excel at the senior level as well. Hailing from a not-so-well-to-do family she instead took up a teaching job.

Kaushalya Madushani, another 400 metres hurdler, who won junior Asian international medals, joined Sri Lanka Army, the final refuge for many a future prospect, after leaving school. She was yet to reach her full potential when she died a couple of months ago; it is alleged she took her own life.

Maris Stella College hurdler, Uditha Chandrasena, was yet another bright prospect to have excelled in the 400 metres hurdles at the junior level. He too gave up athletics after leaving school.

Although Sri Lanka has seen the emergence of hurdlers in the calibre of Dhanuka Dharshana at the junior level there had been no system to nurture them and make them stick to track and field.

Dharshana, who too is hailing from an ordinary family, has received the support of Olympian and Asian Games Gold Medalist Sugath Thilakaratne, the most famous product of his coach, Anura Bandara. He has also received the support of the school’s PTIs Indika Prasad and Amali Abeytunga and another benefactor whom he identified only as Nayana. But pursuing track and field as a senior athlete is an uphill task which requires more funding.

Ambagamuwa Central, where Dharshana learnt his ABC of athletics, has reaped the benefits of Bandara’s coaching with the school winning podium places at junior competitions every year. And, every year Bandara faces a dilemma as his trainees leaving the school have not found the right platform to launch a career in athletics.

With the junior athletes’ participation at the forthcoming World Junior Championships remaining uncertain to date, the coaches like Bandara will find it even harder to persuade athletes to remain in track and field.

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Lyon set to become second most successful off-spinner in history

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Lyon is currently among the top ten wicket takers in the world and if he takes seven wickets in Galle in the second Test starting on Friday, he will go onto become the second most successful off-spinner in the history of Test cricket.(Getty Images)

by Rex Clementine

Leg-spin legend Shane Warne retired from cricket in 2007 having achieved two key milestones; Australia had regained the Ashes and Warne had become the first man in history to take 700 wickets in Test match cricket. Since his retirement, Australia tried various spinners to fill his big shoes but with little success. Fellow leg-spinner Stuart MacGill was the natural successor to Warne, but he too threw in the towel 18 months after Warne’s retirement. Then Cricket Australia tried a host of finger spinners and some wrist spinners without much success. The wait ended in 2011 in Sri Lanka. For some reason, all good spin bowlers make their impact in our shores.

Australia arrived in Sri Lanka in 2011 with a new captain in Michael Clarke and their spin resources were untested. In fact, the team’s lead spinner was uncapped. His story was interesting. He had been a curator at Adelaide Oval and with his skill to bowl off-spin identified he was given a break in Sheffield Shield cricket. Seven months later, he was set to make his Test debut against the likes of Sangakkaras, Dilshans, Jayawardenes and Samaraweeras. That too in Galle, the Gabba of Sri Lankan cricket. There the legend of Nathan Lyon was born.

Lyon’s first ball in Test cricket was round the wicket to a left-hander. The ball pitched, turned and had bounce. The batsman was playing away from his body with an open face; the ball took the outside edge and was snapped up by Michael Clarke at slip. A wicket off first ball in Test cricket is just the dream stuff. It’s even more special when the batsman you have dismissed is Kumar Sangakkara, word’s number one ranked batsman at that point.

Lyon didn’t look back from thereon. He claimed a five wicket haul in the first innings as Australia secured a big win and went onto claim the series.

Ten years on, Lyon was quite handful again as he was the standout performer in the first Test in Galle. Sri Lanka’s spin was thin on experience and yet the hosts chose to prepare a track that would turn from day one and they ended up playing into Lyon’s hands as he finished with nine wickets.

Sri Lanka’s young spinners have much to learn from Lyon. He just figured out a length to bowl and kept pitching it there consistently and with batsmen taking too many risks with cross batted shots, it was just a matter of time before a wicket fell.

Lyon’s overall wicket tally is now 436 in 109 Tests and during the Galle game he went past several greats of the game like Kapil Dev (434), Rangana Herath (433) and Sir Richard Hadlee (431).

Lyon is currently among the top ten wicket takers in the world and if he takes seven wickets in Galle in the second Test starting on Friday, he will go onto become the second most successful off-spinner in the history of Test cricket. Muttiah Muralitharan leads the list with 800 and India’s Ravichandran Ashwin follows him as the second most successful offie with 442 wickets.

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