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Twenty-five years on from Sri Lanka’s most acrimonious tour

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By Rex Clementine

Australia’s support to develop and nurture the game of cricket in Sri Lanka is unparalleled. From voting in favour of granting Sri Lanka Test status in 1981 to donating US$ 100,000 so that the board could afford a qualified foreign coach in 1994, the Australian Cricket Board has been a pillar of strength to us. But Arjuna Ranatunga’s side’s tour of Australia in 1995 was a bitter pill to swallow. Twenty-five years later, many admit that this tour was the one that transformed Sri Lankan cricket – from also-rans to fierce competitors.

Leading television personality Brian Thomas once asked Steve Waugh about sledging as his side was notorious for what they called ‘mental disintegration’ of the opposition. Waugh’s reply was interesting. He said, “Arjuna Ranatunga is the biggest sledger in the world. One Ranatunga is equal to 11 Australians.”

The 1995 tour brought out the ugly side of Australians. The Sri Lankans responded with uglier stuff and players of both sides remained at daggers drawn for years. It is the tradition in Australia that the losing side visits the winners for a beer after a game. That protocol was breached. Sri Lankans didn’t buy into the argument that you play hard on the field but cooled things off at stumps. They took the Aussies head on.

There were controversies – plenty of them. During the opening Test in Perth, the tourists were accused of ball tampering. But later they were exonerated. Then in the second Test at MCG, Murali was no balled for throwing. There were some 55,000 fans witnessing the Boxing Day encounter and later it emerged that some officials of the Australian board were aware that the spinner was going to get a public humiliation. But the greatest thing about Australians is that they owe up to their mistakes. Of all people, Steve Waugh in his autobiography ‘Never Satisfied’ admits that it shouldn’t have happened.  

Then there was horrendous umpiring and many felt Sri Lankans were hard done by. The other great attribute about Aussies is that they call a spade a spade. Former captains Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell in commentary didn’t mince any words about the standards of umpiring.

Amidst the chaos, the competitive nature of the Sri Lankans was almost forgotten. Their bowling was one dimensional those days and was not able to take 20 wickets. Batting, however, was classy.

Hashan Tillakaratne posted a hundred in the opening Test. To date, he is the only Sri Lankan to have scored a hundred in Perth, considered the fastest wicket in the world. Asanka Gurusinha came up with a back to the wall hundred at MCG in the Boxing Day Test. The tour also proved to be the arrival of Sanath Jayasuriya as a Test match opener following his century at the Adelaide Oval.

It was quite a formidable attack too with Glen McGrath and Shane Warne in their prime and Sri Lankans returned home with their heads held high, something that you don’t find happening too often when going down under.

Aravinda de Silva was a disappointment. Much was expected of him and the way the Aussies celebrated his dismissal each time gave you an indication how much they valued his wicket. In six innings, he managed only 98 runs with a highest score of 28.

Aravinda did finish up as the highest run getter for the team in the tri-nation competition that took place simultaneously along the Test series. But the team expected much more from him.

West Indies were the third team in the tri-nation competition and they were quite a strong force at that stage. To their credit, the Sri Lankans defeated West Indies and qualified for the finals.

The tour ended late January and the World Cup was just two weeks away. This outing had toughened up the Sri Lankans like any tour of Australia would do.

After Sri Lanka qualified for the finals of the 1996 World Cup, Arjuna was asked which opposition he would prefer in the final. He said, bring on the Aussies. Not many teams wanted to play the Aussies in a World Cup final at that stage. But the Sri Lankans were up for it. And the rest as they say is history.

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CRICKET IN SHAMBLES

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Rex Clementine at Galle Fort

Yesterday, Hulstdorf was giving a ruling on a divorce case. The judge told the daughter of the separating couple, “Now that your parents are getting divorced, whom do you want to live with? I guess it’s your mother.” The girl replied, “No, my mother beats me.” Then the judge said, ‘So, I guess you want to live with your dad, “No he beats me up too,”  the girl said. Puzzled by this, the judge asked, ” So, with whom do you want to live? The little girl replied, “I want to live with the Sri Lankan cricket team. They beat nobody.”

Which is devaluing faster? Cricket or the rupee? The decline of the rupee has been steady. It’s now 200 for the Dollar. So is cricket. Our batting has collapsed four times in the last four Tests now.  More time is spent by our batsmen in social media than at the crease. There is total chaos with the approach. There are question marks with regards to fitness, discipline and planning.

Yet, our board thinks that the media is their biggest enemy and not fitness, lack of discipline or unprofessional attitude of players. Not only did they sideline one of their key stakeholders, SLC also put a ban on their adoring fans. The spectators were not even allowed to watch the proceedings from the Galle Fort. It was  atrocious. As if this team is playing some attractive cricket that people care to watch them. Any organization that turns their back on the fans is likely to be doomed. No wonder our cricket  is doomed.

Kusal Mendis  should have been handed a one year suspension when he drove on the wrong side in the middle of the night, killed an innocent man and did everything within his means to cover up his sins. The board turned a blind eye. The CEO  said it was a ‘personal matter’. He should have taken a leaf out of the book of that great sports promoter Rienzie Wijetilleke who dealt with a similar matter 20 years ago by sacking the player. He never played for Sri Lanka again and lost his job at HNB.  Our CEO has lived up to his name, ‘Well left Ashley.’

Our former captain Suranga Lakmal was seen playing cards in the dressing room in the first Test when the batting was collapsing but SLC treated him with kid’s gloves. Instead of sending him home that night, the board sent home some rookies. Lakmal is too powerful. He returned to play the second Test and his mind looked to be elsewhere.

We have a Sports Minister who wants to remain in the good books of players. He  sees no evil, hears no evil and speaks no evil. Occasionally he bats  for the likes of Jeevan Mendis. He thinks that by sitting next to Mumbai’s greatest sensation or Rajastan’s latest sensation for a  meeting and posting pictures on social media, the real issues will be sorted. Namal baby is too immature for the job. Instead of managing sports, he should go back and engage in his  hobbies, maybe driving fast cars, or rifle shooting. If not, how about putting up a rugby team at Navy and getting all other rankers at the Welisara Camp to cheer him and his brothers.

Our planning has been atrocious. We are playing a series on spinning tracks without a spin bowling coach on board. The team’s most incorrigible guy has been backed to bat number six. That was asking for trouble. Our cricket is so defensive. They don’t want to play Lakshan Sandakan. We asked why? We are told that he is leaking too many runs. They have forgotten the basic principle that in Test match cricket it’s perfectly fine to buy your wickets. 

Then there is Vishwa Fernando. He takes a five wicket haul in South Africa  and he is benched for the next Test. We at least hoped he would return for the second Test but he’s benched  from that too. Instead, the card games hero gets the game.

Ideally, Lakmal, Mendis, Dickwella, Dilruwan Perera and Lahiru Thirimanne all should pack their bags. But nothing will change. They will be all back for West Indies. The party will continue.

This is not a case to say that this set of administrators are bad and we need another set. With cricket elections fast approaching, we don’t want to fall into that trap.

We have been yelling to reduce teams in First Class cricket. Last four Sports Ministers have turned a blind eye to that plea. The board doesn’t want to antagonize clubs. What do Sports Ministers have got to lose? Have they been well looked after by the Board? As long as they do not reduce the teams in First Class cricket nothing will change. We do not have an ‘A’ team at the moment. The man who once said that  ‘A’ team cricket is a waste of money is set to contest this year’s elections after a brief break. There is one solution though. Let’s write to the ICC and say that we are withdrawing our Test status. Let’s allocate that time to play a franchise based T-20 tournament and another T-10 tournament. Let’s all make some money. Hell with Test cricket. As if, our white ball team is covering themselves in glory. 

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England make six in a row in Sri Lanka

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Joe Root has captained five Test matches in Sri Lanka and has won all five of them.

Rex Clementine at Galle Fort

Sri Lanka had control of the second Test against England for the most part of the game and one session of madness where they lost six wickets sealed their fate as they suffered a heartbreaking six wicket defeat here in Galle yesterday. England, who had whitewashed Sri Lanka 3-0 in 2018, completed another series sweep asking serious question about the health of our cricket.

At 78 for eight, Sri Lanka were in danger of being shot out for their lowest total against England – 81 all out at SSC in 2001, but a fighting 40 from Lasith Embuldeniya saw them making three figures – 126 all out. A target of 164 was not going to test England.

England lost early wickets and when Joe Root was dismissed by debutant Ramesh Mendis, they still needed 75 runs. But Jos Buttler (46) and Dominic Sibley (56) sealed the deal for England with some solid batting.

Lasith Embuldeniya bowled superbly finishing with a match bag of ten wickets but Dilruwan Perera was unimpressive. His opposite number, Dom Bess with a First Class average  of 30, looked far more threatening.

Bess teamed  up with his Somerset spin partner Jack Leach as they shared eight wickets between them. When Embuldeniya was scoring some vital runs for the team, Joe Root introduced himself and polished the tail claiming two wickets  in successive balls. There’s hardly anything that Root can do wrong this tour.

Root has been a sensation with the bat. He finished the series with 426 runs that included a double hundred and 186. Not since the heydays of Brian Lara in 2001 a batsman has had such a big impact in Sri Lanka. Root’s game plan was  simple.  He would defend the full ball from the spinner and for the short balls he had one option – sweep, which he played to perfection. It was a treat to watch.

Not only was Root’s batting has been impressive but so has been his captaincy. He has now won five Test matches in a row in Sri Lanka. This was England’s  sixth win in a row in the island. They have not lost a game since the first Test in 2012.

Sri Lanka lacked fight.  Playing fast bowling has been their nemesis but all of a sudden they look vulnerable against spin bowling. If Bess can take 12 wickets in a two Test series, Geoff Boycott’s  mum will at least take half of them.

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Kaviska wins online Youth Rapid Chess title

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Kavishka Gimhan Laksiri won the CFSL Online Youth Rapid Chess Championship 2021 convincingly by scoring a total of 8.5 points from nine games.

Gimhan scored eight out of eight in the first eight rounds by registering wins against Pansilu Karunarathne, Senith Gunarathne, Rashmitha Mettananda, Yemith Gunaratne, Oneli Withanawasam, CM IPTS Gunawardena, SMMP Kulathilake and WCM Sanindula Dahamdi and recorded a draw in the final round to win the championship.

The Online Youth Rapid Chess Championship for the Under 14 age category was conducted by the Chess Federation of Sri Lanka over the weekend on the chess.com platform under the Swiss System with nine rounds. The players below the age of 14 years by January 1, 2021 were eligible to participate. The time control was fifteen minutes with additional 10 seconds per each move played. A total of 295 players took part in the event.

According to CFSL the event was held under strict anti-cheating regulations with players being observed via zoom during matches. Only laptops and desktops were allowed for competitions.

Sanindula Dahamdi of Musaeus College performed up to expectations as she won the silver medal scoring eight points. Her only blemish was the defeat to the winner.

JM Daham Jayasundara also did well as he also scored eight points to tie Sanindula. But, he had to be content with the bronze medal due to the lesser number of tie breaker points he had. The top three players will receive medals and certificates while the Champion will receive the trophy. Merit certificates will be issued to the first 38 players.

 

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