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Waikato Chiefs in another cliff-hanger

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

Friday of the ANZAC weekend (Remembrance Day for Australian and New Zealand soldiers killed in action) began with a ceremony and a perceptible wave of pride and emotion from the players and spectators prior to the commencement of the week 9, Aotearoa super rugby game Waikato Chiefs vs Wellington Hurricanes. Match played at Kirikiriroa (Maori name for Hamilton) a much nicer name than that of an ex-governor from colonial times for Auckland’s closest satellite town.

The Chiefs playing as favourites for the first time in a long time after ending one of the worst losing streaks in the history of the tournament, just a month ago. The Hurricanes without their skipper and hardworking no8 Aardie Savea and Dan Coles (mercurial and irrepressible are some words that spring to mind when describing this All Black and Wellington hooker) captaining in his stead. Damian Mackenzie “D mac” or “clutch” as he is better known starting at no15 and Gatlin getting another chance at no10. The Hurricanes playing in white jerseys as against the accustomed yellow and black.

Gatlin looked very shaky at the start of the game, messing up the initial kick-off sending it out on the full, and having to restart with a scrum on the 50-meter line Hurricanes ball. Under a minute into play, a great offload from Tighthead prop Tyrell Lomax to no four James Blackwell saw him gallop his way over the line for a try that continues to prove that the tight five can do almost a better job than the glory boys in the backs, if only they get a chance! Try converted easily because we thinking forwards always make sure the kicking angle is easy, 0 -7 Hurricanes away to a dream start. The Chiefs got a kickable penalty almost immediately but chose to go for territory instead. 13 minutes into the game a harder penalty around 42 meters out and mid-left was given to Damian Mackenzie to try for three points. This is about the limit of the kicking range for the diminutive D Mack, but he duly obliged, 3 -7. 16 minutes into the game a great bit of running rugby with Mackenzie being involved twice saw the Chiefs no eight Peter Sowakulu misjudge chip kick and drop the ball over the line.

Referee Paul Williams was handling the game well, with clear instructions to players around the rucks and mauls thereby minimizing penalties and ensuring plenty of turnovers and 15 vs 15 rugby, removing the dominance of placekickers, which is as it should be! The 21-year-old youngster Ruben Love playing his second game for the Hurricanes at no10 was playing a defensive role from inside his half with the strapping Jordie Barret playing at first receiver most of the time, although wearing the no15 jersey. 28 minutes into the game All Black and Waikato center, Lennert- Brown went over the line after 14 phases of play only to have the try disallowed for non-grounding of the ball. Waikato was playing under advantage and another scrum was taken instead of a kick at the goal. The Waikato scrum which was given an abject lesson by the Crusaders just a few weeks ago had improved dramatically and the Chiefs no eight went over off a forward-moving scrum to score a try that was easily converted by “clutch” Mackenzie. 10 – 7, Chiefs in the lead for the first time. Seconds from halftime Jordie Barret kicked a 60-meter penalty, this is almost customary now for 6’8″ Hurricanes full-back, to make the scores level 10 – 10 at halftime.

Two minutes after the resumption the Chiefs got a penalty around 27 meters out and mid-right with the angle. Penalty converted Chiefs back in the lead 13 – 10. 46 minutes into the game a long throw from a Chiefs line out saw a rejuvenated Gatlin at no10 fly-hack the ball ahead, an awkward bonce for full-back Jordie Barret saw a knock backward, and one of the defenders being pinged for offside. Although easily kickable a scrum was taken and the newfound dominance of the Waikato pack allowed clean ball to the no10 Gatlin who finally played to his potential, stepped past the rookie opposition no10 who came up too far in defence and scored under the posts. 20 – 10 Waikato Chiefs ahead. The 21-year-old Hurricanes no10 came back into play with a great pass to his no eight Flanders who gained plenty of territory and the Hurricanes kept the ball in play for around 10 phases finally passing to Billy Proctor who scored just left of the posts. Kicks from there no problem for J. Barret and the score 20 -17 and anyone’s game! 55 minutes into the game a penalty awarded to the Chiefs around 40 meters out and mid-right was missed by “D’mac” but he made amends just two minutes later by slotting a harder penalty, further out but in front of the posts, awarded for that textbook error that the rugby governing body is apparently very strict on, players not falling back or standing still until put onside by the kicker. Score onto 23 – 17 Chiefs drawing further ahead. The 64th minute and the 65th minute saw kickable penalties that were awarded to the ‘Canes being turned into attempts to gain territory. It all paid off in the 67th minute when substitute hooker Asafa Amuna powered his way over the line from a penalty “milked” by passing the ball into a Waikato player who was trying to get onside. Trying to stop Amuna from that range was aptly described as like “trying to tackle a cannonball”! Try converted and lo and behold, the Hurricanes back into a one-point lead 23 -24.

A couple of captain’s challenges from either side were dismissed and even the infallible Damian Mackenzie made a mistake sending the ball out on the full and losing a lot of territory due to scrum having to be held from the point of the kick. A bad throw from a Chiefs line out saw the Hurricanes knock the ball on trying to collect it and a scrum awarded, with loose head to the Chiefs almost on the full-time hooter. The dominance of the Waikato pack came to the fore and they forced a scrum penalty 45 meters out, in front and at the maximum range that even ‘D Mac’ could manage. He stepped up with the full-time hooter echoing around the stadium and what else from this X factor maestro, but straight down the middle! Waikato Chiefs home by 26 – 24 and their hopes to play in the final still alive. Unthinkable from just five weeks ago and due to a great forward pack and “Clutch” Mackenzie who was described by his skipper Brad Webb in a subsequent TV interview as “Jeeze he’s good isn’t he”?!!

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Scoops, ramps, paddle and reverse sweeps no good for ODIs  

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by Rex Clementine  

Anybody who attempts to scoop Kagiso Rabada’s first ball – a thunderbolt clocked at 150 kmph – over the wicketkeeper’s head must be out of his mind; unless he is Niroshan Dickwella. This was not on the slow surfaces of Dambulla or Suriyawewa, but at The Wanderers, a fast bowler’s paradise. Dickwella with his fearless approach and cheeky batting should be a must in the ODI team but in Sri Lanka he is a Test match specialist. His last ODI was more than two years ago – in March 2019.  

It was confirmed that Dickwella will be snubbed during the Bangladesh ODIs as well after captain Kusal Janith Perera admitted that he will keep wickets. But here’s are a few points for the selectors and Head Coach Mickey Arthur to ponder.  

Dickwella has cemented his place in the Test team and more recently has shown maturity as well. He’s been so good with the bat that in 2021, he’s the sixth highest run getter in the world in Tests. 

Not that Dickwella has suddenly transformed himself as a Test batsman. He has cut down a few high risk shots but still provides entertainment. Sri Lanka from a few shaky positions have gone onto consolidate thanks to Dickwella whose biggest strength is not being afraid to play shots. He is someone who is quickly able to put pressure back on the bowlers.  

When he is able to pull off such tricks in a format where there are few fielding restrictions, imagine what he is capable of doing when restrictions are on. To be fair, Dickwella’s best returns have come in ODI cricket as he has scored two hundreds and nine fifties in 49 innings at an average of 32 and strike rate of 93. Well, true, it’s nowhere near M.S. Dhoni class who averaged 50 in ODIs.  

Dickwella is pretty good with his glove work too. Is he the finish product yet? Of course not! Someone needs to sit down with Dickwella and have a long chat on a few things. Let’s start with reviews. The wicketkeeper’s input is so valuable in reviews and Dickwella misleads his captain. The expert opinion of Dickwella during reviews should be taken with a pinch of salt, very much like input of the nation’s intelligence chief during the Yahapalana regime. Both are flawed, highly.  

When England whitewashed Sri Lanka 3-0 in 2018, Dickwella’s reviews were outrageous. At occasions he had exhausted all reviews before the team’s best bowler – Rangana Herath had come onto the attack. Impulsive and immature, Dickwella has never learned and it has reached a point where the captain doesn’t trust him anymore. 

Still, he’s got to be part of the ODI side. He is fearless to the extent that he does some crazy stuff. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread they say. Dickwella is like the fool who is willing to go any distance just for the sake of winning.  

His infamous fight with Virat Kohli in Calcutta in 2017 surprisingly earned the Indian captain’s applause.  “I like to see that character. I liked that competitiveness on the field. He is a very feisty character and that works for his game. Credit for him for maintaining that and I am sure he will do many good things in Sri Lankan cricket,” Kohli said.  

In that same series, in Delhi, Sri Lanka were battling to save the Test match. Entering into the last hour, they had an outside chance to win – requiring 110 runs in 15 overs. Dickwella urged his partner Roshen Silva to have a crack but the senior opted to play it safe. 

Sri Lanka were 1-0 down in the series. Dickwella’s attitude was to square the series and in the process if the team ended up losing 2-0 tough luck. Here’s a guy who plays to win. You need chaps like that moving forward.   

KJP has already got too much on his plate. This is a young side. He has to lead from front and why take up the additional burden of keeping wickets too. Let him give it to the nation’s best wicketkeeper – Dickwella.  

We are yet to see Dickwella’s best – both cricket skills and madness. Sometimes madness is required to get under the skin of someone like Virat Kohli. Not often does the Indian captain get into an ugly altercation with an opponent and then praises him.  

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Dimuth, Mathews, Lakmal and others get pay cuts

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Several Sri Lankan cricketers have refused to sign central contracts after significant pay cuts.

Dickwella and DDS secure US$ 100,000 contracts  

by Rex Clementine

Former captains Angelo Mathews, Suranga Lakmal and Dinesh Chandimal along with current Test skipper Dimuth Karunaratne and a few regulars will not sign contracts offered by Sri Lanka Cricket after they were forced to undergo significant pay cuts, The Island learns.

The biggest gainers in the new contracts that will be announced shortly will be wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella and Dhananjaya de Silva, who will each earn US$ 100,000. In fact, they are the only two players in the top category.

Mathews will lose as much as US$ 50,000 after his retainer was cut from US$ 130,000 to US$ 80,000. He will turn 34 next month and with the selectors indicating that they intend to move on with a younger crop of players for limited over games, there will be little motivation for him to accept the contract especially with Sri Lanka set to play just two more Tests for this year.

Dimuth Karunarante, who has made rapid strides in Test match cricket this year, will also receive a pay cut of US$ 30,000. Following his stunning hundred at the Wanderers in January and after finishing the Bangladesh series with 427 runs in three innings, Karunaratne, would have at least expected to stay on par with his previous contract of US$ 100,000, but his pay has been brought down to 70,000.

Suranga Lakmal will also get a pay cut of US$ 45,000 having been demoted to the second category from the first tier where he earned US$ 100,000 the previous year.

Everything about the contracts are not gloomy though with someone like Pathum Nissanka, who made a stunning debut in the Caribbean two months ago receiving a retainer worth US$ 55,000.

Kasun Rajitha would consider himself that he has won a lottery with him finishing with US$ 50,000. The quick from Matara, who recently shifted clubs, represented Sri Lanka in just two games last year across all three formats but he ends up with a lucrative pay package. Dinesh Chandimal is in a lower category than Rajitha earning just 45,000 US$.

Danushka Gunatilleke probably gets the unkindest cut of all having been lowered to the last category where he will earn a mere US$ 30,000. The left-hander has emerged as the most consistent batsman in white ball cricket in recent times having had a good tour of West Indies.

 

 

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Yupun clocks year’s third fastest time in Asia

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Breaks national 100 metres record

Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon improved his Sri Lanka National record in the 100 metres with Asia’s third fastest time of the season at the 10th edition of the Memorial Giulio Ottolia at the Fontanassa Sports Centre in Savona, Italy on Thursday.

Abeykoon clocked 10.15 seconds to break the national record in what turned out to be his first competition of the year at the northwestern Italian city.

Abeykoon bettered his previous record by 0.01 seconds. His previous record of 10.16 seconds was established in September last year.

Competing in Thursday’s final he was placed second behind Italian sprinter Lorenzo Patta who clocked 10.13 seconds to win in the absence of European indoor 60m champion Marcell Jacobs who stole the show early with a new Italian national record in the heats.

Jacobs clocked 9.95 seconds to break the Italian record in the heats but pulled out due to a calf cramp. Abeykoon too clocked a wind assisted faster time in the heats.

Abeykoon’s performance is just 0.10 seconds shy of the direct Olympic entry standard but it is the third fastest time by an Asian sprinter this year.

China’s Bingtian Su with a feat of 9.98 seconds (in April ) has the fastest 100 metres time in Asia this year. While Japanese sprinter Ryota Yamagata’s 10.14 seconds (also in April) is the second fastest time, Yupun’s time of 10.15 seconds is ranked third above Zhenye Xie (China 10.16 secs) and Tosin Ogunode (Qatar 10.21 secs).

Abeykoon’s feat is the second Sri Lanka record registered within days after US based high jumper Ushan Thivanka broke the national record in his event. While European and US training and competitions have helped the duo produce their best, lack of quality competitions due to the Covid 19 pandemic have held back the progress of a number of top local athletes who are on the edge of Olympic qualifying standards.

(RF)

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