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All’s not lost after the loss

Kumar Sangakkara

Both Kumar Sangakkara and M.S. Dhoni, previewing the Compaq Cup Final, remarked the greatest importance of winning last Monday night would be the confidence derived for this week’s eight-nation Champions Trophy in South Africa. To propel “momentum’’ for the high-profile competition among the ODI cricket’s top eight countries is of crucial significance, they averred together, the day before the Monday final.

As it turned out, India won, and flew out to South Africa with optimism at the brim; credibility of their world no.2 ODI rank restored as well. Two nights before, their lofty standing was questioned by a huge defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka. Notoriously known as a team that chokes in a final, crucially here, India discovered ways to win the win that matters. So should they figure in the October 5, final showdown in Centurion (which as no.2 they are expected to), the legacy of the Compaq Cup final will stand them in good stead.

What, though, will Monday’s defeat do to Sri Lanka? Bummed-out, yes, at conceding the final to a team they had thrashed only the other night. Bankrupt of hopes for this week’s campaign, though, they aren’t. Sangakkara’s men, in fact, can take a share of pluses that aren’t normally losers’ entitlements. Just what those advantages we’ll leave for later; for now, let’s dwell on what was a captivating final.

The eventual 46-run margin of victory (which suggest an uninspiring contest) is a misnomer. But this final wasn’t just about winners and losers; it had other moments to remember. For one thing, it’s not often you get to see first-hand the reasons why Sachin Tendulkar is described the world’s greatest batsman. For the man himself to say it was one of the best innings he has played, you’d have to consider yourself fortunate to have been at the Premadasa Stadium on that day.

He produced all of the finest strokes from his armoury … armoury? The inappropriateness of that word jars – like aluminum thrust among precious metal!  A more appropriate simile for the array of his shot making would be: a display of the finest jewels from his treasure trove.

Maharajah of old

The deft cuts and glances, the drives and pulls were executed with the grace and elegance of a batsman born to cricketing aristocracy. So commanding was his dominance over the toiling Sri Lankans, he might’ve been a maharaja of old: Master of all he surveyed. He had batted for all but four of India’s 50 overs to make a 133-ball 138, the 44th. ODI century in his 20-year career. It was the head, body and tail of India’s innings of 316, a peak that was always going to be difficult to scale for the Sri Lankans.

A task of such enormity often leaves the questing side diminished and defeated even before the job begins. India, two nights before, was posed with a target roughly the same as what they set the home side in the final – and came up short by a stupendous 139 runs. This wasn’t the first time either that India had shrivelled when challenged to chase a huge Sri Lankan total. In the 2000 Sharjah tri-nation, set a target of 300 v. Jayasuriya’s Sri Lankans, India crumbled for 54 in the 27th. over.

The fate that befell the Indians two nights ago befalling the Sri Lankans in the final wasn’t such a chimerical prospect given the Premadasa pitch’s notoriety for releasing all its demons on its night users. But those demons were driven back. Huge as the task was, Sri Lanka’s batsmen battled in the belief that it was reachable. Visibly, the Indians at times were pushed from frustration to fright. And that they were driven to such depths of despair spoke much for the immense character of the Sri Lankans – a team that stands up and fight when the floor seems a better place to be on.

Finish second

It was not many weeks ago, when placed in a similar situation batting second, they overhauled Pakistan’s 288 in the third ODI at Dambulla. Monday’s challenge was of course sterner, and that it wasn’t  conceded before a stirring counterattack was waged, was a tribute to the team’s strength of character under the new leadership of Sangakkara – a necessary virtue for the coming battles in South Africa: v. the host country on Tuesday; v. England, Friday and New Zealand, next Sunday. To qualify for the semifinal, we would have to finish second in the group, a hopeful prospect given the daring displayed against the world’s second best.

The best advantage accruing for the lost final was the new-found reliability of the middle order, frighteningly fragile before last week’s competition. At 182/6 in the 28th over, the story of the final seemed as good as over. But the middle order, through Kandamby and Kapugedera, defied till the 40th over, at which point 80 was required, gettable given that five power-play overs were in the bank yet. Of course, the magic figure was not achieved, but the middle order had provided another reason to believe its bad days are behind, just as it did in the two previous matches.

Suffice it is to mention that the other batsman to join Tendulkar as the event’s only centurions was middle order, Samaraweera. And of the team’s three half centurions, two were middle order batsmen: Kandamby, twice, and Mathews.

Of the top order, only Jayasuriya managed a half-century – and that isn’t bad news either. After a run of four single-digit contributions, his 98 and 36 against India provides comforting thought that he goes to battle in South Africa with his form and confidence regained. The failure of our best two, Jayewardene and Sangakkara, can only mean that their big innings are due in the South Africa.

Tendulkar in flight

The bowling, admittedly, was disappointing in the final. But it is unfair to measure their performance on a day when Tendulkar was in sublime touch; even Australian attacks with the likes of McGrath, Lee and Warne have been brought down to earth by a Tendulkar in flight. It shouldn’t be forgotten our medium pacers, Kulasekera, Thushara, Malinga and Mathews, had previously restricted India to 168 and New Zealand to 119. On South African pitches far more conducive to them, the quartet’s potential enhances considerably. Mendis, perhaps, made least of the impressions, but then it’s a huge consolation that Muralidaran would be available in South Africa – freshened and eager to battle after sitting out the entire Compaq Cup campaign.

Sangakkara’s leadership is barely into six months, and though the ratio of success is remarkable, the proud man would hardly be satiated. A regret that sticks in his throat like a fish bone is the failure to win a final. His team went undefeated all the way to final of T20 World Cup only to concede the match that mattered most; ditto, the Compaq Cup final. He’ll not want to miss out a third time should his team qualify for the final.

Win at least two games

But the final is a long way away, with no easy yards to traverse. What Sangakkara’s men will have to do initially is win at least two of its three Group matches (against South Africa, England and New Zealand). The recent success over the Kiwis provides hope for a repeat, but South Africa, no.1 in the world, is going to be tough. That it is the first of our three Group encounters is a good thing, what ever the outcome. A loss to the hosts would leave us with two more games to redeem our semifinal chances. The recent ODI form of both opponents hasn’t been encouraging: England was blanked by Australia in the recent six-match series, and we all know what became of the Kiwis in Sri Lanka.

The determined Sangakkara, however, doesn’t need any one to tell him the advantages to be had from winning the opening encounter, the best of which is that it would virtually cover more than half passage to the semifinals. No doubt he’ll inspire his team to try and topple the world’s no.1 team, just as he did in the T20 World Cup opener against world champions, Australia. 

So, though the Compaq Cup was lost, there’s no reason to think the team’s confidence has been dented.

Tendulkar spoiled the party

When the Indians won the toss at the Compaq tri series final the advantage was with them. Something with the stats show that the team batting first have an advantage over the team following under lights. True as this may seem it also requires the team batting first to post a formidable total. The mere fact of winning the toss is not quite enough, which point is lost amongst many. It would be equal to saying that Sri Lanka would have won if the Indians were restricted to 250 runs.

The young players who watched this final would have noticed how Sachin Tendulkar paced  his innings. A perfect example of a class act taking his team to comfort levels by batting through to the end overs. Remember he did not have a target to chase but to post as many runs as possible taking minimum risks. In other words of players at high level “play maximum percentage shots” to bring home the bacon.

Our lads lent the Indians some help with wayward deliveries and a plethora of full length ones. They capitalised on these. Made full use of the extra deliveries in posting 300 plus some. We never got in though falling short of 300.

The margin may have looked smaller than what it really was but there was no question of a Sri Lankan victory once Kandamby and Kapugedera had departed.

Haji Omar: a great team man 

By Dr. Tony de Sylva 

Nizar Haji Omar, the former CR & FC and Ceylon Rugby captain passed away on June 22, 2009 – and I lost a close friend, a brother and a confidante, and a great rugby mate. I had had lunch with him at the CR just two days before his demise.

Haji burst onto the local rugby scene in the early 1960s and went on to become an invaluable member of the CR “pack”. I first came to know him when I joined the CR & FC in 1967. I liked the man instantly and we became close friends. He was a great “team man”, always encouraging new members of the CR team. I recall vividly, how his words of advice helped calm my nerves before my first game against the Havelocks, played before a crowd of over 15,000 people.

He was one of CR & FC’s and Ceylon’s best loose head prop forwards. Combining his strength and remarkable mobility, he was often seen covering the field in support of the three quarters. With ball in hand, Haji took the shortest route to the opposition goal line, and in doing so, ran straight into and over defenders who got in his way. This earned him the nickname of “The Sherman Tank.”

I felt Haji’s excellent qualities as a leader were best demonstrated in 1969, when he took over the captaincy of the CR & FC about a half hour into the opening game of the season, after Mohan Sahayam, the captain, was injured and did not return to play until the Semi Final of the knockout. Haji led the CR through a long and tough league season that lasted several months. The CR team had six, sometimes seven, young players that year, experiencing Clifford Cup rugby for the first time. It is a testimony to his excellent leadership qualities, not forgetting the astute coaching of Mahes Rodrigo, that CR won the Clifford Cup that year, and seven of the forwards represented Ceylon in the 1970 Rugby Asiad – a feat that will be difficult to equal.

It is said that our journey in life is like a journey in a train. We meet different people during that journey. Some of them leave an everlasting impression on others when they get off. Haji was one such person. I am grateful he enriched my life with his friendship and advice. Sadly, Haji has left the train for the final time. May the earth always lie softly over him.

On the playing field, I had the good fortune to pack down on the loose head side of the scrum and observe closely how Haji worked over his opposite number, making life very difficult for him. He displayed a toughness that pushed him to play through injuries without lowering his standard of play.

He was more than just an outstanding rugby player. When his playing days were over, he worked tirelessly for the CR & FC and for the SLRFU, becoming president of each organisation, and he gave back to rugby, what he had gained from the sport. He channelled his energy into improving the standard of the game, as a whole in Sri Lanka.

His invaluable contribution will be missed by all at the CR & FC. He was always a staunch advocate of discipline, on and off the field. He provided challenge and balance to many discussions and debate around the committee table. He was always extremely supportive of the Chair at such meetings. He never sought a high profile but could not help being in the limelight of rugby events. He worked quietly for the good of the team in his playing days, and for the CR & FC and the Rugby Union as a member of several committees. His contribution to rugby in Sri Lanka was outstanding.

Irwin in Sri Lanka 

By Hafiz Marikar 

Irwin Howie the famous ruggerite produced by Trinity College, is here on a short holiday with his wife Yevette. Irwin Howe is one of the finest fly halfs to come out of Trinity College.  He played for the school along with players like Tikiri Marambe, Mohan Samarakoon, Sam Samarasekera, Shafie Jainudeen, Anura Madawella, Nihal Marambe and  Mohan Balasuriya. Irwin won his rugger colours in 1969 and the coveted Lion in 1971 along with Y.S. Ping and Tikiri Marambe. From his school days he was famous for his long range kick, up-and-unders and drops.

After leaving school he played for Dickoya MMC and from their  he went  to CH & FC  for a short stint. Irwin crossed over to CR & FC where he gave his best and helped  the club to win several League and Knockout tournaments with  his knowledgable playing.

In 1975, he returned to his home town Kandy and played first for Kandy SC under Iswan Omar in 1975 and continued from their till he migrated to Australia in the mid 1980’s. Irwin Howie was a  master planner of the game of rugby — especially for the Nittawela club and took them to the 1978 Cup final. That year he was the captain and coach, and brought in Sarath Imbuldeniya to give him a helping hand in coaching.

In 1978 Irwin led Kandy SC to the Clifford Cup Final, after Denzil Kobbekaduwa’s 1969 Cup final.  Irwin’s Cup final team had players of the calibre of Sunil Munasinghe, Sunil Serasinghe, Nimal Malagamuwa, Lakshman Dullewewa, Tilak Jyasundara, D.H.Rajaguru, Jerome Grey, Athula Manchanayake, Nihal Ananda, Sen Uswan, Allan Vought,  Gamage Ariyarathne, Iftika Uvais,  Chanlee Ching, and this writer. The team was managed by late William Weerasinghe, and the fighting Kandy SC went down to Havelocks SC led by Anton Benedict and the 1969 Kandy SC Cup final skipper late Denzil Kobbekkaduwa was the referee in this final.

In that year 1978, Irwin got the opportunity of leading the Sri Lanka side in the Asiad played in Malaysia, and had three of Kandy  SC players with  him in that team — D.H. Rajaguru, Sunil Munasinghe and Nimal Malagamuwa. Irwin Howie, also coached schools like St. Anthony’s, Dharmaraja and Trinity.

Irwin’s best rugby years was with Kandy Sports Club, where he enjoyed the game and also got the break to lead Kandy Sports Club, Up-Country and Sri Lanka. He gave his best for the club. Irwin was present at the Clifford Cup final on the 5th of this month, where his two former clubs CR & FC and Kandy SC clashed in the final and  his favourite club ended up becoming champions. Irwin is blessed with a son and daughter and all are residing in Melbourne, Australia.

Lady Captain’s Prize 2009

The tournament which is a board event will take place on September 23rd and  25th  at Royal Colombo Golf Club, and over 30 players are expected to participate this year.

There will be a guest event and several lady players from Victoria also will participate. The prize giving will be held on September 25 with prizes and surprises and dinner hosted by the Lady Captain.

Ritzbury Powers 20th Junior National  Squash C’ships 

Junior National Squash Championships conducted by the Sri Lanka Squash Federation and sponsored by Ritzbury Chocolates will be held at the Gymkhana Club Squash Courts in Maitland Crescent, Colombo from 17 to 24 October this year.

Having commenced in 1990, in preparation for the Asian Junior Championships which were held in Colombo in January 1991, the Junior National Squash Championships are today considered Sri Lanka’s premier squash tournament of the year.

A national ranking tournament, this year’s championships are billed to feature great squash and performances of a very high standard, especially with the participation of top ranked players. The eight day long tournament will consist of 18 events which include: Boys and Girls Under 09, 11, 13, 15, 17 and 19, Novices Juvenile Boys and Girls Under 12 and Under 15, and also Novices Junior Boys and Girls Under 19.

This year’s Junior National Squash Championships will feature the ‘Circuit Draw System’ thus ensuring fair participation and with more matches to all top ranked players. Entries will be accepted only at the SLSF Secretariat, Tamil Union C&A Club, Colombo 08 up to 5.00 pm on Monday, 12 October 2009. The draw will be held at 06.30 pm the same day. The age cut-off date will be 01 July 2009.

Hsbc gold tournament to tee off in style!  

The HSBC 5-Club Stableford Golf Tournament will take place at the Royal Colombo Golf Club (RCGC) on September 18 and 20. The tournament organised for the 15th consecutive year, will be open to HSBC Premier customers and to all members of the men’s section and ladies section of the Royal Colombo Golf Club with a valid handicap.

The first Stableford Golf Tournament was sponsored by HSBC with a shot-gun start in 1994 and was subsequently changed to a 5-Club Tournament in 1998. The awards ceremony will be held today, September 20 at the RCGC premises, and all category winners will be awarded with fabulous prizes. The highlight of the event is that the overall winner will be hosted by the Bank to attend the HSBC Champions Tournament, held once a year in November 2009.

This event will not only maintain the tournament’s format of bringing together tournament winners from all over the world, but will also include the best players from the International Federation’s Tours. World Number 1 Tiger Woods and defending Champion Sergio Garcia have already confirmed their entries in the world-class field.

ICC awards snub can motivate South Africa, says Smith 

South Africa skipper Graeme Smith said on Friday the failure of his players to make the 2009 ICC awards short-list could motivate them to win the Champions Trophy.

“It is not individual recognition that drives us,” said Smith after the hosts found themselves alone among the eight contenders for the mini-World Cup in not receiving an individual nomination.

“We are driven by what we want to achieve as a team and have had an amazing couple of years,” Smith told a pre-tournament media conference in the north-west university town of Potchefstroom.

“It is a little disappointing that not a single South African made the shortlist in any category because we are the number one team in both Test and ODI cricket.

“But that shows the strength of the team and perhaps the lack of ICC award nominations could be a motivating factor,” Smith said ahead of the Champions Trophy opener on September 22 against Sri Lanka in Centurion.

Coach Mickey Arthur also said the “very disappointing” failure of any Protea to make a four-man short-list in five categories would motivate his squad as they seek a first ICC title since winning the Champions Trophy 11 years ago.

Cricket South Africa chief executive Gerald Majola reacted angrily to a short-list including nominations for India (six), Australia (four), England (three), Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies (two each) and New Zealand (one).

“It looks like the only way to get nominated is to play in the Ashes, but our players don’t play for England or Australia. That seems to be the criteria to select these awards,” he said in a radio interview.

“The last season was one of the best for South Africa and there were a lot of outstanding performances by our players. I believe there were at least three South Africans who should have featured on the shortlist.”

Smith conceded ring rustiness was a concern with their last ODI - a 47-run home defeat by Australia in a dead rubber - staged five months ago at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.

“That is a challenge we have to deal with — the lack of competitive cricket. But our training sessions have been very good and we have worked hard at overcoming the lack of match practice.

“On the other hand we have had a good break and the squad is feeling fresh and ready to go. I think freshness may be an important factor in a tournament involving a lot of cricket in a short time.”

South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and England comprise one group and defending champions Australia, India, Pakistan and the West Indies the other for the September 22 - October 5 tournament in Johannesburg and Centurion.

80x80 to replace Kandy Sevens 

By Hafiz Marikar 

An international rugby competition is to replace the 10 year old Kandy Sports Club organised Singer-Srilankan Airlines International Sevens.  This sevens tournament which was one of the most popular rugby tournaments of the year did not take place this year due to reasons known best to the organisers. Now they are hoping to have a  80x80  in Kandy, where the infrastructure is excellent for a tournament of this caliber and also the spectator interest  is much greater than in Colombo.

It was former Australian Rugby Union Chairman Dilip Kumar  who is behind the new tournament, his mission being to make the rugby playing nations of the world unite. Dilip played for Trinity, Dimbulla and Up-Country.

It was Dilip who first brought in the 80x80 tournament — this game is very similar to the normal game of rugby as we know it, the essential difference is that the average weight of a player on the pitch cannot exceed 80kg. and the weight of an individual player cannot exceed 88kg.

So, now some of Dilip’s close friends like  Mohan Samarakoon who were involved with  the second 80x80 International in Bangkok in 2006, together with Iswan Omar, Anura Madawela, Saliya Udugama to name a few are going all out to make this tournament a reality in Sri Lanka, for which the entire organising committee of the Singer-Sri Lankan Airlines Sevens from Kandy has promised their fullest support in organising the tournament.







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