25th July, 2004  Volume 11, Issue 2


















Jayasuriya's troubled times

By. T.M.K. Samat 

NO Sri Lankan would've been anything less than thrilled over the country's surprise triumph over favourites India, Sunday _ but if anxiety tempered the delight of Sanath Jayasuriya's followers, well, that's understandable. The left-hander, for years the central figure in our batting, was not among the eleven that so competently overcame the team from across the waters, widely regarded second best in the world.

As far as team performances go, this was nearly as perfect as any the famed men of '96 had produced. Poignantly, Jayasuriya was one of the front men of that world-conquering outfit. That was then. The question now: is Jayasuriya at the end of the line?  The question smacks of insolence _ only because it has never been asked before. However, it must be quickly made clear that Jayasuriya was NOT cast aside due to any lack of faith in his ability.

Sanath Jayasuriya

A side strain he picked up in Australia was aggravated on Saturday, against the UAE, and, after consultations with manager, coach and captain, agreed to sit out the psychologically crucial Sunday scrap. To back that decision, the team management said it was in the best interest of Jayasuriya and the team that his injury is allowed to mend so that he'll be tiptop for the coming days' battles.

That was the thinking before the match. But after it, and the glorious outcome, naming future elevens has become a lot more puzzling. It won't be as straightforward as it used to be: slot Jayasuriya in as no.1 and choose who ever to partner him. Sunday, sans Jayasuriya, Gunawardena and Jayantha were thrown in. Neither weren't exactly Jayasuriya-duplicates, but they showed you don't have to have a tear-away opener to get the team away to a prosperous start. There was more method _ and less of the adventure that Jayasuriya is accustomed to provide at the beginning.

Sunday's pair stayed together till the 14th over, compiling 68, which proved good enough insurance for accumulating during the middle-overs, then a late raid _ and a match-winning total, as was done against India. All of which now must make it difficult to ignore the Gunawardena-Jayantha combination.  What this means is that future combinations will not be Jayasuriya and who _ rather, a battle among three (former skipper, Gunawardena and Jayantha), for two slots, at least for the on-going tournament. The list of candidates can well be longer for the coming months' engagements.

Of course, it is inconceivable that Jayasuriya won't be back any time soon. And by now he might have made the sort of contribution that would restore his indispensability. My wish is he would've done just that and regained his permanent status. His monumental contributions to the country's cricket apart, the man, for all his likeable rural modesty, deserves the privilege to choose himself the date of his leaving the game _ than the indignity of being pushed out the door by the selectors.

His detractors, however, are likely to dismiss all this as sentimental froth _ and not without some good reason. His recent run has been unexceptional: 59 in four Test innings in Australia. Whether this persistent failure is due to form's desertion or submission to Australian intimidation only Jayasuriya can tell. What clearly was visible though, was a hesitant approach to the job. The capricious Darwin's pitch had understandably compelled him into a defensive mode _ without success. He rushed to the other extreme given the Cairns featherbed: three screaming fours in-a-row off McGrath _ and out the next over. He was back in defensive mode for his second turn at Cairns _ survived almost 70 minutes for 22, his highest in four outings, but remote from what's expected of him. And then Saturday, he took just 21 from UAE. Clearly, he is tangled in a web of his own making, and as in life, indecision only deepens the problem.

Protagonists of Jayasuriya, however, wouldn't think of his disposal. His strained side is genuine, borne by the fact that he was spared of bowling duties against UAE. The team management also claimed that the soreness caused discomfiture to his batting, especially in the execution of his signature square-cut. In favour of Jayasuriya is the uniqueness of his style, nay his nature. There are few in the game that are so consumed by the intent to brutalize the opposition bowlers as he. And batsmen with that sort of attitude hare to be given a reasonable allowance for failure.

How long is reasonable? The wait has been five innings as at Saturday. There will be more time given him in the Asia Cup for sure. It is the future beyond that is of concern. This much is certain: his old cloak of permanence is getting threadbare. He probably would've made a blazing comeback Wednesday night against Pakistan or against Bangladesh two nights ago. Even if he did, it will take a lot more to make certain his presence in the 2007 World Cup, the preferred event at which players would like to let the curtain fall on their ageing careers. And selectors work to World Cup targets, the four years between events dedicated to assembling the most effective combination for the game's richest prize.

The target of Sri Lanka's selectors is no different. The recent successes of fresh faces (read as the two Ms, Malinga & Mahroof) can only encourage them from continuing with rebuilding, 2007 in mind. The Ms aren't the only examples. Upul Chandana, away from the shadows of Muralidaran in Australia, proved he's been a long neglected gem. And Avishka Gunawardena, included for two successive matches (after heaven knows how long) made a half-century and nearly another, batting in both instances with the assurance that he couldn't quite do during his in-out days. And Saman Jayantha is blossoming too. The pace bowlers cupboard is packed to overflowing. It wouldn't be wrong to say that there's an abundance of talent to re-build, as India did only some two years ago _ and now strong enough to hold their own against the World champions.

The selectors will do wisely to take a leaf off the Indian selectors _ and resist the temptation to rush back the old stars at the first sign of failure by freshers. Re-building, after all, does have painful passages. The futile recall of Kaluvitharne for the recent Australian series, on memories of 1995, shows the present selectors, too, tend to fall back on old deeds. One hopes that de Mel and fellows will resist the temptation to do so again, but rather re-blood with fresh talent.

Whether Jayasuriya fits in to this apparently changing landscape is an interesting question. Jayasuriya will continue to be judged by the high standards he has set. As age quietly takes its toll, it might be unfair to expect Jayasuirya to do the things he did during his younger days. But such demands are life's harsh facts _ facts that great athletes escape via retirement's door than be humiliated out. This is not to infer that Jayasuriya should be contemplating retirement. But, if Jayasuriya's success/failure ratio is going to tilt to the latter, then, it is not impertinent to ask how long is Jayasuriya going to remain in the calculations for the 2007 World Cup, when he would be 38 years.

It is the right sort of age, and event, to face his final curtain call. To make it up to that point is something he'll have to do himself. But he won't be short of supporters to encourage him on. Including me _ for all those moments he's made me feel proud to be Sri Lankan. Nothing can be nicer than the sight of Jayasuriya giving life to those wonderful old memories.

Priath remembers an old legend: His dad, Pin

SUNDAY last the good folks down at the golf club remembered a legend. Pin Fernando, of course, disappeared over the boundary wall of the RCGC, in Borella, to his final resting place years ago, when only 58. And last weekend, in his memory, they played two rounds of golf, paid the customary tributes to the legend and then moved on to a long evening of mostly light banter and laughter over cocktails.

No solemnity on this Sunday of remembrance? ''Absolutely not, there was no solemnity _ only a spirit of happy fellowship," says Priath Fernando, the legend's only son. ''Dad would not have wanted it any other way - just jokes and drinks after a day's golf. That's the way it was for him, too."

Since the mid-1940s till 1979, when he developed the first signs of cancer, Pin Fernando's life had been golf. ''He obviously gave most of his time to golf, but then his commitment to anything he undertook was always total _ when not to golf, then it was to his business and his enjoyment," said Priath. ''His other trait was this obsession to win, in golf, in business, in bridge, on the horses, whatever."

That line about the legend's resolve in golf is superfluous. The slabs of timber that hang long on the walls of the RCGC speak out his name and deeds all the time. His debut in the 1946 National Championships might have been unmemorable. He lost, 3 and 2, in the first round to M. Sathasivam, who was to gain legendary status himself, as a cricketer. In the very next Nationals, though, Pin Fernando was determined to show he wasn't going to be mistaken for a wealthy hang-about golfer, of which there might have been many remembering those were colonial days and membership of the RCGC was a status symbol _and gateway to importance and influence.

The legend strode on to the Nuwara Eliya course and spread-eagled the 19-man field before qualifying to take-on the defending champion, J B McLachlan, in the final _ if it can be called that. After all, a full final round of 18 holes wasn't required; it was over and done with at the 15th green. And Pin Fernando, then 23, had become only the third, and youngest, Ceylonese to win the National Championship, inaugurated in 1891.

Since winning his first title in 1947, Pin Fernando repeated the feat on nine other occasions, including four in a row (1955-'58) and two successive wins twice (1947-'48 and 1961-'62). As well, he was runner-up ten times, the last in 1978 _ a year before the malignant illness got hold of him and forced him off the course that had been second home. His name also adorns the honour boards in golf clubs in India, where he twice won the All-India title. This is truly stuff of legends. No wonder they called him The Maestro.

''The reason for his consistent success over more than three decades, I think, was his resolve. He wasn't the sort of type who'd throw it in when in difficult situations. He'll put out of his head all those lost holes and just hang in, all his thoughts and energies directed singly on. not the next hole, but his next shot," recalled Priath. ''If you look up the records, even on his off-days, his losses have been by narrow margins, mostly coming back from hopeless situations." The 1971 Indo-Ceylon National final between Bombay's Raj Kumar Pitamber and Pin Fernando is proof. It wasn't one of Pin's better days _ even so Pitamber was kept waiting till the final hole to eventually clinch the title, 1 up. ''On his better days, dad can be devastatingly unstoppable." Like in the 1957 final: Pin took apart R M Ilankoon 13 & 12, meaning twelve of the 36 holes final were rendered redundant. One-day cricket's near equivalent to this trouncing would probably be the morning demolition of Zimbabwe by Sri Lanka at the SSC two years ago. The 1961 and '62 finals, too, found him in supreme touch as he finished off Mike Robinson and Mike Thornton, of accountancy repute, respectively _ both at the identical 11th green. 

''His resolve was ruthless, not out of intent to embarrass opponents, but more, a desire to reach the high standards he set himself," said Priath. ''I've had first-hand experience of his uncompromising ways on the course." Experience no. 1 was in the first of only three father versus son competition matches. ''I might have been 12 or 13 when I first played against dad _ and it happened to be in a final. It's not that I matched him stroke for stroke, but I was an 18-handicapper, which meant I was on a 12-stroke advantage even before the tee off. Which was why the match went as far as the final hole," recalled Priath.

So, would fatherly love give away the decisive hole to the son?  ''No way _ I was just another opponent. And no opponents gets any concessions from him," recalled Priath. ''Dad fired a monster 20-foot par for a birdie and brought home another trophy."

One more in his already overflowing trophy cupboard wouldn't make any difference. But to the young boy it would've meant the world, had he won. ''I am quite sure he would've been happier had I won that final, but he wasn't going to gift it to me _ that wasn't in his book of principles," said Priath. ''Of course, he was always a helpful father, but he believed that his kids should learn to earn their keep, especially in golf."

The second father v. son meeting: ''I was 18, and he treated me like an adult _ he thrashed me 6 and 5, I think."

The ending to the third and final meeting was different. ''I was in my early 20s and we met in the final of (the 1974) Nuwara Eliya Club championship. It went to the final hole again, but this time I shot the birdie and dad lost," said Priath. ''And he rushed across the green and we hugged" _ father and son united in family joy.

Pin Fernando's contributions to golf aren't confined to only the record books. He gave the game a family-full of talent. Wife Pam Fernando, now restricted by the infirmities of age, was four-times women's National champion; son Priath's best was National runner up in 1979; youngest daughter, Druki, was a junior champion.

And, of course, there's Thiru, the most illustrious of them all. Even the old man himself might have acknowledged that his daughter did better. Her roll of honour: four-time Sri Lanka champion (1971-75), five-time All India Champion (1973-75, '79 and '80) and Indonesian, Thailand and Hong Kong champion _ all in 1980. ''To turn professional golf was the only logical extension to her career," said Priath. She joined the European circuit in 1980 and was once among the top 10. After 10 years in the pro ranks, Thiru put aside her bag of clubs and turned to serve God _ and still does.

But that's another story, which we ought to chat about on another day. - T.M.K.S.

Uwise wins Pin Fernando Trophy

Playing in overcast and blustery winds Ajmal Uwise staked his claim as the new winner of the prestigious Pin Fernando Golf Trophy of the 125 years old Royal Colombo Golf Club.

The tournament which is now 25 years old having being inaugurated in 1979 to honour Pin Fernando who is considered a legend in Golf in Sri Lanka with 52 major titles to his name is now sponsored by the family firm United Tractor & Equipment Ltd, together with their major principal, caterpillar, Dexion and BT.

There were 148 golfers who battled it out on Saturday in order to qualify for the final round on Sunday, 18 July, for which only the best 32 scores were taken.

Primal Wijenaike looked set to carry the trophy playing excellent golf through the green but is now kicking his heels for having lost his cool on the greens, where he missed 4 short putts including a 'tap-in' which refused to fall in.

Several attractive prizes were carried away by the participants based on the qualifying round and even invitees had some fun on the day of the  prize giving at a putting competition which generated much excitement due to a 3 way play off resulting in a  student, Rukshan Fernando, picking up the winners prize after Lal Wickrematunge from The Sunday Leader held on to second place.

Janaka Wins Mobil Oil Cup

W.P.K Janaka (helm) and K.D.S Kumara (crew) of the Sri Lankan Navy sailed to victory in the Mobil Oil Regatta held at the Ceylon Motor Yacht Club, Bolgoda, last Sunday. Sailing a two-sail GP14 amid a fleet of mixed sailing-dinghy classes including Lasers and Enterprises, the naval duo beat 19 other boats, crossing the finish well ahead of runner up Joseph Kenny (helm), with Pramukshi Kariyawasam as crew, followed by Jeremy Bolling sailing single-handed.

In the Optimist Class (under 16 years of age), 15 boats competed, with Devin Goonewardena (Stafford International) winning in a very close finish, followed by Oshan Weerasinghe (Royal College) and Akshan Jirasinha (S. Thomas' Prep).

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