The Asgiriya Anti-Climax
by Aravinthan Arunthavanathan
The picturesque Kandy has been home to many key moments in Sri Lanka-Australia rivalry. While Asgiriya played host to Sri Lanka’s first Test win over Australia, Pallekelle was home for a famous win in 2016 leading to a whitewash thereafter. While these two encounters grab the limelight, an epic duel between both nations in 2004 is often overlooked.
The Aussie side of 2004 was one of the greatest units in modern era. Later that year they would go on to conquer their final frontier in India as well. Given the strength of the visitors, the 2004 series was promising to be an enthralling encounter. However, the first Test in Galle saw the Sri Lankan fortress being bulldozed by the rampant Aussies.
On the back of the Galle mauling, when both teams faced off in Kandy, there was a lot at stake for the home team. A confident Ricky Ponting won the toss and elected to bat at Asgiriya. With Muttiah Muralitharan on the verge of 500 wickets all eyes were on the Sri Lankan bowling unit. The home side came to the party in grand style, courtesy of a resurgent Nuwan Zoysa and the ever-reliable Muralitharan supported by the consistent Chaminda Vass. The Australian line up was blown away for a meagre 120, their lowest against Sri Lanka. Muralitharan managed to grab the limelight by reaching his 500th wicket, clean bowling Michael Kasprowicz through the gate, a characteristic off spinner’s dismissal.
With a superlative bowling effort, the Sri Lankan morale was sky high. With the onus on the batsmen to drive home the advantage the Sri Lankan reply began. The response was jolted early as the Aussies breathed fire blowing away the Lankan line up in no time, leaving the tail fighting to salvage some respect. Vass came to the fore smacking an impressive unbeaten 68 aided surprisingly by Muralitharan, who scored 43 as if to celebrate his monumental achievement earlier in the Test. The Sri Lankans who looked not even good enough to post a lead at one stage with top seven wickets falling for less than 100, posted a 90-run lead thanks to Murali and Vass.
Sri Lanka managed to raise the expectations high by sending back the dangerous duo of Justin Langer and Mathew Hayden with the score not even reaching thirty. It was at this point that the aggressive instinct of Australians took over with Adam Gilchrist being promoted up the order. A rampant Gilchrist in the company of a classy Damien Martin employed the sweeps and drives to great effect, stitching a massive partnership putting Sri Lanka on the backfoot. The Australians notched up an impressive 442 setting Sri Lanka a 350 plus chase to create history.
At that time, the highest Sri Lanka had chased in the fourth innings was 326 against Zimbabwe six years prior. A chase of this magnitude was herculean given the prowess of the Australian line up. Two early wickets meant Sri Lankan expectations were diminishing fast. But there was a certain Sanath Jayasuriya who had other plans.
Jayasuriya had relinquished leadership in 2003 and was entering into a phase of his career where his contributions were under the scanner for the first time ever. Jayasuriya was having a lean patch and failures in the first three innings of the series were enough to raise speculations amongst skeptics. Like many times before Jayasuriya decided to answer the critics in style tearing into the strong Aussie line up.
Jayasuriya displayed his prowess on the offside partying with square cuts and drives scoring at a scintillating rate. Jayasuriya was specifically severe on Stuart McGill, heaving and lofting the leg breaks handsomely in the arc between long off and midwicket. With wickets falling at the other end Jayasuriya’s onslaught kept Sri Lanka in the hunt. Towards the end of day four Jaysuriya edged an attempted cut to Gilchrist severely impacting the Lankan chase. Following his exit rookie Tillakaratne Dilshan showed his promise scoring an impressive 43 leaving Sri Lanka in with a real chance.
As the final day began Vass and Kaushal Lokuarachchi, no mug with the bat at the crease the chase was a reality. Vass and Lokuarachchi scraped their way towards the target successfully bringing it down to under 40. With few edges going Lanka’s way the tide seemed to be turning towards, which could arguably have been Sri Lanka’s greatest Test win.
With expectations soaring, Vass tried to loft a classic Shane Warne leg break over the mid-wicket boundary only for the ball to land in the fielder’s hands. This saw the remaining wickets tumble in the hands of Warne’s mastery. Warne’s five wicket haul ensured there were no surprises, sealing a hard-fought victory which helped the visitors close off the series as well.
The Kandy Australia-Sri Lanka duel ended in disappointment but had its own share of highs. Australia went on to thrash Sri Lanka 3-0, but the series was far more closely contested than what the score line suggested. It was a series which witnessed highest quality of cricket with riveting battles. The Asgiriya duel stood out as one of the most intriguing encounters Sri Lanka has been part of. Especially given the strength of Australia at that time, not many teams managed to stretch that outfit, but Sri Lanka managed not only do so but almost topple the mighty Australians. For that reason the Asgiriya duel should be celebrated.
May the educated continue to run cricket!
by Rex Clementine
While the Test series involving Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is on at Pallekele in a bio-secure bubble, the media has been allowed to cover the series in what is called the ‘outer bubble’. The press can file their stories from the press box and carry on with their day today activities. The only thing that we can not do is to come face to face with players and support staff.
Sri Lanka Cricket is at the moment run by a respected doctor – Professor Arjuna de Silva. Apart from being a brilliant physician, he is proving to be an outstanding administrator as well. Glad he does not wish to avoid the press like the plague in these testing times.
The press discussed a similar method during the England series, but it fell on deaf ears of those who were running the sport at that time. Leave alone giving us a fair hearing, it took SLC more than a week to respond to our collective mail.
Then there were lies all around. SLC first said that it was impossible to accommodate the press as the England and Wales Cricket Board had objected to our presence. We referred the matter to the ECB, who denied it outright saying that they had no issues with press covering the series. Then there were more lies, even misguiding the Minister of Sports.
The same SLC Executive Committee a few weeks either side of the England series had requested the media to cover their press briefings and they were well attended. But cricket matches for some mysterious reasons were out of bounds for us. Obviously, SLC hierarchy were getting advice from the wrong people.
South Africa, Australia, England, Pakistan and even India where COVID cases are at a staggering high had allowed the media to attend cricket matches but SLC was an exception. Did they have an axe to grind with the press for constantly highlighting daylight robbery at Maitland Place?
There was a storm of protest at the treatment meted out to the media. Former players, administrators and fans expressed their disappointment at what was happening but SLC bosses were thick skinned. Its President boasted that he was going to get more than 100 votes at the AGM. He was all too powerful. But the law of the land proved to be more powerful than him as the entire Executive Committee was dismissed on technical grounds. The CEO continues, although his time is hanging by a thread.
Further woes followed at the COPE hearing as the Parliamentary watchdog found large scale corruption and no accountability. The Secretary to the Sports Ministry was informed to initiate legal proceedings against officials who were responsible for corrupt deals that included money that broadcasting partners owed the board being transferred into offshore accounts.
It remains to be seen what action the Sports Ministry intends to take with the game suffering several blows both on and off the field in the last five years. The slide started during the Yahapalana regime and not much has been done to address the woes under the present government. The Sports Minister backdating a letter legalizing the term of the Executive Committee was the last straw. The move was opposed and the Minister was forced to dismiss the Executive Committee and bring in fresh faces amidst much criticism.
The same Ex Co did not bother to take disciplinary action against misbehaving players. This coupled with poor on field performances saw cricket’s ardent fans turning away from the game. While the national cricket team was involved in a series in the Caribbean, the retired players were featuring in a Legends tournament in India. Strangely, the fans preferred to watch the former players in action than their national team. This was extremely disturbing news.
Soon after the administration was changed, a clear message has been sent that misconduct will be sternly dealt with. An opening batsman who had got into constant trouble was hauled up for an inquiry on Tuesday and has been warned to behave or pack his bags. This is the way forward. When there is discipline, results will follow automatically.
The elected officials who were in power before that had double standards. For example, captain Dimuth Karunaratne who was involved in a late night accident was fined Rs. one million. This was despite him buying a brand new three wheeler to the other party involved in the accident. Kusal Mendis who was involved in a hit and run was treated with kids’ gloves. The board closed the case claiming it was a personal matter. That a poor man on his way to work was killed wasn’t a serious enough issue for them. That was not on.
Thankfully, the attitude of the administration has changed now. The powers that be need to ensure that the educated run cricket. Let the corrupt rot in jail.
Don’t judge a pitch by its colour!
Rex Clementine at Pallekele
Don’t judge a book by its cover is a phrase that is often used. Maybe in cricket terminology who should introduce something new like don’t judge a pitch by its colour. The green top at Pallekele looked to be a monster. It looked more like Newlands in Cape Town or Basin Reserve in Wellington than Kandy. But appearances can be deceptive. That is what the first Test at Pallekele taught us as there were no demons on the pitch.
Sri Lanka packed their side with seam hoping they will be able to exploit the conditions. Bangladesh meanwhile were positive. Instead of chickening out, they opted to bat first after winning the toss and they were sitting pretty at stumps having reached a commanding 302 for two.
The seamers weren’t able to get any movement off the patch. There was a bit of moisture in the morning but the quicks weren’t bowling in the right areas. Asitha Fernando instead of Lahiru Kumara could have perhaps used the conditions better but, hey, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
However, there’s one selection that you don’t understand. That is whether Wanindu Hasaranga is Test material. He struggled on day one. Should Sri Lanka have backed their off-spinner is the question that has been asked.
Having said that, we are well aware of the fact that leg-spinners take time to develop and given the promise Hasaranga has shown, it’s not a bad ploy to back him. But, Sri Lanka needs results. They last won a Test match in January last year. Since then, they have played seven Tests, losing four and drawing three.
Tamim Iqbal put up a fine show. He attacked from the start without letting the bowlers settle in. He was scoring less than run a ball and was all set to post his tenth Test hundred when one shot too many cost him his wicket. Tamim’s 90 came off 101 balls with 15 boundaries.
But there was no stopping young Najmul Santo, an elegant 21-year-old batsman with a lot of promise. He was dropped early in his innings by Niroshan Dickwella and he cashed in making an unbeaten 126.
After Tamim was dismissed, captain Mominul Haque joined Santo and they added 150 runs for the third wicket without being separated. Mominul was unbeaten on 64.
Sri Lanka hardly looked as if they were able to make a breakthrough even after they took the second new ball. A tough day two awaits them.
Dialog Powers the 142nd Royal-Thomian ‘Battle of the Blues’
Sri Lanka’s longest rivalry in schools cricket comes alive this May as premier boys schools Royal College Colombo and S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia, will battle it out once again for the 142nd uninterrupted blue ribbon cricket encounter, the ‘Battle of the Blues’ played for the prestigious Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake Memorial Shield, from 6th to 8th May, 2021, at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium – Suriyaweva, Hambantota.
The match will be played behind closed doors keeping in line with the COVID-19 restrictions and the health & safety guidelines mandated by Ministry of Health while Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) regulates playing conditions. The 142nd Battle of the Blues cricket encounter will be broadcast LIVE on Dialog Television channel number 72, and will also be available via LIVE stream on the ThePapare.com and the Dialog Viu app. The limited over “Mustangs Trophy” match will be played in a T20 format on the 10th of May, 2021.
Due to the prevailing pandemic, Sri Lanka’s blue-ribbon annual cricket encounter will break from tradition and will be played for the first time in its 142-year-old illustrious history, out of Colombo at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium – Suriyaweva. The teams, coaches and support staff along with umpires and match officials will follow bio secure environment (BSE) protocols, in line with the COVID-19 health & safety guidelines under the supervision of Southern Province & Hambantota Regional health services.
In the 2021 edition of the ‘Battle of the Blues’, powered by Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, Dialog Axiata PLC, the boys from Mt. Lavinia will be led by all-rounder Shalin De Mel, while the lads from Reid Avenue will play under the captaincy of elegant stroke-maker, Ahan Wickramasinghe.
‘The Royal – Thomian’, has a rich and colourful history spanning across 142 years and is also the second longest uninterrupted cricket series played in the world, second only to the annual encounter played between St. Peters College, Adelaide and Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, Australia, that began just a year earlier and the Australia vs England Ashes Series just 02 years before.
In 1880, the first match in which only the boys took part was played on Galle Face Green, the present location of the Taj Samudra Hotel. This was the start to the centenary series. Both teams are said to have rowed their boats across Beira Lake to play the match.
The playing fields of the ‘Roy – Tho’ has the distinction of producing cricketers who later became eminent heads of state, with S. Thomas’ producing the father of the nation, the late Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake MP (1901 – 1902) and his son, the late Hon. Dudley Senanayake MP (1927-1929) as Prime Ministers of Ceylon, while Royal produced the late Rt. Hon. (General) Sir John Kotelawala MP (1914-1915) as Prime Minister and the first Executive President of Sri Lanka, the late J. R. Jayawardene (1925).
The tally between the two schools at present stands at 35 all, with the highly-debated match in 1885, where Royal College was all out for 09 runs with no play on the second day which was considered a win by S. Thomas’ and considered a draw by Royal as shown by the respective souvenir books of the two schools. The shield at present sits, akin to the crown jewels, amongst the silverware in the Warden’s trophy cabinet at S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia, after putting up a superb performance in 2019 under the captaincy of Sithara Hapuhinna, which will be challenged by a determined Royal XI, this year, who racked up impressive wins during the COVID-19 impacted calendar. The boys from Reid Avenue last won the coveted shield under stewardship of Geeshanth Paditharatne in 2016.
In 2019, on the 140th edition of the Royal-Thomian, Dialog rekindled a long and successful partnership with Sri Lanka’s Blue-Ribbon Big Match, The Battle of the Blues. The 142nd edition of the Royal-Thomian will be the thirteenth year that the match is sponsored by Dialog. Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, Dialog Axiata has also made a pledge to contribute Rs. 1,000 for every run scored and 10,000 rupees for every wicket that fell. Last year’s exciting encounter contributed Rs. 1,008,000 to the ‘Play for a Cause’ pledge. The proceedings were directed in consultation with the Principal of Royal College and the Warden of S. Thomas’ College to support and empower deserving schools in the country. Since the inception of the ‘Play for a Cause’ pledge, Rs. 6,151,000 worth of cricket gear was donated to ten deserving schools.
Played in the highest tradition of excellence, the two schools have a formed a bond of mutual respect, camaraderie, sportsmanship, and friendly adversaries on and off the field, which has stood for almost one and a half centuries. As remarked by a yesteryear Principal of Royal College, “There is no Royal without S. Thomas’ and no S. Thomas’ without Royal.”
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