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The Year of Debutants



by Rex Clementine

When the big three; Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and T.M. Dilshan retired around the same time six years ago, we expected the transition to take two or maybe three years and young players to fill their big shoes. However, the transition took longer than we expected. Injuries, a fragile First Class tournament, vast gap between domestic and international cricket have seen our cricket being pushed to the doldrums. Sri Lanka’s rankings in international cricket dropped at an alarming rate. The team’s current position of seventh in Tests, ninth in ODIs and eighth in T20s sums up the sorry state of affairs. Regular finalists in ICC events are now forced to play qualifying rounds. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel in 2021. New talents emerged and the future looks bright.

Last year was the year of debutants. Despite some drawbacks, the selectors need to be commended for backing several young players. Many of them came good and are looking set to take on bigger responsibilities.

Among the debutants that Sri Lanka had in 2021, there were five standouts. Who are they, how well they fared in 2021 and what can we expect from them moving forward?

Pathum Nissanka

Young Pathum Nissanka’s story has been celebrated by everyone who cares for Sri Lankan cricket. As a schoolboy, having received a scholarship from Kalutara Vidyalaya to Isipathana College, Colombo he struggled to make ends meet. From the humblest of beginnings, the top order batsman has gone onto become a household name. He rewrote record books this year by becoming the first Sri Lankan to score a hundred on debut overseas.

Pathum looked a player ideally suited for Test match cricket. But on the recommendations of former skipper Mahela Jayawardene who joined the national team set up as a consultant coach ahead of the T-20 World Cup in UAE, the selectors took a gamble by drafting him into the T-20 squad and made him to open the innings. He was a revelation. He was told to do a Marvan Atapattu; bat through the innings while others looked for boundaries.

Not only did he bat through the innings, his primarily responsibility, but by doing so he produced match winning scores as well. His maturity during the recent West Indies series where he made three half-centuries in four innings gives us the assurance that Sri Lanka has found the perfect partner for skipper Dimuth Karunaratne.

Praveen Jayawickrama

While young Pathum was plying his trade at Kalutara Vidyalaya, a few meters away Praveen Jayawickrama was his rival at Holy Cross College. A classical left-arm orthodox spinner, who bowls with superb control, Praveen grabbed his opportunity with both hands when he was called up to Kandy as injury replacement to face Bangladesh in April.

Leading spinner Lasith Embuldeniya was injured and the selectors opted for Prabath Jayasuriya. But he failed the skinfolds test making him ineligible for selection. Backing Praveen, with just a handful of First Class games behind him, was a huge call especially against a side like Bangladesh that played spin well. But he bowled Sri Lanka to victory claiming 11 wickets on debut.

If Praveen works on a few variations he will be quite handful even when conditions do not offer much assistance.

Ramesh Mendis

Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda produce sporting talents in abundance. A lot of people seem to back Ramesh as an all-rounder because he has scored a triple hundred in First Class cricket. But do not get too excited about players achievements in First Class cricket. As an off-spinner he can go places. Someone who never gives up, young Ramesh in four Tests has already picked up 26 wickets.

Given his insatiable hunger to learn and improve, you have seen Ramesh making steady progress this year and he was Player of the Series as Sri Lanka overcame West Indies 2-0 having claimed 18 wickets.

Bigger challenges await him when the national cricket team tour India in February and it will be a good learning experience. Even the greatest spinners of the sport be it Muttiah Muralitharan or Shane Warne have had their work cut out in India and it remains to be seen how young Mendis will take up the challenge. He has been so far used as the attacking option by his captain Dimuth Karunaratne but in India, he will have to do more of a containing role.

Maheesh Theekshana

St. Benedict’s have waited for several decades to produce a Sri Lankan cricketer and that drought ended when Maheesh Theekshana debuted against Proteas this year in a home bilateral series. During the World T-20 that followed, he was entrusted to bowl during the Power Plays and he did a terrific job.

Theekshana enlisted in the Army after leaving school and has been one of their key performers. Army has invested a lot in their cricket in recent times and they are producing some match winners for the national cricket team.

As of now, Theekshana is one dimensional and he needs to work on a stock ball and the accuracy of his variations. With a bit of mystery in him, he will be quite a handful when Sri Lanka tour Australia in February.

Charith Asalanka

Perhaps the brightest of all these talents has been Charith Asalanka. Richmond College, Galle under his leadership were a formidable outfit and he was the overwhelming choice as Sri Lanka Under-19 captain.

His elevation to the senior side took longer than most expected. An intelligent and shrewd captain, he maybe not the most elegant batsman around but certainly an effective young player.

Everyone was surprised when he finished the T-20 World Cup as the team’s highest run getter. He was not even in the team management’s original plans but was Hobson’s choice. His inclusion in the side gave Sri Lanka much needed impetus and suddenly despite being forced to play the qualifying round, many were talking of Sri Lanka as dark horses.

The most impressive thing about Charith has been that he is bold. Often when a young player comes into the side the fear factor gets the better of him. Charith throws caution to the wind. The way he put away Pat Cummins in the first ball he faced against the Aussies was a treat to watch. Kumar Sangakkara is a careful man and he chooses his words even more carefully. But when he anoints someone as his successor that means we are in for some serious business. Exciting times ahead.


“Players must study and maintain their game as well”- Niranjan



Niranjan (centre) pictured with his two champions Yasitha (left) and Anjalika. (Pic by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

By A Special Sports Correspondent   

Tennis coach Niranjan Cassie Chetty is a versatile personality. When he is not into coaching he is an avid reader and enjoys music. And above all what’s interesting about this man is that one can have an interesting chat with him because his interests in life and sport spread far and wide.

We know little about the people who contribute to players from ‘behind the curtain’. Niranjan is a coach who shuns the limelight and prefers his chargers to bask in the glory of success and take home the silverware and decorate their trophy cupboards.

This year he produced two national singles champions-Yasitha De Silva (Men’s Singles winner) and Anjalika Kurera (Women’s Singles winner). These feats were recorded at the 106th Tennis Nationals worked off recently.

During an interview Niranjan had with ‘The Island’ newspaper he spoke about the importance of balancing both studies and sport in a country like Sri Lanka. This he said is important because in Sri Lankan school and university players don’t get any aid as concessions where classroom education is concerned. He cited Yasitha De Silva’s journey in tennis and said that the champion had a hard time balancing his studies and the sport and before emerging as the national champion and also completing his degree at the Colombo University.

“In other countries players at university can attend training in the mornings and then do some home studies where education is concerned. This helps immensely when players are training for international competitions and training is demanding,” said Niranjan who had played competitive tennis during his young days.

Niranjan opined that it would be ideal for the Sri Lanka Tennis Association, Sports Ministry and the Education Ministry to come together and have an arrangement for the national tennis players so that they can pursue education in a flexible manner which doesn’t hinder their training.

Niranjan advises strongly against taking a break for studies because staying away from tennis for a year or so can really jeopardize a career. “When you are around 16 years of age players are forced out of the tennis court due to academic commitments and this can be costly in terms of seeing a drop in performance. After age 16 players start their A Levels and some move on to university and this reduces time spent on the court which eventually causes a drop in volume in the players,” he explained. His advice is to not take that break from the game and move to another level where individual capacity is concerned; regarding handling studies and sport. “They have to study and maintain their game as well” he underscored.

He rues the fact that the game was severely affected by the pandemic when the entire world experienced Corona. “But I think the Sri Lanka Tennis Association (SLTA) managed the difficult time well and we were able to have some tennis and even take part in international competitions. The SLTA allowed three players and one coach in the court in 2020 during training. I downloaded some training apps and we were able to retain the condition of players to a certain extent. But overall it was an opportunity lost,” he said.

As a coach he is concerned about the country losing talented players after age 16 to education. This leaves Sri Lanka with no other option, but to play junior players at the Davis Cup; where Sri Lanka is at present playing in Group 4. There have been occasions where Sri Lanka has contested this event in the Group 3 and even Group 2, but for that challenge the best senior players must make themselves available.

Just the other day Singles champion Yasitha De Silva was quoted during an interview with a daily newspaper recently saying that he would face a tough challenge in the future when retaining his slot as current champion because he would be playing against young schoolboys who are full time players. Does this go on to state that the present national champion is a part-time tennis player?

Niranjan is of the opinion that Sri Lanka’s players must consider playing abroad in events organised by their academies because this arrangement guarantees players would remain active during the tour period and get to play sufficient tennis whereas in a tournament one runs the risk of getting knocked out and being a spectator thereon-wards. But this he said was only till the country is able to once again retain the senior players in the game. And if this is done, it would guarantee Sri Lanka’s chances in overseas competitions. He said players from Sri Lanka have the habit of playing in academy events in countries like India and Spain.

He hailed the efforts of the tennis authorities to have tournaments and conduct tennis events in the outstations. But he added that the tennis hub is in Colombo and the tennis fraternity was a small community. “I think I stuck on with the sport because I started young and there was a culture supporting the players in the game from my time. I can remember my parents listening to commentaries through the radio when Wimbledon matches were on and that kind of culture generates a lot interest for tennis,” recalled Niranjan.

Coaches like Niranjan have a lot to offer to the sport and it will augur for tennis’ future if they are offered a platform to speak from and positively influence the sport.

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Dialog National Netball Championship 2021



Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, Dialog Axiata PLC, continuing its promise of uplifting Sri Lanka sports has come forth once again for the third consecutive year to power the Dialog National Netball Championship 2021, which will be played from 22nd to 23rd January at the Digana Ground, Kandy.

The Dialog National Netball Championship 2021 will see 34 teams island-wide battle it out for top honours. The preliminary round of the tourney will be played in a league structure and from there onwards will be played on a knockout basis.

The National Netball Championship is the premier tournament conducted by the Netball Federation of Sri Lanka (NFSL) annually to identify and select talented players, coaches and umpires to train them to be champions of tomorrow in the international arena.

“The National Netball Championship is the most important tourney in the annual domestic calendar and I’m indeed thankful for Dialog Axiata for extending their support for the sport especially at a time the country and the economy is impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ranjani Jayakody, President, Netball Federation of Sri Lanka said. “The National Team has performed well in the past few years, hence tourneys such as the Dialog National Netball Championship is critical to maintain the form of national players and discover new talent.”

As the principal sponsor, Dialog Axiata has made arrangements to LIVE stream the match via, Dialog ViU mobile app and will also be shown LIVE on Dialog TV Channel 140.

Dialog Axiata is the proud sponsor of the Sri Lanka National Cricket, Volleyball and Netball teams. The Company also has a close association with the President’s Gold Cup Volleyball, Junior Volleyball, National Junior Netball tourneys, Schools Rugby League, Knockout and Sevens tourneys, Premier Football, Schools Cricket, and Paralympic sports – by powering the Army Para Games, National Para Games and the Sri Lankan contingent to the World Paralympic Games.

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Sithum shines as De Mazenod beat Ananda



Under 17 Division I Cricket  

by Reemus Fernando  

Notable all-round performances by Sithum Fernando for De Mazenod, an underdog’s triumph by Sri Sumangala, Kandy over Dharmaraja and Mahinda rattling Devapathiraja for 45 runs were among the highlights of the Inter School Under 17 Division I Cricket tournament matches played on Wednesday.

Sithum Fernando’s heroics helped de Mazenod beat Ananda by 54 runs at Ananda Mawatha. An unbeaten 60 by Maleesha Perera was the only bright spot in the home team’s run chase.

At Galle, Mahinda wrecked havoc on Devapathiraja as their pacemen Dinura Kalupahana and Shehan Hasaranga took five wickets each to skittle out the visitors for 45 runs. Pacemen have not accounted for all ten wickets in school matches often.

Thenuka Ekanayake scored a half century and took two wickets as a good team effort powered Sri Sumangala College to a remarkable 102 runs victory over Dharmaraja at Lake View.

Richmond, Galle, Bandaranaike, Gampaha and St. Benedict’s also registered victories in the matches played on Wednesday.

Match Results


De Mazenod beat Ananda at Ananda Mawatha


Brief Scores:

De Mazenod

243 for 9 in 50 overs (Nehan Dias 36, Sithum Fernando 53, Hasith Sandeepa 46, Thareen Sanketh 28, Vihas Perera 20; Ayesh Sashimal 3/48, Isuru Ayesh 2/32, Maleesha Perera 2/49) 


189 all out in 38 overs (Viduna Wijebandara 30, Maleesha Perera  60n.o., Isuru Ayesh 20; Sithum Fernando  4/40, Thareen Sanketh 3/49) 

Mahinda rattle Devapathiraja for 45 runs at Galle

Brief Scores:


45 all out in 17.4 overs (Pathum shaminda 10; Dinura Kalupahana 5/12, Shehan Hasaranga 5/16) 


46 for 2 in 12.1 overs (Dhanuja Induwara 23) 

Bandaranaike MV, Gampaha beat Sri Dharmaloka, Kelaniya by four wickets at Godigamuwa


Brief Scores:

Sri Dharmaloka

266 for 9 in 50 overs (Sanura Ruwantha 46, Nadiv Manchanayaka 25, Helanka Viduranga 40, Sanira Nimnal 41, Uditha Shehan 57, Themira Mukashana  19n.o.; Yasiru Wijesinghe 2/49, Runada Rajapaksha 2/50, Ashen Wickramasinghe 3/56)   

Bandaranaike MV

268 for 6 in 49.3 overs (DInujaya Hettiarachchi 42, Runada Rajapaksha 78, Kusal Karunarathne 35, Ashen Wickramasinghe 43, Vihanga Wijerathne 22n.o.; Nadiv Manchanayaka 2/57, Helanka Viduranga 2/34) 

St. Benedict’s register eight wickets win at Panadura

Brief Scores:

St. John’s

125 all out in 37.4 overs (Geethama Fernando 26, Chamod Sanchethana 37n.o.; Hasanga Nanayakkara 2/31, Supun Senanayake 2/17, Kojitha Nimsara 2/20, Chamath Chathuraya 3/24) 

St. Benedict’s

127 for 2 in 22.1 overs (Viduneth Wilson 64n.o., Nethan Fernando 22, Shenel Samarathunga 22n.o.) 

Sri Sumangala beat Dharmaraja by 102 runs at Lake View


Brief Scores:

Sri Sumangala

203 all out in 48.2 overs (Madawa Rathnayake 48, Thenuka Ekanayake 67, Tharindu Lakshan 40; Saranga Uduwella 2/47, Arosha Mahagedara 3/43, Dulara Bandulasena 3/21) 


101 all out in 24.2 overs (Hesara Rajapaksa 21; Thenuka Ekanayake 2/21, Buddi Sanchitha 4/12)  

Richmond pull off 25 runs win over Vidyaloka at Galle

Brief Scores:


148 all out in 49 overs (Imesh Sasindu 27, Tharinda Nirmal 28, Sanahas Ramindu 26; Hansaka Randipa 4/14) 


123 all out in 47 overs (Prageeth Bimsara 20, Thinuka Kalhara 37; Sharon Abhishek 3/31, Manuja Dulneth 3/31)

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