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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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Cricket’s finest gentleman Michael Tissera

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Michael Tissera and Sir Garry Sobers give away the trophy named after them to Angelo Mathews as Sri Lanka won the maiden

by Rex Clementine

Next week, as the second Test between Sri Lanka and West Indies comes to a conclusion, Michael Tissera will be in Galle to give away Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne a trophy that bears his name and that of West Indies legend Sir Garry Sobers. Irrespective of the result of the second Test, Sri Lanka will retain the Sobers-Tissera Trophy having won the first Test. West Indies can only square the series and as the holders of the trophy, Sri Lanka will retain the title.

Sri Lanka’s current cricketers will do well to pick the brains of Tissera, an iconic figure in our game. He played the game at a time when the sport had no money and the perks that the current generation is enjoying, because of men like Tissera, Anura Tennekoon and many others of their generation who laid a solid foundation for the sport. Built on that strong foundation is the brand name called Sri Lankan cricket.

Tissera respects the game and he has taken the values of cricket to his personal life and to his business. That’s why he is so successful. These are factors that are missing in some young players for whom cricket is their profession and nothing beyond. Not just players, but there are many of us who make a living out of cricket, but do we take values of the game beyond our working spaces? That’s the best thing that we can learn from Tissera – respect the game, value it and stay humble.

Talent itself is a great blessing and it is important to respect that. That’s why Tissera is an exceptional role model.

A disciplined man, he has set the standards and others have simply followed. His unquestionable integrity as Chairman of Selectors ensured fair-play in team selections and politicians dare not challenge him.

When Tissera took over as Chairman of Selectors in 2002, Aravinda de Silva had faded away. His cricket was over. He was heavily focusing on his business. But having realized that Aravinda still had much to offer the game, he threw down a challenge to Aravinda. If you are interested, the number four position of the national cricket team is all yours. But on one condition. ‘You are overweight and you need to get fitter.’ Aravinda loves those challenges. He knew he had cricket in him and apparently in two months he lost 15 kilos. A lot of running around Independence Square and no fancy stuff like lamb, pork sausages, cakes and of course his favourite Kandos.

On his comeback, he was a revelation. Aravinda produced a double hundred in his last Test match, he was the star as Sri Lanka reached the finals of the Champions Trophy in 2002 beating Australia in the semis. Basically he carried the team on his shoulders during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. Making runs on those bouncy tracks was child’s play for Aravinda. And Tissera knew the man better than many others. Some of those knocks were out of this world. They are the stuff that you dream of. All that was possible because of Tissera. He gave Aravinda a second chance. Every young man deserves a second chance. Had Tissera been managing the Sri Lankan cricket team, Kusal Mendis would have been like Babar Azam of Pakistan leading Sri Lanka not serving a suspension.

Tissera’s two year tenure as the Manager of the national cricket team was highly successful. Tom Moody was the Head Coach and the team reached new heights. England were thrashed 5-0 in their own backyard in 2006 and the team won many Test matches overseas. It all culminated with Sri Lanka reaching the finals of the 2007 World Cup.

That team had some tricky customers. Tissera’s brilliant man management skills saw there was smooth sailing. Moody can be ruthless, like a typical Aussie. You needed the calm head of Tissera to ensure that things did not get out of hand. Well, they did get out of hand at certain points, but no one spilled the beans. What happened on tour, stayed on tour. None dared leaking information.

Tissera is tough when he needs to be, but he is also a father figure when players need support. Straight out of school when Sanath Jayasuriya from Matara ended up at CCC it is people like Tissera who looked after him. He has done much more to help up and coming players. All silently though.

Good on Sidath Wettimuny as President of Sri Lanka Cricket for naming this trophy after one of the iconic figures of our game. It takes one great man to respect another.

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Dimuth on the verge of several batting milestones

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Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne will equal the World Record for most consecutive fifties in Test match cricket if he scores a half-century in the first innings of the second Test against West Indies in Galle starting Monday.

by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka’s Test captain Dimuth Karunaratne has hit a purple patch this year and the 147 he scored against West Indies in the first Test in Galle this week was his fourth hundred in 2021. The 33-year-old came up with an equally solid 83 in the second essay as Sri Lanka won by 187 runs and a session to spare.

His exploits have seen him accumulating 854 runs this year in Test cricket at an average of 77. Only Joe Root and Rohit Sharma have scored more runs in 2021 although they have played more games with the England captain featuring in 12 Tests and the Indian star appearing in 11 games compared to Dimuth’s six Tests.

Dimuth has now scored six consecutive half-centuries and a 50 in the second Test starting on Monday will see him equaling a World Record shared by six other players. Everton Weeks, Kumar Sangakkara, Andy Flower, Shivnaraine Chanderpaul, Chris Rogers and K.L. Rahul have all scored seven consecutive fifties in Test cricket.

In the list of most runs in Test cricket for Sri Lanka, Dimuth went past former skipper Arjuna Ranatunga this year and he is currently the ninth highest run scorer. He’s on 5406 runs and if he scores 96 more runs in the second Test, he will knock off three more Sri Lankan greats; Tilan Samaraweera (5462), T.M. Dilshan (5492) and Marvan Atapattu (5502). That will see him sitting at number six among the highest run scorers for the country.

Dimuth is hungry for runs and he wants to finish his career with 10,000 Test runs. Only two other Sri Lankan greats have achieved the milestone. Kumar Sangakkara with 12,400 runs and Mahela Jayawardene with 11,814 runs are the only members of the exclusive 10,000 club.

“Scoring 10,000 runs is my dream. I don’t know if I’ll be able to achieve that, but that’s what I’ve got in my mind. If I can continue this form, I’ll be able to get close to 10,000 runs. I like to improve as much as I can, and whenever I finish a match, I’ll go and check where I am on the Sri Lanka run charts, to figure out how many I need to score to pass someone,” Karunaratne explained.

The Sri Lankan captain was Man of the Match as Sri Lanka took a 1-0 lead to retain the Sobers-Tissera Trophy. The win also enabled Sri Lanka to collect 12 points in the ICC Test Championship.

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Amasha smashes Susanthika’s Army record, Roshan dazzles with hurdles feat

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Amasha de Silva smashed Susanthika Jayasinghe’s meet record in the women’s 100 metres.(Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

57th Army Athletics Championships  

by Reemus Fernando  

Sprinter Amasha de Silva smashed Olympian Susanthika Jayasinghe’s longstanding Army Athletics Championship 100 metres record and Roshan Dhammika Ranatunga came almost close to breaking his national record in the 110 metres hurdles as they blazed the track on the final day of the Army Athletics Championships at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Friday.

Amasha clocked 11.67 seconds to win the women’s 100 metres final ahead of Susanthika’s niece Medhani Jayamanne in the afternoon. She broke Susanthika’s 1994 hand-timed record of 11.6 seconds. With yesterday’s feat, Amasha has now taken both the 100 and 200 metres records of the Army Championships under her belt. The athlete trained by Sanjeewa Weerakkody has a personal best of 10.55 seconds from 2020 and is the fourth fastest athlete in history in the 100 metres behind Susanthika, Damayanthi Dharsha and Rumeshika Ratnayake.

In the morning, Roshan Dhammika produced the second-fastest legal time ever run by a Sri Lankan in the men’s 110 metres hurdles.

Dhammika, who broke Olympian Mahesh Perera’s 24-year-old 110 metres hurdles record at the National Championships four weeks ago, clocked 13.91 seconds to win the gold in the 110 metres hurdles final. The SLEME athlete’s effort had a minus 1.9 wind reading as he finished the event just two milliseconds slower than his national record.

His coach Thiron Gamage was confident that Dhammika would improve his national record once again and he almost achieved the target running against the wind. “He missed the record but with this feat, Dhammika has proved beyond doubt that his national record was not a fluke,” Gamage told The Island after the new meet record performance.

How much he has got to offer was evident from the time Dhammika ran a relaxed heat in the morning. Despite breaking the second hurdle he was still leading when he cleared the last hurdle but slowed down to finish third in the heat.  In the final his only blemish was breaking the last hurdle. Still, he was metres ahead of the rest. With his third sub 14 seconds run (13.97 secs and 13.89 secs at the Nationals) the former Kularatne Central, Godakawela athlete has become the only Sri Lankan to run the distance under that mark legally.

All three athletes who had previously run the distance under 14 seconds, namely Chaminda Fonseka, Supun Viraj Randeniya and Mahesh Perera had wind readings above the legal limit.

Those were not the only impressive track performances as Pabasara Niku produced his personal best with a 46.36 seconds to finish first in the men’s 400 metres final which was minus national champion Kalinga Kumarage and the other leading contender Aruna Dharshana. Dharshana pulled out from the competition due to injury in the semi-finals on Thursday. Harsha Karunaratne who won the 800 metres, finished second behind Niku in a time of 46.83 seconds. In the corresponding women’s event, Nadeesha Ramanayake bagged the gold medal. She clocked 54.54 seconds.

There were two other individual meet record performances from Sarangi Silva in the women’s long jump and Samith Fernando in the men’s shot put.

Sarangi cleared a distance of 6.14 metres to win the long jump. Fernando cleared 16.60 metres to create his record.

Nilani Ratnayake, whose steeplechase feat was adjudged the most outstanding performance in the female category won her third individual gold medal when she clocked 4:25.20 seconds to finish the 1,500 metres. While Samantha Pushpakumara (RMS) won the men’s 10,000 metres in a time of 31:12.28 seconds, H.A.M. Dilrukshi was the winner in the women’s discus throw. Men’s 100 metres winner Himasha Eshan (10.29 secs), who was involved in many victories for the Artillery regiment- the winners of the championship- won the award for the most outstanding performance in the men’s category.

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