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5th September, 2004  Volume 11, Issue  7

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Sports

ICC Champions Trophy 2004

Lanka in forefront

By Ranil Prematilake

The sixteen day mini cricket gala confrontation involving the ten test playing nations and minnows Kenya and debutants United States of America gets underway on 10 September in the land where the game was born.

The nations vying for cup glory face the inevitable exit from the tournament, a lone blunder itself being the requisite from the word go. The round robin games will be composed of four groups with the top team in each group advancing to the semi - final stage. The probabilities of joint defending champions Sri Lanka claiming the trophy is a much anticipated thought banking on their impressive 16 match winning streak in the last 17 outings. The first hurdle should not be  much of an issue. On 14 Tuesday Marvan Atapattu's team takes on the inexperienced Tatenda Taibu's Zimbabweans at the Oval. Three days on comes the crunch test at the hands of hosts England. The match is scheduled to be played at the Rose Bowl. The composition of the Lankan squad has undergone a series of changes since the last tour down under. The whitewashing of the pro teas minus spinning legend Muttiah Muralitharan has given the Sri Lankans an enhanced reputation of her being a world beater.

The destructive appearance of Dr. Death in Chaminda Vaas could be the key factor of Sri Lanka's progress to the final, which takes place on 25 September at the Oval. The main concern for the Sri Lankan think tank would be to decide on the slot for the co - openers berth. The choice would be between Avishka Gunawardena and Saman Jayantha, with the one piling up runs in the opening match favoured to join Sanath Jayasuriya for the England game. The top order seems well settled for the time being. The trio of Atapattu, Sangakkara and Jayawardena has finally matured to pile up runs reminiscing the legendary brigade of Gurusinghe, De Silva and Ranatunge a much feared entity in the latter stages of their illustrious careers.

For Sri Lanka to reach the final the disposal of the mighty Australians in the semis becomes imperative. However, the other end of the draw could see the high profile Indians, a much media hyped squad facing the West Indians whose run in the shorter version of the game has been far more impressive than the test performances. Its not only Brian Lara anymore as lanky Chris Gayle and budding skipper Ramnaresh Sarwan too have proven the ability to change the complexion of a one dayer single handedly.

The emergence of a crop of young seamers must be a sigh of relief for the Lankan camp. To add to such discoveries the dream comeback of Nuwan Zoysa definitely makes the Lankan seam attack a world class entity. Let's hope that young Farveez Maharoof would not suffer the same fate as his recent predecessors. Indika Gallage, Kaushalya Weeraratne, Charitha Buddhika Fernando, Nuwan Kulasekara Hasantha Fernando etc. who were not provided the necessary backing to build their confidence and thereby fading into darkness in quick time.

Promising Kaushal Lokuarachchi was taken through a longer learning curve, whilst the persistence with Upul Chandana is finally starting to reap benefits. It could well be that the scent of a younger bloke breathing down his neck pushes the experienced campaigners to make that extra effort which makes the difference in the international stage. Also the exposure of Rangana Herath and the return of Murali will minimize the burden on the aging Sanath Jayasuriya, who keeps on rolling his arm with the same effect as years go by.

Inform Kumar Sangakkara is slowly but surely going up in rank to claim a rightful captaincy post. The former Trinity skipper now playing for Nondescript Cricket Club in the domestic circuit, is already amongst the top 10 batsmen in the all time limited over list of Sri Lankan internationals. A feat which he achieved during the course of his 71 run innings in the fifth and final one dayer against the South Africans. Of late Kumar has become the darling of the electronic media covering the recently concluded Asia Cup and the South African tour. Deservingly so the well spoken of left hand batsman walked away with the Man of the Series award a few days back.

Under rated Marvan Atapattu has managed to instil the fighting qualities which seemed to be alienating from the Lankan camp. His shrewd leadership has now taken the island nation to the second slot in the limited over rankings. However, an area which still needs attention is the ground fielding in the close in areas as direct hits in the modern game makes a world of a difference.

The conditions in the Old Blighty have to be familiarized. The ball is expected to take swing alarmingly in the first session of play, Countering such movement in the event of batting first would be a decisive role for the Lankan top order, whose main worry and threat is to come in the form of gentle giant Steve Harmison. All is well when playing on placid flat tracked wickets. Making runs in unfamiliar conditions draws the distinction between a good and a world class batsman. Aravinda De Silva has called it a day; the new generation has all the opportunity to be on par with Sri Lanka's master batsman. Marvan, Kumar and Mahela have only set the platform to be so.


Energizer monthly medal at Victoria

Energizer Lanka Limited sponsored the August monthly medal at Victoria Golf & Country Resort. This is the second time that Energizer has come forward to sponsor the August monthly medal at Victoria Golf & Country Resort. Mr. Ranjth Ediisinghe Brand Manager for Energizer has been in the forefront in organizing this tournament.

Sampath Hemachandra returning an excellent nett 61 clinched the monthly medal this month, Chamil Wickremasinghe, who carded a score of nett 67 (gross 79) became the runner up. Chamil has been in great form; he won the Ole Apple Junior Championship held at Royal Colombo Golf Club the day before. So this win was definitely a feather to his cap as he was playing to a reduced handicap.

Binupa Wijesinghe, appearing at Victoria after a long absence, dominated the Gross Division this month. He returned a fantastic Gross 74, whilst Chamil returning a Gross 79 claimed the runners-up position.

Niloo Jayatilake returning a score nett 70 won the Ladies division, whilst Indira Tibblin was placed runner up with a Nett 74. It was a close game this month with a large number of ladies present to do battle for the title.

Not to be outdone by the twin brother Sampath, it was Sidath Hemachandra who claimed the Junior Division prize. Sidath returned a nett 77. Sanjay Wettimuny who had carded a nett 78 had to settle for the runner-up position.

The scramble for positions in the Lectra Grand Prix Board has begun. In the Gross Division Binupa Wijesinghe has set the standard by placing himself in the lead with 50 points, with just one monthly medal under his belt. Chamil Wickramasinghe and Praith Fernando closely follow him.

Chamil Wickremasinghe who is in the lead with 940 points dominates the Nett Division. With Roshan Dias, Klaes Rasmussen who are placed second and third respectively. The Ladies division rankings show Manori Jayakoddy placed first and Niloo Jayatilake second. Apparel Technologies, sole agents for Lectra solutions from France sponsor the Lectra Grand Prix at Victoria Golf & Country Resort.


 Sixth SINGER/SRILANKAN Sevens this week decides Asia's World Cup qualifiers

Another push to join irb world circuit 

By T.M.K. Samat 

IN CASE it has escaped your notice, the sixth edition of the popular SINGER/SRILANKAN International Rugby Sevens will be upon us this week. With the SLRFU in the throes of litigation and the consequential suspension more than a month ago of the premier club season, rugby these days is spoken for its unholy rows than, as it should, for the things that happen on field.

So, the SINGER/SRILANKAN unsurprisingly has been clouded by the acrimonious controversies, the heated cross talk between rival parties and presently the courthouse battle. The intention here is to not dwell on the unpleasant details of a controversy that has dragged the union down to its most pitiful state ever in its' history of over a century. But, given that off-field troubles have pushed out the good game from public minds, it might have been helpful had organizers initiated a better awareness campaign of the September 10-12 event. The first piece of news, however, came only last Tuesday. An international tournament deserves more than a l0-day notice, but regrettably, that's all what the public gets in respect of the SINGER/SRILANKAN Sevens.

It seems as if the thing has been suddenly sprung upon on us. That ought not have been the case, especially this year's event, which will be unlike any you've seen before and, probably, might not see again anytime in the discernible future. Some time in the distant past it was announced that the event would be a departure from the SINGER/SRILANKAN, as we know it: an invitational tournament. This year, however, it is an IRB designated qualifier to decide which three countries from the Asian continent will compete in the once-in-four-years World Cup Sevens Final in Hong Kong next March. A tournament with links to a World Cup final is hugely significant, but inexplicably the public is getting to know about it a mere few days before the kick-off.

It is difficult to say where things might have gone wrong. But with the IRB approval stamp on the event, much of the official responsibilities will have to rest with the SLRFU, though Kandy SC do all the physical arrangements, as they have previously. And with the SLRFU spending much of the past month in lawyers' chambers and the courthouse, on-passing information to media might well have been relegated to a lesser priority.

Be that as it may, the event could hardly have escaped the notice of the Kandy public. There's been feverish activity for months in and around Nittawela, the event's new venue. A new grandstand has been put in place and existing stands have been enlarged, as have the dressing rooms. As well, a media centre has been inserted. The old structures have been given a dab of fresh paint. A new VIPs car park, too, has been carved out. The landscape up there on the Nittawela hill is a whole lot more different, the re-make costing a whopping Rs. 20m.

It doesn't make business sense to plough that sort of investment into a one-off event. To be sure, organizers Kandy SC's sights are set further a-field. The dream of hitching the SINGER/SRILANKA to the IRB World Series circuit has long been nursed by organizers and sponsors. The world body doesn't give its sanctioned events to any country for the mere asking. It has to be convinced about the host country's capabilities of running the event successfully - and the IRB's benchmark is the Hong Kong Sevens or thereabouts. The decision to give Sri Lanka the hosting of the Asian World Cup qualifying tournament, apparently, is the outcome of the persistent seeking of World Series status for the SINGER/SRILANKAN Sevens.

An IRB team of 12 officials, including referees, at Nittawela this weekend will do more than take in the lovely sights. Obviously a few of them are observers - to study if the country is worthy of joining the World Series. The other condition is the hosting- fee of $100, 000 payable to the IRB. But the diminishing market for the World Series won't be lost on the IRB. Where there once were 10 countries hosting the series, there's now eight, and not all of them, reportedly, have proved viable undertakings. ''Because some countries have withdrawn from the series owing to financial losses, there are fewer prospective takers. I think the situation is right to negotiate with the IRB on their asking fee - that is if they are happy with our organizing ability," said Izwan Omar, SLRFU secretary and the event's organizing committee chairman.

All that is in the unknown of the future. But this much is certain: there will be quite some stirring stuff served up this weekend at Nittawela. The competing 12 nations won't see the event as something of a working-holiday, which the five previous invitational tournaments were. With World Cup berths to play for, the intentions will be deadly serious. The Japan squad flew in on Sept.1 and the Koreans two days later to spend their final phase of preparation in the conditions they will battle in. By tomorrow, the other nine overseas teams - China, Guam, Chinese-Taipei, Kazakhstan, Arabian Gulf, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and India - would likely have arrived.

Sri Lanka's 20-man pool assembled last weekend in Kandy. That the nine Colombo players were billeted in private homes isn't quite complementary of what the SLRFU is willing to invest on the players' preparation. And the present freeze placed on the club season means the players would have been out of competitive rugby for over a month. That our preparation is underdone wouldn't be an exaggeration, and making any optimistic forecast would be unwise.

But some officials have done just that, basing their optimism on the fact that our group opponents are Thailand and Kazakhstan, neither an Asian rugby giant. With two of the three teams in each of the four groups qualifying for the quarterfinals of the Cup event, all Sri Lanka has to do is to win just one of their group matches to join the race for one of the three World Cup berths. But presuming victory over Thailand or Kazakhstan is being a tad too imaginative. Of course, we beat the Thais in fifteens not long ago, but in the previous meeting, they trounced us 72/0 at the Asiad. The Kazakhs two years ago drubbed us bad, also in the denser version.

A more realistic hope would be to win out the bowl. Any notions of finishing among the top three and qualifying for the World Cup final alongside the All Blacks, Wallabies, the Springboks, England, Fiji is. well, to believe that pigs can fly.


Heroism on battlefield - and court

IF Jayamuni Bertie Silva looks out of the aircraft window in the early minutes of his flight to Athens, Friday next, fate's irony is not likely to escape his thoughts. Much of the view from the window would be a blanket of treetops that will remind him of the northern jungles - which is where he stepped on a landmine and lost his left foot in 1996.

"It's not a nice experience to have a foot blown out of you, but I am not complaining about my misfortune," said the 27-year-old soldier, packing his bags for the Para Olympics in Athens this month. ''My life in some ways has got better _ Greece is the eighth country I would've visited. Not long ago the chance of getting on an airplane and flying off to some foreign land was only a dream. I didn't even bother to take out a passport then."

Pte. Silva now has a passport, with exotic destinations stamped on it: Bangkok, Paris, Kuala Lumpur, Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney, The Hague, and Antwerp, and shortly Athens _ all journeys as Sri Lanka representative to international wheelchair tennis competitions. ''Life as a wheelchair tennis player has been very rewarding," says Silva, an infantryman of 17 years.

So, is he happier now than he was before 1996? He is; but not entirely because he's travelling the world. ''Let's put it this way _ it's better to lose a foot than your life," answers the father of two. And tells this remarkable story of providence: '' it was my fifth week in the Army hospital after amputation, and worrying how I was going to cope with the future. In that depressing mood I heard the news that my camp at Mullaitivu has been overrun. " Over 1,500 perished in enemy fire.

"I think it was God's and my wife and children's blessings that took me out of the Mullaitivu camp about five weeks before it was captured by the enemy." That hopelessness while lying in his hospital bed disappeared. ''I realized I had been rescued from a far graver fate, and decided to make best use of life's second chance than sulk over misfortunes."  And so he became the man in the old fable that complained he had no shoes until he saw someone without feet.

The son of a simple lorry driver remembers well the day and time when his life changed: around 5.30 a.m. on July 6, 1996. ''Eight of us had set out at 7 the previous night into the jungles on ambush duty. What we do in these stealth-operations is take cover in trees and behind shrubs and watch out for enemy movements. A perfect operation would be to have ambushed the enemy," recalled Silva. "That night had been a quiet turn of duty - in fact, there was nothing to report to base."

So, as the first rays of sunlight filtered into the dark, blanketed jungle, the eight weary soldiers trekked back - with thoughts of a cold shower, a warm breakfast and then to doze off on clean sheets and pillow. ''We took the same pathway as we did going out the previous night and had reached a point not far from camp; we heard the noises of the camp waking up to another day," said Silva. ''The next thing I knew was that I was airborne " _ and life was never going to be the same for Pte. Silva. His seven companions on the mission were unscathed.

His new life began from the dusty patch he fell into after being blown ''about five feet into the air".  "It a funny thing: you don't feel any pain. The first reaction is to try and pick yourself up, and that's what I did, but I stumbled," said Silva. ''I looked down at my legs, and my left foot wasn't there."

The next six months were spent recovering from the amputation, getting accustomed to walking on crutches and then on an artificial leg. ''After discharge from the Army hospital (in Colombo) I was moved to the Rehab centre in Kurunegala where we were prepared for a new life," said Silva, an old boy of D S Senanayake Vidyalaya, Mirigama, where he excelled in athletics and badminton.

"Obviously the Army wasn't going to put me back in the infantry unit. There are only so many jobs we can fit into. But if you're good enough in any sport to represent the Army, then, sport is all you do," said Pte. Silva, whose village in Mirigama is as close to a tennis court as Wimbledon is from the SLTA in Green Path. ''The Army doesn't choose a sport for you - they encourage you to do all sports. I suppose keeping our minds and bodies occupied is what rehab is about," says Silva. ''That I didn't know any tennis and had to come to Colombo to see it for the first time weren't going to be impediments."

The door to international competitions opened for him and his Athens teammate, Jayalath Manathunge, when ITF's wheelchair development officer, Mark Bullock, called on the SLTA in January 2002. ''From over 100 wheelchair tennis players, Mr Bullock identified 30 players who could, with training, be made players worthy of international competition," recalled Silva.

Barely two years later, Silva and Manathunge have reached Olympian heights, a remarkable advancement by any measurement. From competing in the D division in 2002, the pair graduated to the Olympic requirement of A division through a series of successes in faraway countries. The promotion was clinched last April in the Dutch Open, where Silva was B division singles champion and Manathunge, the runner-up. The pair also won the doubles. The Belgian Open, held days after the Dutch event, provided the pair with their first A division exposure - and both were semifinalists in the singles and doubles.

Athens will feature the best from the whole wide world, and a visiting ITF coach who recently put the finishing touches to the pair's Olympic preparations cautioned against hopes of medals. ''It would be great if they win a match or two because it's going to be hugely competitive out there," said Mr. Bloc, the Dutch coach to the world champion.

But Silva and Manathunge, also a landmine victim in 1998 in the jungles of Killinochchi, are unfazed. ''We know it is not going to be easy, but we're quietly confident we can surprise a few people. You can write this: we're going to fight till the end," says Silva.

Fighting words, but we've heard them before. But coming from two men, flying sky-high, Friday next, above probably the scenes of their tragedy, those words ought not to be disregarded as empty boast. And if they return empty-handed at least they would've given their best shot - which is more than that can be said of some who preceded them to Athens.


England's management, coaching to be blamed 

England's rise through the cricketing ranks is as welcome as it is belated. Not since Typhoon Tyson was blowing through the cricket fields of the world in the 1950's, aided and abetted by a  subtler breeze called Laker, has England been able to claim the top position in the ladder. Even in the 80's the side flattered to deceive because the team lacked discipline so that bad habits took hold in the form of rebel tours and drugs. Thereafter English cricket languished in the proverbial doldrums so long that it seemed to become its natural habitat.

Michael, Vaughan have not quite risen to the top but are heading in the right direction. England's new captain and his men are currently competing for the bronze and silver medals behind the Australians, a promotion earned through consistent performances against floundering opponents. Vaughan has carried on the work of Nasser Hussain, whose task it was to make his team hard to beat. Under the adopted Yorkshireman, England has played lively and confident cricket. Now the Australians are starting to take them seriously and it has been a long time since that was the case.

Apart from a deteriorating culture that tolerated donkey drop bowling and arranged declarations in domestic cricket,  England's problem has been an inability to produce excellence. No major international players had emerged  for many years. Not so long ago it was possible to name two World X1's without mentioning anyone from the old country. England lacked the calibre of cricketers needed to compete at the highest levels. Bad management and coaching were also to blame, and poor leadership amongst senior players. Part of the reason for England's rise is that the age of the Stewarts has finally ended..

Without top-class players it is possible to achieve competence and not much more. Vaughan's team  can aim a good deal higher . It is built around four influential players occupying important positions. Vaughan himself is a calm captain and a fine batsman . Once he settles into his work as a leader his batting form will return. About the first thing a captain realises is the need to think about other players in the side. Often he does so at his own expense and takes to the field with much upon his mind and after the sketchiest of preparations. Vaughan has batted superbly against the Australians and Indians and will be back.

Graeme Thorpe is the other key batsman in the order.  He has the experience and skill needed to shore up the innings when early wickets have fallen and the range of shots required to take advantage of a tiring attack. Thorpe had begun to resemble T.S Eliot's cockneys as they gloomily crossed London Bridge . Burdened by setbacks in his personal life he was for a time lost to the game, or anyhow international cricket, but has returned as a happier man eager to put his shoulder to the wheel.

Andrew Flintoff is the third member of the important quartet. The Lancastrian is a gentle giant till he gets bat or ball in his hands whereupon to starts wreaking havoc. He bowls fast and gives the ball a fearful crack, and does both without the slightest sign of inhibition. Just the other day he finished the match against India with a six. Averages do not mean much to allrounders of his calibre. A man cannot be both a swashbuckler and an introvert. Flintoff has the power needed to change the course of any match in an hour.

Steve Harmisson is the other indispensable figure in the England line-up. Cricket teams need to win the battle of the new balls. .No time can be wasted on tailenders .  Harmisson tops and tails better than any Englishman has for decades and he isn't bad in the middle either. He has given the attack an edge that had been missing.

England has produced only a handful of great fast bowlers in its history and invariably has enjoyed a purple patch in those interludes.  Harmisson may not be a great bowler but he is impressive and has been taking wickets. As Stephen Fleming pointed out, at his best he is both accurate and dangerous. Most particularly Harmisson manages to remain a threat on the docile pitches that are nowadays prepared for Test matches wherever they are played, presumably in an attempt to make them last five days. Otherwise, the television people will not be pleased, and they pay the bills.

England has been able to build a side around these four men. Everyone understands his role. and the side has depth with bat and ball and the hunger often found in those who have not tasted success for a long time. England could win the Champions Trophy- if any cricket is played between the showers- but knows that it has not met the stronger teams in the last few campaigns Australia, India and Sri Lanka await. England must beat them all to claim a title it has not held for fifty years.


Dialog GSM powers Ladies-Museaus Regatta  

Prominent sports sponsor Dialog GSM has come forward to sponsor the inaugural Ladies College - Museaus College Regatta - a landmark event in the country's sporting calendar as this will be the first exclusive ladies regatta.

The regatta will be held between Ladies College and Museaus College on September 11 at the Colombo Rowing Club.

The oarswomen of Ladies College and Musaeus College have enjoyed a long history of competition and from this year, the regatta will be formalised as an annual event between the schools.

The principals of Ladies College and Museaus College - Nirmalee Wickremasinghe and N. Pilapitiya - both paid tribute to the oarswomen of the two schools for showing great enthusiasm and proving themselves to be of exceptional standards.

Speaking at a press conference announcing the sponsorship, Chirantha De Zoysa, Dialog GSM's Assistant Manager - Promotions & Sports Marketing said, "Dialog believes in providing that foundation as sports not only builds physical talents but also the character of our youth."

Thanking the organizing committee he went on to say, " we are privileged to be associated with this landmark event, which is the first of its kind on our country's sporting calendar".


Sri Lanka to meet Indonesia 

By Hishan Welmilla 

Sri Lanka meets Indonesia in the 2006 FIFA World Cup preliminary competition Asia Zone -Group match on 9 September at the Sugathadasa Stadium Colombo. The match is scheduled to kick off at 6.00 pm. According to Sri Lankan coach Sampath Perera, even though Sri Lanka is not up to the standard of the Indonesians in every department they will fight hard to give their best and a match to enjoy for the Sri Lankan supporters.

Indonesia is ranked 17th in  Asia and 92nd in the world. Lankans only placed 28 and 143 in the Asia and the world rankings respectively.

Sri Lanka loses the services of four players who played the previous qualifying games due to an injury and disciplinary actions. Imtiaz Raheem, Imran Mohamed and Christeen Fernando will not be playing due to injuries while Kasun Jayasuriya misses the game since he was served with two yellow cards during the previous games.

Sri Lanka Team: S D Thilakeratne, M Azwar, D L Steinwall (capt), Nalin Nandakumara, M A Dilshan, K M Fuard, M Izadeen, Chatura Maduranga, M Azmeer,E B Channa, Isuru Uditha Perera (v/capt)V., Ranjitha Javilal, M Nazar, Samantha Prabath, M Hamsa, Chrysantha Abeysekera, G P C Karunaratne, J D P Ratnayake, Sampath Perera (coach)


Speed 2004 at Pannala 

Sunday, 5 September promises to be a red letter day in Sri Lanka's motor racing history. With over 100 drivers racing to go, SPEED 2004 is bound to be a block buster; certainly it's a record for entries for a Motor Car Meet.  Keeping this large contingent in mind, the organizers have invited a team of Indian experts to handle the qualifying as well as race timing.  Already, thousands of tickets have been sold and a massive crowd is expected at the Pannala track. Several sponsors have also lined up to support the event and make SPEED 2004, a spectacular and memorable one.

With the officials and competitors briefing professionally conducted and all details properly in place, there is an element of precision brought to bear on the conduct of the race. So much so, that Race Director, the vastly experienced Bri Ponnambalam has stressed that the events will be run like clockwork, leaving no room for delay. The on-track team of officials are all drilled and geared to support Bri, so that a meticulous race protocol will be realized.



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