The Night Of The Underdog?

HEART and head will hold two different views on how this League season’s most critical encounter might end tonight. It is one of sport’s truisms that everybody loves an underdog; so hearts will say the lesser-fancied Havelock SC would overcome many-times champions, Kandy SC. But heads, dictated by facts and averse to emotions, will say the defending champions won’t lose, of all games, this one; victory tonight, after all, means their enshrinement as kings of local rugby, for a third successive season and for the umpteenth time since the 90s..

Havelock SC might feel slighted at being tagged the underdog as their record of wins thus far this season is superior to the Kandyans, albeit by one. But the fact that the up- country club now heads the standings, meaning it’s above the team with more wins, is what makes Kandy SC look a formidable opposition to bridle tonight. If anything, the defending champions’ two losses, the second on Dec.2 to Navy, and the resultant fall to no.3, has made them far more an intensely ambitious outfit than they might’ve been had they cruised along undefeated so far. The two losses have taught them not to leave anything to chance.

The statistics since Kandy SC’s second defeat make startling reading: They’ve won seven straight games, posting half-century scores in four of them, including in games against their two first-round vanquishers, Navy (by 50/22) and Air Force (73/13). In winning the  seven games since their last defeat, Kandy SC has piled up a massive 331 points, averaging a shade below 45 points per game, which by any definition is a remarkable achievement. Staggering is also the number of tries the Kandyans have scored over the past seven weekends: 47, averaging a shade of under seven per game. The upshot of this seven-match splurge: a return to the no.1 slot after being at the top for just Week 1 of the 14-week league.

Havelock SC’s statistics are less impressive: their total points scored in 12 games so far is 423 (as against Kandy SC’s 548 also in 12 games) and their tally of tries: 55, twenty-three adrift of the defending champions’ 78 tries so far.

A reading of the points conceded, however, will give the Park Club some heart.  Let’s take Kandy SC first. They’ve conceded 243 points, 163 of them in their seven-week romp. Havelock SC, on the other hand, has overall given away only 184 points, fifty-four less than the defending champions.

Indeed Havelock SC has been the stoutest defenders this season, but then outcome of matches is decided by tries scored, not prevented – a fact that is as old as the sport itself.  If the Park Club is to disprove that age-old fact it would have to not only defend its goal line with the sort of valour and defiance reminiscent of Dunkirk, but also outscore the season’s meanest try-scoring machine. The League’s first encounter between the two, in mid-December, had pretty much been a battle between the Kandyans’ attack and the Havies’ defence – and it ended with the defending champions scoring six tries to the Colombo club’s three. If the Park Club tonight can manage to restrict Kandy SC to a score below what they might garner, then, they would’ve authored one of the most enduring memories of the 66-year old of the League tournament.

It has to be said, and justifiably so, that the defending champions’ rosy prospects is wholly founded on what the statistics say, the numbers reflecting as it does the team’s capabilities this season so far. But history has more than a few examples where educated assumptions, based on statistics, have eventually been brought to ridicule by outcomes contrary to what the wise heads calculated would be. After all, of how any match will unravel cannot be scripted in advance. It all comes down to what happens on the day – for proof, replay Air Force’s stunning first-round defeat of the defending champions; the airmen, almost divinely, were, on the day, arrested by a winning spirit, leaving shocked Kandy SC too paralytic to quell the opponents’ overwhelming exuberance..

The defending champions’ have been in rip roaring form over the past seven weeks, whilst Havelock SC’s performances have been rather turgid throughout the season. But there’s no guarantee that the form so far of each will continue tonight, which means the tide might well not flow the way of the defending champions. It’s another day; a different match. Repeat: It’s all down to what happens on the day.

It has to be said that, although the Park Club might’ve lost to the Kandyans, 30/39, in the first round and the numbers they’ve produced this season far less impressive than the defending champions’, any assumption that Havelock SC would be easy-picking is unwise as it is prejudiced. Said simply, Havelock SC might be the lesser-fancied team, but a pushover they are not.

There are more reasons than one why Kandy SC won’t find the Park Club like any of the many opponents from whom they’ve plundered 50-plus points. For one, the defending champions’ first-round win over the Havies by a nine-point margin is erroneous and misleading, given that one of the winners’ converted tries was illegal, as television replays showed. But for the television monitoring official’s bull, the difference would’ve been just two points, which, again, isn’t the entire truth – the difference in superiority between Kandy SC and the Colombo club that day was larger than a couple of points. But then it’s difficult to translate superiority into points – so let’s just say the defending champions’ first-round win over Havelock SC was seldom in doubt.

Havelock SC’s hopes this time round will no doubt be buoyed, knowing that they hold home advantage tonight. They’ve won all their home games so far, and the best evidence that Havies are a tougher proposition at home than they’re away is  their 26/19 win over the then high-riding and now no.3 Navy, in early  Dec.  Though overpowered physically by the bigger and stronger sailors and conceding the lion’s share of possession, as well as often being behind than in front of the opponent’s score, it was true grit that helped the Park Club overcome those huge odds – and triumph over battling Navy.

Kandy SC won’t be too disturbed by their hosts’ home record, remembering that last season the up country club won at Havelock Park in the first-round, after which the Kandyans title chances were never in doubt.

Havelock SC will also be spurred tonight by a reason of a personal nature: two of Kandy SC’s key players, Danushka Ranjan and Shehan Pathirana were Havies’ stars before shifting allegiance, the former this season and the latter last season. The Park Club’s disappointment hasn’t died yet. And the Havies would dearly love to settle that score, for reasons other than bringing home the title: to show their rivals that money can’t buy everything.

Be that as it may, this much is certain:  money has brought to Kandy SC the country’s finest  players.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that to select the national team one doesn’t have to look beyond the Nitawella club house. And if you were confined to choosing a national team from the contents of  Havelock SC’s dressing room, then, to wit, you’d have an assembly that might be appropriate for the Division 2/3 of the Asian Championship – not Div.1, which Sri Lanka presently belong. But I digress.

The point to make here is that Havelock SC tonight faces what could pass off as the Sri Lanka National team. And if you’re willing the Park Club to win, then you’re asking a club team to defeat the National team. Is that possible? Sport records many days of the underdogs. Whether today will be such a day, a journey to Havelock Park tonight will be worthwhile to find out.


1 Comment for “The Night Of The Underdog?”

  1. chandran-kandy

    My prediction is the night of the underdog is HAVELOCKS SPORTS CLUB.

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