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3rd October, 2004  Volume 11, Issue  12

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

Consistency key to success

By Ranil Prematilake

International cricket returned to Pakistan in the form of limited over confrontations last Thursday when the hosts crushed the crisis ridden Tatenda Taibu's Zimbabweans. The third nation in the tournament Sri Lanka is quite aware of the challenge lying ahead. The Pakistanis as usual have expressed optimism to the limit, with the prolific Yousuf Youhana predicting a whitewash. Sri Lankan selection criteria continued its saga of the tendency to attract attention through omissions and inclusions of certain players justifiable only to a minority and not the majority as it can be debated.  

Sangakkar and Youhana

Promising Lasith Malinga erratic in action but not in line and length of bowling finds himself in the sidelines for no fault of his, whilst Avishka Gunawardena must be relishing his stride of luck in the international circuit. Saman Jayantha still has not been provided with a decent chance to establish himself in the side. However, encouraging is the inclusion of Thilina Kandambi in the squad. The dashing left hander is in the mould of match winning calibre provided the backing of the senior members of the side comes his way as in the case of Kaushal Lokuarachchi, the leg spinning all rounder.

Once again Sri Lankan batting would revolve around the experienced Sanath Jayasuriya, whose style of batting is supported by the nature of wickets in Pakistan. It was in Pakistan a good 14 years ago that this destructive willow wielder first made an impact in the international circuit with two blistering double tons in an 'A' team tour by the island nation. Now in the last phase of an illustrious career, the 35 year old hailing from the coastal southern region of the country is not the type to get affected or bow down to varying criticism when the odds are low. He comes from a generation which turned the tide of Sri Lankan cricket and has let the bat do the talking as his reply. Jayasuriya is in the threshold of the elite 10,000 run club in the shorter version of the game, not forgetting his 250 plus haul of scalps with left armers.

The sudden rush of blood and the reluctance or refusal to play second fiddle to the bowlers in only natural for any young batsmen, whether or not the situation demands so. Arjuna Ranatunge matured fast whilst Aravinda De Silva took a longer time to do so. (The stint in Kent made the difference). Mahela Jayawardena is sharper but arrogance seems to be letting him down still while compatriot Kumar Sangakkara prefers to learn it the hard way and is already a much feared entity. The agendas are there as the captaincy stakes look imminent. The darling of the western press is in serious contention. However, with all these developments the duo are keeping themselves focused on the game and thus have not got their priorities messed up. Indeed a good sign for Sri Lankan Cricket.

A move by the selectors to place faith on both Upul Chandana and Lokuarachchi has done a world of good. The experienced campaigner sighing the youngster breathing down his neck has put that extra bit of effort to make him the better option.


It was warm only for the Windies 

By T.M.K. Samat  

THERE'S much to bitch about the just-concluded ICC Champions' Trophy, and much of it has to do with staging the biennial in England in September. The time and the place made the event anything but a summer game.  The England and Wales Cricket Board (EWCB) will, of course, maintain they couldn't disrupt their summer calendar set some years ago, and September it had to be. And just bad luck the month turned out to be the way it did, so appallingly dank that home was a better place to be.

Unsurprisingly, a conspiracy theory did the rounds that September conditions suited England best and hence the host's manoeuvres for month nine. It's a theory that would find ready believers in Asia - given the semifinal-qualification-failure of India and Sri Lanka, and that even Asia's solitary presence in the last-four, Pakistan, came at the expense of their neighbours, with the two countries placed in the same group. But as all conspiracy theories are, this one too is founded on nothing but suspicions. It conveniently ignores the failures of New Zealand, World champions Australia and South Africa, to whom playing in autumnal conditions cannot be alien since the tail-end of their seasons are similar to what it is in England in September.

Whether the conditions suited some countries and not the others is not the point. Rather, what has to be questioned is if the wretched wetness, dampness and coldness robbed the event of the allure of one-day game. They did. More than once a match was carried over to a second day, making a mockery of one-day cricket. As one wag put it: "They ought to have called it two-day cricket." Continuation of a match on another day was forbidden in all of the four previous tournaments. In the last Champions' Trophy in Colombo for instance, the final, no less, was re-begun afresh on the second day after rain stopped play midway on the first day. If the practice begun in England is to be written into the laws, or whether it had been only insurance against the fickleness of the English weather in September is unknown. But should the issue be put to a debate, it's fairly certain it won't have universal approval. 

Statistically too, the 2004 ICC Champions' Trophy fell short of being the spectacle that one-day cricket is. The conditions were stacked far too much on the side of the bowlers. Consequently, it turned out to be a bowler's competition; contrary to the accepted belief that one-day cricket is about batsmanship and runs. Discounting the tallies of games against the also-rans - USA, Kenya, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe - only two matches (South Africa v. West Indies and England v Australia) managed totals above 250. Run chases, the essence of one-day cricket, became protracted bouts of survival, of batsmen playing the long waiting game for meagre returns. One-day cricket was meant to take the tediousness of the five-day game. The 2004 ICC Champions' Trophy was an agonizing contradiction of that credo.

Of course, the weather is something any host-country can't plan for. But it would be načve to believe that the EWCB was unaware of the risks involved in slotting the event for September, the summer to fall transition-month. It's all right a month to round off your domestic tournament, but to stage what is the next best thing to the World Cup is crass disregard for the event's importance. Surely, it deserved to be played in one of summer's more reliable months - and a duration of two-three weeks isn't, after all, an awful lot of time to give the world cricket's second most important event. So, why didn't the tournament get the time it merits? It's a question for the EWCB, and the ICC, to answer, and doubtless there will be a lot explaining to do to dispel the conspiracy theory.

The game these days is all about luring prospective sponsors. And the 2004 Champions' Trophy, as an advertisement, all but ended a basket case. What rescued it from being a virtual non-event were 1/ the relegation of the Australians to mortals by England and 2/ the fairytale transformation of the West Indies into champions. Everything else was pretty much stuff sent down the kitchen sink.

Barely had the cutting down to size of Australian inspired discussions on the rosy future of English cricket when the West Indies stepped out and killed off the dreams of England. To begin with, however, a final between England and the West Indies looked something of an anticlimax. It didn't quite have the expectancy level of an Australia v. South Africa/or Pakistan/or India final. But what really muted pre-final expectations were the overwhelming odds on an English triumph. That did little to stimulate interest in the final.

It seemed the final had already been scripted and distributed to the public. For more than three-quarter of the time the game ran to script. And with the West Indies at 147/8, pursuing a target of 218, it was time to up and leave, which many at the London Oval did. Elsewhere in the world, they might've changed channel or just switched off television sets and retired to bed. But the optimists who lingered on with the proceedings witnessed a comeback belonging to the world of dreams take tangible shape, inch by inch. England's bowlers threw everything they had but the West Indies nos. 9 and 10, Browne and Bradshaw, would not be budged from their measured advance to the winning post.

There will be a great deal of sympathy for England, still without a major cricket title to their name. But the joy for Lara's men is greater, and not only for the remarkable manner they turned the final their way. For a team that had thrilled the world with a dashingly distinctive style of their own and ruled the roost for decades, they had sadly fallen on hard times in the last few years. Their fall not only impacted on West Indies cricket, but world cricket too lost some sunshine.

Not that attempts at a recovery were not made. But changes in captain, players, selectors and administrators didn't bring a change of fortunes, and there were fears that the West Indies might never ever be the force it once was, as it was feared that the Caribbean youths might well turn away from cricket. Clearly, the West Indies was desperate to bring home a major triumph that would fire the imagination of its youth and restore some of the old Caribbean pride.

At 147/8 it looked as if all that wouldn't be possible, again. But that they did reflects, more than their skills, a depth of resolve, not just to win a match, a final, but, in Lara's words, "to take us to where we belong". That eventually it was their batsmen nos. 9 and 10 that made it possible vividly exemplifies their devotion to that cause, strengthened further by a desire to light up the lives of their countrymen devastated by hurricanes. It was a soul-stirring effort; how any captain would've loved to lead men of this character.

It would be premature to think the vintage years of Windies cricket is back. But the promise that it is on its way has never looked better. The days-long frustration endured following cricket in England in September was finally given some meaning.


Disputed vote for the senior position  

By Peter Roebuck  

Cricket in India is not a trifling matter mentioned by newsreaders between the business and the weather report. Never mind that a provincial election is in full swing.. Never mind that hostages have been taken in Iraq or that the world is in its usual turmoil. Still the first three items on the most recent broadcast concerned the hotly disputed vote for the senior position in Indian cricket. Not one item, mark you, but three because more jiggery-pokery was involved than can be found at a PTA meeting.

Along the way judges were ousted, representatives thrown out and affadavits brought- and that was just in the last few hours. Amidst a rash of red herrings, rumours and recriminations Jagmohan Dalmiya's man was chosen on the departing chairman's casting vote. It is a matter of regret. Dalmiya has played his part in a deterioration in the administration of the game that is most noticeable in Zimbabwe, England, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Of course it is not the end of the matter. India does not have convenient beginnings and endings. Further cases await, not least to examine the reasons why some representatives were rejected Meanwhile Dalimiya has seen fit to create and occupy a new position called Patron In Chief of Indian cricket.

Nor is the cricket election the only bone of contention in a country supposedly girding its loins as it prepares for the Australian onslaught. A few days before an eagerly awaited series begins India lacks both a selection committee and a television contract. Former wicket-keeper Syed Kirmani is nominally in charge of choosing the team but his time is up and replacements for the entire committee must be found. Continuity does not seem to be highly valued in these parts. Not that there is any reason to patronise a country whose largest party is led by a female Italian Catholic, whose President is a Muslim and whose Prime Minister is a Sikh. But the cricket board has become a fiefdom and that has its dangers.

Brinkmanship has been taken to its outer limits in the television dispute. Before long a national government that owns most of the grounds will take a closer look at these arrangements as well as the tax favours currently granted to a board it regards as self-serving.

India's problems are not restricted to matters off the field. Most of the batsmen have lost form and were dismissed cheaply in a hastily arranged practice match with the reserve team. Over the years very very special Laxman has played some spellbinding innings against opponents who hold him in mild regard( which is the Australian version of awe). Neither opening batsmen has been amongst the runs and Rahul Dravid has been reduced to mere humanity. When Dravid's game is working he can appear impregnable. Of course it is an illusion. He is a batsman of intellect, a creation of the mind. Confusion is his enemy for the riddle of perfection must be solved before he has taken guard. His frailty offers Australia its greatest hope of victory.

. Suddenly the importance of Sachin Tendulkar has been realised. Indians have been inclined to dote on Tendulkar whilst also blaming him for every defeat. Unfortunately he is suffering from tennis elbow, an ailment variously put down to heavy bats, bowling machines and hours spent practising with one hand Tendulkar is desperate to play but has not batted for several weeks and still cannot practise properly. Although sportsmen of his calibre are not to be underestimated it is hard to see him finding his best form.

Clearly the Indians are vulnerable. Australia's main problem has been the injury suffered by Ricky Ponting. The Tasmanian will be missed both as an attacking batsman occupying the crucial position of first wicket down and as a captain capable of inspiring a side. Adam Gilchrist has not convinced as a tactician and the Australians may regret that Shane Warne's antics pushed him down the list.

Otherwise the visitors have nothing to worry about except the selection of the final X1 , a task to be undertaken by a group including Trevor Hohns who has been striding about thoughtfully. By adding yoga to their activities the Australians have indicated a willingness to adjust to their surroundings , the attitude needed to prevail in these parts. Their victory in Sri Lanka has given the Australians the belief that winning in the region is not beyond them.

Matching recent series played between these sides will not be an easy task. Moreover Tendulkar and Ponting may miss the start. But India is different. Fears that the series may fail to fulfil expectations barely survive the walk to the Brabourne stadium in Mumbai that takes the pedestrian past the gloriously coloured Holy Name Cathedral, past men playing cards, women making decorations from waste paper and into a ground that contains the ghosts of C.K Nayudu, Vinoo Mankad and many others.


Fourth World Carrom Championship

National Savings Bank as a part of its commitment towards the development of sports is sponsoring the fourth World Carrom Championship, conducted by the Carrom Federation of Sri Lanka. The tournament will be held from 5 to 9 October at Grand Oriental Hotel, Colombo. Being the main sponsor, NSB has created a precedent by offering a helping hand to the lesser-known sport or the poor man's game. In addition to the main sponsorship by NSB, the Carrom Federation of Sri Lanka has been able to achieve co-sponsorship from The Finance & Guarantee Co. Ltd, Sri Lanka Telecom and the People's Bank.

Out of the 16 countries affiliated to the International Carrom Federation UK, France, Germany, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives Island, Korea, Japan and Sri Lanka have confirmed their participation in the tournament. Malaysia, Switzerland, America, Dubai, Australia, Nepal & Singapore are yet to confirm their participation.

"At a time where most of the sponsors look for a much popular sport, we are so grateful to the National Savings Bank and all our co-sponsors for their remarkable contribution towards the poor man's sport. We didn't have much time, we had to organize this world event within three to four months. NSB should be saluted for agreeing to be the main sponsor at such short notice, NSB is a truly Sri Lankan Bank." says Ms. Rohini Mathiasz, General Secretary, Carrom Federation of Sri Lanka.

India carries the prestige of winning the third World Championship which was held in India in year 2000, where R.M. Shankara and Rashmi Kumari won the men's and women's tournaments, respectively. The men's Doubles by R. Sharmila and A. Ponnarasi. of India. Sri Lanka became the runners-up in the Men's doubles and third in the Women's doubles. R. M Shankara and Rashmi Kumari will defend their world titles in this fourth world Carrom Championship. A keen tussle for supremacy is expected among the participating teams and India will have to compete with some of the strongest teams who are expected to come up with sterling performances. Well known Sri Lankan champions, Chamil Cooray and Amitha Wickramasinghe will be competing with the rest of the world teams to bring pride to the nation.


Dialog GSM powers Mercantile rugby sevens  

Dialog GSM will host the 34th annual Mercantile Rugby sevens for the second consecutive year this year. The Mercantile Rugby Sevens will be worked off on 9 and 10 October at the CR&FC grounds.

This year, the tournament, which is by far the most popular event in Sri Lanka's rugby calendar, has attracted 40 participating teams from the corporate sector - including significantly, four women's teams. This year too, the trophies will range from the Shield, the Bowl, the Plate and the climax of the tournament will be reached with the announcement of the victorious team of the Dialog GSM Challenge Trophy. The event, which has been held consecutively since 1966 and is supported by the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Association, will display the same high standards of rugby football, as seen in the previous years.

At a media conference announcing the sponsorship, Nushad Perera, - General Manager Sales and Marketing of Dialog GSM said "We are indeed happy to be associated with the Mercantile Rugby Sevens this year as well. With our involvement in this much-sought after event, we are innovating our corporate outlook as the teams featured in the Mercantile Rugby Sevens are all part of our corporate family. We hope all teams will compete this year in the true spirit of sportsmanship and healthy rivalry. This sponsorship demonstrates our serious commitment to corporate Rugby, and to Sri Lankan Rugby in general".

Dialog GSM is one of Sri Lanka's foremost sports sponsors, with a significant presence in a wide range of sports from school cricket, athletics, rugby and football to swimming, motor racing, rowing and golf. Dialog GSM has also been the exclusive sponsor of many national contingents, including most recently the national contingents to the Athens Olympics and Paralympics. The company is committed to supporting the development of national talent to international standards through long-team commercial sponsorship - with a sports marketing investment so far of over Rs 75 million.


A man for all seasons, that's SP  

THEY don't make sportsman like S P de Silva anymore. Listen to him: "I can't do without sport," says the one-time double international, "just like some who can't do without a fix." So at 64, when life's habitat shifts to an armchair, how does the man get his fix? "Show me a billiards table and you'll have to call a platoon of men to drag me out of the room," says the former solider. "It's not the same as kicking the ball into the goal or converting a rugby kick, but the joy I get is just the same."

These days it's billiards and a daily round of an hour's jogging. But there was once a time when he spent all his waking life on the playing fields. "My friends would joke that it's easier to list out the sports I didn't do than the ones I did," says de Silva, a logistic officer with a cleaning company in Kuwait, presently on vacation here.

He is well remembered for his exploits on the soccer and rugby fields, a Sri Lanka representative in both. He was also a member of the national hockey pool in the 60s, but his commitments to soccer and rugby probably denied him being a triple international. The demands, physical and mental, of engaging in three sports at the highest level might have drained another, but for de Silva, it was just a warm up. He also was into cricket, volleyball, basketball and athletics, representing the Army in all of them and the Defence Services in some. ''I carried this unusually large kit bag - it contained my rugby, soccer, hockey and cricket kits, boots and all. It was easier carrying all your needs for the day in one bag than have to return to your room each time you needed a change of kit," said de Silva, an old boy of Kalutara Vidyalaya.

When he joined the Army in 1962, all he had in his bag was skills in cricket, athletics and soccer, from his student days. He gained prominence at school too: his score of 127 was his school's highest score, finished third in pole vault at the Public Schools meet and performed quite some eye-catching deeds on the soccer field. " Outstation parents' view is that school is for studies; sport isn't encouraged, but I was more fortunate," says de Silva. ''My father was a school principal and had been a boxer while at the Teachers' Training School. He knew the virtues of sport and insisted I spend all my free time on the playing fields."

Reared on that philosophy, entering the Army was like opening the gates to a vast playground. There before him were gymnasiums, playing fields, indoor and outdoor courts and all sorts of equipments - all clean and trim. " From the gravelly pitches of Kalutara, this was magic - imagine a little village kid in the city's finest ice cream parlour, that was me during my early days in the Army," recalled de Silva. "I was going to help myself to one long, big treat."

And so it was, spending endless hours at play. "Of course my skills got better, but what I treasure most of those early days (as a soldier) was the freedom to engage in sport and the sheer enjoyment derived from that," recalled de Silva.

His graduation to the Sri Lanka soccer team was a logical fulfillment of his schoolboy promise. His eight-year term of national duty climaxed in 1973 when he led the country. But his fondest memories are of the 1968 team, led by Hashim Deen snr. regarded as Asia's best goalkeeper at the time. "It was the first time we beat Pakistan, and to be part of it was an honour .it was the best team I've ever played in," said de Silva, who scored a goal in the country's 3/1 triumph; the other two were by Zainulabdeen and Amidon.

His achievements in rugby, however, were the more remarkable, emerging as it did from a zero-background. He well remembers his reaction to his first glimpse of rugby as a schoolboy. ''I first saw rugby in Tebuwana and have to admit I laughed a lot at seeing men tear each other apart. I couldn't figure out why all these hulking men ought to fight over a strange-looking ball."

The Army taught him why. "It was in 1963 I turned up for my first practice with the Field Engineers team. Our coach Capt. Roy Tissera held up a ball in the palm of his hands and said 'this is a rugby ball'," recalled de Silva. The beginning can't get anymore elementary than that. But from that basic introduction, de Silva went on to be a member of the historic Sri Lanka team that made its debut in the Asian Rugby Championship, in 1970 in Bangkok. The team was led by Hadji Omar and included stalwarts like Y C Chang, Sari de Sylva, Abdul Majeed, Glen vanLangenberg, the Ratnam brothers and John Burrows. De Silva was the first-choice scrumhalf. Sri Lanka drew with Thailand in the opening match but then lost to Hong Kong and Korea.

His rugby dates back to the time of Capts. Bertie Dias, Dr C Thurairaja and Larry Foenander back in the mid-60s. Twenty-one seasons later, including five Cup finals, his 21-year career ended in 1982, aged 42. He was the first non-commissioned office to captain the Army in rugby. That was in 1973, and to mark that momentous achievement the Army shared the Clifford Cup with the Police that season - to give the soldiers theirs first feel of the coveted trophy. They went on to win the finals in '75 (over Air Force), in '79 (Havelocks) and '82 (CH). The solitary defeat in the final was at the hands of the CR in 77.

It's been some years since he turned a grandfather. But you couldn't say that looking at him: erect, firm limbed and not a strand of gray in a head full of hair. "Some ask me if I use dye, and I tell them - 'no; I am preparing for the next Olympics.' ". He can get very rude at even an unwitting remark that questions the fact that once he was a sportsman for all seasons.



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