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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ibrahim Zadran stuns Sri Lanka
Rex Clementine at Pallekele
We may have seen cricket’s next biggest sensation as Afghanistan’s Ibrahim Zadran posted a stunning 162 before being dismissed in the last ball of the innings as the tourists posted a commanding 313 in the third ODI against Sri Lanka at the Pallekele International Stadium yesterday.
No team had successfully chased that many at Pallekele to win an ODI and the hosts will be under huge pressure.
Zadran posted the highest individual score by an Afghan going past Mohammad Shahzad’s 131. It was also Afghanistan’s highest total against Sri Lanka.
There had been huge concerns about Sri Lanka’s fielding and a better effort on the field would have seen Afghanistan being reduced to less than 300. Fielding has been an area that has been a letdown for some time now but very little has been done to address the issue.
Zadran had posted a hundred in the first ODI as well and for someone who was featuring in his eighth game, he looked a mature player. A very organized batsman, the 20-year-old produced some classical shots, and his temperament was outstanding.
Zadran had the aggression of a Ricky Ponting and the elegance of a Rahul Dravid and he certainly will be a player whom we will be talking about a lot in the future.
Zadran’s hundred came off 100 deliveries and from thereon he was cruising as his 162 came off 138 balls with 15 fours and four sixes.
Afghanistan were in a spot of bother as they were reduced to 57 for three. But a 154-run stand for the fourth wicket followed between the two Zadrans – Ibrahim and Najibullah. It’s a new record for Afghanistan for the fourth wicket.
The partnership was broken when captain Dasun Shanaka completed a sharp catch off Wanindu Hasaranga. But Afghanistan were well set at that stage to post a commanding total. Najibullah finished with 77 off 76 balls with eight fours and one six.
Kasun Rajitha continued to impress by claiming three wickets.
Sri Lanka looked to be a side in disarray. As Ibrahim Zadran cleared Wanindu Hasaranga over long-off, the leg-spinner seemed to be upset that the fielder was at mid-off instead of the boundary rope and stormed off the field. He didn’t return to continue bowling and Shanaka had to send down an over from Rikillagaskada End. Eventually he returned and finished with two for 67.
Sandeesh double helps Sebs
Under 19 Division I Cricket
by Reemus Fernando
Skipper Sandeesh Fernando produced a five wicket haul before scoring a half century as St. Sebastian’s posted 114 runs for five wickets at stumps in reply to De Mazenod’s 144 on day one of their Under 19 traditional match at Kandana on Wednesday.
Fernando’s five wicket haul was the key as St. Sebastian’s restricted the home team to 144 runs. Later Fernando top scored with 60 runs inclusive of eight fours for them to reach 114 for five wickets.
At Negombo, Maris Stella earned first innings honours against St. Anne’s as Kaveen Fernando and Sadew Eksith made 60s for them to amass 278 runs in reply to visitors’ first innings score of 234 runs.
In the other Division I first XI match which commenced on Wednesday, Mithila Charles scored an unbeaten half century for St. Servatius’ to reach 119 for four wickets at stumps in reply to St. Anthony’s 157 runs at Wattala.
A draw at Negombo
St. Anne’s 234 all out in 67.3 overs (Adithya Nirvan 49, Yomesh Subasinghe 85, Kavindu Wijesinghe 28; Navindu Wijesuriya 4/53, Ramith Bandara 2/53) and 40 for no loss in 7 overs (Mahima Kotuwila 27n.o.)
Maris Stella 52 for 1 overnight 278 all out in 94.4 overs (Shean Adithya 25, Anshen de Silva 22, Kaveen Fernando 61, Sadew Eksith 65, Hasindu Perera 33, Nethum Basnayake 22; Manaan Muzammil 2/94, Geethika de Silva 2/32, Kevin Shewantha 2/24, Yashmin Kalhara 2/31)
De Mazenod 144 , St. Sebastian’s 114/5 at Kandana
De Mazenod 144 all out in 57.3 overs (Janith Karindra 21, Nethan Dias 26, Uvindu Perera 29, Sanketh Perera 21; Manuja Chanthuka 2/30, Sandeesh Fernando 5/27, Mahen Silva 2/13)
St. Sebastian’s 114 for 5 in 38.2 overs (Sanesh Fernando 33, Sandeesh Fernando 60; Kavindu Kaushalya 4/47)
St. Anthony’s 157, St. Servatius’ 119/4 at Wattala
St. Anthony’s Wattala 157 all out in 57.3 overs (K. V. R. Perera 40, S. M. S. A. Samaradivakara 43, S. P. Maduranga 24; Chathum Bimsara 3/35, Chiran Neththaru 2/31, Kushan Wijerama 3/31)
St. Servatius’ 119 for 4 in 32 overs (Mithila Charles 51n.o., Vishwa Supun 36; P. V. Randeniya 2/41)
Chamika under fire after chief selector opens can of worms
By Rex Clementine
Promising all-rounder Chamika Karunaratne will not be considered for selection for a considerable period of time after Chairman of Selectors Pramodaya Wickremesinghe in an e-mail to SLC Secretary Mohan de Silva made a scathing attack on the player.
The mail is circulating in social media and was confirmed yesterday to be authentic and raises serious questions about the national cricket team’s conduct in Australia during the ICC Men’s T-20 World Cup where the former champions’ off the field activities received more attention than their on-field performances.
Team Manager Mahinda Halangoda was brought in for the job as he was known as a strict disciplinarian. Not many during their playing days took on Arjuna Ranatunga, but Halangoda was an exception having stood his ground and not given in to Arjuna during their SSC days. It is believed that Halangoda’s wings were clipped during the World Cup campaign and he may have been told to turn a blind eye to breach of discipline by influential individuals.
Wickremesinghe in his mail says, “I observed that his (Chamika) commitment towards training sessions was fast receding contrary to the high standards he maintained a few months ago.”
“I believe the reason for all the above mentioned is that he is not totally focused on cricket, which is a significant change from his earlier commitment even considering the importance of the ICC World T20.”
“If I’m to continue with what I observed, the whole reason for this is that he was more interested in his distractive personal matters other than cricket.”
“At the conclusion of the Australian tour, I had a meeting with the National Coach pertaining to tour selections for the Afghanistan inbound tour of Sri Lanka. While names were being discussed, Chamika’s name was discussed in detail, the outcome of the meeting on Chamika’s selection was to leave him out from this tour as the National Coach has lost trust in him as Chamika has been exposed in not being truthful to the coach on multiple occasions. It was the opinion of the Coach that Chamika was not focused on his game.”
“Even during the T20 World Cup in Australia I observed Chamika very closely, it was my observation that wherever we travelled internally, he was more focused on meeting ladies of Sri Lankan origin who were domiciled in Australia. Further, I would like to place on record that he has missed some training sessions on tour mentioning that he was feeling unwell, however I have reason to believe that he had accommodated female companions at the hotel. (I would propose that a request is made to the hotel to provide CCTV footage on the said dates he did not attend training sessions),” adds Wickremesinghe in his mail.
“I was also told by the team Manager that during our stay in Sydney, a Sri Lankan gentleman had called and wanted to meet with Chamika mentioning that he had a problem to solve with Chamika. Thereafter the Manager refused to accommodate his request unless there was a meaningful reason to meet him, at that point the gentleman had mentioned that Chamika had been calling his wife and bothering her with indecent proposals and being a nuisance. Contacting this gentleman via the Team Manager, you may be able to find out more depth about the activities of Chamika, which he had mentioned that he had evidence of some grave malpractices involving Chamika.”
Karunaratne was fined US$ 5000 for being involved in a fight in a Brisbane casino and was handed a one year suspended sentence. Further, he had been fined 1000 Australian Dollars while on tour for his excesses. “I also got to know from the team manager that he had been lighting oil lamps and incense sticks in his hotel room which is totally against the hotel safety policy, It would have been a major disaster if the room caught on fire and this came to light from the housekeeping and despite being told by the team manager not to leave the room without blowing out anything which has been lit with fire due to hotel rules. Despite the warning, he had repeated this, the day after having left the room with a “Do Not Disturb” sign outside his room and he was fined 1000 AUD by the team management.”
“The recent inappropriate behaviour by him and Dhanushka Gunathilaka. has hampered the team’s progress, unity and affected the mindset of our young national cricketers, who won the Asia Cup. We need to seriously address these issues and strict discipline has to be adhered to, ensuring these incidents will not happen again. A clear message has to be given to the team, that indiscipline will not be tolerated.”
Wickremesinghe ends his letter requesting SLC to send Karunaratne for counselling. “It is my view that Chamika be referred to Psychological counselling immediately prior to him taking part in any form of International Cricket as it would give this talented youngster, which we as selectors rate him highly for which he can bring to the table in the future for Sri Lankan Cricket.”
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