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Cricket bets accepted in Sporting Times

D.S. de Silva Chairman
of Interim Committee

 What does your conscience say 'DS'?

By Lal Gunesekera

Some interesting revelations have surfaced regarding the eligibility of Silva holding any office at Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), let alone as chairman of the Interim Committee (IC), in keeping with regulations of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

The Sunday Leader is in possession of the 36 page race paper named Sporting Times of March 21, published by the E.W. Balasuriya betting organisation.

Perusing this race card carefully, it was observed that betting on cricket matches too was prominently displayed. There was betting on various aspects of the game pertaining to the third days play of the Third Test match between South Africa and Australia at Newlands, Cape Town on page 28 and the Women's World Cup final between England and New Zealand at the North Sydney Oval on page 36.

When Sri Lanka plays other countries in Tests, ODIs and Twenty 20 bets are accepted on similar lines.

Bets are taken from the toss onwards and The Sunday Leader learns that it is not only confined to Sri Lanka, but in a much bigger way in other Test playing countries like India, England, Australia etc. In England the book makers operate from a huge tent on the grounds itself, to receive bets.

Under these circumstances, it is impossible to accept that a head of a Cricket Board (elected or otherwise) could be aligned in whatever from to book makers who accept betting on cricket, leave alone horse racing.

There are two leading book makers in Sri Lanka publishing race papers and accepting bets. One is Sporting Star of the Sumathipala family and they accept bets only on horse and grey hound races. The other publication is Sporting Times which is owned by the Balasuriya family, who accept bets on horse, grey hound racing, cricket, football and sometimes even beauty pageants.

At the maiden media briefing of the IC held in March 18 (Wednesday), Chairman D.S. de Silva, admitted that he is married into the Balasuriya family and that he had dealings on bookmaking in the past, though not having "any connections" to the gaming industry now.

Being the son-in-law of this leading bookmaker who accepts bets on cricket, can "DS" head the IC of SLC or even be a member of this body?

"DS" will be paid

Though SLC states that 'DS' will serve in an honourary capacity as Chairman of the IC Minister Lokuge said that he ('DS') will continue to draw his "allowance" as an advisor to President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Ajith - Additional CEO?

Air Commodore (RTD) Ajith Jayasekera is to be appointed soon as Additional CEO of SLC . The  CEO is Duleep Mendis. This post was not advertised.

So where is the transparency that "DS" talks about? Mendis is to discuss this development and his future at SLC with Minister Lokuge.

Minister wants report

Minister Gamini Lokuge has requested for a report from the IC "As soon as possible" after a letter was handed over to him on Wednesday (March 25) evening by the wife of B.H. Perera, who is alleged to have been assaulted by IC member Pramodya "Pole Vaulter" Wickramasinghe at the SLC headquarters on March 18.

"Mrs. B.H. Perera arrived and handed over the letter during a discussion I was having with the IC. D.S. de Silva denied that an assault took place. I told them that if  such a thing did occur,  it was wrong and for the IC to settle it" said Minister Lokuge.

Minister Lokuge also told The Sunday Leader that no person by the name of Suraj Dandeniya has been given an appointment by him (The Minister) for any post at SLC.

However, The Sunday Leader understands that Dandeniya operates from  the same room as that of the IC Chairman, D.S.  de Silva, and that he (Dandeniya) is the Co-ordinating Secretary.

Nothing over Rs. 25,000

The Minister has also informed the IC, that if any person is recruited, and if the salary is over Rs. 25,000, approval has to obtained from the Minister.

Not Shane Fernando

The Sunday Leader story Titled 'Podi Sir seems to have meet his waterloo at last' was not referring to Shane Fernando who instigated B.H.Perera to interrupt the media briefing of the IC for SLC on March 18.

Why ds: Is it to get the h'tota job done?

THERE'S no shortage of reasons to question the appointment of Dandeniyage Somachandra De Silva as chief of Sri Lanka cricket. Predictably, the announcement by the Sport Ministry of the controversial appointment a fortnight ago took all by surprise - all except, of course, the mandarins whose decision it was to place him up there.

 His name, to be sure, had never been spoken of as a likely candidate to replace Arjuna Ranatunga, deposed nearly three months ago. Even if it had, the suggestion might've been waved away for, among other reasons, being "unknown quantity''.  A receding generation may remember DS, as he was then popularly known, by his brief two-year Test career, 1982 through to '84. But to a younger generation that had tasted the heady delights of 1996 and other world-class achievements by our cricketers of a later era, DS was. well, DS-who.

His name again re-emerged briefly in public in 1999, as coach of the Sri Lanka under-19 team that finished number 2 in the Junior World Cup - after which he again disappeared into obscurity.  It turns out that since relinquishing his job as junior national coach nearly ten years ago, he has as good as made England his home.

A parachutist

So, it's not surprising that some hold the view that a parachutist has been unfairly presented with what is singly the most important sport job in the country. His harsher critics who don't need a second invitation to trash him will label him opportunist - and cast doubts about the sincerity of his commitment. To doubt his ability to steer the sport that is the country's pride is understandable, for no other reason than that he has lived away from us for so long and so is a person we know very little about. Public trust and he are at two ends of a long bridge.  

What we know of him, though, doesn't quite inspire confidence. But give the man a break. He's hardly settled in the chair yet, and to write him off as a basket case, as some have, is being unfairly hasty. The man is not a naught-case. With his long playing experience, especially as a professional in the English minor league, he is capable of contributing some worthy ideas, in terms of technicalities, for the game's betterment.

The brevity of his Test career might suggest otherwise, but the truth is that he was a useful all rounder in his time  -so useful that he was given the reins of captaincy when appointed-leader Duleep Mendis broke a bone early in the 1983 tour of New Zealand. There's little doubt DS would've enjoyed a longer life at the top level were he not a retiring-40 years when the doors of Test cricket opened to the country.

So, as far as cricketing knowledge is concerned, DS won't be an ornamental head. But the point is that quality alone does not a good cricketing chief make. The job is hugely responsible, requiring the combined skills of a persuasive diplomat, a hard-nosed businessman and the cunning of a politician. It's the sort of job that will ideally suit corporate CEOs types, with cricketing pedigree- the likes of Michael Tissera, Sidat Wettimuny, Chandra Schafter or S. Skandakumar.

The last time round, they tried out one for pure cricketing reasons as chief, World Cup winning captain, Ranatunga, no less. If the cricketer turned politician's year in office hadn't been half as disastrous as it was, then, DS might've not had a look in. It has to be said, however, that Ranatunga's undoing was his failure to control the politician in him. Had he chosen to give free rein to the cricketer rather than the politician, he might have saved his job. That is by the way.

Wearing two hats

Anyway, we were talking about how much more suitable the likes of Tissera, Wettimuny, Schafter or Skandakumar might've been for the chief's job. Unfortunately, they weren't either considered or thought unsuitable for reasons only those who made the appointment know. Wettimuny and Skandakumar reportedly were invited to join DS's team, but politely refused, perhaps due to his family's connection with the gaming industry or the dubious nature of his appointment, given that he is a serving employee of the Board. He fended off these charges, claiming he personally isn't a part of the family's gambling business and believes that, if the two jobs he holds carry separate responsibilities, there's no wrong in wearing two hats.

 Be that as it may, DS's curricular vitae certainly doesn't compare favourably with those of the aforesaid four some. To be fair, though, it has to be said that, the man might've been a playground instructor with the Colombo Municipality before he became a full-time cricketer, but his exposure to life in England during his long years with Lincolnshire and Shropshire in the minor county league and permanent residence there for much of the last decade might've equipped him for the chief's job in better measure than his early past suggests.

It is a safe assumption that he'll choose to tread on familiar ground, which is cricket and the cricketers - and perhaps leave matters of business and finance in the hands of the professionals. Cricket and the cricketers, it has to be admitted, weren't given quite the desired treatment under Ranatunga's year long stewardship. It is common knowledge there was much bad blood between the previous administration and national cricketers, caused mostly by the much-publicised England tour v. IPL controversy - an issue which triggered the  sensitive Cash v. Country debate, with opponents of IPL questioning the patriotism of 13 national players contracted to the big-money Twenty20 league.

There was also the sudden acceptance of a tour, outside the Future Tours Programme, to Pakistan - a tour that the cricketers clearly would've preferred to undertake sometime later as it was tailed to the tours to Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. The weary cricketers, so, were compelled to fly out of Dacca to Karachi - for a series, which ironically was aborted before completion for the dreadful reasons you and the world know.

The administration-players relationship had touched its nadir during Ranatunga's term - which rather fortuitously provides DS with a chance to make a favourable impression early in the job. He's already moved in that direction by promptly having the players' contracts ready for signatures - something the last administration haggled over last year, presumably intending to offer more frugal terms to the players.

It's also fortuitous coincidence that the Sri Lanka captain too is a new appointee. One thinks the new cricket chief and the new captain will together bring fresher zeal and ideas to the game, and so, hopefully, create an environment conducive for success. But it's DS who will have to contribute more to creating that climate. An over-assertion of his powers to push through what he thinks is best for the team can easily dislocate the relationship. He, after all, will be dealing with a captain of exceptional intelligence.

Man of his own mind

Kumar Sangakkara has come across as a man of his own mind; one who won't suffer fools, which, history shows, our Board is full of. He is not the one to manage his team to others' pleasing and would prefer little interference from those in power. This is not to cast doubt on DS's adherence to the accepted code of conduct, but obviously he's filled with enthusiasm, which, if not channeled wisely, can so easily backfire on the game.

As national cricketer himself, DS is obviously aware of the sensitivities of leadership and would give Sangakkara the space that is his. On matters concerning cricket and the cricketers, it is safe to assume DS, as chief, will know the dos and don'ts.

What can't be safely assumed, though, is whether he will bend to the whims of politicians, whose appointee he is. He has reportedly said he'll brook no nonsense from any quarters. But in the same breath he admits his appointment was at the behest of the President. Whether that means, he won't act contrary to the President's wishes is left to be seen.

President Rajapaksa doesn't hide his love of sport, and has seldom shied away from gracing sport events, notwithstanding security concerns: He watches his sons' rugby matches, flew all the way to Barbados for the World Cup final as well as attended the Beijing Olympics. He's feted outstanding sport personalities and teams at Temple Trees. With his man as chief, one hopes his interest in cricket will remain the detached-love it's always been.

However, signs are it won't, if the way DS speaks about plans to build a stadium in the president's electorate in time for the 2011 World Cup is any indication. Sport chiefs in their maiden media briefings normally speak of international ambitions, in the case of cricket, the World Cup. But,  DS in his first meet-the-press session, speaking so passionately about a new stadium for Hambantota, it is forgivable to think that he's doing the President's bidding.

The foundations to the Hambantota Stadium have yet to be built, and it's early days to be seriously debating on the matter. But some questions begged to be asked even now: 1) Isn't it one too many stadiums for the south, given Galle has one? 2) Would the investment in a brand new stadium be better spent upgrading the present five Test venues? 3) Is cricket in deep south active enough in terms of numbers and competitions to merit a stadium and 4) With local activity lacking when Dambula got its stadium, inevitably, it fell into long neglect. Would not the same fate befall the planned stadium deep south?

This is not to say with certainty that a new stadium would be a white elephant. But then stadiums aren't cheap, and the SLC is no BCCI as far as financial resources go. Successive administrations have had to grapple with empty coffers, not surprisingly as our cricket, by and large, is financed by income from the sale of television rights. And here too, there's reason to doubt if we are striking the best deals possible. It is no secret that with every new administration, a new television contract is sought, if not actually signed- amid accusations of payments of commissions being made to powers that be. Commission-percentage rather than the best financial return apparently decides who gets the contract.

It would've been nice to hear DS declaring intentions of cleaning up cricket administration, investing more on development and such clich‚s new chiefs of sport are wont to say- than utter sentiments that rouse suspicion he might be H.E.'s proxy - in so far as securing for the Deep South an international stadium fit to host World Cup matches. 

Dig Lewke interferes once more

By Lal Gunesekera

Senior Dig Nimal Lewke, the previous president of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU), who resigned from this post a few weeks prior to the annual general meeting of the governing body, has interfered once again with the administration of the Interim Committee of the SLRFU, who were appointed by Minister Gamini Lokuge on January 22.

He (Lewke) has written to the Secretary of the Ministry of Sports, S. Liyanagama, on a letter head of the Police Sports Club of which Lewke is the Chairman of Police Rugby on February 18, stating the importance of the forthcoming Four Nation Asian Division I Tournament in April and for the selectors to decide on the captaincy. He states for the Ministry to call for a report from Chaminda Rupasinghe, who was an Observer on the tour of Chinese Taipei last November to give his views and recommendations about the performance of the two captains, who were DIG Lewke's own son Dushanth from CR & FC and Dilanka Wijeratne of CH & FC.

DIG Lewke, who was transferred to Vavuniya last week, has no authority to make such a request from the Ministry of Sports. He no longer holds any office at the SLRFU and both players he has mentioned are not members of the Police team. Also  one  player he has mentioned is Dilanka Wijesekera and not Wijeratne. DIG Lewke does not seem to know the names of even top Sri Lankan players.

Following the Lewke letter to the Ministry of Sports, its assistant secretary Miss. D. G. Pathirage has called for observations from Chaminda Rupasinghe in a letter dated March 17.

Rupasinghe in his reply to the Sports Ministry request, states in his letter dated March 24, that the national selectors have represented Sri Lanka at the highest level both locally and internationally, and have the knowledge and experience required on matters pertaining to the sport.

He (Rupasinghe) further in this letter states that DIG Lewke has not even represented Sri Lanka in rugby and then it's a mystery why police should be interested in two players who represent their clubs.

This is not the first occasion DIG Lewke had  interfered with the selectors who are appointed by the Sports Minister. DIG Lewke wrote to Brigadier (Rtd) Jupana Jayawardene (who headed the selectors at that time) on July 30 last year (2008) giving the criteria required to captain Sri Lanka, trying to dictate terms to selectors who should be independent. This was over the Chinese tour last November, where DIG Lewke even wanted  IGP Jayantha Wickramaratne to take disciplinary action against ASP Hafeel Marso, one of the national selectors.

Players asked for explanation

Meanwhile the Interim Committee, has called fox explanations from 25 players for reasons why they have not been attending national pool practices (7's and 15's) which commenced on March 2,without valid reasons.

These players include 10 from CR&FC (including Dushanth Lewke), two from Havelocks, four from Navy, three from CH&FC, two from police, two from Army and one from Air Force. Kandy's Jeeva Galgamuwa has retired.

CR's double talk

CR&FC has agreed to conduct the Club 7's at Longden Place, look for a sponsor to cover the cost of the tournament and even agreed to offer the SLRFU 5 per cent of the income as royalty. This was stated in a letter dated January 12, sent by CR's Director of Sports, Dilroy Fernando, to the then Deputy President of the SLRFU, Asanga Seneviratne.

But what transpired later is surprising. CR had informed the Interim Committee that their budget to conduct the 7's was Rs 483, 700 and have requested payment.

Included in the budget was Rs 82, 600 for the grounds, Rs 154, 000  for water at Rs. 35 per bottle, Rs 8000 for the usage of fans, and a further sum of 50,000  citing miscellaneous expenses.

The Sunday Leader learns that kandy sports Club did not charge a single cent as ground hire for the club 7's at Nittawela, and that they (Kandy) charged only Rs 12.50 for a bottle of water. Kandy's budget was lesson than Rs 150, 000.

IRB responds

The international Rugby Board (IRB) has informed the IC of the SLRFU on March 20 through David Carrigy, who was in Colombo recently, with Gerard Gallagher, that the comments attributed to them in a recent newspaper article (not The Sunday Leader) was not for public comment and that the interpretation is not that of the IRB. Carrigy also states in his e-mail of March 20 that they (the IRB) will write to the Sports Minister about their findings and that no decision has been taken on continued funding at this stage.

'What is all this fuss about an IC?'

By Lal Gunesekera

The two officials of the International Rugby Board (IRB), David Carigy and Gerrard Gallagher, were not only in Sri Lanka to avail themselves regarding the governance of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU), but also to garner support of the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of Sri Lanka to get rugby included in the Olympic Games via the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

President of the NOC, Hemasiri Fernando, was also invited for this discussion over dinner hosted by the Interim Committee for SLRFU held at the Galadari Hotel on the first day of their visit.

The IRB representatives had also met Minister of Sports and Public Recreation, Gamini Lokuge, Interim Committee members, DIG Nimal Lewke (former President of SLRFU), Asanga Seneviratne (Former Deputy President, RFU), Dilroy Fernando (Former Executive Director SLRFU) Representatives of 'A' Division clubs, presidents of provincial unions and Kishu Gomes, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Caltex Lubricants.

The visit of Carigy and Gallger concluded with another meeting with the Interim Committee at the Peach Valley Chinese Restaurant where the IC proved to the IRB representatives that even Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) has an Interim Committee for over 10 years and that they are recognised by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and that Sri Lanka play regularly in ICC tournaments, including the World Cup.

The SLRFU, IC also told the IRB representatives that swimming too is run by an IC which is recognised by FINA and that two swimmers (Mayumi Rahim and Daniel Lee) swam at last years Olympics in China - Badminton too is under an IC and Thilini Jayasinghe competed at the Beijing Olympics and this IC is also recognised by the BWF and ABC too. Tennis too has an IC and Sri Lanka competes in the Davis cup and recognised by the ITF and ATF.

Kiran Atapattu, Secretary cum Treasurer of the SLRFU IC, said that nothing is wrong with an Interim Committee, and asked what all the fuss was about for the IC for rugby.

Anthony's visit to Taj

At the final discussion with the IRB representatives over dinner, Carigy, had stated that the previous treasurer of the SLRFU Nandamithra Anthony, had visited them at the Taj Samudra Hotel and had said that all payments were authorised by him (Treasurer) only after council approval.

Rs 16 Lakhs for U-16 tourney

What The Sunday Leader found out was that Anthony had conveniently "forgotten" to confess that Rs. 1.6 million paid to the Western Province RFU for the Inter-Provincial Development Schools under-16, 12-A-side tournament in June last year (2008) was never approved by the Council and two cash cheques were made out to certain parties.

These Under-16 children from rural areas were housed in dormitories at the Centre for Society and Religion at Deans Road, St. Benedict's College, Kotahena, Zahira College, Maradana and E. W. W. Kannangara MV in Borella.

The Sunday Leader investigation also found out that the officials were housed in luxury comfort at the Orchid Inn Hotel in Wellawatte and that they occupied 15 rooms for the two days.

What a menu!

Also revealed was that the expenses for this two-day tournament meant for under-16 kids included devilled kadalay, devilled chicken, French fries, devilled cuttle fish, chicken fried rice, arrack, beer, soda and Pall Mall cigarettes! What a menu for under - 16 kids!

Haris omar was paid rs. 1.6  million for the now infamous Asian Dragons tour also without Council approval for a cheering squad, papara band, DJ, transport, buffet lunch, 'T' shirts etc. Omar has paid back Rs. 175,000 thousand and legal action is to be taken soon to recover the balance.

Sumanapala chief of boxing coaches

U. A. T. SUMANAPALA, one-time National Feather Weight champion, was voted President of the Sri Lanka Amateur Boxing Coaches Association, replacing R K Indrasena, the 2007 and 08 chief.

The retired soldier defeated SI Bandula Gamage, 31 votes to 18, in the recent AGM of the SLABCA.

Sumanapala, who earlier served a three-year stint as president in 2001-03, vowed to improve the level of coaching, especially at the junior level in the outstations. "The ABA's provincial development program has brought about an upsurge in interest among rural kids. It is the responsibility of my association to ensure these lads receive proper coaching - and for this purpose, we sent over 20 coaches to the Patila Sport Institute (in India) for specialised training,'' said 68-year Sumanapala, 1966 National champion.

His record as a coach has been outstanding. He coached St John's Nugegoda to prominence, with more than a few of his products being adjudged Best Boxer at Stubbs Shield meets. He also coached with success at the senior level, and by way of acknowledging his achievements; he was selected to manage the national team at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester as well as the King's Cup in 2002 and the President's Cup in Indonesia.

Cricket - Schools Under 19

Dharmasoka in stunning 15 run win

Dharmasoka College Ambalangoda, pulled off a stunning 15 run victory over the more fancied Ananda College team in their Munchee inter school under 19 knock out limited overs cricket tournament pre quarter final fixture worked off at Ananda Mawatha on Friday.

The Sokians did well to defend their modest total of 156 for 9 by dismissing the strong Ananda batting line up for 141 runs with Imesh Udayanga claiming three wickets for 19.

Dharmasoka: 156 for 9 in 46 overs (L. Ashen 28, A. Kavinda 43, P. Madushan 3 for 23, S. Wijesuriya 2 for 34)

Ananda: 141 in 41.4 overs (R. Herath 23, D. Chandimal 23, S. Devage 19, I. Rangana 2 for 25, I. Udayanga 3 for 19)

St. Joseph's by 110 runs

Left arm spinner Supeshalla Jayatilleke captured five wickets for 16 as St. Joseph's College defeated Maris Stella College Negombo by 110 runs in their Munchee inter school under 19 knock out limited overs cricket tournament quarterfinal match worked off at the CCC grounds in Maitland Crescent on Friday.

St. Joseph's: 243 for 9 in 50 overs (S. Perera 42, S. Weerasinghe 18, C. Kumara 37, R. Tatil 39, J. Jayasinghe 34, T. Rajasuriya 30 n.o, V. Dassanayake 4 for 23, A. Silva 2 for 39)

Maris Stella: 133 in 36.5 overs (S. de Silva 45, A. Silva 25, D. Chanaka 27, S. Jayatilleke 5 for 16, D. Dhambarage 2 for 23, S. Weerasinghe 2 for 22)

Ananda Sastralaya in command

Ananda Sastralaya, Kotte dominated the opening days play in their 18th annual inter school Big Match against their traditional rivals St. John's College Nugegoda which commenced at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium on Friday.

St. John's College were struggling at 31 for 3 at stumps after Ananda Sastralaya had reached a healthy 207 runs in their first innings.

Ananda Sastralaya: 207 (H. Madushanka 45, M. Madushan 31, A. Madushanka 23, I. Sheriff 21, A. Hisham 18, P. Indeevara 3 for 34, R. Amantha 3 for 8, H. Perera 2 for 30)

St. John's: 31 for 3 (K. Paranathala 2 for 4)

D. S. held to a draw

D. S. Senanayake College took major honours in their third annual Battle of the Golds inter school Big Match against their traditional rivals Mahanama College which ended in a draw at the SSC grounds in Maitland Place on Friday.

Mahanama College were dismissed for 172 runs in their first innings with off spinner Malith Wickremasinghe claiming a superb five wickets haul. They were forced to follow on and collapsed to 94 for 5 in their second innings with Sri Lanka youth captain Navin Kavikara capturing four wickets.

D. S. Senanayake 281

Mahanama: 172 (R. Welikannage 30, S. Ruberu 42, L. Weerakoon 26 n.o, M. Wickremasinghe 5 for 50, C. Jayampathy 2 for 37, N. Kavikara 2 for 40) and 94 for 5 (A. Perera 51 n.o, N. Kavikara 4 for 34)

Rosberg fastest as F1 blasts off

Williams driver Nico Rosberg clocked the fastest laps of both practice sessions as the new Formula 1 season burst into life in Melbourne.

Toyota, Brawn GP and Williams - who all fought off a Thursday protest about the legality of their cars - shone the brightest on an intriguing afternoon.

Britain's Lewis Hamilton, the world champion, struggled in his McLaren to finish 16th then 18th.

Red Bull put in a strong second session while Ferrari had a mixed day.

Ahead of the richly-anticipated opening action of the 2009 season, motorsport's governing body, the FIA, had rejected a protest made by Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault about the legality of a key part at the back of the cars used by Williams, Brawn GP and Toyota.

It had been claimed their rear diffusers do not conform to new F1 regulations, but stewards ruled against the complaint.

And it was those cars that were fastest around Melbourne's Albert Park street circuit, with the traditionally more successful teams suffering.

In the first session, Rosberg came through to take the fastest time - one minute 26.687 seconds - from Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen on his last lap of 19, while team-mate Kazuki Nakajima finished second.

The German ran even quicker in the second session, clocking 1:26.053, while Japan's Nakajima finished up seventh.

"It's been a positive day," said Rosberg. "We've done very well today but it's not clear how much fuel others were running.

"My hopes are higher than before that we can consistently score points. It's a nice step forward but how much, I cannot say."

New team Brawn GP also backed up their impressive performance in testing with a strong showing.

The former Honda team led by owner Ross Brawn were tipped as pre-race favourites and, on this early showing, there is every indication that may be justified.

Veteran Rubens Barrichello, at 37 the oldest driver on the grid, finished fourth and second in the respective sessions with a fastest time of 1:26.157.

England's Jenson Button - widely identified as the pre-race favourite by bookies - finished sixth and fifth with a fastest time of 1:26.374.

Though little can be read into practice times - teams merely use these sessions to determine their qualifying and race tactics - Toyota will also be heartened by their performance.

Drivers Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, both running on the softer of the two tyre types available, led for much of the second session and eventually finished third and sixth respectively.

Also on the seemingly more responsive softer tyres, Raikkonen led for most of the first session but eventually finished third for the constructor's champions.

In the second session, he finished 11th with Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa one place ahead.

McLaren were slow throughout, which was largely expected given the problems they had experienced in pre-season testing.

Heikki Kovalainen finished fifth in the first session but team-mate Hamilton was well off the pace and both were in the last four places in the second session.

"It's tough for anyone [being at the back] but I have a lot of experience running at the back in other categories," said Hamilton.

"But we are not in the place we want to be. We have a steep and tough challenge but we have to remain positive and keep pushing."

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso failed to shine in his Renault, finishing 10th in the first session and 12th in the second, while BMW Sauber had troubles with their car and were not as quick as anticipated after strong test showings leading up to Melbourne.

Red Bull suffered in the first session, with drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel managing just 11 laps between them.

But Webber hit back to finish fourth in the second session with a time of 1:26.370, though Vettel again span out.

Ferrari, McLaren and Renault, along with BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, ran with the new kinetic energy recovery (Kers), which gives drivers a power boost.

Murray in sight of rankings climb

Andy Murray is targeting victory at the Sony Ericsson in Miami - a result that could take him to a career-high third place in the world rankings.

The Scot needs to reach the final to raise the prospect of surpassing Novak Djokovic and said: "I go into every tournament wanting to win."

Murray has a first-round bye and faces Juan Monaco in his opener  after he beat Marc Gicquel 6-0 6-4.

Rafael Nadal will play Teimuraz Gabashvili, who beat Simone Bolelli.

The Russian defeated his Italian opponent 6-4 4-6 6-4 to set up the second-round encounter with the top seed.

Nadal, who like most of the top seeds had a first-round bye, is in the same half of the tournament as Murray.

The pair met in the final of the Indian Wells Masters 1000 last weekend, with the Spaniard winning 6-1 6-2.

Murray could become the first Briton since the rankings began in 1973 to reach the top three if he does reach the final.

The Scot is more than 3,000 ranking points ahead of Nikolay Davydenko in fifth place but dismissed claims there is a significant gulf between the top four and the rest.

"The difference in points would suggest there's a big gap," admitted Murray.

"But on any given day, I would think that any of those guys could beat the top four players.

"I think that's why right now tennis is in a really good spot because it's not that predictable."

Meanwhile, Roger Federer is hoping to end a drought of 12 Masters events without a win.

The former world number one has won 14 times at the elite Masters level but not since Cincinnati in August 2007.

"I hope this year I can change that and get on a good roll again," said the Swiss star, who will face Kevin Kim in his opening match.

"I've done so well over the last few years I'd like to win a few again."

Lyceum, Wattala emerge champions

Lyceum International School (Wattala) emerged champions at the Inter - International Schools under - 13 Cricket Tournament organized by Lyceum (Nugegoda). They beat Colombo International School by 8 wickets at Wattala.

CIS:- 112 in 33.3 overs (Deeraj Danasinghani 24, Roshan Perera 23, Thushara Dharmadasa 23, Thilanka de Soysa 2 for 6 Sanjeew kumaraswamy 2 for 31, Daham Dias 2 for 36).

Lyceum, (Wattala):- 115 for 2 in 20.1 overs (Mohamed Rahil not out 59, Chelaka Mallawaarachchi 38).

Rahil was adjudged the Player of the finals and Mallawaarchchi Batsman of the Series and Best Fielder of the Tournament.

Selectors for aquatic sports

Azim Azain has been appointed Chairman of the Selection Committee for aquatic sports which also comprises Samitha Perera, Natasha Kodituwakku, Wing Cmdr. Sanjaya Silva and Jehan Unantenne.








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