Rex Clementine in Galle Fort
There was a time when England barely lasted three days in Galle. The extreme heat, tracks that turned square and skilful spinners brought misery upon successive England teams. But they have found a way to turn the tide. What is England doing right to succeed in Sri Lankan conditions? In the last ten years, England have visited the island on three occasions and have never lost a series.
The easy answer is to say that the Sri Lankan team has lost some big names and the team is in transition. That’s not the truth. When England squared the two match series in 2012, the big three – Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and T.M. Dilshan – were very much part of the side. So, they must be doing something right to do well here.
To start with England and Wales Cricket Board initiated a programme whereby their young First Class players performed in our domestic cricket. Some of the names that come to mind are Ben Foakes (Colts CC) and Moeen Ali (Badureliya CC). There were many others. The experience these players gain by playing on our surfaces against some good spinners is invaluable.
Foakes for example made his Test debut in the last series in Sri Lanka and he looked pretty comfortable. He went onto top batting charts scoring 277 runs. His wicket keeping was flawless too and he was named Player of the Series.
How many of our players have gone onto represent county cricket in the last ten years?
The other important thing is that England’s development squads are constantly touring sub-continent. This prepares them well when they engage in Test match cricket. Sri Lanka rarely sends their ‘A’ team on overseas assignments these days. We had a former board president who went on record saying that ‘A’ team cricket was a futile exercise as they didn’t bring any money!
The other thing that England have done well is to plan properly. Last year when they were here, they spent more than two weeks before the first Test match and they were involved in two warm-up games. The tour was aborted after the outbreak of the pandemic. This time too, they spent nearly two weeks in Sri Lanka before the opening Test match although they didn’t have the luxury of warm-up games against local sides due to health restrictions.
Sri Lanka’s planning has been extremely poor. The gap between the LPL final and the first Test in South Africa was ten days. That sums up the story. In both Tests against South Africa and the first game against England, our batsmen have been in T-20 mode and we have had little momentum. When will we learn?
Richarlison spearheads Brazil’s World Cup charge
Richarlison may have to justify his place as Brazil’s number nine to outsiders but he used his debut on the World Cup stage to demonstrate exactly why coach Tite is unswerving in his admiration. Tottenham’s striker is up against formidable competition for his place in the team in Qatar from the likes of Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus and Rodrygo of Real Madrid, while Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino did not even make the journey.
In a squad overflowing with attacking riches, Tite has made Richarlison his first-choice striker to complement the gifts of Neymar and Vinicius Junior, and was the spearhead as the tournament favourites opened with an impressive 2-0 win over Serbia at Lusail Stadium.
Richarlison ended Brazil’s frustration in the face of Serbia’s massed defensive ranks when he pounced after goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic turned away Vinicius Junior’s shot just after the hour. Then real moment of magic arrived, a piece of skill that had the finest traditions of Brazilian football running right through it.
Richarlison initially failed to control Vinicius’ cross but re-adjusted instantly, taking to the air and showing perfect technique and athleticism to flash home an unstoppable right-foot volley. Richarlison’s second goal made it nine in his last seven Brazil appearances, further evidence of why he is held in such regard by Tite and making him his country’s first player to score twice on his World Cup debut since Neymar in 2014.
He is in some ways a workhorse surrounded by more flamboyant attacking talents, but Richarlison is the complete striker when at the top of his game, offering tireless work rate as well as high levels of skill.
Richarlison has had a stop-start opening to his Spurs career following his £60m summer move from Everton, with injuries stalling his progress, but this was a performance that showed what an asset he is for Brazil and will be for his club side in the future. Former England striker Alan Shearer told BBC Sport: “He’s a man in form in that yellow shirt. He is yet to score in the Premier League for Spurs but for Brazil he is on fire.
“The positioning of Richarlison to pick up those scrappy little goals, the ones where the keeper is going to tap them out in and around the six-yard box, give me as much satisfaction as the incredible second goal he scored.
“He’s in the right position. He gets his shot away. Watch his movement. He’s first to react as all good strikers are. It looks very simple but it’s not. You’ve got to get in there then finish it. It’s very, very good centre-forward play.”
Richarlison’s match-winning display also added to the weight of evidence suggesting the sheer strength and all-round quality of Brazil’s squad makes them favourites to lift the World Cup in this same stadium.Neymar was busy but quiet overall, and also appeared to pick up an injury, while Vinicius dazzled. They could not make their own breakthroughs but helped Richarlison get the job done to snuff out Serbia’s hopes.
Brazil could have added more in the closing stages as Tite made the sort of changes that will have their rivals wincing with jealousy at their strength in depth, introducing Arsenal’s Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli, Manchester United pair Antony and Fred, and Real’s Rodrygo.
Manchester United’s Casemiro showed all his vast experience, hitting the woodwork along with Alex Sandro, while behind them is Chelsea veteran Thiago Silva and Liverpool’s outstanding goalkeeper Alisson Becker, who did not have a save to make.
Brazil’s army of supporters are always expectant at World Cups and their first game in any tournament carries a touch of sporting theatre. Their yellow shirts flooded the Lusail Stadium before kick-off and were spread all around in the crowd of more than 88,000.They will be hoping, with good cause, to return to this venue for the final. If Brazil’s players were weighed down by expectation it did not show amid remarkably relaxed scenes as they arrived before kick-off.
When the team bus stopped in the tunnel, members of the squad joined together in a dance before disembarking. When Neymar strolled into the dressing room he was joined by team-mate Raphinha in a samba. Riddled with World Cup nerves? Not exactly.
And there was a glorious outpouring of Brazilian joy for each of Richarlison’s goals, members of the team and the squad pouring towards the corner flag to swamp the scorer. It was a genuine show of unity and celebration. When Neymar strolled into the stadium he was sporting a garish pair of shimmering golden headphones. His time will come out here in Qatar – but on this night it was Richarlison who stood out as Brazil’s golden boy.
Stunning Latham ton floors India in series opener
INDIA TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND, 2022
A stunning century from Tom Latham and Kane Williamson’s unbeaten 94 helped New Zealand chase down 307 in the series opener in Auckland against India on Friday. Latham and Williamson joined forces with a huge task ahead of them and eventually got the job done with ease in the end as their unbeaten 221-run stand gave New Zealand a 1-0 lead.
New Zealand didn’t get off to the greatest of starts. Finn Allen and Devon Conway did take on Arshdeep Singh to score 25 off his three overs but runs were hard to come by at the other end. Shardul Thakur had an excellent opening spell and that resulted in a wicket as he picked up Allen two balls after he was given a reprieve by Yuzvendra Chahal. Umran Malik then impressed on debut with his pace and Washington kept the runs in check to mount the pressure on New Zealand. It resulted in Conway succumbing eventually as he chased a full and wide delivery from Umran to edge behind.
Daryl Mitchell fell in similar fashion as he too chased a wide delivery from Umran to mistime it as the fielder near the point boundary took a simple catch to hand India the advantage by the halfway point. But slowly, things did change. Williamson for a change looked quite fluent after his prolonged lean patch but it was Latham who stunned the visitors. He played second fiddle initially, rotating the strike to good effect but once he got closer to fifty, Latham shifted gears.
The left-hander, who is renowned for playing spin well in the middle overs, took charge as he fetched a six and a four off successive deliveries against Umran to signal his intentions. The game was still in the balance with 11 overs left in the chase but the 40th over completely shifted the game in New Zealand’s favour. Shardul Thakur was ripped apart by Latham as he fetched four fours and a six to not only bring up a 76-ball century but also bring down the equation to 66 from the final 10. From thereon, the result was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Latham kept exploiting the shorter boundary on the leg side clearing it with ease as he took full toll of a shell-shocked Indian bowling unit to finish unbeaten on 145 to help his team chase down the total with 17 balls to spare.
Earlier in the day, half-centuries from the top order coupled with Washington’s cameo right at the death powered India to 306/7. The total did appear to be par on a surface where batting became easier as the innings progressed especially with the shorter boundaries either side.
Gill and Dhawan made a watchful start in the powerplay with the new ball moving around. With the surface under covers for a long time, Kane Williamson had no hesitation in opting to bowl first and his decision was vindicated. Dhawan did fetch a couple of boundaries in the opening three overs but quickly went into a shell with Matt Henry posing problems. After the first ten overs, India had only 40 on the board. Even though runs slowly started flowing post that initial period, the openers had a lot of catching up to do at a venue where the square boundaries were very short.
Both Dhawan and Gill eventually went past fifty and the latter was severe in his approach once he settled down. With the pair raising more than 100, New Zealand badly needed a wicket and Lockie Ferguson obliged. Gill timed one perfectly to get caught near the boundary whereas Dhawan fell in the following over. India were forced to retreat once again after Ferguson removed Rishabh Pant and Suryakumar Yadav in the same over.
Iyer then joined forces with Sanju Samson to get India going again. Even though New Zealand gave him a couple of reprieves, Iyer managed to recover to register a crucial fifty whereas Samson at the other end managed to settle down as well. At 240/4 after 44 overs, India were primed to go past 300 before Samson fell. Washington then took over and came up with some incredible strokes at the death to stun New Zealand with an unbeaten 37 off just 16 balls. It was good enough to carry India past 300 but not sufficient to prevent going 1-0 down.
306/7 in 50 overs (Shreyas Iyer 80, Shikhar Dhawan 72; Lockie Ferguson 3/59) lost to New Zealand 309/3 in 47.1 overs (Tom Latham 145*, Kane Williamson 94*; Umran Malik 2/66) by 7 wickets
Sri Lanka focus on automatic World Cup qualifications after off the field distractions
By Rex Clementine
Sri Lanka have had lot of off the field distractions this month but will try to set them aside in the lead up to the three match ODI series against Afghanistan with the opening game getting underway on Friday at the Pallekele International Stadium. All three games will be played at Pallekele.
Sri Lanka’s campaign in the ICC Men’s T-20 World Cup ended exactly three weeks ago after a hard fought defeat at the hands of eventual champions England. Less than three hours after the game ended, there were dramatic scenes at the Sri Lankan team hotel in Sydney as their opening batsman Danushka Gunathilaka was arrested by New South Wales police and was charged with sexual assault. The batsman is on bail but he is unable to leave Australia until the case is finished.
SLC launched an investigation into the conduct of the players on tour and all-rounder Chamika Karunaratne has been fined US$ 5000 and handed a one year suspended sentence for breaching the code of conduct. The player is alleged to have been involved in a fight in a Brisbane casino.
The members of the national selection committee and the team management are also under fire for not being firm and their fate will be known following the investigations carried out by the probe committee. Middle order batsman Bhanuka Rajapaksa’s withdrawal from the squad on the eve of the ODI series was further distraction. Off the field incidents will be the last thing on Sri Lanka’s mind as they are seeking automatic qualification for next year’s 50 over World Cup in India.
Sri Lanka are placed tenth in the World Cup Super League with 62 points while Afghanistan are seventh with 100 points. Only the top eight teams automatically qualify for the World Cup and Dasun Shanaka’s side would want to improve their chances of going through.
“We have played a lot of cricket here at Pallekele and we know how the conditions will be here. It won’t be easy to bat under lights as the ball moves around a lot. We have a decent attack and some experience in the middle order with the return of Dinesh Chandimal and we are expecting a good contest,” Shanka told journalists.
Along with Chandimal, who missed the World Cup due to injury, all-rounder Dunith Wellalage also returns to the side.Afghanistan, meanwhile have included left-arm wrist spinner Noor Ahmed in the squad. The Chinaman bowler is popular around the world having established himself in league cricket as an economical bowler. The 17-year-old made his international T-20 debut in June this year and he is expected to make his ODI debut during this series.
“We have prepared well for the series. Obviously there’s a lot of focus on Sri Lanka’s spinners Wanindu Hasaranga and Maheesh Theekshana and I’m sure our batters will be up for the challenge as we play a lot of spin ourselves at the nets against the quality spin bowlers we have,” Hashmatullah Shahidi the Afghanistan captain said.
Sri Lanka (From)
Dasun Shanaka (Captain), Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Dinesh Chandimal, Wanindu Hasaranga, Maheesh Theekshana, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara. Dunith Wellalage, Ashen Bandara, Asitha Fernando, Pramod Madushan and Dhananjaya Lakshan.
(From) Hashmatullah Shahidi (Captain), Rahmat Shah, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Azmatullah Omarzai, Fareed Ahmad, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Gulbadin Naib, Ibrahim Zadran, Ikram Alikhil (wk), Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Najibullah Zadran, Noor Ahmad, Rashid Khan, Riaz Hassan, Shahidullah Kamal, Yamin Ahmadzai and Zia-ur-Rehman
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