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When Sanath nearly pulled off the impossible



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.


Moose signs up as cricket’s clothing partner



Moose CEO Hasib Omar hands over the new Sri Lankan jersey to Dimuth Karunaratne, who will make a return to the ODI side in the upcoming three match series against Afghanistan. SLC Secretary Mohan de Silva and CEO Ashley de Silva are also in the picture

by Rex Clementine  

Singer had been a loyal sponsor of Sri Lankan cricket but a little heard company called Dilmah outbid Singer when the sponsorship was up for grabs in 2002. Singer boss Hemaka Amarasuriya wasn’t whinging and went on record saying that he welcomed local companies coming forward to back the sport.

Within a few years, Dilmah, an entity that was hardly known by most Sri Lankans became a global brand. That exactly is the strategy that Moose have adopted in their bid to become a global brand.

Moose a clothing company that is becoming quite popular among youth for their denims and t-shirts have been associated with cricket sponsorships in the last five years. On Thursday, they announced a four year deal with SLC to be clothing sponsor of the national cricket teams – both men and women.

Moose CEO Hasib Omar is a soft spoken young man who reminds you of the great Aravinda de Silva. But like in Ara’s case, beneath the soft exterior lies a sharp brain.

MAS had been the clothing sponsor of SLC for the last 16 years and Moose has outbid them signing a four year deal that will take them through all bilateral series, ICC events and Asian Cricket Council tournaments.  The partnership brings together two of the nation’s main strengths – cricket and apparel industry.

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Dimuth’s return to ODIs, a welcome move



by Rex Clementine  

After more than two years of stubborn resistance, the selectors have been forced to bite the bullet and admit that their strategies have been faulty and the top order of the ODI outfit needs stability. Hence the return of Test captain Dimuth Karunaratne for white ball cricket for the upcoming three match series against Afghanistan and he should retain his place for the World Cup qualifiers later next month in Zimbabwe too.

One of the troubles with the 50 over side is that the batting department has been found wanting not able to bat out the 50 overs. Dimuth provides the stability opening the innings with his ability to bat through the 50 overs. Other stroke makers can bat around him.

In 2021 April, Dimuth Karunaratne posted his career best Test score of 244 against Bangladesh. A month later, Sri Lanka’s white ball team was touring Bangladesh and Dimuth was sacked from the captaincy as the leadership of the white ball teams was handed to Kusal Perera. It was a left field choice. That was an experiment that didn’t last long.

Not only was Dimuth removed from the captaincy he lost his place in the side as well. It didn’t dawn to the selectors that the batters will be encountering the same bowlers and in Karunaratne they had a man who was in good touch, having smashed a double hundred against the Bangladeshis. The result was catastrophic. Sri Lanka lost the series and in both games they lost, the batting had collapsed.

It is these senseless moves that has resulted in Sri Lanka being forced to play the qualifying round of the World Cup.  By the time the selectors wisened up, the horse had bolted. The recalling of Dimuth is an admission by the selectors that they had got their act wrong in axing him.

It will be early winter in Zimbabwe in June and with day games teams will encounter some dew in the morning and need to adjust accordingly.  On paper, Sri Lanka should go through, but they are a team that has got everything to lose having won the World Cup once and featured in two other finals. For smaller nations, this is a massive opportunity and if they win, there’s nothing like that but if they lose, they can always try next time. Not for Sri Lanka though, who have featured in every World Cup since the tournament was launched in 1975.

Complacency is the only thing that Sri Lanka need to guard themselves against. A mindset that this is not a tough challenge could see them losing the plot as we have seen it happening to many teams time and again.

In Chris Silverwood the team has someone who knows what to expect in Zimbabwe as he started his coaching stint there having overseen Mashonaland (Harare).  The Head Coach will be tapping into the brains of his contacts in Zimbabwe as to what his team can expect when they travel for the qualifiers.

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Russian doubles player cleared of match-fixing two years after Roland Garros arrest



Yana Sizikova has a career-high ranking of 44 in women’s doubles

Russian doubles player Yana Sizikova has been cleared of match-fixing two years after her arrest at the French Open, according to her lawyer.The 28-year-old was arrested at Roland Garros in 2021 as part of an investigation into match-fixing allegations dating back to the 2020 edition of the Grand Slam.

Sizikova, ranked 50th in doubles, has continued to play on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour since her arrest and will compete at this year’s French Open, which starts today.

“After two and a half years of investigation, the Paris Public Prosecutor’s Office definitively closed the case on 11 April 2023, considering that criminal proceedings could not be initiated, as the facts of which Sizikova was accused could not be established,” her lawyer Frederic Belot told Reuters.

Officials began investigating in October 2020 after suspicions of “organised fraud” and “corruption in sports”.

A source close to the investigation told the BBC at the time the inquiry focused on a first-round match in which Sizikova and American partner Madison Brengle lost 7-6 (10-8) 6-4 to Romanian pair Andreea Mitu and Patricia Maria Tig.

Suspicions were reportedly raised after betting companies noticed hundreds of thousands of euros had been wagered on a break of serve in the second set.Sizikova was released a day after her arrest in 2021.In July 2022 she and fellow Russian Anastasia Potapova won the Prague Open, while Sizikova reached two other finals last year.

(BBC Sports)

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