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The English expedition: puzzles to unravel



The number five slot will be occupied by Dananjaya de Silva who is fast evolving in to Tilekeratne Dilshan lite version.


by Aravinthan Arunthavanathan

Nuwan Pradeep nails an accurate yorker. The ball trickles down to fine leg. It must be just two, but inexplicably turns into a three. The game that was almost sealed is yet alive. Next ball, the final ball of the innings, Pradeep cannot repeat the same. Liam Plunkett, England’s number ten smacks it over long off to tie the game. Early in the day England were six down for 92 and eight down for 235 requiring more than 50 from 28 balls. Still, they managed to tie. This is how the first game of the last bilateral ODI series Sri Lanka and England played in the UK began. This in a way symbolizes the journey both teams have taken ever since. England have found ways to win from hopeless situations whereas Sri Lanka have managed the opposite. This is mainly because England have always managed to find answers to all the questions they were faced with. In fact, they have provided distinction answers thinking out of the box, resulting in them being crowned as the World Champions in 2019. Sri Lanka on the other hand have not even figured out which subject the questions are being asked from. As both teams square off this week their priorities are opposite. England possess squads which outweigh Sri Lanka in every aspect. Most of them are hot picks in T20 leagues. Sri Lanka on the other hand is composed of a bunch of players who do not even find a mention during most auctions. Nothing to be disheartened. Sri Lanka have often punched above their weight when unnoticed. Post 2015, that is the only hope that has kept fans attached to a team which has forever being on life support. But there is hope, in fact plenty of it. The law of averages should correct the trend sooner rather than later. That statement too is more out of hope than conviction. The selectors have walked the talk for once. Almost the same team apart from Ashen Bandara have found a place in the flight to UK. Pathum Nissanka looked set to be another casualty, but thankfully the selectors have chosen otherwise. He need not play, but merely existing in the set up will benefit him. Consistency in policies will be the key to build trust in a broken system where mistrust is the norm. Sri Lanka have plenty of questions. The consistency at the top, combinations to overcome the middle overs muddle with bat and ball and players to step up under pressure at the death are problems of highest priority. With plenty of options at the top of the innings Danushka Gunetileke will be looked upon with keen interest. It’s time to put aside his inconsistencies and deliver. With a top-heavy unit Danushka isn’t indispensable. Avishka Fernando on the other hand ever since hooking Joffra Archer out of the ground in 2019 has grown not on only in stature but apparently in circumference too. Now that the latter is addressed, fans would hope Avishka would be in the news for his batting and not fitness. The two Kusals have been entrusted with massive responsibility of leadership and forming the backbone of the batting. Kusal Perera’s ambidexterity with the bat and Kusal Mendis’s fleet footedness have the potential to help Sri Lanka break the shackles in the middle overs as batsmen they can’t ask for more than the true surfaces of UK. It is worth noting Mahela Jayawardena too heralded a golden run for Sri Lanka in 2006 with some high-class batting on the England tour. It was a turn around for a struggling unit at that point. Both the Kusal’s can do well to orchestrate a revival following those footsteps. The number five slot will be occupied by Dananjaya de Silva who is fast evolving in to Tilekeratne Dilshan lite version. An ultra-lite version even would do a world of good for the team balance. Danajaya’s bowling adds much needed balance to the side. If Niroshan Dickwella is to play in the middle order it will be a race between Dickwella and Dasun Shanaka for the number six slot. Dickwella’s busy approach at the crease would make him an ideal option in the middle overs as well. A phase Sri Lanka have struggled for an eternity. He may well help overcome the spin strangle that often throttles Sri Lanka. Dasun and Dickwella whoever plays would play a huge role if Sri Lanka are to turn the tide. In a team which lacks muscle Dasun and Wanindu Hasranga have a major role in propelling the tail end of the innings. Being able to do so consistently under pressure will be the key for Sri Lanka’s turn around in fortunes. Sri Lanka would have to try different combinations to crack the code to succeed in this pivotal phase. All teams that are performing well are relying on a superstar allrounder. If there is one person who can be Sri Lanka’s savior in this regard it has to be Wanindu Hasaranga. Proper batting capabilities with a hard to pick googly makes Wanindu a hot stock in international cricket. How successful would he be on the biggest stage against the masters of white ball format makes a case for compelling viewing. The fast-bowling all-rounder’s role would be taken by Isuru Udana, who has promised a lot in recent past. So much so that even Virat Kohli and Mike Hesson entrusted him with closing the death overs for Royal Challengers Banglore not so long ago. Ever since his performance has been attracting denigration. But in the interest of Sri Lankan cricket, we shall hope Isuru finds his charm back leaving no room for the above. Isuru and Wanindu will provide the additional dimension Sri Lanka is looking for, to be a force to reckon with. Dananjaya Lakshan is a name sure to keep Udana on his heels. Especially following the praise heaped by Lasith Malinga who without a doubt has one of the best cricketing brains. Laskhan will surely get a look in at some point. How easily he graduates to international cricket is to be seen with interest.

In the spin department mystery is mysteriously missing in a nation that churned out masters of spin. Ramesh Mendis looked impressive in the final game in Bangladesh. With confidence behind him, Mendis deserves at least a run in the first few games. Akila Dananjaya and Lakshan Sandakan have promised for long but not yet become reliable. Will they ever graduate is an eternal question plaguing many fans. If England provides a hint regarding the answer either way, it would be a welcome relief. Pravin Jayawickrama can wait. It would be in the best interest of the youngster not to expose him to a monster line up. The same can be applied to the other youngsters who have got a well-deserved look in as well.

In the fast-bowling department, Dushmantha Chameera will be expected to lead as he did in Bangladesh. The rest of the slots will be up for grab on rotation. Death bowling and breakthroughs in the middle remain a concern. Whether the selectors will fall back on Nuwan Pradeep’s experience going forward will be interesting to see. Sri Lanka have enough ammunition. Who decides to take the opportunity is what is left to be seen. England haven’t been a happy hunting ground for bowlers. Hence the hopes can be subdued. Attitude and the heart for the fight would be what fans would love to see. Hasaranga will be the key in the middle with Chameera and Udana expected to look after the death overs. Overall Sri Lanka’s present state is not a reflection of scarcity of resources. It is instead an outcome of a messed up eco system. It’s not a problem arising out of scarcity but a problem arising out of no clear-cut role descriptions and lack of trust. Talent is plenty but that’s the least that matters on the international stage. The bigger nations have thrived upon proper systems being put in place, supplemented by carefully crafted strategies built upon big data. While we have no insight about the later, Sri Lanka clear lacks a framework. For long we have been the troubled child who promises but fails to deliver. The child has the genes to succeed but the chaos at home is not providing the ideal launching pad. We have spoken a lot about getting the home in order, nothing seems to have changed. Chances are it may not any time soon. But at least there is a group of decision makers in selectors who are showing signs of consistency. Would that be adequate to make the English tour any better? Only time will reveal. But for the diehard fan there are enough puzzles to be unraveled to make a compelling case to view the proceedings in UK sacrificing precious sleep

(The Author’s blog can be found at Cricketing perspectives on facebook)

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So near yet so far for several junior athletes



Medhani Jayamanne (centre) wins the girls’ 100 metres. (Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

by Reemus Fernando

While sprinters Isuru Kaushalya and Medhani Jayamanne further cemented their places in the team for the World Junior Championships it was a case of so near yet so far for a number of athletes who missed qualifying standards by narrow margins at the Junior Trial held at the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo on Tuesday.

After going through many a hardships to continue training amidst the Covid 19 pandemic junior athletes produced some outstanding performances during the one-day competition yesterday.

St. Joseph’s College triple jumper Pasindu Malshan missed the qualifying standards after his best jump of 15.76 metres was measured with a wind reading of +3.7. The qualifying standards (QS) achieved with a tail wind of +2 are not considered eligible. He had two outstanding jumps measured at 15.76 metres (+3.7) and 15.47 metres. The qualifying standard is 15.60 metres.

Hurdlers Amesha Hettiarachchi from Kandy, M.D. Dharshana of Ambagamuwa Central and Kaveesha Bandara of Royal College, Colombo narrowly missed the qualifying mark. Amesh, despite failing to maintain the rhythm from the penultimate hurdle, returned a time of 62.66 seconds (QS: 60.75secs)

Dharshana hardly had any competition in the boys’ 400 metres hurdles and returned a time of 53.22 seconds which was a fraction of a second behind the qualifying standards (QS: 53.10). Royal hurdler Bandara was unlucky as he battled wind to return a time of 14.34 seconds in the 110 metres hurdles (QS: 14.15).

St. Peter’s College javelin thrower Ramesh Tharanga who is one of the promising throwers to have emerged from the junior circuit hurled the javelin to 68.33 metres (QS: 69.5m) which was just short of the target.

Long jumper Hirusha Hashen too narrowly missed the target as he cleared 7.31 metres (QS: 7.58 m).

Lumbini College missed a rare opportunity to field two 100 metres sprinters for the World Junior Championships when Chalith Piyumal had to run against the wind (-2.1). When Medhani Jayamanne who is also from Lumbini achieved the qualifying standards in the girls’ 100 metres, Piyumal clocked 10.78 seconds running against the wind (QS: 10.58).


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Kaushalya, Medhani dazzle as chance looms for mixed relay team



by Reemus Fernando

Ananda Sastralaya Matugama sprinter Isuru Kaushalya produced one of the best performances by a junior athlete in Asia in the 400 metres this year when be bettered the World Junior Championship qualifying mark for the second time this season at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka Athletics conducted a Junior Trial yesterday to provide competition-starved junior athletes a chance to reach qualifying standards for this year’s World Under-20 Athletics Championships.

Kaushalya and sprinter Medhani Jayamanne were probably the best performers on the day as several athletes met disappointment after having come almost close to achieving qualifying standards for the World Junior Championship which will be held in three weeks time in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kaushalya, who had already achieved qualifying standard when he entered the one-day meet, clocked 46.90 seconds in the 400 metres final. His outstanding feat is the seventh fastest time this year by a junior athlete in Asia. While only seven junior athletes had clocked sub 47 seconds in Asia, Kaushalya improved his personal best clocking sub 47 seconds and now is the seventh fastest Asian over the 400 metres in his age category.

Medhani Jayamanne, who qualified for the world event in the 200 metres at the Interstate Championship in India recently, did her best to qualify in the 100 metres as well. Her efforts aided by a tail wind (of +2) stopped the clock at 11.85 seconds, the exact qualifying standard required to enter the event.

Holy Cross College, Gampaha runner Shanika Lakshani and Ratnayake Central athlete Tharushi Karunaratne are the others who had already qualified for the World Junior Championships. Having already secured her place in the team in the 800 metres, Karunaratne tried to achieve 400 metres qualifying standards as well yesterday. She fell just short of the target as she returned a time of 55.19 seconds (qualifying standard: 54.85 secs).

St. Joseph’s College triple jumper Pasindu Malshan missed the qualifying standards after his best jump of 15.76 metres had a wind reading of +3.7. There were a number of others who met similar disappointment.

Chance to field mix relay team

Sri Lanka is yet to field a mix relay team for any international event. However with strong performances in both the boys’ and girls’ 400 metres yesterday Sri Lanka Athletics has a golden opportunity to provide youngsters an opportunity to compete in the combined event in Kenya.

In the girls’ 400 metres, both Tharushi Karunaratne (55.19 secs), who has already qualified for the World Junior event in the 800 metres, and Holy Cross, Gampaha athlete Lakshima Mendis (55.29secs) both produced their personal best performances. In the corresponding boys’ event Wekada MV sprinter R.D. Bandara who finished second behind Kaushalya clocked 47.55 seconds.

With junior athletes lacking international exposure, exploring chances of fielding a mix relay team will augur well for their future.

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Second T-20 postponed after Pandya tests positive



by Rex Clementine

Yesterday’s second T-20 International between Sri Lanka and India at RPS was postponed after Indian player Krunal Pandya tested positive for COVID. The game is expected to be played today followed by the final T-20 International on Thursday depending on the PCR results of the remaining players.

During the Antigen test taken on all players yesterday afternoon, Pandya had tested positive. Accordingly, seven other players who are identified as his close contacts were isolated.

All players of the Indian team and support staff then did PCR tests and although the results were expected by 6 pm yesterday, there was no official announcement when this edition went to print. Sources said that Pandya had tested positive in his PCR test as well.

There were a few concerns as to how Pandya tested positive as all players and coaching staff are in bio-secure bubbles and outside interaction is little. Health authorities were conducting investigations.

It is not clear as to how many days Pandya’s close contacts have to remain in isolation. However, India are carrying an extended squad and fielding a decent team should not be a worry.

This is the second instance the series has been postponed due to the pandemic. Earlier, after Sri Lanka Batting Coach Grant Flower tested positive, all Sri Lankan players were isolated and the series was pushed back by several days.

The Sri Lankan team was informed about the series being pushed back when they gathered for the team meeting at the hotel at 3pm. The Sri Lankans are staying at Cinnamon Grand while the Indians are at Taj Samudra. Both teams were supposed to stay at Taj but the Sri Lankans were evacuated after Flower tested positive.

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