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The English expedition: puzzles to unravel

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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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Sri Lanka’s contingent prior to the opening ceremony

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by Reemus Fernando 

When Sri Lanka’s Olympic contingent were entering the stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo yesterday, Nimali Liyanarachchi who could have easily become the country’s flag bearer was taking a seat in the business class for the first time in a long career to take wing from Colombo to Tokyo. On the same flight, Sujith Abeysekara who identified the talent at a very young age and helped her blossom into one of the country’s most successful middle distance runners was seated in the economy class.

It was not long ago that Nimali and fellow track and field athletes slept on the floor during transit on their way to the last pre Olympic competition. The country’s sports authorities have decided to provide five star facilities to Olympic bound athletes and that paved the way for NImali to travel in business class for the first time.

A winner of multiple disciplines at National Level, NImali has represented the country at numerous international competitions. No other athlete in the Sri Lankan contingent in Tokyo has excelled at regional events like the athlete from Sooriyawewa. A gold medalist at the Asian Athletics Championships and South Asian Games, the 32-year-old received a wildcard to the Olympics after Nilani Ratnayake, who was in contention for qualification slid in the world rankings. Before the lack of competitions pulled her down in world rankings Nimali was one of the top three Asians in her discipline.  Though Nimali is a wildcard entrant at the Olympics her fellow track and field athlete at the Olympics, Yupun Abeykoon is not. Abeykoon qualified through world rankings and could be the only athlete who could go beyond the first round. Abeykoon, South Asia’s fastest man and badminton player Niluka Karunaratne are probably the only Sri Lankan athletes who are competition ready as Nimali’s preparation too was hampered due to quarantine procedures following their return from India’s Interstate Championship.

Athletics fraternity was curious yesterday as to why the honour of carrying the country’s flag had not been give to track and field athletes. At the time this story was filed, rooky gymnast Milka Gehani and judoka Chamara Nuwan Dharmawardena were scheduled to carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony.

Nearly one third of the countries that took part in the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had handed their country’s flag to track and field athletes. Some of them were legends of the sport. Many time Olympic medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was scheduled to carry the flag of Jamaica at the time this edition went to press. For the first time countries could be represented by two flag bearers at the Olympic Games. Sri Lanka, a country that has won its only Olympic medals in track and field had a gymnast and judoka doing the duty.

Twenty years after Sri Lanka won its last Olympic medal has athletics lost its place as the premier Olympic sport of the country or has other sports come to prominence surpassing track and field as prospective medal winning Olympic sports? It is the first time a gymnast is representing Sri Lanka. She was ranked 114th at the 2019 World Championships but according to NOC, she has received a continental quota spot due to cancellation of the Asian Gymnastic Championship.

Now take a look at Sri Lanka’s track and field athletes. Forget about the two track and field athletes in Tokyo. There are more than half a dozen track and field athletes who were among the top 100 athletes in the world in their respective disciplines including one who produced the 15th best performance of the world this year. They could not improve their rankings due to lack of opportunities to take part in top ranked Championships.

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Sri Lanka on course for consolation win 

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Avishka Fernando anchored the Sri Lankan innings after the hosts were set a target of 227 to win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday.

 

By Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka looked on course for a consolation win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday as they reached 92 for one at the end of 15 overs chasing a target of 227.  Avishka Fernando gave the hosts a solid start in the dead rubber and was unbeaten on 46 when this edition went to print.

Fernando played some exciting strokes and his pulled six off Navdeep Saini was the shot of the day. It reminded of the power hitting of another Moratuwaite – L.R.D. Mendis.

Bhanuka Rajapaksa was unbeaten on 28.

Spinner Praveen Jayawickrama and Akila Dananjaya came up with outstanding performances picking six wickets between them as India were bowled out for 225 after being 157 for three at one stage. 

Sri Lanka did three changes to the side that lost the second ODI while India came in with six changes handing debuts for five players, virtually playing a third string team.

Sri Lanka’s fielding that was a huge let down during the previous game showed some improvement as they backed up the bowlers to reduce India to 225 in 43.1 overs. 

Dananjaya started off poorly conceding three boundaries in his first three balls on his return to limited overs cricket and exhausted a review too in his very first over. Sri Lanka had indicated that they were going to consider the off-spinner only for T-20 cricket but were forced to bring him back following injury to Wanindu Hasaranga.

Jayawickrama, who had claimed 11 wickets on his Test debut against Bangladesh in May, bowled superbly as he claimed the wickets of three middle order batsmen in his second ODI. With the left-arm spinner striking at regular intervals, India never got any momentum in their innings.

Dananjaya dismissed Suryakumar Yadav when he trapped him leg before wicket and claimed two more wickets towards the tail end of the Indian innings.

Skipper Dasun Shanaka, who had got his act woefully wrong in the previous game, had things very much under control yesterday with some clever bowling changes. He himself sent down eight overs and claimed the key wicket of Prithvi Shaw for 49.

Rain had stopped play for 100 minutes during the Indian innings and the game was reduced to 47 overs.

A win is crucial for Sri Lanka as they would gain ten points in the ICC World Cup Super League.

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Meet Harijan, the 400 metres hurdler at Sydney Olympics  

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Waiting for the next Olympic hurdler – Part VIII 

by Reemus Fernando  

The last Sri Lankan man to run 400 metres hurdles at an Olympics is Harijan Ratnayake. That was 21 years ago. He will be in Tokyo next month. Ratnayake who holds the national record of the discipline will not be running hurdles there. Instead he is accompanying his charge Kumudu Priyanga for the Paralympics. Asian Para Games medallist Priyanga is not a hurdler. She will compete in the 100 metres and the long jump in the T47 category.  

“I do not have hurdlers training under me,” says Harijan who alongside Asian medallist Asoka Jayasundara are the only men to know how it feels like to have run the event under 50 seconds.  

Rajitha Niranjan Rajakaruna who won the bronze medal in the 400 metres flat event at the last National Championship is trained by Harijan. He clocked 47.21 seconds at the nationals. According to Harijan athletes willing to take up the 400 metres hurdles and ready to work hard are in short supply. “When Rajakaruna came to me he was running 400 metres in 57 seconds or somewhere around that. To become a 400 metres hurdler you have to be a good 400 metres sprinter as well. When the base is prepared he could be trained for 400 metres hurdles.” 

“I see many future prospects. But I can train only if they come to me,” says Harijan who earmarks Asian Junior Championship (2018) medallist Pasindu Kodikara as one.  

Harijan too was not a hurdler initially. He reached the pinnacle of his athletics career, established records and went on to represent Sri Lanka at Sydney Olympics when he trained under S.M.G. Banda, who was among the best in the business then. Harijan was introduced to Banda by incumbent president of Sri Lanka Athletics Palitha Fernando, who had been in the athletics administration since 1979. Things have change dramatically within the last two decades as athletes have continued to remain with their school coaches even after reaching senior level.   

After Duncan White won silver in the 400 metres hurdles in 1948 Olympics it took Sri Lanka more than five decades to qualify an athlete for the 400 metres hurdles. A clue to the question why had it taken so many years to unearth someone like Ratnayake might lie in a stack of books in an iron cupboard in the department of sports at the Ministry of Education. The event results of all athletics disciplines of the All Island Schools Games are carefully stored according to their year in a steel cupboard at Isurupaya. Our search for the 400 metres hurdles results of all Schools Games found that the event had been only introduced in early 90s. According to Sri Lanka Athletics statistician the Public Schools meet which was the forerunner to the All Island Schools Games had only the 300 metres hurdles.  

Had Ratnayake competed in 400 metres hurdles in his last year, the All Island Schools Games results of mid 90s should have had his performances. The name Ratnayake is not there in the final of any meet in that period. However in one particular meet heats performances shows an athlete from Dharmadutha Vidyalaya, Badulla being placed third in a heat. “When the championship was held in Anuradhapura I went to see the ruins after the heats. I did not even see the final.”   

However it took only five years for him to be Sri Lanka’s number one hurdler and win medals at Asian level and represent Sri Lanka at Olympics. The right athlete training under the right coach can bring the best out of both.

 

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