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Three questions for Sri Lanka, three questions for Bangladesh

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The two-match series in Pallekele will present two uncertain teams a stiff examination of their Test-match mettle Sri Lanka are seventh in the Test rankings, and have not won a match against top-nine opposition since August 2019. Bangladesh are ranked ninth and are coming off a difficult 2-0 Test defeat at home to West Indies. ESPNcricinfo looks at some of the biggest challenges the two teams will attempt to overcome through the course of their two-Test series in Pallekele.

Sri Lanka
Spin bowling

To win in Sri Lanka, spinners generally need to take a lot of wickets. One of Sri Lanka’s problems has been that since the retirement of Rangana Herath, their spin attack has fallen away somewhat. Where their spinners collectively averaged 27.80 at home in Herath’s last three years, they average 32.62 since his exit.

In this series, they will be without Lasith Embuldeniya, their most promising slow-bowling prospect, after he picked up a serious soft-tissue injury in the Caribbean. They are also without Dilruwan Perera, whose effectiveness had dipped substantially (he averages 32.17 at home since Herath’s retirement in November 2018). They’ll likely rely on wristspin via Wanindu Hasaranga or Lakshan Sandakan (or both), with Dhananjaya de Silva’s offspin in support. But neither Hasaranga nor Sandakan have seemed up to leading a Test attack so far, partly because their control has been inconsistent between spells.

Although this series is being played in Pallekele where seamers may play more of a role than they do in Galle, Sri Lanka will likely need big wickets from the spinners too.

Batting collapses

Although since December Sri Lanka’s batting has been sporadically impressive, such as in the first innings at Centurion or the second innings at North Sound, these successes have been interspersed with dramatic, harrowing collapses. In their last 12 Test innings, Sri Lanka have failed to make 200 on five occasions. Two of the worst nosedives came in their last series at home, against England, against modest bowling, when they were out for 135 and 126 – innings in which they surrendered the series. If they go into self-destruct mode again, they could cede another match.

Fitness

Coach Mickey Arthur has been adamant that players raise their standards, and have ruled certain players out of contention purely on fitness grounds. And still, Sri Lanka’s long history with muscle and soft-tissue injuries continues to plague them. In addition to being without Embuldeniya in this series, they are also missing seamer Kasun Rajitha, while rookie batter Pathum Nissanka has been struggling with a niggle as well (but is expected to be fit for the series). There are many theories on why injuries seem to plague Sri Lanka more than most other teams. Some find fault with the conditioning, others point to a lack of recent cricket, or to developmental issues going back to the players’ formative years. Whatever the case, rare is the series from which Sri Lanka emerge with all their key players intact.

Bangladesh
Overseas troubles

Bangladesh’s Test record is such that it is considered inevitable they will not threaten on foreign soil. They have won only one away Test in the last five years, and since that one win, which came in Sri Lanka in 2017, they have lost each of their nine Tests on the road, all by heavy margins.

A big part of their problem is the inability to take 20 wickets abroad – a feat they have only managed five times in their history. Their spinners have been effective on favourable pitches at home, but these have left the fast bowlers with little to do. This lack of bowling at home translates into a lack of rhythm and effectiveness abroad. It has been eight years since a Bangladesh fast bowler won them an overseas Test.

The Shakib-sized hole

What would make it more difficult for Bangladesh in Sri Lanka this time is Shakib Al Hasan’s absence. His stature as a Test allrounder makes him particularly difficult to replace. Mehidy Hasan Miraz performed admirably against West Indies recently but he has a lot to do to earn the allrounder’s tag. This time the selectors have picked the 34-year old Shuvagata Hom as a batting allrounder when five years ago, during his last Test appearance, he was counted as a bowling allrounder. This is the sort of confusion that can arise when Shakib isn’t around; no Shakib is always an advantage to the opposition.

Catching

Bangladesh’s catching was one of the most worrying aspects of their disastrous New Zealand tour last month. They dropped ten catches in the ODIs and T20Is, which cost them results and momentum, and netted a bit of embarrassment as well. When the team returned from the tour, newcomer Nasum Ahmedoffered an explanation for the dropped catches that was the stuff of internet memes: “Their sky is very clear and their weather is nothing like ours.”

The real story, however, was different. The 2-0 home defeat to West Indies in February shook the team, leading to a team-wide lack of confidence. As is often the case in cricket, this lack of confidence made for a poor fielding side.

 

(ESPN Cricinfo)



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Jayaratne Stables outclass peers to record stunning double

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It will not be an overstatement to say 15th of April race day in Nuwara Eliya 2021 belonged to Jayaratne Stables. This year Western Wind the horse owned by Jayaratne stables a subsidiary of the Jayaratne Group of Companies produced a stunning victory at the hill country racecourse. Western wind beat former Governor’s Cup and Magic Million winner Alcazeba in the premier event. Western Wind is the undisputed champion in Sri Lanka over 1,800 meters distance.

 Gamini Jayaratne the Chairman of Jayaratne Group of Companies is a veteran in horse racing. His passion for horses and horse racing has enabled him to contribute to the sport that he loves. It is over 22 years since he started his stables in Sri Lanka and later began racing in India. Jayaratne is ably supported by his wife Chamari Jayaratne who is very passionate about horse racing. Today the Jayarathne’s own some of the best thoroughbred horses in Sri Lanka and India. Their son Hasanga Jayaratne, Director of the Jayaratne Group oversees the entire horse racing operation, and he was instrumental in the spectacular victories this season.

Jayaratne also has the distinction of being the first Sri Lankan to have started a horse breeding operation in Sri Lanka and also one of the few Sri Lankan’s to have taken part in horse racing in Mumbai, Bangalore, Mysore, and Chennai in India. Being an entrepreneur well known in the country, pioneering some of the most innovative and compassionate services in Sri Lanka his effort to develop the interest among young and able Sri Lankans in horse riding is laudable.

Jayaratne stables have set up a riding center in Dambulla (Forest Park Dambulla) to encourage locals and foreign visitors to learn and enjoy the art of horse riding.

 April 2021 is a memorable day for Jayaratne and his horse trainer Sridhar Sivarathnam. Western Wind a thoroughbred horse trained by Sridhar won the premier race in the country the Governor’s Cup a race with a rich history of over 150 years. Jockey K. Vivek flown in from India brought glory to Jayaratne stables by riding the horses to victory in the Governors cup and queens cup the two most sought after races in the country. Sridhar Sivarathnam was the champion trainer in this year’s April season bringing in the most winners and Jayaratne stables has emerged the champion stables.

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Bold selections must be lauded

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Sri Lanka were in India in 2005, when their selectors brought in a wicketkeeper to the fold. Dinesh Karthik had already established his place in the side so people were actually wondering what was the need to bring in someone who was rarely heard of. Kiran More the Chairman of Selectors said that despite being not known too well, he had seen something special in the wicketkeeper. He was confident that this bloke would go onto make an impact in the game. Well, he had more than just an impact in Indian cricket winning the 50 over World Cup, 20 over World Cup and getting India to number one rank in Test cricket. M.S. Dhoni is his name.

Kudos to Pramodaya Wickramasinghe and his selection panel for some bold selections they have done in recent weeks. When Lasith Embuldeniya was injured and his understudy Duvindu Tillekeratne was also on the mend, the next in line was Prabath Jayasuriya. But he failed the skin fold test placing the selectors on a sticky wicket. The easier option would have been to go back to the tried and tested Malinda Pushpakumara. However, rather than going backwards, they were forward thinking. They backed young Praveen Jayawickrama and it paid off.

Praveen had played a handful of First Class games. Against a team that plays spin well, this must have been a real hard decision to hand him his Test cap, especially with Lakshan Sandakan in the squad. But the selectors were convinced that Praveen was good enough to succeed at the highest level and they were proved right. His was the best debut by a Sri Lankan bowler and in fact the tenth best debut in the history of the game.

Prior to this, the selectors had made another tough call in handing Pathum Nissanka his Test debut in the Caribbean. Despite having Roshen Silva in the squad, instead of going for experience, the selectors backed youth and Nissanka went onto become the first Sri Lankan to score a Test hundred on debut overseas.

Fitness of players have been a huge concern over the years and the selectors have done well to demand players show commitment  and to leave out those who do not meet minimum fitness standards.

The performance of the national cricket team in white ball cricket has not been up to scratch in recent years and the selectors have been bold in axing half a dozen seniors and bringing in new blood. Their initiatives need to be commended as Sri Lankan cricket is looking to regain past glories.

 

 

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Panda and unfulfilled promises

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by Rex Clementine

There’s someone in the Sri Lankan cricket team who answers to the name ‘Panda’. The name was coined on Thisara Perera by the Australian players during his IPL days with Chennai Super Kings. We never saw his full potential on the cricket field although there were glimpses of his brilliance over a 12 year career. 

His first game was in Calcutta in December 2009 when Kumar Sangakkara wanted him flown in as an injury replacement. Thisara was flying on his own at a time there were no direct flights to Calcutta. He had a transit. SLC officials in Colombo and the team back in India were worried whether he would manage to get the right connecting flight and land the day before the game.

Given Panda’s mannerisms, he gives you the impression that he’s a bit backwards. That’s not the truth actually. He’s more childlike wanting assurances from authorities more than someone of his age should. It’s a trait that has not changed in his life. He loves simple things in life. He is someone who will not hurt another person willingly.  

After every game that he plays and after every training session, you can be assured that he will be roaming around the cricket grounds be at RPS, Suriyawewa, Dambulla or Pallekele looking for stray dogs. He packs all the remaining food in the dressing room and feeds the dogs. Not even Ambanis dogs get served food from five star hotels. But the dogs at Sri Lanka grounds have that luxury thanks to Thisara. This was something that was  evident when he started his cricket and he continued it even when he was captain.

Cricketers and their love lives are well documented. Most of them get hooked up to air hostesses and marry them. Some of them… well, let’s not go there. Thisara’s been with his childhood sweetheart for nearly two decades now. He’s only 32.

Thisara’s mother is a science teacher. When St. Joseph’s College came in search of him offering a scholarship for cricket, she was reluctant. Eventually she gave in. A decision that she doesn’t regret now for her son has gone onto become a household name although given his potential he could have achieved much more.

At St. Joseph’s Thisara got into trouble constantly. He played the first day of a school fixture and didn’t turn up for the second day’s play. He had been spending time with his girlfriend. He was in trouble and was asked to explain. Thisara came up with a cock and bull story that on his way to the ground, he was stopped at an Army check post and was held up as he did not carry an identity card. Rev. Fr. Sylvester Ranasinghe, the Rector, a career educationist, didn’t buy his story. He was suspended. 

Chaminda Vaas, one of the finest products of St. Joseph’s made a plea to Fr. Sylvester  to allow Thisara at least play the Big Match. Fr. Sylvester agreed. The rest as they say is history as St. Joseph’s won the Big Match after 35 years.  Thisara was Man of the Match. The old boys were excited and gave the team a month long tour of Australia.  Which 18-year-old would skip an all expenses paid trip to Australia? Thisara would. Reason? He would be missing his girlfriend.

One of the cleanest strikers of the cricket ball, he will clear the boundary with little effort. But consistency was lacking. He would throw the bat for a few overs and hit it on the air and get out rather than grinding it out and completing games. His bowling was lively when he came onto the scene but in later years lacked penetration.

Thisara’s best moment came in the 2014 during the World T-20 in Bangladesh. All his  life, he had lived wanting to emulate Arjuna Ranatunga. As in, Arjuna had scored the winning runs in a World Cup final with a boundary.  So Thisara wanted to go the same way. So after a tensed run chase against India, with Sri Lanka one stroke away from victory, Thisara threw caution to wind. He finished a World Cup final better than Arjuna scoring a six. Ravichandran Ashwin nearly had his man. Sensing that Thisara would attempt a big shot, Ashwin bowled it wider, but Thisara had got enough wood and the ball cleared the boundary.

Thisara’s career could  have been perhaps more successful with someone to offer him better counseling. Hastily he quit Test cricket feeling that he wasn’t getting much opportunities. His figures are still the best by a Sri Lankan seamer at Pallekele.

This time though he was left with Hobson’s choice. The moment it was announced that he  will be not considered for ODIs, he chose to retire from international cricket. You will still see him in different franchise cricket tournaments.

During some of cricket’s dicey moments he has come to Sri Lanka’s rescue. Like when everyone refused to tour Pakistan in 2017. He agreed to take the team to Lahore without any conditions. He was a good player and a great human being.

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