by Rex Clementine
Given Sri Lanka’s excellent show in the T-20 World Cup last year, there was hope that we were beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel after the national cricket team’s transition had taken longer than people had wished. The performances of two players stood out towards the tail end of last year as Mickey Arthur’s side turned things around across all three formats. While Dushmantha Chameera was the highest wicket taker in the world in ODI cricket in 2021, Wanindu Hasaranga’s reputation reached new heights like that of Joe Biden, the first Catholic to be US President in more than 50 years with the last being John F. Kennedy.
Hasaranga emerged as world’s number one ranked bowler in T-20 cricket in 2021 and into the bargain Sri Lanka’s highest run scorer in ODIs last year. He was also world’s tenth highest run getter in ODIs in 2021.
Lead up to the three match ODI series against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka have suffered a massive blow with Hasaranga ruled out of the series having sustained a hamstring injury during the LPL. The leg-spinner has got a grade two tare and the medical staff are working around the clock to ensure that he will be fit for the series in Australia later next month.
With Hasaranga out, Sri Lanka are desperately hoping that Chameera pulls through and will be available for selection. The fast bowler had tested positive for COVID two weeks ago and the medical staff are yet to give him the go ahead to resume training. Although the members of the Sri Lankan team entered the bio-secure bubble yesterday in Kandy, Chameera remained in his hometown in Negombo as the doctors were yet to give him the green light.
Chameera has been outstanding in recent months as he provides the breakthroughs with the new ball and then when the ball loses its shine his extra pace becomes quite handy to unsettle batsmen.
Many fans seem to think that Zimbabwe is not a strong opposition. Sri Lanka paid a heavy price last time around for underestimating Zimbabwe when they toured the island as they suffered a first ever series defeat. The series loss was a bitter pill to swallow and Angelo Mathews stepped down as captain as the tourists recorded a come from behind win.
Kusal Janith Perera will not be part of the series as well as he is under rehabilitation and the plan seems to be getting him fully fit for the series in Australia. Dhananjaya de Silva also pulled out from the series due to personal reasons while Avishka Fernando, the explosive opener has tested positive for COVID forcing the selectors to scratch the barrel.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe coach Lalchand Rajput has been isolated in Colombo after his Rapid Antigen test done on landing in Colombo turned positive for Covid 19. The tourists arrived in the island yesterday and the coach did not travel to Kandy.
The first ODI of the three-match series will be played on the 16th at Pallekele.
Delicate issue of franchise cricket and NOCs
by Rex Clementine
Time was when franchise cricket was frowned upon. That was a decade or so ago. The reason for this is that unscrupulous player agents used underarm tactics to get their players released from national commitments. There was very little Sri Lanka Cricket could do as franchise owners like N. Srinivasan, at one point cricket’s most powerful man as Secretary of Board of Control for Cricket in India, dictated terms and one could only feel sorry for the plight of SLC.
In 2009, SLC even had to cancel a tour of England as players were up in arms. With key figures like Srinivasan on their side, players had their wish. Those players have now moved on and at present hold key positions in administration. Now they say things differently.
Ten years ago, we just had the IPL but at present franchise cricket tournaments have mushroomed and there’s something that’s happening somewhere monthly. The IPL remains the big draw and although not many Sri Lankans are getting drafted in like they used to, there’s demand from other franchise league competitions.
Wanindu Hasaranga is the biggest draw as he’s world’s number one ranked bowler in T-20 cricket and the board has given him No Objection Certificates whenever there’s been no international commitments.
That should be the case with other players too. Many of us do not endorse everything that Bhanuka Rajapaksa does but his premature retirement could have been the result of him not being able to get frequent NOCs from the board.
Bhanuka is a contracted player and he requires SLC’s clearance to take part in franchise tournaments. Last year he missed out on a couple of T-20 leagues and he may have incurred losses around US$ 60,000 or more.
SLC’s plight is twofold; one is that they need all their contracted players fresh for national commitments and the other is that they can only pick players for national duty depending on their performance in domestic cricket and not on overseas competition. So they have got to strike a balance between the two.
One way to address the issue is to give players decent contracts. The fringe players who have not got elite contracts like Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Angelo Perera are on annual contracts with SLC that offers them US$ 6000. That’s Rs. 1.2 million and virtually it would come to Rs. 100,000 a month. That sum is not sufficient for someone like Bhanuka to feed his eight dogs leave alone looking after a family.
Another way of dealing with the problem is to allow players a minimum of say two overseas league tournaments when there are no international commitments. Surely, a T-20 specialist will be better off playing overseas league tournaments than let’s say, making himself available for First Class cricket.
We have the classic example of Isuru Udana, a T-20 specialist, who retired prematurely from international cricket so that he could be a freelancer playing franchise cricket in different countries.
Having said all that, Rajapaksa has been in public attention for reasons other than fans would remember him for. He is no doubt a player with immense potential but how many matches has he won Sri Lanka? Is it more than a handful? A player is doing little favours for himself by burning bridges. We have seen too many of them and let’s hope that we start talking of Bhanuka more and more for his cricketing excellence. Not two kilometer run, skin folds tests or NOCs.
Sri Lanka clinch series after bowling out Zimbabwe for lowest total at Pallekele
Rex Clementine at Pallekele
The deciding third ODI between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe turned out to be an anti-climax after the hosts shot out the tourists for 70 runs in just 24.4 overs to complete a massive 184 run win and wrap up the three match series 2-1 at Pallekele International Stadium yesterday. It’s the lowest total at Pallekele with the previous lowest being Sri Lanka’s 167 all out against South Africa in 2013.
It was an outstanding show by the bowlers after a below par effort by the batsmen as Sri Lanka were able to drive away the ghosts of 2017 where Zimbabwe came from behind to hand Angelo Mathews side a shock series defeat. It was their first and only series win over Sri Lanka in three decades.
There was a scare once again with Zimbabwe squaring the series on Tuesday with a 22 run win and in the final ODI Sri Lanka’s batsmen did not cover themselves in glory. The bowling, however, was terrific, putting early pressure and picking up wickets at regular intervals and it was a one-sided contest at the end.
If a current bowler resembles Michael Holding, ‘Rolls Royce of fast bowlers’, Dushmantha Chameera has got to be that. The world’s highest wicket taker in 2021, skipped the first ODI as he had not been medically cleared to play after testing positive for COVID. He was not all that effective on his comeback on Tuesday but yesterday he was on the money bowling with fire and Zimbabwe were not well equipped to take him on.
In his second over, he had Regis Chakabva caught at first slip and in the very next ball captain Craig Ervine edged one to the keeper as Zimbabwe were reduced to three for two wickets. They never recovered.
The spinners came on and tightened the grip with Jeffrey Vandersay being the pick of the bowlers claiming four wickets. Ramesh Mendis chipped in with two wickets. Only two batsmen crossed double figures and none managed a score of 20.
Pathum Nissanka batted superbly for his half-century and added 80 runs for the first wicket with Kusal Mendis. It was his second half-century in the series and he was named Player of the Series.
After a good start, Sri Lanka lost a few quick wickets and were 149 for four in the 31st over. Charith Asalanka then held the innings together stitching a few valuable partnerships with the lower middle order. He made 52. A 48 run stand for the seventh wicket between Ramesh Mendis (26) and Chamika Karunaratne (30) helped Sri Lanka to their eventual total of 254.
Apart from the series win, Sri Lanka will gladly pick up 20 points in the ICC Cricket World Cup Super League. Sri Lanka moved up to the fourth position in the table and need to remain in top seven to automatically qualify for next year’s World Cup.
Athapaththu, Sri Lanka too strong for Kenya
ICC Commonwealth Games Qualifier 2022
Sri Lanka’s spinners restricted Kenya to 87 for six before captain Chamari Athapaththu struck 57 off 29 balls to power Sri Lanka to a nine-wicket win on the third day of the ICC Commonwealth Games Qualifier 2022 at the Kinrara Oval in Kuala Lumpur.
Sri Lanka won the toss and chose to bowl in a match they dominated virtually throughout even though their bowlers got off to a shaky start, conceding seven wides in the first three overs.
Sri Lanka’s infielders were just as sharp as in the first game against Scotland that they won by 109 runs. Kavisha Dilhari’s direct hit sent opener Mary Mwangi back to the dugout before Kenya captain Margaret Ngoche was trapped in front by Inoka Ranaweera.
Kavisha Dilhari was introduced into the attack in the eighth over, bowling a maiden, which included the run out of Sharon Juma. This brought Sarah Bhakita to the crease. The powerful right-hander wasted no time, pulling a delivery into deep mid-wicket for four before she launched Ranaweera over her head for six.
Not to be left behind, opener Queentor Abel drove Dilhari against the spin and through the covers for two boundaries in the 14th over. Athapaththu broke the 45-run partnership between Abel and Bhakita, trapping the former in front with the score on 71 after 16 overs. Bhakita departed soon after, miscuing a Dilhari delivery into the hands of Ama Kanchana at mid-wicket.
Sri Lanka only conceded nine runs in the final three overs to restrict the East Africans to 87 for six.
In reply, Sri Lanka were in an aggressive mood right from the first over. Vishmi Gunaratne lofted Lavendah Idambo over mid-on for her first boundary of a run-a-ball knock of 26. Mercyline Ochieng came in for some treatment in the second over as Athapaththu cleared the off side circle twice for a pair of boundaries to get her innings going.
Things would go from bad to worse for Kenya who were helpless in the face of the assault from Athapaththu, who had struck 86 off 45 in Sri Lanka’s earlier win over Scotland. The left-hander flicked Mwangi off her pads for her first of three maximums, taking 16 off the final over of a Powerplay, which yielded 57 runs.
Two overs later, Sarah Bhakita was carted over her head for six by the Sri Lankan skipper before she was swept over the deep mid-wicket boundary off the very next delivery.
With five runs required for victory, Athapaththu was stumped off the bowling of a jubilant Esther Wachira. Sri Lanka, however, had no issues hunting down what remained of the target, winning with 63 balls to spare.
Kenya skipper Margaret Ngoche remained optimistic in spite of the loss.
“We bowled too many extras, but the girls did well. We put up a fight,” she said.
Athapaththu was asked about Dilhari’s development, and she responded by heaping praise on the off spinner.
“Kavisha is one of our main bowlers who we rely on to keep the opposition in check. Today, she flighted the ball and drew the batters to make mistakes. We hope she keeps doing this in the remaining games,” she said.
Athapaththu also took home the Player of the Match award, yet she expects even more from herself going forward in the tournament.
“This is how I always play. By my standards, I’m still not fully satisfied, and I feel I can still tighten up my game. I look forward to the next few games,” she said.
87/6 in 20 Overs
Mary Mwangi 33, Sarah Wetoto 29 ; Chamari Athapaththu 1/10
89/1 in 9.3 Overs.
Vishmi Gunaratne 26 not out, Chamari Athapaththu 57; Esther Wachira 1/04
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