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Winners from different regiments but from the same camp

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Where were they at school level?

by Reemus Fernando

When the Sri Lanka Army’s 55th Road Race concluded at Panagoda on Saturday, distance runners from three different regiments crossed the finish line to clinch the first three medals. Although they were from different units and regiments, they represented one particular ‘camp’. Quite conspicuously the joy of winning was something these champions had not enjoyed at national school level.

The South Asian Games medallist and the men’s category champion Shanmugeshwaran Kumara is from the Artillery Regiment. The second placed veteran Kelum Sampath Gunasekara is from the Sinha Regiment. Sagara Wijewickrama who was placed third is from Gemunu Watch. But what was common was that all three had trained under respected middle and long distance coach Sajith Jayalal.

Not only the first three, but also the fourth and sixth placed athletes were also trained by Jayalal.

Shanmugeshwaran clocked one hour ten minutes and 16 seconds to win. Gunasekara finished nearly 30 seconds after him while Wijewickrama returned a time of one hour eleven minutes and 16 seconds. The fourth placed S.D. Gunasekara was just six seconds behind him.

“Some of them had been directed to me by the Army while I had directed some to the Army so that they could persevere in athletics,” said Sajith Jayalal in an interview with The Island.

Incidentally, Shanmugeshwaran’s potential was identified by Jayalal when he came for training in 2013. Shanmu, as he is lovingly called, left Hatton to find employment in Colombo in 2011 and worked for two years at a car wash at Wellawatta before Jayalal helped him find employment in the Army. What he won on Saturday was the title hat trick following wins at the last two consecutive Road Races of the Army. Under Jayalal’s guidance Shanmugeshwaran graduated to win the silver medal of the 10,000 metres behind India’s Suresh Kumar at the last South Asian Games.

According to Shanmugeshwaran he had not won at school level.

As Jayalal puts it none of the winners on Saturday had won at national level when they were schooling. It is true of many long distance runners who are currently winning at national level. Even last Saturday’s women’s category winner Wathsala Herath (1:25.15 sec) trained by Susantha Fernando had taken up distance running only after leaving school.

“The third placed winner in the men’s category, Sagara Wijewickrama won gold at national level in track and events last year while he had not won at school level either. He had identified his potential in long distance running only after joining the Army.”

While Jayalal should be applauded for guiding the athletes to reach national level, authorities should have a serious look why the country’s schools structure fail in producing distance runners to national level.

There is hardly any encouragement for middle and long distance running at school level. Ministry of Education is careful to limit its engagement with long distance running to the annual race they hold with the support of Nestle Lanka.

Proposals given to encourage distance running at school level are hardly given consideration. In fact the Ministry of Education scrapped the distance relay from its annual Relay Carnival couple of years ago. There was a proposal to conduct a schools cross country championship but the Ministry of Education is still silent on the idea.

The time consuming process of obtaining medical certificates for schools athletes to engage in track events longer than that 1,500 metres has also discouraged principals and masters in charge at schools from fielding athletes for those events.

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Sri Lanka to play at Bull Ring and Centurion

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The Wanderers also known as the Bull Ring for its intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams will host the New Year Test.  Sri Lanka have played two Tests there and lost both – by innings margin.

by Rex Clementine

Cricket South Africa (CSA) seem to have learned from their embarrassment last year, when Sri Lanka became the first Asian nation to win a Test series in South Africa and have left no room for complacency when they host Dimuth Karunaratne’s side in December this year. Accordingly, CSA has chosen Wanderers in Johannesburg (also known as the Bull Ring for its intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams) and Centurion for the two Tests.

While officially CSA would say that logistically the two venues, half-hour drive from each other, were ideal to host the two Test series, they are also the quickest tracks in South Africa and Asian teams usually don’t  last three days in those venues.

Sri Lanka for example have played two Tests at Wanderers and have lost both games by innings margin with the two games ending inside three days. At Centurion, meanwhile, Sri Lanka have played four Tests and lost all four (two games by an innings).

The blunder that CSA committed last time Sri Lanka toured South Africa was to schedule the games in the slowest tracks in the country – Durban and Port Elizabeth. That backfired as Sri Lanka clinched the series 2-0. Test match cricket is such a tough game in South Africa, that apart from England and Australia no other team had won a series in that country and Sri Lanka’s achievement surprised many.

Several members of the current squad have unhappy memories of Wanderers and Centurion and they will not be pleased that the games had been slotted there.

The team will stay in one hotel during their month long stay in South Africa and will shuttle between the grounds which are in close proximity to each other. Centurion will host the Boxing Day Test while the Wanderers will host the New Year Test.

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Wickramasinghe comes up with guidelines to train during the pandemic

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Training programmes of a number of top track and field athletes were interrupted at various training venues due to Covid 19 concerns last week. Some of the interruptions were reported in areas where no new Covid 19 positive cases were reported. With the second wave of pandemic starting to disrupt daily life, sports training too is set to suffer badly. But senior track and field coach Upali Wickramasinghe believes that training can proceed without an interruption even during the pandemic by changing the coaching or training style.

Wickramasinghe in his instructions for coaching during the Covid 19 pandemic lists out important guidelines to follow during training, pre training and post training.

Being equipped with a clearance certificate issued by health authorities and submitting parental consent with regard to training juniors will help avoid disappointments at venue entrances according to Wickramasinghe. Sanitizing participants and checking their temperature are the other prerequisites before starting training.

Maintaining social distancing, limiting the training to small groups or individuals, avoiding physical contact (no high-fives, no handshakes) and prohibiting of spitting and clearing of nasal respiratory secretion are the instructions for sportsmen engaged in non contact sports.

Training can be continued even for minimal contact games by classifying training areas into three or four and sticking to training partners and avoiding body blocking.

Training for full body contact games can be done by focusing more on promoting individual skills and technique, utilizing alternative practice equipment, prohibiting sharing of personal equipment and making sanitization mandatory even during training.

Disinfection of training equipment like javelin, shot put, relay batons, shuttlecocks and balls is a major requirement immediately after training. Wickramasinghe also advices participants to exit venues immediately after their training schedules are completed. He also advices not to share personal equipment like rackets, helmets shin – guards, water bottles and T – Shirts.

A former national athlete, Upali Wickramasinghe has been in the field of coaching after his retirement as a Major in the Sri Lanka Army. He has produced a number of top national athletes and was the first coach of Olympian Anuradha Indrajith Cooray, who holds the Sri Lanka National record in the men’s marathon. (RF)

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Sri Lanka to take 20 players to South Africa

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Left-arm seamer Vishwa Fernando outperformed South African quicks Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn during Sri Lanka’s tour to South Africa in 2019 as they won the series 2-0. Here he traps Francois Du Plessis leg before wicket.

by Rex Clementine

Cricket South Africa has  come up with one of  the simplest health guidelines in these testing times and it could turn out to be  the  blueprint other sporting bodies will follow in conducting international sporting events.  The Sri Lankan team will be in South Africa in December for the Boxing Day Test and New Year Test and they will not be required to go through lengthy quarantine periods.  All what the players need is a negative PCR report before boarding the flight to Johannesburg and another negative report upon landing in Oliver Tambo International Airport.

Two negative reports are good enough for players to resume training immediately within the team bubble. The method is quite a contrast to what other countries follow. Sri Lanka’s mandatory 14 day quarantine period resulted in the Test series against Bangladesh being postponed.

The Sri Lankan team will not be given any warm-up games although they are expected to be in South Africa for two weeks prior to the Boxing Day Test match.  With the team in a bubble, net bowlers also will not be provided and hence Sri Lanka will be carrying 20 players in the squad. This avoids the risk of last minute replacements being called up due to injuries as well.

CSA is yet to announce the venues for the tour. England who will be in South Africa prior to Sri Lanka will be secluded in Cape Town and nearby Paarl. England will play three ODIs and three T-20 Internationals in South Africa.

This series will mark Sri Lanka’s return to international cricket after the outbreak of the pandemic in March this year. This year was supposed to be full of international cricket for SLC with several bilateral series at home including tours by India and England that bring much needed television revenue. SLC was also set to host this year’s Asia Cup but all that now has been pushed back due to the pandemic. SLC officials are confident that they will be able to reschedule all postponed series within the next 18 months.

SLC is expected to host England in January next year for two Tests. The national cricket team will then undertake a tour of West Indies.

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