Duncan White (22) won a silver medal in 1948. From 1900 to 2000 Duncan White and Miguel White, an athlete of Filipino-American descent were the only Asians to have won podium places in the 400 metres hurdles at Olympics.
Tokyo Olympics – 6 days to go
by Reemus Fernando
continued from yesterday…..
Asia’s struggles in 400 metres hurdles
After Duncan White won a silver medal in 1948 the country had to wait for 52 years to see a Sri Lankan man compete in the 400 metres hurdles again at the Olympics. In 1948, in a race where the Olympic record was broken, White was just fractions of a second behind the Champion and just over a second slower than the then world record. Today the World Record and the country’s national record of the discipline are worlds apart. Early this month Norwegian champion Karsten Warholm broke the world record (subject to World Athletics ratification) with a 46.70 seconds feat. Today, Sri Lanka’s top hurdlers are struggling to stop the clock before 51 seconds. The national record which is 21 years old is just below 50 seconds.
Certainly, White’s was a rarity in this US-dominated event. The 400 metres Olympics statistics would discourage analysts to suggest it as a prospective medal winning discipline for athletes outside US and Europe. When Kerron Clement won the men’s 400 metres hurdles at the RIO Olympics, the Trinidad-born athlete became the 18th American to win the gold medal of that discipline.
Two Whites and Asia
By the end of the 2016 Olympics, the men’s 400 metres had been contested 24 times at Olympics. US athletes have won 40 medals overall. That is more than half the medals distributed in the discipline in history. They have made a clean sweep of the medals on five occasions. The first time an Asian stood on the podium for the medals ceremony of the 400 metres hurdles was in 1936. Miguel White, an athlete of Filipino-American descent won the bronze medal behind Glenn Hardin of the US and John Loaring of Canada. The two Whites, Duncan from Sri Lanka and Miguel from Philippines remained the only Asians to have won Olympic medals of any colour in 400 metres hurdles for hundred years. In 2000 a third Asian entered the list when Hadi Somayli of Saudi Arabia won a silver (47.53 secs).
Hurdlers from English speaking countries
The only times the winner of the 400 metres hurdles came from a non English speaking country were in 1980, 2004 and 2012. In 1980 the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics. The Jimmy Carter boycott severely devalued competition. The Soviet Union dominated the medals table of the athletics competitions and the Olympics. Volker Beck of East Germany became the first hurdler from a none-English-speaking country to win the gold medal of the event. Felix Sanchez, the winner of the 2004 Athens and 2012 London Games is from the Dominican Republic where the official language is Spanish. Though he was of Dominican descent, he was born and raised in the United States.
When the athletes take their mark for the 400 metres hurdles at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics there will be half a dozen Asian athletes including three from the hosts. Saudi Arabia -born Abderrahman Samba who represents Qatar is the highest-ranked of them. The Asian Games gold medalist, who earlier chose to represent Mauritania – his father’s homeland – before eventually switching allegiance to Qatar and moving to Doha, has a personal best of 46.98 seconds, though he is yet to run under 48 seconds this season. His personal best is also the Asian regional record. Anyone familiar with the world-class training facilities available in Doha and knowledge of hurdles guru Hennie Kotze would be surprised by the fascinating performances he produced in 2019. Qatar hosted the last World Championship in Doha and the investments for world-class facilities paid dividends in the form of medals as Samba clinched a bronze. Japan the host of the Olympics has six of the top ten performers in the 400 metres hurdles in Asia this year. Apart from investing in infrastructure the host countries of major sports events also invest in the development of sports in their countries. When talented athletes are provided with the necessary facilities they become good enough to climb up the rankings irrespective of where they come from.
Dasun Shanaka backs inexperienced Sri Lanka to go deep: ‘I think we’ve struck a good balance
Sri Lanka may have had a horror year in terms of squad building and preparation, and the biggest tests undoubtedly lie ahead, but that has failed to dull captain Dasun Shanaka’s optimism ahead of the Men’s T20 World Cup. Drawing parallels to the vintage side that won the 2014 tournament, the Sri Lanka captain feels that his current side has similar depth and variety, something he believes could see them potentially go a “long way in this tournament” – even if they lack considerably in terms of experience.
“If you recall, that squad had a lot of variety and depth. And with the youngsters we have coming through now I feel have the same potential, but the only thing lacking is the experience,” Shanaka said, speaking on a captains’ Zoom call. “If our guys perform to their strengths I feel they can go a long way in this tournament. Our fans in Sri Lanka have been waiting a long time for us to be successful, and I hope we can make them proud.”
Much of Shanaka’s optimism stems from the balance the team has seemingly struck in the past few weeks. For most of the year Sri Lanka’s white-ball batting blueprint had centred around the likes of Danushka Gunathilaka, Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Mendis, but following the trio’s ban for breaching curfew and bio-bubble protocols, the last few months have seen the Sri Lankan think-tank mix and match several options in the top and middle order with little success.
However, following a training camp last month, which consisted of several intra-squad matches geared towards nailing down roles for each player, Sri Lanka seem to have stumbled on something resembling balance.
Avishka Fernando has been a revelation at No. 4, Chamika Karunaratne and Shanaka have shown promise in their roles as finishers lower down the order, and in the bowling department there are two quicks who can regularly dish out speeds touching 140kph, and spinners with as many variations as you’re likely to see all tournament.
“We were not able to perform up to the mark in the last few years, but still the strength of our squad is very good. We’ve got two guys coming from the IPL [Dushmantha Chameera and Wanindu Hasaranga], Kusal Janith [Perera] at the top of the order and Avishka Fernando, who is going well, coming in at No. 4.
“We are settled with our batting line-up. We’ve recently changed our line-up a bit – I think we’ve struck a good balance.”
The only point of debate, combination-wise, might be at the top of the order, with the opening combination still unsettled. Sri Lanka have tried out three different pairs in their last four matches, with one of Dinesh Chandimal, Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva partnering Pathum Nissanka. Indeed, despite being a last-minute addition to the squad, Nissanka seems to be the only certainty in terms of Sri Lanka’s opening combo, and Shanaka is backing the highly rated youngster – who has yet to make his mark in white-ball cricket – to show his class on the biggest stage.
“He’s been a guy coming through the system, so we know how capable he is. Still, when you come to the biggest stage you have to make your mark by scoring good runs. I feel he will make this tournament his own and make it count.”
Shanaka has far fewer concerns is in the bowling department. Even with Nuwan Pradeep being ruled out of the tournament with an eleventh-hour hamstring injury, Sri Lanka have in Chameera and Lahiru Kumara two bowlers capable of clocking high speeds.
Chameera’s 2021 T20 record in particular has been worthy of note, with his 15 wickets in 12 T20Is and an economy rate of 6.51. Needless to say a fit Chameera is integral to Sri Lanka’s plans.
“Going with two main fast bowlers, they give a lot of quality to the squad. And Associate nations, they don’t face a lot of 140+ fast bowlers.
“Obviously losing Pradeep is a concern. He had been bowling brilliantly over the last six months, and we were counting on him during this tournament, but still what we can get from Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha is massive.”
In the spin department, meanwhile, Sri Lanka boast the No.2-ranked spinner in the world in Hasaranga – a 2021 that brought 20 wickets in 12 matches with an economy rate of 5.59, tells its own story – while in Maheesh Theekshana Sri Lanka have the latest from their production line of mystery spinners. Akila Dananjaya also provides experience and guile, even if he is yet to scale the heights he frequented prior to a change in bowling action.
“He [Hasaranga] has been amazing over the last two years, and now he’s sitting in the No. 2 spot [in the rankings]. He’s very hard to pick at times, because he bowls from a lower angle. Meanwhile, along with Wanindu, we also have Maheesh Theekshana – that’s two young, exciting talents. Going forward I feel that they will do a really good job for the team.”
Sri Lanka also have one final ace in their corner in Mahela Jayawardene, who recently took up a role as consultant coach. During his stint with Mumbai Indians in the IPL, Jayawardene has proven himself as one of the most tactically astute minds in world cricket, and Shanaka feels having him in his corner is proving invaluable.
“He’s been amazing over the years, and tactically he’s brilliant. As a captain, he’s been giving me a lot of support in the field. For me, tactically he’s the best in the business. He’s been a real help to all of us.”
Sri Lanka begin their T20 World Cup campaign against Namibia on 18 October. (cricinfo)
Golf Union wants to make a strong showing at Asian Games
The Sri Lanka Golf Union has made elaborate plans to complete an exhaustive schedule in the forthcoming months to improve the standard of Golf in the country. Covid -19 did set the proposed programs behind. The Golf Union together with the Ministry of Sport, the National Olympic Committee, and the health authorities have made plans to fast forward the delayed tournaments in the coming months.
The Sri Lanka Golf Union will send two players to participate in the forthcoming Asia Pacific Golf Tournaments for men and women which takes place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively. The tournament for men will be held in Dubai from November 7 to 14 whilst the women’s event will be in Abu Dhabi from November 15 to 21.
M.U. Chanaka Perera will tee off in the men’s category whilst Taniya Balasuriya will take part in the women’s. Both golfers have been invited by virtue of their World Amateur Handicap Ranking. Young Vinod Weerasinghe a rising star too was invited to participate in the men’s category but due to unforeseen circumstances will not make it to Dubai.
The Golf Union has finalized different squads to be put through a strenuous training schedule in the coming months. The National Squad, Development Squad and Junior Squads will undergo on-course training in addition to physical fitness training under supervision.
“Plans are in place to get both men and women golfers in peak condition by mid-next year to make a strong showing at the Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China. Sri Lanka Golf will enter four male and four female golfers to participate in the individual and team events,” a Golf Union press release quoted Michael Perera Magala, President of the Golf Union as having said.
“Plans are underway to hold Sri Lanka’s ranking Tournaments in November and December 2021 and conclude the prestigious 132 Sri Lanka Amateur Championship and Sri Lanka Open in January 2022. We are in the process of moving to a unified and worldwide accepted World Handicapping System for all golfers with the support of all Golf Clubs in Sri Lanka. This will be a beneficial move to all golfers in Sri Lanka,” a Golf Union press release quoted Ranil Pieris, Vice President of Sri Lanka Golf as having said.
The lack of golf courses has been a setback for young golfers to take up the game though Sri Lankans have been gifted with high hand/eye coordination. Led by the Royal Colombo Golf Club and ably supported by Nuwara Eliya Golf Club, Victoria Golf Club- Digana, Eagles Golf Club- Trinco, and Shangri-La Golf Club- Hambantota, have all been supportive in their willing service to the Golf Union by extending their facilities to improve Golf in Sri Lanka.
According to the Golf Union, women’s golf is in an upward trend with many young players taking to the game ably supported by Anouk Chitty. “We intend making a strong showing at the forthcoming Asian Games,” Chitty was quoted having said.
Junior Golf is an area that has been the focal point and Niloo Jayetileke has her sights set on drawing many new talented players to the game. “Royal and Ancient in Scotland have a support programme which has been beneficial in this area. Five tournaments are being held for Juniors each year and plans are underway to tie up with an Indian Golfing Group to extend this programme to reach a greater height,” Niloo Jayetileke was quoted having said.
Meanwhile, Ministry of Sport has been approached to build a Golf Range for the SLGU. Led by President Michael Perera Magala, Ranil Pieris, Air Chief Marshal Harsha Abeywickrema, Sudath Getawakanda, Lal Wickrematunge, and the Council members are laying the foundation in popularizing golf in Sri Lanka.
Maqsood, Jatinder help Oman lead 10-wicket rout of PNG
Zeeshan Maqsood’s left-arm spin set it up, and a strong opening stand in which both Jatinder Singh and Aqib Ilyas hit unbeaten fifties completed a commanding ten-wicket win for Oman against PNG in the opening game of the T20 World Cup 2021.
PNG had shrugged off a nightmare start when they lost two wickets and remained scoreless for 11 balls, building a good recovery through Assad Vala and Charles Amini, but unravelled from a healthy looking 102 for 3 in 14 overs to 118 for 9 in just 20 balls, with Maqsood being the demolisher in chief.
Maqsood took three wickets in the 16th over, his second of the innings, to rip the heart out of PNG’s innings. He ended with 4 for 20, even bowling the final over, as PNG were restricted to 129 for 9 on a good batting deck, having looked on track for 150-plus a short while ago.
Oman then bossed the chase, with Jatinder in particular unfurling an array of strokes against the Oman bowlers, particularly square of the wicket on either side. Jatinder ended the chase with a thumping six over midwicket to finish with an unbeaten 73 off 42 balls. Ilyas was more sedate, but did his role with 50* off 43, as Oman got to victory in a mere 13.4 overs, giving their net run-rate a significant early boost.
Vala, Amini shrug off poor start
Bilal Khan and Kareemullah removed one opener each in their first overs, and only an inside-edged single off the last ball of the second over prevented PNG from starting their innings with two wicket-maidens. But after that start, Amini and Vala settled down and the early wobble had no effect on how they went about constructing the PNG innings. Amini was particularly free-flowing, regularly finding the fence. Vala too got into his groove and both men had taken PNG to 81 for 2 in 11.2 overs when disaster struck. Vala was unable to work a length ball from medium-pacer Mohammad Nadeem away, and it rolled back down the pitch perfectly for the bowler to collect it on his follow through. Amini, perhaps eager to get on strike since he was hitting the ball so well, had hared halfway down the pitch thinking a single was on. He had to scramble and turn back, but was never going to be in time to beat a direct hit, which is what Nadeem achieved. The 81-run stand had taken just 60 balls, and while Amini and Vala were going strong, even 160 seemed within reach.
For a brief while after Amini left, Vala took up the reins of quick scoring. The over after Amini was out, Vala was involved in a collision with Maqsood at the non-striker’s end when the bowler moved to his right to field a ball, and though the contact was not heavy, Vala seemed to fall awkwardly on his ankle and needed treatment. After that, he noticeably looked more aggressively for boundaries, biffing balls from the crease, rather than his previous mix of boundaries and runs. That perhaps brought about his downfall too, and his was the first wicket to fall in Maqsood’s adrenaline-rush 16th over. Maqsood struck with his first, third and fifth balls in the over, and suddenly, PNG went from still looking like putting up a reasonable score to battling to avoid being all out early.
Jatinder tees off
In the defence of a sub-par total on a good batting deck, PNG needed discipline from their bowlers. However, almost every over had a loose delivery, and Jatinder ensured he cashed in on practically each one. If offered width he stroked and cut through the offside, and if the bowlers dropped short, he pummelled them in the arc between square leg and long-on.
The powerplay brought 46 runs for Oman and the match as a contest was quickly dwindling. Initially, both Jatinder and Ilyas kept the same pace, unhurried because of the target but brisk nonetheless. Gradually, the tempo shifted to Jatinder pulling out the big hits, middling the ball beautifully, while Ilyas slipped into the supporting role. Jatinder reached fifty in 33 balls, in the middle of a whopping 17-run over against Damien Ravu which lasted nine balls.
Ilyas eventually got to the landmark too, taking 43 balls, and one delivery later, Jatinder had finished things off with fourth six.(cricinfo)
PNG 129 for 9 (Assad Vala 56, Charlers Amini 37; Bilal Kahn 2-16, Kaleemullah 2-19, Zeeshan Maqsood 4-20)
Oman 131 for no loss (Aqib Ilyas 50 n.o., Jatinder Singh 73 n.o.)
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