20th August,  2006  Volume 13, Issue  6

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                                    


Indian cricket captain Rahul Dravid leaving a practice session in Colombo under armed escort given the tense security situation in the country which led to the South African cricket team making an early exit, citing security considerations

10th South Asian Games  begin

By Hishan Welmilla

The tenth edition of the South Asian Games (SAG) got underway at the Sugathdasa Stadium yesterday with a spectacular opening ceremony. Decked up like a new bride, the Sri Lankan capital is all set to unveil hoping the regional multi-sport extravaganza will help shift focus from terror to on-field action.

Sri Lanka, who hosted the Games once earlier in 1991, are being led by Sydney Olympic Games bronze medallist Susanthika Jaysinghe, who has been nominated as the captain of the entire Lankan Games contingent. Several venues staging the 20 sports during these games were built in 1991, when Colombo last hosted the South Asian Games. They have now been refurbished, ,(according to the authorities)   upgrading the Sri Lankan capital's sports infrastructure.

The multiple-sport regional competition featuring athletes from eight nations - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives, beside host Sri Lanka - has been in the spotlight.

Colourful paper lanterns, festoons and banners have lent a festival like atmosphere showing signs of returning to normalcy after last Monday's powerful bomb blast in the heart of the city. For once, cricket also appears to have taken a backseat what with the fizz going out of the tri-series following the pull-out from South Africa.

The South Asian Games, which run through August 28. The Game's torch was handed over to the President Mahinda Rajapakse at a special ceremony scheduled for 10 am at his officials residence Temple Trees yesterday with the participation of . National Olympic Committee Chairman Hemasiri Fernando, Sri Lanka team captain Susanthika Jayasinghe. The final phase of the torch relay from Temple Trees to the stadium started in the evening to the venue of the opening ceremony.

Two former star athletes Nagalingam Ethir weerasingham and Sriyani Kulawansa had the honour of lighting the Games lamp in the opening ceremony after the Games torch which went around the country on a 2000 kilometre journey during the past few weeks.

The opening ceremony of the biggest-ever sports event staged in Sri Lanka has highlighted the Island nation's cultural ethos.A special fireworks display was among the highlights of the opening ceremony. Peoples Republic of China has presented fireworks worth Rs. 17 million for the event.

"We're looking to host the best ever South Asian Games," said Hemasiri Fernando, president of the Sri Lankan Olympic Committee and a top official of the games organizing body.

The security was tightened in the city of Colombo and according to the high ranked police official, everything has been put in place to ensure the Games are held without any unpleasant incident.

India, with a contingent boasting of over 300 athletes, start as clear favourites in almost all the 17 disciplines out of 20 in which they are participating despite the fact that they are mostly fielding second-string teams.

Archery, Athletics , Kabaddi, Badminton, Boxing, Cycling, Football, Hockey, Judo, Karatedo, Rowing, Shooting, Squash, Swimming , Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Volleyball, Weight lifting, Wrestling and Wushu are the sporting disciplines that would be featured in the 1oth edition of the SAG.

Sri Lankans also expect to perform well in the presence of local support but it may be hard to surpass the extraordinary performance in 1991. Athletics is the discipline which Sri Lanka kept their biggest hopes as far as the gold medals are concern. Apart from that weight lifting, boxing, and badminton would add some gold medals to the total tally.

Kingswood in 72-12 victory

By Hafiz Marikar

Defending League Champions Kingswood defeated Ananda convincingly by 72 points to 12 in their Division 0ne - Group "A" inter-school rugger match played at Bogambara Stadium on Thursday.

Excelling in all departments of the game, the Kingswoodians led 22-12 at halftime. Sound defensive work by the Anandians kept the tally down in the first half of the game.

The 72 points were made out of eleven tries, out of which seven tries and a penalty were goaled and losers scored two tries and one was converted, that gave them 12 points. The Anandians in the first half gave a better account of themselves now and then by putting up a stout defence against repeated attacks of the Kingswoodians.

In the first half, the Kingswoodians failed to put their play together, and were given a hard time by the Anandians. It was after the turn over, the home team swarmed into the opponents territory and battered there defence time and again, and tries being scored with monotonous and unfailing regularity.

Anandians, who gave an excellent display in the first half were no match for the Kingswoodains in the second session. They dominated the game in every department, were fast on their feet and excelled in their passing out. They outwitted the visitors both in the line-outs and loose.

It was skipper Navin Wijetunge and Gayan Weeraratne who scored four tries each, and the other tries came from Roshan Weerartne two, one from Melan Kulatunge, Dev Anand goaled seven tries and also knocked the penalty at goal. For Ananda Sameera Udayanga and Amitha Nuwan scored the tries and last named converted one of the tries.

Anura Ranko-thge refereed.

Davis Cup Promotion a step away; really?

Samat on Sunday

IT'S EASY to rush to the conclusion that Sri Lanka tennis is only one step away from graduation to Group Two of the Davis Cup, long a dream of the local tennis fraternity. Indeed, facts on the surface suggest that the country is near to realizing that dream.

After all, Sri Lanka finished fourth in the 2005 Davis Cup competition and third in this year's event, concluded recently in Manila, Philippines. The two top Group Three teams qualify for Group Two promotion - which means that over the past two years, we've been, respectively, two and one win/s away from elevation. So, the belief that the dream is turning true isn't quite the work of imagination; it's realistic enough. But a closer examination of our Group Three successes in 2005 and 06 speak of a prospect less certain.

To measure how near or far we are from Group Two promotion, it is necessary to retrace recent history. It was just three years ago that Sri Lanka, along with other minnow-countries, resided in the cellars of Davis Cup, at Group Four. The island won promotion to Group Three in 2004, finishing on top among 16 nations in Jordan.

The breakout from the dinghy cellar, after nearly five years of dwelling, brought a breath of fresh air to our little world of tennis. And happy officials spoke of Group Two elevation not being far off - that, though, was the heart, not the head, speaking. The truth is, Group Three promotion isn't an achievement to go gaga over; it was gained before, only to be relegated back to the cellar a year or two later. So, while optimism envisioned promotion, skepticism bluntly asked: how long can Sri Lanka survive in Group Three?

The question of survival might have been asked mostly by critics of the five-year Suresh Subramaniam administration, but not entirely out of personal rivalry: doubts about preserving our place in Group Three are legitimate. Because the competition in Group Three is at quite another level from the cellar, whose dwellers see tennis pretty much as a recreational thing. Until the young Turks took control of the administration in 1999, Sri Lanka tennis, too, was ensconced in the old world of amateurism, meaning, it was meant to be a relaxing distraction from the pressures of earning to live the good life; a rich man's pastime. But I digress.

At the Group Three level, the competition isn't entirely recreational. The countries on this plain are driven by professional ambitions, and their administrations are run much like business is - and that means the bottom line is profit, which in sport, translates to on-court success. That philosophy was adopted here in only 1999, and to have hoped for rapid promotion to Group Three and beyond would've been misplaced optimism.

But six years down the road and promotion becomes a more realistic proposition. Group Three elevation was achieved in 2004 and indications are that Sri Lanka is now on its way to Group Two: placed fourth and third in the past two Group Three competitions, the logical forecast for next year would be a finish in the top bracket - and win promotion. Sport, of course, is a fickle thing, and the way it makes an ass of educated predictions is fascinating.

The less-certain prospects of Group Two promotion that we spoke about earlier, however, has little to do with sport's sweet mysteries. Rather, it has all to do with the dangers of dependency on an individual, in this case, the exceptionally talented Harshana Godamanna. Let the 20-year-old's statistics speak of his contributions:

 In the 2005 Davis Cup tournament in Hong Kong, he won three of his five singles matches; the other singles players, Renouk Wijemanne, won two out of his five. Godamanna's contribution, thus, was more than half the total of the team's Singles successes.

 In the Philippines last month, his contribution was even more phenomenal. He won four of his five singles; Amrit Rupasinghe won one of his five singles. So, the former Royalist contributed all but one to Sri Lanka's total of five Singles wins, in percentage terms, pretty much 90%. As if that wasn't enough, Godamanna, also won two of his three Doubles matches.

His solitary loss in the Philippines, it has to be mentioned, was at the hands of Cecil Mamiit, a Filipino domiciled in the US - and no run-of-the-mill player, he. Mamiit's present ATP ranking is in the vicinity of the 250s, but there was a time not long ago he was ranked 72, which was when he scalped Andre Agassi. Though defeated, Godamanna was anything but Mamiit's plaything: the Filipino was kept on court for nearly two hours for his 6/4, 6/2 win.

According to team manager Vasantha Wijesekera, host Philippines was the strongest among the tournament's dozen participants. "All of their players are Filipinos only by birth. Otherwise, to all intents and purposes they are Americans, and play in the US circuit," said Wijesekera. "There was never a doubt that the Philippines were going to finish number 1."

The number 2 slot was equally within grasp of Sri Lanka and Iran, who along with the Philippines were the two demoted teams from Group Two last year. After Rupasinghe conceded the opening singles to the Iranians, Godamanna brought all his skills and tenacity to bear to overcome his opponent in a marathon three-set match. But veterans, Rajiv Rajapakse and Rohan de Silva conceded the decisive doubles, the tie - and promotion to Iran.

For the record, the countries we overcame were Vietnam, 2/1, Singapore, 3/0 and Saudi Arabia, 2/1. By any measure, this was commendable and, probably, our best Davis Cup performance in a long while -an achievement, clearly, born of the long and comprehensive preparation, made possible by CBNSat's Rs.2.5 million investments in this year's campaign. Through the new satellite digital broadcasting network's generous contribution, the Sri Lanka Davis Cup squad was able to put in nearly four months of systematic, intensive training, much of it at the sophisticated Tennis Academy of Asia in Bangkok, under the watch of Dominic Utzinger, one-time coach to Roger Federer.

This much is certain next year: the preparations in the Bangkok Academy with Utzinger as coach is to continue. But that doesn't necessarily bolster promotion prospects. As manager Wijesekera said: "Fine we'll have Godamanna next year; OK he wins all his matches, but that won't guarantee us a ticket to Group Two. We need another reliable singles player - no question about it."

It's not that suitable candidates aren't around, but the nettlesome problem is that all of them are away in the US: Franklin Emmanuel, who at 14 was the youngest to win the National Singles title, and Wijemanne, a mature Davis Cup campaigner who got among the ATP ranking last year. Rupasinghe, the 19-year who made his Davis Cup debut this year, might have been the most suitable second to Godamanna, but he, too, flies out to US shortly. Another prospect, Oshada Wijemanne, is in Colombo but his interest has wandered off to a place behind a set of drums. "As at present we don't have anyone worthy for the second singles slot," lamented manager Wijesekera.

It's an old lament, really - a lament that's an echo of the recurring problem of young players, in whom great investments were made, leaving for the US on tennis scholarship - ostensibly to further tennis careers, but in truth, to obtain a green card and employment in Uncle Sam's land.

Wijesekera pleads for patriotism from players overseas; some others call for the inclusion of conditions that make national representation compulsory before aspiring players' credentials for US tennis scholarships are certified by the SLTA. Both suggestions have much the same effect as taking an un-thirsty cow to water: the players' quench their thirst at fountains of other desires and have no stomach for national tennis.

This is an old "betrayal" that the SLTA can do little about. Suresh Subramaniam has lived through the problem, as player, as coach, as official and now as SLTA president, and knows the issue like the palm of his hands. "If overseas players are keen about playing for their motherland there would be no problem. But living overseas, their priorities obviously change - and that is something we have no control over. After all, this is about freedom of choice.

"Yes, we might lay down conditions to make national representation compulsory - but that is forcing reluctant players to play for the country. That does not do anybody any good," says Subramaniam. "We just will have to find solutions in the realities we live with."

And the reality isn't barren. "Godamanna's commitment to professional tennis for the next two years is going to be an obvious plus for next year's Davis Cup. The experience he would've gained is going to make him so much a better player," says Subramaniam.

What of our second singles player? "That's where the problem is," said the SLTA honcho. "The temptation is great to call on any US scholarship holder to represent the country. But in doing that you risk undervaluing national status; as a national body we can't even seem to be doing that. We are scrupulously careful about who we select - overseas players with ranking points are considered; the others have to play in selections trials in Colombo and prove they are worthy of representing the country."

But then not many players overseas are willing to be subjected to trials; Emmanuel was one them. The 19-year said studies didn't permit him to fly out for the trials in May, but was available for Davis Cup duty in July/August. Emmanuel's claim might be honest, but some bad past experiences have taught the SLTA to be wary. Many overseas-based players who have been included in the national team on the basis of, well, because they live and play overseas, have been found to be far less competent than their homegrown compatriots.

Subramaniam is casting the net at home. "It won't be long before the development program for outstation juniors throws up potential national players. Their outlook to tennis is vastly different (they look at it as living) to the Colombo players, the traditional base, and hopefully we won't have to look beyond our shores to make up our future Davis Cup squad," says Subramaniam. "Until such time, I am afraid, the arrangement will have to be more ad hoc."

The arrangement for next year, though, has moved beyond contemplation. "We'll be making appeals to the US-based players, but no promises of automatic selection will be given. They'll be asked to play in the selection trials. If their response is in the negative, then, we'll have to look at our juniors."

One junior who springs to mind is Michael Siyaguna, the National junior u.16 champion and Junior Davis Cup representative. It is a reflection of SLTA's plans for Siyaguna that he was included in the preparation of our Davis Cup squad this year, including a stint under Utzinger in the Bangkok Academy.

The encouragement of junior players, in theory, is good, but if it will serve our promotion cause is, well, contestable. So, you see, graduation to Group Two next year isn't the rosy prospect it seems.

First ODI - Sri Lanka-India

Rain-a spoiler

By Beamer

The first one day international between Sri Lanka and India was abandoned after just 3.4 overs following heavy rain at the SSC grounds, Maitland Place yesterday.

The Indian openers skipper Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar had collected eleven runs from the 22 deliveries after they had won the toss and elected to bat before another heavy shower completely washed out the game.

The match of course got underway under bright sunshine and was expected to go until 6.00 p.m and to be resumed on Saturday with the Sri Lankan innings. But instead the India innings lasted for less than fifteen minutes and after the heavy thunderstorm in the afternoon there will be some doubt whether the game could be started at 10.00 a.m today.

Earlier some excellent work from the ground staff and better drainage facilities at the SSC backed up by a brief spell of sunshine enabled the match to be started at least at 2.30 p.m. India went in with a new opening combination of skipper Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar while Sri Lanka decided to field a four pronged pace attack.

India: Rahul Dravid (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Irfan Pathan, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni , Ramesh Powar, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel.

Sri Lanka: Sanath Jayasuriya, Upul Tharanga, Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chamara Kapugedera, Farveez Maharoof, Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Lasith Malinga. 

Bets will be on Godamanna

YOU can bet all of your assets for a mango on Harshana Godamanna winning his second National Singles title when the country's premier tennis tournament gets into full swing this week on the SLTA courts, Green Path.

Apart from Godamanna's outstanding form in the recent 12-nation Davis Cup tournament in the Philippines, his title defence has been made easier by the absence of his most serious challenger. Amrith Rupasinghe, who was the second Singles player in Philippines and National runner-up last year, has opted out of the Rs.232, 000-event as he prepares to leave for the US.

But two other Davis Cup team mates will challenge Godamanna for the Rs.50, 000 winner's cheque. Veterans Rohan de Silva and Rajiv Rajapakse, benefiting from the rigorous Davis Cup preparations, are well-conditioned, fitness-wise, to scrap it out with Godamanna, but will have to show exceptional resolve to overcome the immensely opponent, many years their junior.

Godamanna, inevitably, has been designated top seed of the 91st. National Championships, sponsored by Lafarge for a second year. De Silva has been nominated bottom seed in a 35-man field.

The outcome of the Women's Singles, however, is less predictable. Defending champion Jithmi Jayawickerema, the top seed, continues her running battle with Nilupul Gunasekera. The two for long have figured in a tit-for-tat battle, alternatively getting the better of the each other. With a winner's cheque of Rs.20, 000 on offer, this is one neither would want to concede, should they advance to the final.

The competition in the Men's, Women's and Mixed Doubles events too will be intense with winners' prizes of Rs.15, 000, Rs.15, 000 and Rs.30, 000 respectively on the table.

The National Wheelchair Tennis Championships will be held concurrently, August 19- 27. The event, sponsored by SAGT, will also carry prize money, with the Singles winner claiming Rs.5, 000, runner-up, Rs.2, 500 and the losing semifinalists, Rs.1, 000 each.

Meanwhile, soon after the Nationals, a five-member team of four players and manager is to  leave for Malaysia and Thailand for wheelchair tennis competitions. They will compete in the September 1-3 Malaysian Open and the Sept. 6-8 event in Bangkok.

The team: R Rajakaruna, I D Sarath, D M Gamini, S Kumara, Jagath Welikala (Manager/Coach).

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