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The Colombo Oval and I

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by S. Skandakumar

The majestic Oval scoreboard clock showed ten minutes to three on a Sunday afternoon when our final wicket fell. We had conceded first innings points by a small margin to Moors in a P. Sara Trophy encounter.

The year was 1973 and it was my first game for the club. The many Moors supporters hugged each other and left the venue to return to Braybrook Place to celebrate. With just half an hour left to tea, and two hours thereafter to the end of the game, their optimism was justified.

In our dressing room our skipper Benedictine Tony Appathurai had other ideas. “I want five by tea,” he thundered as he briskly led us back on to the field for that half an hour. I admired his arrogance!

We came back for tea with Moors tottering at 11 for 4! Johnian Sooriakumar and Josephian Viji Johnpillai produced an inspired opening spell.

Immediately after the tea break Tony handed the ball to me whispering ‘finish them off’.

Forty five minutes later, the final Moors wicket fell with their total at 19, and I had the flattering figures of five overs three maidens two runs four wickets!

We knocked off the required thirty odd runs for the loss of one wicket. Tony insisted that I went in at three to make the winning hit. We were home by nine wickets with time to spare and so began my memorable forty seven year association with the finest sporting and social club in Colombo!

 

Appreciation

Having watched International cricket at the Oval as a schoolboy from the Gandhi stands, queuing up from 4 am to get a ticket, the experience of playing on that hallowed turf was magical.

Prior to that, it was twice in successive years (1965 and 66) in the Royal -Thomian and once in the Gopalan Trophy, (1970) and yet now I was there with an identity. Yes I belonged to that great venue!

More than four decades later my heart still warms to that genial gentleman, and outstanding administrator cum sportsman P. Saravanamuttu whose vision for sport in general for the country and cricket in particular gave birth to that awesome cricket ground and stadium that came to be known as the ‘Colombo Oval’ in 1940.

The only venue in Sri Lanka which for over three decades provided facilities for Public Schools Athletics Meets, National and International Hockey Tournaments, Schools ‘big matches’ and International Cricket.

A selfless act of the Tamil Union in the best interests of National Sport. I felt a surge of pride to be a member!

 

Personal Challenges

In 1976, at my peak as an off-spinner cum batsman I went down with a virulent attack of Hepatitis that put paid to my chances of playing for Sri Lanka.

I followed medical advice to the letter to stay away from strenuous physical activity for three years and in 1979 made my way back cautiously into the club’s cricket scene at Division 3 level under the evergreen Josephian stalwart Felix Perumal (currently Club Patron) as skipper of the ‘Daily News’ Trophy team.

We emerged runners-up and during that period, initiated by Benedictine Selva Perumal, we pioneered the influx of talented young cricketers from the south to the club and to competitive cricket in Colombo.

The lads were understandably shy and unsure of themselves at first in an English- speaking environment as the Tamil Union then was. It was refreshing to see how the Colombo schoolboys at the nets rallied round to help them overcome this initial handicap and soon we saw the emergence of a cohesive, confident and strong combination of players.

Yes, the club’s unwritten rule for equal opportunity led to many young cricketers from modest backgrounds achieving their full potential, while the exceptional among them reached stardom!

Sadly the pool of talent in the north was beginning to dry up at this time as painful events began to take hold of that otherwise tranquil area and its gentle, affectionate people.

 

Progress

After a season at Division 3, I felt ready to move up and found a place in Josephian Rajiv Benedict’s Division 2 team vying for the “Donovan Andree” trophy in 1981.

Rajiv was a revelation on the playing field. Fiercely competitive, he bemused many a batsman with his very late in swing and amused the genial umpires of that vintage with his aggressive show of exasperation whenever an appeal of his for a wicket was turned down.

The season, needless to say, was most enjoyable and if my memory serves me right we clinched the trophy that year.

With Royalist Rohan Jayasekera, the P. Sara team captain migrating to Canada mid -season in 1981, I was yanked out of Rajiv’s team and placed in charge of a very young and talented Division 1 team.

The players showed their approval of my appointment in my very first match as captain against the Police at the Park, when our openers Josephian Wayne Jansz and Mahindian Athula Samarasekera broke a long standing record for the first wicket held by Moors’ Makeen Salih and Herbie Felsingher of 352 runs! A remarkable achievement indeed for two youngsters barely out of school!

At age 35, the following year 82/83 was my only full season as captain and player, and was memorable for more reasons than one.

The team and squad comprised of boys from Royal, S. Thomas’, St. Joseph’s, Ananda, Isipathana, D.S Senanayake, Thurstan, St. Peter’s, Prince of Wales, and Mahinda.

The atmosphere in the dressing room throughout the season was one of amazing cordiality and good humour while on the field it was serious endeavour.

‘ P. Sara’ had given way to the ‘Lakspray Trophy’ that year as the game needed sponsorship modest though it may have been. As it was the inaugural year for that trophy, we were eager to win it and repeat history to match our peers who annexed the P. Sara Trophy in its initial year.

We lost it to Bloomfield on a scorer’s lapse by a margin as infinitely small as 0.15 points when scorebooks were unprecedentedly opened after the tournament was concluded. That lapse made in the very first match of the final round in recording penalties for slow over rates went undetected throughout the rest of the season!

However, each of us who played in that team will forever look back on that season and say with pride that ‘we won that trophy on the playing field and conceded it off it to uphold the spirit of the game’

Headlines such as ‘Tamil Union’s Mathematical Magic’; ‘Tamils do the Impossible’ and ‘Tamils Worthy Champions’ told their own story of how that final game in the tournament was planned and executed!

Exhausted mentally and physically at the end of that memorable season, I then turned my attention to tennis at the club which in the ensuing years became almost a daily ritual inspired by competition of an enjoyable nature from like minded fellow members.

 

Recognition of the Club

In 1981, Sri Lanka’s admission as a full member of the International Cricket Council as a ‘Test playing nation’ was very much on the cards and was conditional upon the availability of an appropriate venue.

The Oval was the only venue that met the standards stipulated by the ICC when the application was tabled in London at Lord’s that year.

Appropriately the first ever Test match versus England was played at the Oval in February 1982, opening a new and exciting chapter in the nation’s cricket history. Happily three years later the first ever Test win was also registered at the same venue when India were humbled.

The blessed turf for decades was nursed with motherly care by the only grounds women the world had known at that time, Mari Amma (Mary) and her daughter Innasi Amma. In later years, Amaravathy and her sister Saroja continued the excellent work under the supervision of Head Groundsman H.D Jayasena.I was privileged to be Hony Ground Secretary when the ‘Inaugural Test’ was played in 1982.

 

The Setback

A year and half later, the events of ‘July ‘83’ had a devastating impact on the club and its premises. The main pavilion suffered extensive damage and valuable records and photos were irretrievably destroyed. A contribution from the Colombo Cricket Club was the only gesture of financial goodwill the club received at that time.

The then Cricket Board’s silence was deafening! A monumental tragedy for a club that provided so much for cricket in particular and sport in general for the country.

Gifts of cricket equipment were received from the High Commissions of England and Australia.

 

The Revival

In the club’s centenary year in 1999-2000, which coincided with the new millennium, a re-development programme was pursued in earnest.

As club President in that period, I was fortunate to have office bearers as dedicated as the players I had in 1982/83 when I led the club’s Division 1 cricket team. The general committee provided excellent support to me to put into effect the programme of activity aimed at the resuscitation of the club. Well wishers both in Sri Lanka and overseas contributed generously to swell the Development Fund. Donations from overseas- based members and well wishers from the US, UK, Emirates, Botswana, Zambia, Australia and New Zealand were proof, if indeed proof were needed, of their appreciation of the service that the venue had provided for the cause of sport over the decades.

A quote from a letter from the then CEO of the England and Wales Cricket Board Tim Lamb merits recording.

His letter reads:

“We recall with sadness the events of 1983 and their impact on your stadium because I know that the ‘OVAL’ to Sri Lanka Cricket was in many ways what Lord‘s is to us today. I have no doubt that you will receive the fullest support in your efforts to restore the stadium to its former glory “

The initiatives to re-vitalise the club in 1999/2000, were taken to greater heights by succeeding Presidents and their committees.

What we have today is a tribute to their perseverance, commitment and generosity in terms of their time and resources as also that of our sponsors and well wishers over the years. The Cricket Board’s support merits special mention.

The contribution of our sportsmen in the centenary year also merits mention.

Our cricketers annexed the championship of three of the four tournaments conducted by the Cricket Board (Premier Limited Overs, Under 23, and Div 2 Donovan Andree while ending runners-up in the fourth viz the Premier Division 1 League)

Our Tennis stalwarts not to be outdone annexed the Veterans All Island over 55 singles and doubles titles rounding off a unique year for sport at the club.

To the incoming members and those who have joined in recent years, I say acquaint yourselves with the proud history of this great institution which has stood unwaveringly for all that is fair, just and equal in its every endeavour. When it is your turn to take office remember what has gone before you, and never forget the responsibility you have to maintain its rich traditions and above all its cherished reputation.

“Today is what it is, and tomorrow what it might be, simply because of all the yesterdays.” For me, the forty seven year association with the Oval, has indeed been “A Rewarding and Emotional Affair to Remember”

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“Crysbro Next Champ” join forces with NOC to empower young athletes

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Under the agreement, Crysbro will serve as the sponsor for 20 deserving athletes scouted by NOCSL, with potential to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games 2022, Asian Games 2022, Commonwealth Games 2022, and South Asian Games 2021.(Pic by Jude Denzil Pathiraja)

As part of its ongoing mission to empower and support the aspirations of young people in rural Sri Lanka, poultry producer Crysbro signed a landmark MOU with the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOCSL) to launch the ‘NOCSL-CRYSBRO Next Champ’ scholarship programme. The objective of this magnanimous partnership is to uplift talented young Sri Lankan athletes to the international sports arena.

Under the agreement, Crysbro will serve as the sponsor for 20 deserving athletes scouted by NOCSL, with potential to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games 2022, Asian Games 2022, Commonwealth Games 2022, and South Asian Games 2021.

Sri Lanka’s living athletic legend, Olympic medal winner, Susanthika Jayasinghe praised the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka for joining hands with Crysbro in this multimillion rupee sponsorship to empower and support deserving athletes from Sri Lanka’s rural settings.

“We are extremely honoured to join forces with the National Olympic Committee to unearth and groom the future torch bearers of Sri Lankan sports. While it is certainly rewarding to help these young athletes realize their aspirations of winning a medal at these games, our primary focus will be on supporting the journey, the strategy, and the holistic development of each athlete which involves a combination of physical, mental, and psychological training. However, at the core of this initiative, is a deep desire to elevate the experiences of many resilient Sri Lankan athletes in rural areas with big dreams but with very little financial backing to make them a reality,” Crysbro Senior Marketing Manager Amores Sellar said.

In addition, this partnership will see the launch of an online portal, which for the very first time in Sri Lanka will enable members of the public to financially sponsor rural athletes, school sports associations, and sports clubs and chambers. All funds collected through this portal will be fully disbursed to the entities they were contributed, a process carefully overlooked and strictly managed by NOCSL.

The scholarships will cover costs such as nutrition, transportation costs, coaching fees, accommodation, logistics such as clothing, sports gear, and medical expenses necessary for the training, grooming and development of each selected athlete. The programme will also give athletes access to a combination of high-value tools and world-class mentors, including foreign training exposures.

“Our partnership with Crysbro offers a unique opportunity for home grown athletes to succeed in the global arena. Over the course of two years, they will have access to numerous tools that will assuage the challenges they may face due to inherent financial and situational constraints, and flourish in a sustainable support system that identifies, nurtures, and maximizes their potential. We are excited to kick off this venture as one which would undoubtedly contribute greatly to furthering the Nation’s agenda for sports,” stated National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka, Secretary General, Maxwell De Silva.

The ‘NOCSL-CRYSBRO Next Champ’ scholarship programme is phase-II of Crysbro’s ‘Next Champ’ scholarship programme, which up to date has groomed and supported the dreams of 120 young athletes from the under-privileged regions of the country. The initiative has also successfully produced a collection of athletes who secured gold and silver medals at the recent South Asian Games in Nepal.

Crysbro Next Champ not only recognizes and rewards young sporting talent from all corners of the country, but also budding athletes from multiple sporting disciplines with guidance from experts on aspects such as proper training methods and a suitable diet. The project’s founding vision sought to bolster Crysbro’s already significant social contribution as a key pillar of the country’s rural economy plus creating sporting opportunities and promoting the message of staying physically and mentally active.

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Dean Jones – Sri Lanka’s friend indeed

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by Rex Clementine

The Aussies were in Galle for the first Test of the series in 2004 and Dean Jones joked in commentary. He said that it took him less than four hours from Singapore to Katunayake but five hours to get to Galle from Katunayake! He was driving home some pertinent points. Travel in Sri Lanka before the highway days was a nightmare. Sri Lanka Cricket did not raise objections with the television company that employed Jones nor did the Sports Ministry. His criticism was well taken by all and sundry. Jones didn’t mince any words. He was a bold critic. As The Island’s former Editor Mr. Gamini Weerakoon used to say, ‘A good journalist works with his resignation letter in the pocket.’

Jones was a huge fan of Sri Lanka. After the death of Tony Greig, he was an ideal ambassador to promote tourism and he did a splendid job. Some of his best moments in commentary came in Sri Lanka.

He earned the nickname of ‘Professor Deano’ for the pre-match show that he did during a triangular series in Dambulla. Jones was dressed as a Professor giving the pitch report and supporting him was up and coming actress Anarkali Akarsha, just 18-years-old. The show was a hit and fans took an immediate liking to both the ex-cricketer and budding actresses.

Not that his career was entirely smooth. During a Test match at P. Sara Oval in 2006, Ten Sports fired him while the day’s play was in progress for calling Hashim Amla a ‘terrorist’. Jones was off air but the microphone in the studio had picked his remark. He apologized immediately and was reinstated a few months later.

The fact that he was shortlisted to take over from Graham Ford in 2017 as the national cricket team’s Head Coach was a poorly kept secret by Sri Lanka Cricket. The Island asked him what would be the first thing he would do if he got the job. Jones said, ‘ban f***ing football during training.’ The Sri Lankan cricket team’s obsession to engage in a game of football as warm-up before a day’s play and training was frowned upon by many given the high number of injuries it was causing.

Jones was a fine batsman and in his generation only Viv Richards played one-day cricket better. A smart thinker of the game, it was Jones’ bright idea to run the extra run on the throw in the vast Australian grounds. He earned a reputation as an excellent runner between the wickets and when asked what was his secret, he replied, ‘just common sense.’ Soon, others followed the extra run on the throw theory while playing in Australia and it paid rich dividends.

His finest hour in the sport came in Test cricket though during the tied Madras Test in 1986. Jones made a double hundred and the scorching heat took a toll on him. He was vomiting and feeling uneasy but did not throw it away. At the end of his 210, Jones was hospitalized. Coach Bob Simpson said that it was the greatest innings played for Australia. His final Test match was played in Moratuwa in 1992.

Jones was in Bombay doing studio shows for host broadcaster on IPL games. The Island learns that he had gone for a run in the morning and was with former fast bowler Brett Lee when he suffered a severe heart attack in the seven star hotel lobby at lunch time. Lee desperately tried to save him with CPR after Jones collapsed but for no avail.

He was 59

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Medal prospect Tharushi laments absence of coach Susantha at Walala

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Olympic Committee announces sponsorships for future prospects

by Reemus Fernando

Ratnayake Central Walala athlete Tharushi Karunaratne said that the absence of reputed coach Susantha Fernando at the premier Sports School has made her train by herself. She said that she was following Fernando’s schedules in his absence in reply to a query by The Island at a function organized by the National Olympic Committee to announce Crysbro Next Champ sponsorships for up and coming athletes  at the Foundation Institute on Thursday.

Fernando gave up on training at Ratnayake Central after completing  more than two decades of committed service a couple of months back. During his tenure Fernando guided many a school athlete to reach international level.

Incidentally, Tharushi’s brother Harsha too graduated under Fernando to win a silver at the Asian Youth Athletics Championship in Thailand in 2017. Officials of Ratnayake Central have been trying in vain during the last few months to obtain Fernando’s services again. In his  absence training of Ratnayake Central athletes remain interrupted.

Tharushi produced several record breaking performances at Junior National competitions last year. Fernando had earmarked her as a junior international medal prospect. She had been rightly picked by a selecting committee inclusive of Olympic medalist Susanthika Jayasinghe, former sprinters Shehan Ambepitiya and Ineka Cooray and Olympian Reshika Udugampola for the Crysbro Next Champ sponsorship.

The Selection Committee tasked with selecting 20 athletes for the Crysbro sponsorship announced names of the first five chosen athletes yesterday. Sprinter Sithum Jayasundara who also hogged the limelight last year making a clean sweep of Under 16 sprint events is the other track and field athlete to have been picked for the lucrative sponsorship. Two young weight lifters, namely, W.DK. Kumara and R.S.R. Laksarani and gymnast Milka Gihani were the others named by the Committee.

Explaining the selection criteria Ambepitiya said the probable list of athletes had been forwarded by respective Sports Associations. Their performances had been analysed against the medal deciding  performances at three last junior international competitions before picking them.

They are in the process of finalizing the next five athletes. Their names will be announced shortly.

The next ten athletes will be selected after various sports associations conclude their national level competitions.

 

 

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