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Super Rugby 2021 Aotearoa

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

We are still in summer in the Southern Hemisphere and international cricket is still being played here in Aotearoa – New Zealand. However, the rugby season has started, and we are into our second week. I guess the media Moghuls have to keep getting richer and certainly we are seeing lots of great running rugby due to the drier conditions.

There are a few new rules being trialled in this largely domestic tournament. Among them the captain’s challenge, a rule that allows 10 seconds to implement and has resulted in the appointment of co-captains, one from the forwards and one from the backs. More on that later.

We saw a game between the Waikato Chiefs and Otago Highlanders played on Friday evening. Chiefs of course being captained by the All-Blacks captain himself, Sam Cane with co-captain, Brad Webber the busy half back or scrum-half as we used to call them. Webber got a run with the All Blacks in preference to the incumbent understudy T.J. Peranara, last year and gave a good account of himself. The Chiefs were also trying out a new no10 Bryn Gatland, pinched from the Highlanders. This probably means that Damian Mackenzie will start at full-back this season, something that he (Damian) may not be too happy about. Liam Squire who was recovering from hip surgery and resulting complications was also starting at no6, a welcome return for a great-hearted player.

The Highlanders were being led by veteran hooker Ash Dickson and the co-captain was Aaron Smith who incidentally didn’t start the game, with new boy Folau Fakatara being picked in the no 9 jersey. Fakatara is a highly talked-up player with a rather fancy hairstyle (reminds me of the tail of a bird of paradise!) who played well but failed to show exceptional skills. The Highlanders were playing in white jerseys and khaki shorts which may be a suggestion for our Police or Army teams back in the Pearl. They looked rather smart. The Highlanders also had Jonah Nareki who had shown so much skill last season at no11, the old number of no doubt, the person whose first name he had been given.

The Waikato Chiefs were tipped by almost everyone to win as they were at home albeit without the loud cowbells of the home team due to Covid 19 restrictions. One factor that should have tipped off any punter was that Sir John Kirwan, the well-known ex All-Black winger tipped the Chiefs to win. JK is also known to get these things horribly wrong and will find it hard to live down his prediction of an Argentine loss to the All Blacks before that historic win by the Pumas!

Things started off on cue with Sam Cane earning a penalty off a ruck within 22 seconds of the start and Damian Mackenzie slotting it with ease. The first 30 minutes or so belonged entirely to the Chiefs and they raced to a 20 – 6 lead. The Highlanders were penalized continually and had two yellow cards dished out, including one to their skipper Ash Dickson. The Chiefs made maximum use of having an extra man on the field and scored twice in quick succession during this period. The only weak link in the Chiefs seemed to be their no10 Gatlin, who consistently made mistakes and made one too many when an attempted chip kick, in the opposition 22, was smothered by the opposition, ended up in the hands of Jonah Nareki who ran the length of the field and scored a try against the run of play. This could be called the turning point of the game and even though the Chiefs still had a healthy lead 20 – 11 at half time, this resurgence of spirit combined no doubt with an expletive-laced “talking to” from their coach (his own admission) at half time saw an amazing turnaround.

The Highlanders didn’t take kickable penalties in the second half and chose to kick for touch and go for the attacking line outs. Shannon Frazelle the All-Blacks blindside flanker who had been steady in the first half was showing more fire and commitment. Five minutes into the second half the hard-tackling Chiefs center and All Black, Lennert- Brown injured his arm and had to go off. “Bird of Paradise” no 9 Fakatava wormed his way through traffic and scored a try for the Highlanders in the 49th minute and was promptly substituted by the one and only Aaron Smith! What a player to be able to bring on at this stage of the game to add weight to a great fightback. The score read 20 -18 with the Chiefs still in the lead.

From this point, it was the Jonah Nareki show! First a scything run, at the end of which he found the inspired Shannon Frazelle, who strolled over the line. They say Nareki has low hips and is hard to tackle, be that as it may, the loss due to injury of hard tackling Lennert- Brown may have also contributed as Nareki kept coming in off his wing and running through the midfield. Nareki completed a hat trick of tries and took the Highlanders to victory with the final score reading 23 – 39.

However, there was one more drama in store. The captain’s challenge or captain’s referral is a new rule that allows the captain to challenge a decision by the referee once during the game. The captain has only 10 seconds to do it in. Hence the need for co-captains in case one of the captains is detained elsewhere in the field. The Chiefs scored a try almost at full time, but the run of play had led to one of the Chiefs players going into a tackle “leading with his arm” a possible red card offense that was missed by the referee. Aaron Smith was quick to point this out to the ref and the resulting video check showed this challenge was valid. The try was disallowed, and a simple penalty awarded to the Highlanders. This was the first time this trial “rule” was invoked. It needs a few more instances to prove its worth.

The overall refereeing was good with the officials even spotting crooked throws into lineouts, which was refreshing. Usually, the referee stands to one side of the line out and misses these offenses. The commentators tried to insinuate that a large number of penalties and yellow cards awarded against the Highlanders were excessive but when the highlanders got their act together in the second half, things returned to normal. In fact, it may have been these penalties that resulted in a better second half of rugby. Jonah Nareki is a name to remember for the future! Even though the national team has a wealth of wingers, this young man can even play center and is certainly a better choice than Ricco Ioane of the Auckland Blues, who seems to be being groomed for the job and is nothing but a no 11 or 14.



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Under 19 Division III cricket tournament to be concluded after schools reopen

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The knockout stage matches of the Under-19 Division III cricket tournament will be played only after the schools reopen, the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) said.

The SLSCA managed to conclude the Under-19 Division I and II tournaments before the third wave of the Covid 19 pandemic forced cancellation of all public events. But the Division III tournament largely consisting of outstation and up and coming schools was stranded at the quarter-final stage as the schools were closed due to the third wave of Covid 19.

The Sri Lanka Cricket conducted Under-19 Inter Provincial Tournament too was postponed due to the third wave of the pandemic.

Nishantha Kumara, the Under-19 tournament secretary of the SLSCA said that the Division III Level one and two tournaments will be concluded after schools reopen.

He said that there were no health issues emanating from the concluded phase of the tournament as the matches were conducted according to guidelines stipulated by health authorities.

“We were able to conclude the Division I and II tournaments successfully as all schools, players and parents of players and match officials cooperated well to conduct the tournament according to guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education,” said Nishantha.

“We will try our best to conclude the Division III tournament in a similar manner after normalcy returns,” said Nishantha.

Meanwhile player registrations for the Under-15 and 17 tournaments is now on. The SLSCA has introduced an online registration method for the schools to register their players for various age category tournaments.

“We invited officials from schools to introduce the system before hand and now those officials nominated by the respective schools are conducting the registrations online successfully. We are requesting all schools to conclude the registration process. So that we can commence tournaments when the authorities grant permission,” an official of the SLSCA said.

The SLSCA conducted the Under-19 tournament as a curtailed limited overs tournament after the Ministry of Education granted permission to hold events within a short period of time from March to April. Generally the Under-19 tournament commences in September and concludes in April with matches of two innings format (of two-days of duration) being played in a league tournament.

Schools cricket tournaments remained suspended for a year from March 2020 due to the pandemic. (RF)

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Karunaratne closes in on top 10 of ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings

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Dimuth Karunaratne has closed in on a top-10 spot in the ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings after a successful second Test against Bangladesh in Kandy which Sri Lanka won by 209 runs to clinch the two-match series 1-0.

The opening batsman struck 118 and 66, moving up four slots to 11th position in the list led by New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. Karunaratne’s career-best ranking is sixth, attained in August 2019. He is the top-ranked Test batsman from Sri Lanka with Angelo Mathews next in the list in 24th position.

Niroshan Dickwella (up four places to 31st), Oshada Fernando (up 10 places to 58th) and Lahiru Thirimanne (up 13 places to 60th) are the other Sri Lanka batsmen to advance while left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama’s player of the match haul of 11 for 178, the best figures by a Sri Lankan on Test debut, sees him enter the rankings in 48th position.

Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal’s knocks of 92 and 24 have helped him gain three places to reach 27th position while Mushfiqur Rahim and captain Mominul Haque have inched up a slot each to reach 21st and 30th positions, respectively, in the latest men’s weekly update that includes the first Test between Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

Pakistan fast bowler Hasan Ali’s haul of nine for 89 in the first Test against Zimbabwe in Harare not only won him the player of the match award for starring in the innings victory but also enabled him to gain 15 slots and reach a career-best 20th position among bowlers.

Left-arm fast bowler Shaheen Afridi (up two places to 31st) and left-arm spinner Nauman Ali (up 12 places to 54th) have also advanced in the list for bowlers while left-handed batsman Fawad Alam continues his fine run, moving up 31 places to a career-best 47th position after scoring 140, his fourth century in 10 Test matches. Abid Ali is up six places to 78th position. 

For Zimbabwe, Regis Chakabva has gained two slots to reach 97th position while fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani has progressed 26 slots to reach 55th position with figures of four for 73.

(ICC)

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The story of Devapathiraja’s rise to glory

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by Reemus Fernando

When the Devapathiraja team visited Colombo for the knockout stage matches of the just concluded Under-19 Division I tournament Lumbini and Wesley generously provided free lodgings for the team. When they host teams, Richmond come to their rescue providing accommodation for the visiting teams. Foundation of Goodness has been providing them team kits. Except the umpire fees, all their other expenses on cricket are met by the cricketers’ not so well to do parents. Their coach had done a voluntary job for a better part of the last two decades. In return, Devapathiraja College, Ratgama boxing their way up in the country’s schools cricket rankings have not disappointed.

When schools with over 100 years of rich cricket history and substantial funds to nurture the sport struggle in lower divisions in the premier Under-19 cricket tournament, Devapathiraja, a little known entity at the start of the millennium, have improved by leaps and bounds during the last two decades. Their latest achievement was reaching the final of the just concluded Under-19 Division I Tier ‘B’ cricket tournament.

Devapathiraja were the babies of the Tier ‘B’ of the Division I tournament inclusive of power houses of cricket namely Ananda College, Thurstan College and St. Peter’s College from Colombo and strongholds of Southern Province, Mahinda, St. Servatius’, St. Aloysius’ and Dharmasoka. Against many odds Devapathiraja reached the final. After being bowled out for a low score they made Mahinda College, Galle toil hard for victory.

Devapathiraja started playing cricket when their current coach Ranjan Lasantha de Silva was a student at the school. Many schools started playing hard ball cricket following the 1996 World Cup win. Ranjan, like the rest of the youth of his era was craving to play cricket. Unfortunately there was no cricket team or facilities for the sport at the school. He requested in writing that cricket be started at his school. Fortunately the principal, late T.A.C.N. Gunasekara had come from a cricket playing school (Revata College) and facilitated the start. Like the majority of schools which started playing cricket after 1996, the sport started with a Big Match against Sri Sumangala College, Hikkaduwa in 1997. But the sport did not really kick off until the correct combination of coach, Master in Charge and the sports loving youth got together a couple of years later.

With no previous coaching experience Ranjan after leaving school started training the school’s teams. By 1999 the school had started training all four age groups.

“I was influenced and helped by the likes of Tedlal Silva and Viraj Chaminda to pursue qualifications in coaching. So I did the Level I coaching course conducted by Sri Lanka Cricket. Also followed whatever other courses available to be qualified for the job. I must also thank former District Coach Lasith Chaminda and officials like, Jayananda Warnaweera for their support,” said Ranjan in an interview with The Island.

When cricket Devapathiraja commenced playing cricket they did not have a proper ground and the teams took refuge at the Ratgama Public ground. The school received a boost when Nishantha Kumara, who had the experience in running cricket at Neluwa National School received a transfer to Devapathiraja in 2000. He did all the necessary correspondence for all age group teams to play in Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association conducted tournaments and worked hand in hand with Ranjan until they were promoted to Division I.

Devapathiraja achieved their first breakthrough when they reached the final of the Under 19 Division III tournament in the 2013/14 season. They were the runners up to Debarawewa National School that season and earned the all important promotion to Division II the following year. It did not take too long for them to graduate from Division II to Division I.

“You have to play in the Division I category for your players to get recognition. Players in the lower divisions too are called for selection trials but it is highly unlikely for them to get the selectors’ nod. That realization compelled us to strive for Division I qualification,” said Ranjan.

However by the time they had reached the top Division they had already produced several cricketers to club level and one of their products, Tharindu Kaushal had played several Tests for Sri Lanka.

They were the Division II champions in the 2017/2018 season and commenced their Division I campaign in the 2018/19 season where they struggled but managed to avoid relegation.

Devapathiraja have done well in the lower age category tournaments as well and has produced players who have represented the Sri Lanka Schools Under-15 teams and National Youth Teams. Dilshan Kanchana, Umesh Mayurakantha, Pathum Madusanka, Raveen Yasas and Thikshila de Silva are among them.

According to Ranjan, cricket at Devapathiraja survives thanks to the contributions made by the cricketers’ parents who are not from well to do families. “The Schools Development Society provides umpire fees. But all other expenses are taken care of by cricketers’ parents. But there are others who help like the Foundation of Goodness which provides several scholarships for students and playing kits. Principal of Richmond College and the Masters in Charge of Cricket of both Mahinda and Richmond support us when we host teams. When we went to Colombo for the knockout stage matches Wesley College and Lumbini College provided lodging” said Ranjan.

Ranjan also appreciated the support given by the school’s Principal Sam Silva and current Master In Charge of Cricket Ranjith Kumbalathara.

Ranjan said that cricket at Devapathiraja has not only helped the national team find raw material but has also helped youth of the area to engage in sports in a meaningful way.

Devapathiraja Team:

Sudeera Weeraratne (Captain), Irushka Thimira, Dinitha Prabanka, Pawan Sandesh, Jeewaka Shasheen, Sasanka Nirmal, Tharindu Rukshan, Matheesha Saranga, Darshaka Sandeepa, Sandaru Theekshana, Chaminda Sandaruwan, Pathum Shaminda, Pradeep Rangana, Hiran Chamikara, Chanuka Sulakshana, Simash Dilunja.

 

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