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Tharanga leaves with unfulfilled promises

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by Rex Clementine

You can see why some of the finest brains in our cricket are pushing for Tom Moody to be Director of Cricket. Moody is pretty good at spotting talent and once he picks a player, he backs him no matter what. He has this ability to convince all concerned – selectors, board, captain, media and even fans that someone is worth investing on. Upul Tharanga was one such. What a start he had to his career. The elegant left-handed batsman announced his retirement from cricket yesterday. His 6941 runs in ODI cricket is the most by a current Sri Lankan batsman. Only seven other Sri Lankans scored more runs than him.

Tharanga hails from Ambalangoda and made his First Class debut at the age of 15 for his native Singha Sports Club. Later he moved to Colombo and represented NCC with whom he has stayed for 18 seasons now and could go on for a few more.

No Sri Lankan player had the impact that Upul Tharanga had in the first year of his international career as he scored hundreds in places like Christchurch, Lord’s, Leeds, Ahmedabad, Mohali and Bogra. Tharanga’s ability to excel in tough conditions was hailed as a hallmark of a player who would go onto make a big impact in the game. Moody’s theory was that anyone who scores runs overseas is going to be a vital cog in the wheel.

But Tharanga didn’t go onto have a prolific career and should have averaged more than 33. When The Island met Moody a few years ago when he had landed in Colombo on a commentary assignment, he pointed out that leaving Tharanga out of the side was a blunder. He went onto add that once you identify talent you needed to persevere with them giving them assurance that they are being well looked after.

Tharanga was so pleasing to the eye like most left-handers. There have been hundreds scored by him when he did not score a single boundary in the on-side. In fact, the on-side was used only to rotate the strike. The boundaries came through exquisite cover drives, powerful cut shots and the occasional straight drive.

Viv Richards’ favourite opposition was England. So was Upul’s as he averaged 48 against them. Some of his knocks against England attacks had a telling impact on the game – like during the quarter-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2011 at RPS.

England were so horrible in one-day cricket those days. They managed only 229 in their 50 overs batting first. Sri Lanka responded by chasing down the target without losing a wicket with more than ten overs to spare. That was some beating. Both Tharanga and T.M. Dilshan finished with unbeaten hundreds.

When Sri Lanka completed a 5-0 whitewash in England in 2006, Tharanga scored two hundreds in the series. One at Lord’s and the other at Leeds. The second one was special as this was the game that completed the 5-0 drubbing. England had posted a highly competitive 321 batting first and were confident they could avoid the humiliation of a whitewash at home. But Tharanga and Sanath Jayasuriya were devastating that day adding 286 runs for the opening wicket in some 191 balls. Sri Lanka won with 12 overs to spare and so brutal was the attack that Kabir Ali and Vikram Solanki never played for England again.

Tharanga also had a brief spell as Sri Lanka’s captain and unselfishly went lower down the order to accommodate young players top of the order. His stint was troubled by slow over rate offences with allegations emerging that a senior fast bowler slowed down the over rate deliberately in order to get the captain suspended. Crooks are everywhere in cricket. Poor Tharanga suffered in silence. He was a gentleman par excellence.



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Record breaking Dilshi set to climb up rankings

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Dilshi Kumarasinghe’s record breaking feat at the First Selection Trial concluded on Friday will augur well for her Olympic aspirations as she is set to climb up Asian Rankings sooner rather than later. 

On Friday Kumarasinghe clocked 2:02.52 seconds to erase the women’s 800 metres National Record held by Gayanthika Abeyratne.  

The former Ratnayake Central, Walala athlete was ranked sixth in Asia following her outstanding performance last December. Incidentally there are three Sri Lankans in the top six rankings in Asia in the women’s 800 metres. 

Former national champion Nimali Liyanarachchi is ranked third in Asia while Abeyratne is ranked fifth. 

Climbing up rankings has become vital after World Athletics introduced a ranking based system for athletes to earn Olympic qualifications. 

For Tokyo Olympics, World Athletics set a tough entry standard of 1:59.50 seconds for the women’s 800 metres. While 23 athletes will be selected through direct qualification system, 25 others will be selected according to their world rankings. 

Though there are five athletes above Kumarasinghe in Asian rankings, the top two ranked athletes from Bahrain and China are yet to compete this year. The fourth ranked Japanese Ayano Shiomi too is yet to compete this year. 

Kumarasinghe’s coach Susantha Fernando is optimistic that his charge would reach qualifying standards during the next couple of months.  

Apart from the 800 metres Kumarasinghe is also in Sri Lanka Athletics’ plan to form a mix relay team. Kumarasinghe who was part of the Sri Lanka women’s 4×400 meters relay team which established the current national record at the last Asian Athletics Championships was also the winner of the women’s 400 metres at the Selection Trial. 

 

 

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Sri Lanka haven’t played international cricket since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020

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Chamari Athapaththu: ‘Want more match time ahead of Women’s World Cup Qualifier’

Sri Lanka Women captain Chamari Athapaththu believes the postponement of the global Qualifier to determine the final three spots at the 2022 Women’s ODI World Cup from its June-July window to December is a “good thing”. Just for context, Sri Lanka, hosts of the qualifying event, haven’t had any form of international cricket for over a year now.

“To get an additional four-five months for our preparation is a good thing because we haven’t played any international cricket in over 13 months,” Athapaththu told ESPNcricinfo. “Things have been uncertain because of the Covid-19 pandemic and I was a bit worried that if the event went ahead as scheduled, we would have been underprepared. I hope that leading up to December we get a few more series apart from the one against Pakistan that our board is trying to organise.”

ESPNcricinfo understands that talks between SLC and the PCB about Pakistan potentially touring Sri Lanka for limited-overs matches before the Qualifier are only at a preliminary stage. Should they come to fruition, the series might be held only after May.

Both teams, along with West Indies, are among the sides part of the 2017/18-2021 Women’s ODI Championship who will vie for the three qualifying berths for the World Cup to be held in New Zealand from March 4 to April 3.

“Getting some match practice on a regular basis is going to be very important for us before the Qualifiers,” Athapaththu said. “Thailand’s debut in the T20 World Cup last year was proof of the kind of challenge teams outside of the top-ranked nations can present on the world stage. We cannot afford to take anyone lightly because it’s qualification to a World Cup that’s at stake.

“If there are long gaps [for teams] without any cricket for say a year or a year-and-a half, even the best look ordinary. I followed the recent series between India and South Africa. India are a top side, but they hadn’t played for a year, so they couldn’t play well. On the other hand, because South Africa had played some games before coming to India, they looked far better even in the absence of some of their senior players.”

Among a raft of world tournaments that the ICC has postponed due to the pandemic is the inaugural Under-19 Women’s World Cup. Originally scheduled for this year in Bangladesh, the tournament has been pushed back to January 2023. In Athapaththu’s assessment, the postponement will rob several deserving young players of the opportunity to play in the world tournament.

“We have a good bunch of Under-19 girls,” Athapaththu said. “The school cricket tournaments were on over the past few weeks and I think a few girls were on the radar as far as making the potential squad for the Under-19 World Cup was concerned. But, unfortunately, most of them will no longer be able to take part in it because a gap of two years is a sizeable one.

“Age-group tournaments come with age-related restrictions, so not having the tournament this year is a very disappointing thing for those young Sri Lankan girls and for me as an international cricketer. I feel bad for them because our qualifiers have also been postponed, but we will still get a chance [to compete in that tournament], but so many of these girls won’t. We will now have to look for pretty much a fresh bunch of girls to field in the 2023 edition.”

 

Athapaththu hits form in domestic

competition

Since the T20 World Cup last year, where Sri Lanka won only one of their four league games, the only opportunity Athapaththu has had to play any form of top-flight cricket was in the BCCI’s Women’s T20 Challenge in November in the UAE, where she was the leading run-scorer.

On the domestic front, she was part of the recently concluded Women’s Division One Tournament, the eight-team 50-over competition. Athapaththu, who plays for the Chilaw Marians Cricket Club, finished atop the tournament’s run charts with a 429-run tally in seven innings at an average of 61.29, striking at 120.51. The next-best strike rate, 69.49, belonged to Nilakshi de Silva, who took the second place on this list with 246 runs at an average of 49.20.

For the record, the Navy Sports Club, who were undefeated in the league stage, emerged champions after clinching a two-wicket victory over the Army A team in the final in Welisara on April 2.

Inoka Ranaweera, representing Navy, was the leading wicket-taker in the competition, with 25 wickets in seven innings, at an economy of just 2.27. Kavisha Dilhari, the 20-year-old offspin-bowling allrounder with 14 international caps to her name, finished in the top 10 on both charts.

“I am glad we were able to host the women’s inter-club tournament because several of our national-team players, seniors and youngsters alike, got a chance to shake off a bit of the rust,” Athapaththu said. “It also allowed many of us to assess how we are doing individually because we have been mostly training individually in our hometowns because of the pandemic, though we have had a couple of national camps since September last year. The Covid situation has been an obvious a hindrance to hosting games in Sri Lanka but it’s good to have got some competitive cricket this year.”

Although there are substantial Covid-19 restrictions still imposed by the government, with over 90,000 active cases, Sri Lanka has largely avoided the worst of the pandemic, and many aspects of life have returned to normal. The island’s Covid-19 death toll is just under 600.

In the recent past, SLC hosted the Lanka Premier League and a men’s Test tour, and has a schedule lined up for the men’s national team over the next three months. Athapaththu, who is currently training under her personal coach in Kurunegala, was hopeful that the Division One tournament would pave the way for more playing opportunities for Sri Lanka’s women’s cricketers, too.

“The inter-club tournament went well and Kavisha and many of the other national-team players expectedly did better than the others. If youngsters like her get more game time – on the domestic as well as international level – that will be good for the health of women’s cricket in Sri Lanka. SLC is trying to organise practice matches against Under-17 boys, so that, too, could help us.”

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Dilshi stamps her class with national record

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Shanika qualifies for World Junior Championships

by Reemus Fernando

Former Ratnayake Central Walala athlete Dilshi Kumarasinghe stamped her class with a new Sri Lanka record performance in the 800 metres while emerging 800 metres runner Shanika Lakshani reached qualifying standards for the World Under 20 Championships and sprinter Mohamed Safan broke shackles to win the 200 metres as the first Selection Trial produced its best on the final day at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Friday.

Kumarasinghe who registered her maiden 400 metres triumph at national level on Wednesday bagged the 800 metres win as well in style on Friday when she clocked the fastest time for the distance by a Sri Lankan in history. Her time of two minutes and 2.55 seconds erased the four year-old national record held by experienced Gayanthika Abeyratne who finished third(3rd 2:03.64 secs) yesterday. Asia’s third ranked 800 metres runner Nimali Liyanarachchi was placed second in a time of 2:03.15 seconds. Former record holder Abeyratne is ranked fifth in Asia.

The 21-year-old athlete trained by Susantha Fernando maintained a steady pace right throughout to win the event for the second time within months. She won her first 800 meters title at senior level at the last National Championships in December. “I am happy to have broken the record. We planned for the record but I am not satisfied with the time,” Kumarasinghe told The Island. Her coach Fernando expressed similar sentiments. “We were planning to produced a far better timing as she has the potential to reach international level,” said Fernando.

Kumarasinghe who is currently ranked sixth in Asia behind local counterparts Liyanarachchi and Aberatne is set to improve her ranking when the World Athletics update statistics next week.

Holy Cross College, Gampaha athlete Shanika Lakshani became the second junior runner at this championships to earn qualifying standards for the World Under-20 Championship which will be held in Nairobi, Kenya next August. Her coach Madura Perera said that it was a huge relief to witness his trainee accomplish the target after missing it by a whisker at the National Championships in December. Lakshani, running alongside the veterans clocked 2:07.02 seconds (Qualifying mark: 2:08.70 seconds).

On Wednesday Isuru Kawshalya Abewardana of Ananda Sastralaya Matugama reached qualifying standards for the World Under-20 Championship when he returned a time of 47.24 seconds in the Junior Men’s 400 metres final.

In the men’s 200 metres, Mohamed Safan turned tables on National Champion Kalinga Kumarage as both clocked sub 21 seconds, a rarity at local athletics. Safan was playing second fiddle to Kumarage at the last National Championships where he clocked 21.41 seconds. Yesterday Safan returned a time of 20.81 seconds, while Kumarage clocked 20.85 seconds.

In the women’s 200 metres, Nadeesha Ramanayake was the winner. She clocked 24.28 seconds.

The men’s 800 metres, conspicuous by the absence of national record holder Indunil Herath, was won by the Asian Championship participant Rusiru Chathuranga, who clocked 1:49.82 seconds.

Herath was not the only leading athlete who was absent at the First Selection Trial which was organized by Sri Lanka Athletics to provide much needed competition opportunity to top athletes vying to reach Olympic qualifying standards.

The next track and field competition for top athletes will be the next month’s National Championship.

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