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The Great Wallaby Rout

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

For mysterious reasons that make sense only to TV executives and the governing body of world rugby, they have chosen to play the so-called “World Championship of Rugby” in Australia. Covid regulations decry that stadia can only be half full and social distancing must be maintained among spectators. Only 18, 000 tickets were sold, Of course, this means more people have to pay exorbitant rates and watch TV! NZ could have easily got around 40,000 people into the ground, on a day that made even the Gods’ cry. Pouring with rain all day and the Wallabies kicked off, fielding a side with 6 NZ born players and a handful of Pacific Islanders’ to boot. A much-vaunted 20-year-old no10 and 13, both not to belabour a point, born in Aotearoa! The All Blacks not giving a start to new discovery – loosehead prop Alex Hodgeman and sticking with Karl Tu’inukuafe to replace regular Joe Moody who was unable to play due to concussion protocols. Also, Hoskins Sotutu coming in at no8 as the incumbent was on paternity leave, on a day that would ensure a tough forwards battle.

Within 3 minutes the Wallabies displayed part of their game plan and committed a foul on the dynamic young Abs’ winger Caleb Clark. Filipo Daugunu his Pacifica origin opposite number, was immediately pinged by the referee who displayed his penchant for using the cards at his disposal and a level of undecidedness and reliability on the TV ref, by dishing out an early yellow card. So, Wallabies down to 14 players for the next 10 minutes. The Aussie skipper was spotted offside in the 5th minute and the resulting touch kick saw the new prop Karl Tu’inukuafe disregard a massive overlap and barely scramble over the line to score mid-left. If the no1 had not made it over the line he would have committed a Ricco Ioanisque type gaff (trying to touch down with one hand and dropping the ball!) that he would have found hard to live down! All Blacks 7 – 0 up in the 6thminute.

The referee decided to try to even things up for Aussies, and possibly continue with the illusion that he was refereeing a game of netball, by yellow carding Jodie Barret for what was deemed a dangerous tackle. 9thminute both teams down to 14 players each. In the 9th Minute Ritchie Muanga, who had an exceptional game even by his standards, Kicked cross-field for Dan Coles the AB hooker who was lurking in the wing and showed a great turn of speed to put himself onside and get across the line putting enough downward pressure on the ball to satisfy the on-field ref who signalled an on-field try. However, the TV ref soon changed his mind and the try was disallowed! The Blacks kept attacking and the first scrum of the game was held in the 11thminute with the Wallabies defending on their 5-meter line. The Wallaby no9 Nick White let down his debutant no10 by not kicking for clearance himself and passing the ball to the rookie who didn’t do a very good job. The resulting lineout still well inside Wallaby territory saw Sam Whitelock do his usual totally professional job of getting the ball back to his three quarters and Caleb Clark barrelled his way over the line, only to meet with superb defence from his opposite number, who put his body under the ball and stopped the ball being grounded. Great work and another possible 7 pointer disallowed. All Blacks looking ominously good.

At this point in the 13th minute, the Wallabies were back to 15 players and the AB’s still One short. The one-dimensional play of the AB’s no1 Karl Tu’inukuafe was exposed at this stage with a simple knock-on. This lack of skills and mobility has no place in the modern game and is what earned front-row forwards a bad name and much ridicule in the past! It took 19 minutes before Jodie Barret was allowed back into play and Ritchie Muanga decided to show the Wallaby coaches that a mere 20 year old (who probably grew up in NZ idolizing the All Blacks and had just faced a Haka) was no match for him and scythed his way through the Oz defence to score far right in the 20th minute. Now the conversion was difficult and the Blacks have two other kickers in the Barret brothers but a visibly tired Muanga was asked to take the kick and he missed. This is the lack of on-field decisions and the myopic thinking from the leadership and management of this great team that could lead to trouble in a tight match. 12 – 0 to the Blacks. In the 26th minute, Beauden Barret slotted himself into first receiver and a clever chip kick over the first line of Aussie defence saw Ritchie Muanga show his speed once more, a favourable bounce from the notoriously fickle and unpredictable rugby ball allowed Muanga to collect the ball easily and head for the line with no Aussie indigenous jerseys (Aussies were playing in green jerseys in honour of the 14 indigenous players who have represented them over the years) in sight! I wonder if a Black Stripe will be added to their traditional Yellow jersey to honour the NZ born players…In fact, there were only 3 black jerseys in the final frame before Ritchie Muanga touched down under the posts. 19 – 0 All Blacks ahead.

This was time to get worried for the Wallabies. Each AB player was showing consummate skill and professionalism and looked completely at home in his position. The AB’s skipper showed it off by winning a turnover and getting the ball out to Goodhue in the centre who showed just how important it is to think and assess when making decisions in this great game of rugby union and kicked ahead beautifully for his no11 Caleb Clark to make good ground and allow Dan Coles to get his long-elusive try. This time the referee and the TV ref could not find anything wrong and Muanga converted making it 26 – 0 with just a few minutes to go to half time. Muanga almost did it again in the 39th minute, showing a clean pair of heels, he was clear but a last-minute desperate ankle tap saw him lose his balance and the half time score remained at 26 – 0. 4 tries had been scored by the AB’s, two of those by no10 Ritchie Muanga and two more disallowed.

Whatever happened “discussion” wise and consumption wise in the Aussie dressing room at half time resulted in the two NZ born backs Noah Lolesio and Jordan Petaia (the latter played very well throughout) combining beautifully resulting in an Aussie try just 1 minute into the 2nd half. However a fairly straightforward kick was missed by the 20-year-old NZ born no10 Noah Lolesio, and the score read 26 – 5. This resurgence of Aussie play was acknowledged by the weather gods with a cessation of the rain. However, the conditions were still very greasy. In the 44th minute, the Wallabies had a kickable penalty but 3 points didn’t mean much at this stage and the touch option was taken. The Wallabies had their best phase of the game during the next 15 – 20 minutes and the Blacks resorted to their bench. Dan Coles (inexplicably) went off and Codie Taylor came on, so did my favourite no1 Alex Hodgeman. Sam Whitelock continued to do his thing, faultlessly and quietly and most of all SO reliably. Great loose play winning turnovers and even turning them into penalties but the Aussies were playing their hearts out.

In the 52nd minute, the All Blacks got a scrum penalty (my MAN at no1!) but lost the ball to a turnover deep in Aussie territory. A bad mistake and against the run of play. The 55th minute saw Scott Barret come on for Patrick Tuapoletu and TJ Peranara replace Smith at no9. The Aussie dominance needed to be reversed at a kickable penalty in the 59th minute was taken by the NZ team and the score moved on to 29 – 5. At this stage, it seemed like all the bench players were on for both sides. Wallabies wasted a possible touch finder by kicking too deep and sending the ball over the dead-ball line. Inexperience showing through and not the type of mistake a team can make at this level. The Aussies kept attacking and the Kiwi skipper Sam Cane won a great defensive penalty in the 64th minute but shortly thereafter, he took a bad knock on the head and left the field for a HIA. A setback for the Blacks but the ever-reliable Sam Whitelock took over the reins.

Whitelock took the decision to have a scrum off a 5-meter penalty awarded in Wallaby territory and we realised why shortly thereafter. Ricco Ioane was on the field (on the wing and NOT as a centre) and a carefully rehearsed move saw the no8 come out with the ball work the blindside and Ioane went over in a flash and even touched down with his characteristic one-handed move that had been such a disaster two weeks ago. He seemed jubilant when he touched down extreme right and Muanga slotted a difficult kick – 36 – 5.

In the 73rd minute Jodie Barret who had now moved to full back as his brother Beauden had been subbed off, joined the line midfield, broke through and sailed down the middle like a galleon under full rig or to use a more modern metaphor like the America’s Cup challenger under full sail and was completely unstoppable. He scored under the posts and Muanga made no mistake. 43 – 5 and the Bledisloe Cup was going to be retained for the 18th year in a row.

The referee, however, was determined to remain the centre of attraction, yellow carding Shannon Frazelle in the last minute of the game for what was deemed an illegal tackle of some sort that could only be deciphered in the convoluted permutations that had clouded his mind throughout the game. Even the TV ref exonerated the cited player but pedanticity (to use another “new” and polite word rather than the word I would REALLY like to use) prevailed.

The big silver trophy was retained, apparently, it holds 42 cans of the cold stuff and no doubt it was used as a worthy receptacle of the finest brew last night. Great game for the All Blacks and the biggest winning margin of the Bledisloe cup EVER.

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Devapathiraja stun Isipatana, Mahinda oust St. Joseph Vaz’s

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Under-19 Cricket

by Reemus Fernando

Devapathiraja secured their first ever semi-final place in an Under-19 Division I tournament with a six wicket victory over Isipatana and Mahinda cruised to the semis with a crushing 131 runs victory over St. Joseph Vaz’s in the Tier ‘B’ quarter-finals played on Thursday.

An unbroken 94 run stand for the fifth wicket between Jeewaka Shasheen (56n.o.) and Sudeera Weerarathna (31n.o.) helped Devapathiraja turn tables on Isipatana as they recovered from 58 for four wickets at one stage to seal their semi-final place with six wickets to spare.

Mahinda posted 252 runs in 43 overs thanks to a quick fire half century by Dhanuja Induwara, who hammered 73 runs (in 32 balls) inclusive of six sixes and six fours. St. Joseph Vaz’s were shout out for 121 runs as Kushan Madusha , Navod Paranavithana, Subanu Rajapaksha and Kavidu Lakshan shared bowling honours.

Mahinda will now meet Ananda in the semi-final, while Devapathiraja take on Dharmasoka.

Results

Division I Tier ‘B’

Mahinda beat St. Joseph Vaz’s by 131 runs at Moratuwa

Mahinda

252 for 8 in 43 overs (Navod Paranavithana 62, Subanu Rajapaksha 62, Dhanuja Induwara 73; Kaushan Wijerartne 2/28)

St. Joseph Vaz’s

121 all out in 38.2 overs (Chamath Fernando 18; Kushan Madusha 2/25, Navod Paranavithana 2/23, Subanu Rajapaksha 2/11, Kavidu Lakshan 2/08)

Devapathiraja beat Isipatana by six wickets at DSS ground

Isipatana

151 all out in 39.5 overs (Tharusha Nethsara 31, Naveen Kanishka 23, Themiya Gunaratne 18; Sasanka Nirmal 2/21, Sudeera Weeraratne 2/24, Irushka Thimira 3/28)

Devapathiraja

152 for 4 in 43.2 overs (Irushka Thimira 32, Jeewaka Shasheen 56n.o., Sudeera Weerarathna 31n.o., Thevindu Dickwella 4/28)

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Daunting task ahead after Bangladesh pile up runs

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Rex Clementine at Pallekele

Twenty years ago, Test matches against Bangladesh were a cakewalk for Sri Lanka. There was a game at SSC where Marvan Atapattu scored  a double hundred and retired followed by Mahela Jayawardene who retired on 150. Sanath Jayasuriya was least bothered smashing 89 off 59 balls with 11 fours and four sixes. The entire Bangladesh team managed one run more than Jayasuriya in their first innings. Now the roles are reversed. Bangladesh seem to be giving the Sri Lankans a taste of their own medicine. Has Bangladesh cricket really improved or has Sri Lankan cricket become so bad?

You can not say that Bangladesh cricket is on a high. They lost a recent Test series to West Indies at home and last year lost to Afghanistan. Some 90 percent of their wins in Test cricket have been against Zimbabwe. So why is Sri Lanka playing catch up in this game is an interesting question. The answers will be known by stumps on day three when Sri Lanka get a chance to bat.

It was a remarkable effort by the tourists who are without their main match winner Shakib Al Hasan and their lead bowler Mustafizur Rahman, both of them are at IPL.

Bangladesh finished day two on 474 for four after resuming on 302 for two with Mominul Haque and Najmul Shanto posting big hundreds. The pair shared a record 242 run stand, a new record for Bangladesh in Test match cricket. It’s also a joint record at Pallekele for the third wicket with Younis Khan and Shan Masood posting 242 runs six years ago.

Sri Lanka’s  bowling lacked venom as no wickets fell in the morning session. Lahiru Kumara provided the breakthrough when he took a return catch to dismiss Shanto. The left-hander who posted his maiden Test hundred on Wednesday finished on 163 having batted for seven minutes short of nine hours. He faced 378 deliveries and hit 17 fours and a six. Niroshan Dickwella’s dropped catch early on in his innings proved to be costly.

For Mominul it was his 11th Test hundred and the first overseas. He was dismissed when he edged part-timer Dhananjaya de Silva to Lahiru Thirimanne at first slip.

The scoreboard doesn’t look good for Sri Lankans but their bowlers did a decent job to stop the run flow on day two having sent down too many loose balls on day one. Suranga Lakmal in particular was impressive bowling some tight spells. He was unlucky and needed more backing from others.

Play was called off early due to bad light and 25 overs were not bowled. The game will resume today 15 minutes early.

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May the educated continue to run cricket!

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by Rex Clementine

While the Test series  involving Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is on at Pallekele in a bio-secure bubble, the media has been allowed to cover the series in what is called the  ‘outer bubble’. The press can file their stories from the press box and carry on with their day today activities. The only thing that we can not do is to come face to face with players and support staff.

Sri Lanka Cricket is at the moment run by a respected doctor – Professor Arjuna de Silva. Apart from being a brilliant physician, he is proving to be an outstanding administrator as well. Glad he does not wish to avoid the press like the plague in these testing times.

The press discussed a similar method during the England series, but it fell on deaf ears of those who were running the sport at that time. Leave alone giving us a fair hearing, it took SLC more than a week to respond to our collective mail.

Then there were lies all around.  SLC first said that it was impossible to accommodate the press as the England and Wales Cricket Board had objected to our presence. We referred the matter to the ECB, who denied it outright saying that they had no issues with press covering the series. Then there were more lies, even misguiding the Minister of Sports.

The same SLC Executive Committee a few weeks either side of the England series had requested the media to cover their press briefings and they were well attended. But cricket matches for some mysterious reasons were out of bounds for us. Obviously, SLC hierarchy were getting advice from the wrong people.

South Africa, Australia, England, Pakistan and even India where COVID cases are at a staggering high had allowed the media to attend cricket matches but SLC was an exception. Did they have an axe to grind with the press for constantly highlighting daylight robbery at Maitland Place?

There was a storm of protest at the treatment meted out to the media. Former players, administrators and fans expressed their disappointment at what was happening but SLC bosses were thick skinned. Its President boasted that he was going to get more than 100 votes at the AGM. He was all too powerful. But the law of the land proved to be more powerful than him as the entire Executive Committee was dismissed on technical grounds. The CEO continues, although his time is hanging by a thread.

Further woes followed at the COPE hearing as the Parliamentary watchdog found large scale corruption and no accountability. The Secretary to the Sports Ministry was informed to initiate legal proceedings against officials who were responsible for corrupt deals that included money that broadcasting partners owed the board being transferred into offshore accounts.

It remains to be seen what action the Sports Ministry intends to take with the game suffering several blows both on and off the field in the last five years. The slide started during the Yahapalana regime and not much has been done to address the woes under the present government. The Sports Minister backdating a letter legalizing the term of the Executive Committee was the last straw. The move was opposed and the Minister was forced to dismiss the Executive Committee and bring in fresh faces amidst much criticism.

The same Ex Co did not bother to take disciplinary action against misbehaving players. This coupled with poor on field performances saw cricket’s ardent fans turning away from the game. While the national cricket team was involved in a series in the Caribbean, the retired players were featuring in a Legends tournament in India. Strangely, the fans preferred to watch the former players in action than their national team. This was extremely disturbing news.

Soon after the administration was changed, a clear message has been sent that misconduct will be sternly dealt with. An opening batsman who had got into constant trouble was hauled up for an inquiry on Tuesday and has been warned to behave or pack his bags. This is the way forward. When there is discipline, results will follow automatically.

The elected officials who were in power before that had double standards. For example, captain Dimuth Karunaratne who was involved in a late night accident was fined Rs. one million. This was despite him buying a brand new three wheeler to the other party involved in the accident. Kusal Mendis who was involved in a hit and run was treated with kids’ gloves. The board closed the case claiming it was a personal matter. That a poor man on his way to work was killed wasn’t a serious enough issue for them. That was not on.

Thankfully, the attitude of the administration has changed now. The powers that be need to ensure that the educated run cricket. Let the corrupt rot in jail.

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