By Rex Clementine
Cricket selectors in Australia are ruthless. In certain other parts of the world they are toothless. Steve Waugh had won the World Cup in 1999 and the Ashes two times in 2001 and 2003 when Trevor Hohns, (who had played only seven Tests by the way), called up Waugh and told him that his time was up. Waugh, with a massive fan following, resisted but Hohns made sure that Australia’s most successful captain was neither there for the World Cup defence in 2003 nor for retaining the Ashes in 2005.
Everything didn’t go well for the Aussies. Under new captain Ricky Ponting they lost the Ashes in 2005 as England regained the urn after 16 years. But Hohns didn’t go after Waugh begging him to fix things. Perseverance in all walks of life is important. In cricket too. Eventually, Ponting turned things around for the Aussies. The next Ashes, Aussies blanked the Poms 5-0. Patience also matters along with perseverance.
Selectors in our backyard made a hue and cry pinning all faults on Angelo Mathews for repeated failures of the national cricket team. Three weeks later, when the team suffered a first ever series defeat against Bangladesh, they went begging to Mathews asking him to return to the side. Mathews asked them to go and fly a kite.
There is nothing wrong in trying out younger players and rotating seniors or even dropping them. Even the great Muttiah Muralitharan was dropped. But you have got to do it smoothly with transparency. Burning bridges is not the way. You don’t have to look at Australia as to how it should be done but we have classic examples in our backyard itself. Sidath Wettimuny is the bloke’s name.
Wettimuny took on bigger players than this. It must have been harder for him for the players he took on were his one-time team mates. But once he had the courage to take on the big boys, he was firm with his decisions. He knew that youth was important but youth who are agile.
Soon after the axing of Arjuna, Aravinda et al after the disastrous World Cup campaign in 1999, one thing he insisted on was excellence on fielding. So he picked someone by the name of Chamara Silva. He was just 19 at that time but took on the likes of McGrath and Warne and posted a crucial half-century during the tri-nation tournament that Sri Lanka went onto win, less than two months after Australia had won the World Cup.
Silva was electric on the field. So was Indika de Saram, who was picked out of the blues. A few months later, he would introduce one T.M. Dilshan. All superb fielders. Of course there was Sanath Jayasuriya as captain who led the side from the front and he himself was a gun fielder.
Right now what we have is a young side, but their fielding is so sloppy. They are probably the worst in the world. It is embarrassing to see the young Sri Lankans misfield. The captain has so many players to hide. There is Bhanuka Rajapaksa, there is Kasun Rajitha, there is Lakshan Sandakan and the list goes on. Surely, you expect paid selectors to do a better job. Right now, they have little clue and they have failed to do their home work. In the second ODI, where Sri Lanka snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, they conceded more than 25 runs due to sloppy fielding.
In 1999, a few months after beating World Champions Australia, Sri Lanka went to Pakistan, one of the toughest places to tour. They whitewashed a strong Pakistan side 3-0 in the ODIs. Wettimuny’s youth policy was working. The nation was thrilled. Youth was the way forward the fans said. But Wettimuny did not get carried away. He recalled Arjuna and Aravinda for the Tests despite some opposition. Wettimuny knew that in Test match cricket, Pakistan would be a different beast.
Skipper Jayasuriya could have resisted going back to the seniors but he did not. He let his ego aside and did what was best for the team welcoming both seasoned campaigners back to the fold.
As expected, Pakistan tested Sri Lanka. It needed a battle hardened Arjuna Ranatunga to bat with a broken thumb to help his team over the line in Rawalpindi. That was one of the classic Test matches that has ever been played. It was made possible by the clever moves of Wettimuny.
In a time of crisis you need a selector who is calm, responsible and who is not vindictive. This is not the first time the system has been shaken up. It had been done before. But then the risk taking was smart. Now it has been reckless. You need a father figure in this time of crisis to help smooth sailing. Not a bull in a China shop. And of course, class matters.
A championship in November might hurt athletes’ preparation for next year’s key events
by Reemus Fernando
Sri Lanka Army’s decision to schedule their flagship athletics event to November is likely to hurt top athletes’ preparations for next year’s major international events. The Army’s decision has come just a couple of weeks after Sri Lanka Athletics decided to windup the pandemic plagued season in October to allow enough time for off season as top athletes will have several crucial international competitions in 2022 including the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.
“Sri Lanka Athletics took the decision to conclude the season with the remainder of the National Championship in October in consultation with coaches as we have a busy schedule in 2022. Most of the coaches whose athletes had already completed their National Championship disciplines had started off-season training when the Army decided out of the blues to conduct their championship in November,” a senior coach told The Island.
Most of the top track and field athletes of the country are employed by Sri Lanka Army and athletes are bound to give equal prominence to the Army Athletics Championship. However, preparing them for the championship in November is likely to derail training plans of coaches who are eager to bring the best out of their athletes at two major international events in 2022.
Not having a proper Competition Calendar has been a problem that has hurt track and field athletes for decades now. Though Sri Lanka Athletics continue to announce their competition calendar in advance other stakeholders in the sport including the tri forces and the Sports Ministry have at times failed to announce theirs.
True the Covid 19 pandemic has hampered all schedules but it is important that all stake holders come together to take decisions vital for national athletics.
Despite the Covid 19 pandemic hampering sports events, Sri Lanka Athletics conducted a number of disciplines of the National Championship 2021 at the first leg in May to give opportunities for athletes who are closer to earn Olympic qualifying standards. The remaining legs of the National Championship 2021 which were rescheduled several times due to the pandemic will now be held on October 30 and 31.
The track and field governing body which will celebrate its centenary year in 2022 is eager to prepare strong teams for both the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games as it has not experienced medal success at these championships for years now. Country has won 46 medals at the Asian Games. Of them 27 are from track and field sports. From the 11 gold medals it has won in the history of the Games ten have come from track and field. However, Sri Lanka has not won a medal in track and field after the men’s 4×400 metres relay team won a bronze in 2006. Sri Lanka has won only three track and field medals at the Commonwealth Games but non during the last two decades.
MJ to work as consultant during World Cup
Sri Lanka’s ICC T20 World Cup campaign has received a massive boost after former captain Mahela Jayawardene agreed to work with the team as a consultant during the tournament.
MJ will not be available for the entire campaign as his stint will last just one week, which means he will be only available for the qualifying round. He will not be available beyond the games against Namibia, Ireland and Netherlands.
SLC also stated that MJ has accepted a consultancy role with Sri Lanka Under-19 team for a period of five months lead up to next year’s ICC Under-19 World Cup. He will be working alongside his former SSC team mate Avishka Gunawardene, who is the Head Coach of the Under-19 side.
MJ known as a brilliant tactician in the game was one of Sri Lanka’s most successful captains across all forms of cricket. He was skipper when Sri Lanka won overseas Test matches in England, New Zealand and West Indies. He was also captain when Sri Lanka blanked England 5-0 in their own backyard. Under his leadership, Sri Lanka reached the finals of the ICC World T20 in 2012.
Since retiring from the game, he’s been a highly sought after coach having guided Mumbai Indians for multiple IPL titles and having worked with the England team as a consultant.
Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur welcomed the appointment. “I have worked with Mahela before and really looking forward to having him with us. He is one of the best cricket brains I have worked with and just very excited to have him with us,” he told The Island.
Sri Lanka Athletics gives priority to Asian Games
by Reemus Fernando
Sri Lanka Athletics will give priority to Asian Games over the Commonwealth Games as the two major sports events take place within five weeks from each other in 2022. The track and field governing body indicated their priorities at a meeting with the National Olympic Committee yesterday.
“Our best chances are at the Asian Games. We are trying to get the best out of the talent we have. To achieve that we have set our priorities right. Though we are going to select a team for both events at the same stage we might not send some athletes for the Commonwealth Games,” a senior official of Sri Lanka Athletics told The Island after a meeting with the NOC yesterday.
“For example our best chances for the men’s 4×400 metres relay team is at the Asian Games. We might not field that team for the Commonwealth Games,” Saman Kumara, the statistician of Sri Lanka Athletics said.
“In 2002 we had both the Commonwealth Games (July 25- August 4) and the Asian Games within a span of two months. We had three men who could run 400 metres in 45 seconds. We had the best chance of winning the 4×400 metres gold in Busan but the Commonwealth Games had its toll on the runners when the time came for the Asian Games,” said Saman Kumara who has experience as both a selector and manager of teams for these games.
While the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be held from July 28 to August 8 in Birmingham, the Chinese city of Hangzhou will host Asian Games from September 10 to 25.
“We are almost certain of fielding a men’s 4×100 metres relay team for the Commonwealth Games provided they meet selection criteria. The men’s 4×400 metres relay team will be reserved for the Asian Games.”
Though medal prospects are dim in track events at the Commonwealth Games, Sri Lanka’s men’s 4×100 metres relay team consisting of Himasha Eshan, Shehan Ambepitiya, Vinoj Suranjaya and Mohamed Ashrafu had a memorable outing at the last edition in Gold Coast where they established the current national record clocking 39.08 seconds.
That record will be in danger now with Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon improving the national record this year and showing the ability to further improve the record.
Sri Lanka Athletics will update the current elite and national pools after concluding the remaining events of the National Championship at the end of next month. That pool will be maintained till March 2022 when the teams for both the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are selected. The centenary National Championships in 2022 April (8,9,10) will be the final selection trial for both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.
Sri Lanka Athletics will also target forming a mixed relay team for the Asian Games as there are two strong contenders to fill the women’s spots in Nadeesha Ramanayake and Dilshi Kumarasainghe. While Kalinga Kumarage and Aruna Dharshana are the front runners for the men’s sports in the mixed relay, the next few months will be crucial for the rest of the sprinters aspiring to win a place in the team for the men’s 4×400 metres relay.
Given their current form, the 100 metres, 400 metres, 4x100metres, 4×400 metres, high jump, long jump, and javelin throw, in the men’s category, 800 metres, steeplechase, long jump, and marathon in the women’s category and the mixed relay are the disciplines in which athletes have shown potential in reaching qualifying standards.
Sri Lanka has won the majority of Asian Games medals in track and field events though the country has not witnessed medal success after the men’s 4×400 metres quartet of Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Rohitha Pushpakumara, Prasanna Amarasekara and Ashoka Jayasundara won the bronze in 2006 in Doha. Since 2006 the country has won only two medals, both in cricket.
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