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Our batsmen face a searching test


Chamara Silva

MUCH of the debate emanating from Sri Lanka's selections for the tri-nation series in Australia, beginning next week, has been centred on the exclusion of a second spinner. It does strike as odd that all but one of the seven chosen bowlers are pacemen. That glaring imbalance is countered by the argument that, when the solitary spinner chosen is the best on the planet, a second of the same is superfluous.

The discrepancy in the pace-spin distribution is, no doubt, worthy of debate, especially when the casualty happens to be Malinga Bandara, who in the 2006 tri-nation series in Australia finished the second most successful bowler, behind Muralitharan. But so much has been made solely on Bandara's exclusion it seems as if the 15-man selections has no other concerns. Things, though, are anything but that blissful.

Overclouded

The batting selections seem to have gone unexamined, lost in the uproar over the exclusion of another spinner. But then, the selectors picked pretty much a predictable batting lineup. The six seniors - Jayawar- dene, Sangakkara, Jayasu- riya, Tharanga, Chamara Silva and Dilshan - were obvious choices in the eight-man batting lineup. Less certain, though were the other two: Dilruwan Perera (25),  Panadura SC and Chamara Kapugedera (20), CCC.

Both have already had their ODI initiation, Kapugedera in 2006 and Perera, a year after. Clearly, their selections are investments in the future; though, perhaps, some debate on the latter's inclusion is to be expected. Although the former Dharmarajah batsman debuted impressively in the 2006 tri-nation in Australia, he hasn't quite lived up to his immense potential. In 22 ODIs, Kapuge- dera has managed just one 50, aggregated 273 and averaged 16.05 - not the sort of figures you would associate with one who a year ago was considered the rising star of Sri Lanka cricket. 

Nothing much

 It has been nearly two years since the right hand stylist made his international debut. And that he hasn't yet hinted at establishing permanency questions the decision to persist with him. Just 20 years, his age, perhaps, is why selectors chose to persevere with him. Patience, however, is not inexhaustible, and just how he performs in the coming days is likely to determine his future.  

 Some might have preferred 28-year-old Malinda Warnapura, a prolific scorer for the national 'A' team and also has two Test appearances, both v. Bangladesh, scoring a personal best of 82. But he is essentially an opener and might likely have been considered, along with Dilruwan Perera, as understudy to veteran Jayasuriya. Were it so, Perera probably won out on his abilities as an off spinner. Just how well he might stand up in international cricket as a spinner wasn't revealed in his ODI debut, in the final encounter v. England last October. He wasn't required to bowl as the Englishmen were disposed of in 29.1 overs. But as a batsman, he hit a 41-ball thirty, a promising debut effort.

Tough itinerary

Not being a part of the established batting lineup, the frequency of the duo's exposure in the tri-nation will only be revealed as the tournament progresses. The month-long itinerary includes eight firm fixtures, with Sri Lanka meeting each of its two opponents, Australia and India, four times. Three more games could be added should we qualify for the best of three final. There is no thing as an easy match in this tri-nation and hence little room for experimentation with the young pair. So, the possibility of their inclusion will depend on just how disappointing the seniors might prove to be - the prospect of which we'll discuss later.   

This much is certain: our batsmen will face a searching examination against two bowling attacks, presently firing on all cylinders. The reputation of the Australian bowlers, of course, is established, but the Indians' bowling attack is a revelation. Their pace bowlers have been outstanding in Australia, and their accounting of 18 of 20 Australian batting in their triumphant Perth Test must rank as one of the best ever achievements by any visiting team in recent times.

Craft and intelligence

 Raw pace they might not have, but plentiful in craft and intelligence, no better illustration of those virtues coming from teenager, Sharma. The 19-year-old Delhi dasher subjected the world's best batsman, Ponting, to endless torture with his pin-point accuracy and movement - until he finally claimed the home skipper. Irfan Pathan, back after a while in the wilderness, is sharper than he ever was, and his total commitment suggests he is unwilling to put to risk again his career. R.P. Singh, however, has been the most successful, his pace and accuracy earning him a dozen wickets in three Tests completed so far. Add to that the 600-wicket-man, Kumble and Harbajan Singh, and you have an attack as good as any around.

The Aussie attack

As for the Australians' attack, the Sri Lankan batsmen are only too aware of the difficulties that await them after their struggles on their month-long Test tour of Australia last November.

The job ahead of our batsmen is going to be a trying one, to say the least. Just how they will cope, time will tell, but it would have been comforting had consistency been one of their virtues. That, unfortunately, has not been the case. The batting has been mostly held together by Sangakkara and skipper Jayawardene; the former a tad more consistent than his captain.

Sri Lanka's last ODI series offers little inspiration, losing 2/3 to an experimental England team. Sri Lanka's batting failures contributed largely to this unexpected series loss. Only once did we manage to surpass a 250-total, barely cleared 200 twice, totalling 211 both times and twice, muddled through to 164 and 169. That the two wins over England produced the two best Sri Lanka opening stands is no coincident. We won the first and the last ODIs, the openers yielding stands of 71 and 45.

So, openers Jayasuriya and Tharanga hardly exude thoughts of reliability, though on their day they can be breathtakingly devastating. But those days are getting to be few and far between. Take the ODI series v. England for instance: an opening stand of 71 in the first match was followed by stands of 9, 22 and 7 - which led to the exclusion of Tharanga from the final ODI, replaced by Dilruwan Perera. The new combination produced 45.

Deliver the goods

There was nothing exceptional in the performances of Jayasuriya either; his highest in the series against England being 41. The Australian pitches will be a lot more batsman-friendly than those found in the stadiums at Dambulla and the Keththarama, and unless the old firm of Jayasuriya and Tharanga can show instant improvement there, the door will surely open for Perera.

Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Chamara Silva look entrenched in slots 3-5. It should mostly be Dilshan at six, providing he performs consistently. Slot 7, however, is filled with variables. Though customarily the seventh slot has been reserved for a batsman, it might not necessarily be so this time around. If it is going to be a batsman, Kapugedera could be the one, though it is possible that Perera or Jayasuriya, should he be off-form, could be tried out in the lower order. It will all depend how well the 20-year old makes of his first opportunity. There is another option for slot 7: the inclusion of all-rounder Maharoof which will make room for another bowler, of which there is abundance.

The trouble though is that the fifth bowler Maharoof's inclusion  would have to come from the stock of six pacemen, which means the attack will have more of the same. In terms of variety, a five-man attack ideally ought to include a second spinner. 

It looks as if the debate over Malinga Bandara's exclusion won't go away for some time.


Team Frontier 1st runner-up at RFC 2007

Sri Lankan Team Frontier Automotive-Land Rover duo of Indika Sanjaya and Navin Marapana emerged 1st Runner-Up (Diesel Category) in the toughest and most internationally represented 4x4 off-road event in the world - the Malaysian Rainforest Challenge 2007 (RFC 2007) concluded in Terengganu last month.

The duo improved on their previous performance to emerge runners-up only 23 points behind the winners, Team Demark in a hotly competed 10th anniversary edition of this challenging international competition which had to go into evacuation mode titled the "Monsoon War Zone - The Great Escape."

"We were strategising to preserve our vehicle till the end towards a hard-fought win, but with at least eight more tougher Special Stages left, the weather gods decided to test the RFC participants on their collective team spirit to beat the forces of nature and get out of the jungles," said co-driver Navin Marapana.

While the monsoon rains is an accepted part of the challenge, especially when it is held in the state of Teregganu, the rainstorm during the week just before flag-off day on December 1, was already a big worry, a two day respite gave way for a grand opening ceremony and prologue special stages. At the end of the prologue stages, the convoy of participants entered the jungles with a mixed leader-board. Many hot-favourites had been handicapped by the luck-of-draw having to fight a muddy left hand track against a flat-gravel right hand track in a special stage where two vehicles compete side-by-side designed to draw spectator interest. Team Sri Lanka whose competitive vigour and leap-bounding improvement in customised vehicle preparation to suit the event from the previous year was the cynosure of the rest of the competition too, were unfortunate to have got the left hand track.

On day three, it was still a bright sunny day but rain clouds were already brewing in the interior blowing cool air into the campsite along Lebir River. However, it was still all systems go with more special stages testing the superbly crafted off-road competition machines from Australia, Sri Lanka, Poland, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Indonesia, China, Korea, Lebanon, Germany and home country Malaysia.

Moving further the competing teams fought yet another two special stages which included the most vertical of inclines where the slightest error meant a multiple toppling and damaging of the vehicle. Little did the contingent realise that later, this merging point of two main rivers will become one of the major "battle grounds" of RFC 2007 in which some, including the main scout/marshals team would be caught by rising waters for five nights in a row.


Sri Lankan team in high spirits

The four member women's tennis team is all set to shine at the Fed Cup scheduled to be held on January 28, in Thailand. In six years, this would be the second time a team from the Sri Lankan Tennis Association (SLTA) would represent Sri Lanka at this annual tournament. Nine countries including Sri Lanka would compete for the Fed Cup Asia-Oceania Zone (Group 2) Tie namely; Iran, Jordan Kazakhstan, Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Syria and Turkmenistan.

The team comprises the top four women's players in the current Sri Lanka tennis arena. Jithmie Jayawickrema, Amreetha Muttiah, Nilupul Goonesekera, and the most experienced Mahesha Seneviratne with the team (non-playing) captain cum Coach Niranjan Casie Chetty.    

Casie Chetty has been a Davis Cup player from 1983 to 1985 while being ranked as the number one player in the Men's event in 1984. He has been the assistant coach of the Fed Cup team in 1992 and also of the SAF Games in 1992.

The most experienced player on the team is Mahesha Senevirathne who has been a five times U-18 National Champion and the current Women's Doubles Champion. However, with upcoming players such as Jithmie Jayawickrema, Amreetha Muttiah and Nilupul Goonesekera the team has great expectations. 

 Sri Lanka has not taken part in the six previous Fed Cup tournaments, yet given the training and experience of the present players in the team, the SLTA is confident that Sri Lanka will make its presence felt.

Sri Lanka last played Fed Cup in 2001, winning against Syria and Fiji and losing to Philippines and Malaysia. The Fed Cup team in 2001 comprised  Sobhini de Silva, Shalini Pereira, Mahesha Seneviratne and Vindya Dayananda.  

The CEO further stated that SLTA has provided extensive coaching and extended its facilities to the senior women's team. The team being mentored by an experienced coach such as Casie Chetty and continuously providing exposure to international tournaments, SLTA is confident that the local Fed Cup team is skilled and competent enough to face the competition from the other competing countries.  

The Fed Cup is regarded as the women's version of the Davis Cup, which began in 1963 as part of the International Tennis Federation's (ITF) 50th year celebrations. It featured 16 countries at its primary inauguration and now has grown enormously. At last year's Cup, it attracted a total of 82 countries. The competition celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2003 and as a tribute to the historic event, a majority of the world's top 20 players were among the 305 women that represented their country during the year.

Tennis is a sport that is individualistic, but the Fed Cup, like the Davis Cup, offers players the chance to play for their country within a tightly knit team. It's a challenge that most players rise to. Tennis is one of the few, but growing number of sports, where women play a key role - the Fed Cup provides an additional spotlight for their talents.

About SLTA

The Sri Lanka Tennis Association (SLTA) was established in 1919 and is the oldest tennis club in Asia. Through SLTA, Sri Lanka has gained a reputation as being an appropriate destination to host both local and international tournaments.

SLTA works towards developing tennis in Sri Lanka as a professional sport and is hopeful of producing world ranking tennis players.

Currently the coaching programme at SLTA has over 300 students out of which 30 have been identified for specialised training.


Frontier Automotive celebrates Land Rover victory

Frontier Automotive, sole agents for Land Rover in Sri Lanka, celebrated Land Rover's spectacular performance at the recently concluded Malaysian Rain Forest Challenge 2007 where the Sri Lankan Team No. 101 "TEAM FRONTIER AUTOMOTIVE -LAND ROVER" Indika Sanjaya and Navin Marapana emerged 1st Runners Up (Diesel Category) in the Malaysian Rainforest Challenge 2007 - the toughest , most internationally represented 4x4 event in the world.

Amongst those who sponsored the Sri Lankan team were Frontier Automotive Pvt Ltd. - main sponsor, the Sports Ministry,  Sports and Public Recreation Minister - Gamini Lokuge,  Chairman BPO Services Pvt Ltd. - Thilanga Sumathipala and  Cashian Herath.  Land Rover's sweeping victory at the recently concluded 4 x 4 Challenge 2007 was also simultaneously celebrated as Land Rovers were placed first, second, third and fifth. "Land Rover's dominance on the results board was significant and in fact Land Rover won the Team Prize for the event and took first place in the category for Novices as well," said Frontier Automotive CEO, Sheran Fernando, speaking at the press briefing. 


Aussies firm favourites

By Sunil Thenabadu

The preliminary matches of the tri nation ODI tournament involving the hosts, Australia, India and Sri Lanka will commence on February 3, 2008 with the curtain raiser between Australia and India at the Brisbane Gabba Cricket Stadium.

The preliminary rounds of the tournament will end on February 29 when Australia play Sri Lanka in Melbourne.

Sri Lanka's initial match will be against India at the same venue on February 5.

Each team will play eight ODIs. Each winning team will be awarded five points and a Bonus Point for a victory by a large margin.

 The two teams with the highest points will play against each other in the best of three finals. The first final will be played on March 2 in Sydney while the second final will be played on March 4 at the Gabba Stadium in Brisbane.

The third final will be played if necessary on Wednesday March 7 in Adelaide. All matches except two will be played under floodlights.

Australia has dominated the triangular series since its inception, winning the Trophy 18 times followed by the West Indies who have won on six occasions, and England twice.

South Africa and Pakistan have won it once. The Australians have emerged runners-up seven times.

Sri Lanka participated in this tournament just over a decade ago.

India has participated in just four tournaments and were runners-up on three occasions. Sri Lanka came runners up in 1995/96 and 2005/06.

It was in 1995/96 just before the World Cup that Sri Lanka revolutionised the one-day format thanks to the duo, Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluvitharana who scored the maximum number of runs within the first 15 overs when field restrictions were on.

This was soon emulated by other cricketing nations as well.

Skipper Mahela Jayawardena feels Sri Lanka has the right balance in the team.

The closest contest was in the 2005/06 when Sri Lanka reached the final edging out South Africa.

This will be the last time Australia will be hosting this tri-nation tournament.

Sri Lanka will definitely focus on winning the trophy.

The Sri Lankan squad of 15 players consists seven batsmen, one spinner and seven seamers.

Sri Lankan Captain Mahela Jayawardena commenting on the forthcoming tri nation series had said that "after the set backs in the Test in Sydney between the other two teams the third game was played in a better spirit and atmosphere and happy that we will be there in that same atmosphere."


Champion Kandy SC will not play in the first leg of the 7's

By Hafiz Marikar

Last year's champions of the Singer sponsored sevens, Kandy Sports Club, will not play the first leg of the competition to be played on February 2 and3 in Nuwara-Eliya. They will be available for the second one to be played in Kandy in Mid February.

Kandy Sports Club, had a late start to its practice sessions as its grounds were under re-development. The club has decided to skip the first sevens tournament due to a long schedule till September.

The Kandy Sports Club will be led by Sri Lanka skipper Pradeep Liyanage and will have some top sevens players such as Faizal Marija, Pushka Kumara, Radika Hettiarchchi, Sameera Silva, Dushan Leweke, Imran Bastamin, Sanjeewa Jayasinghe, D. Selvan, Eranda Weerakodi to name a few.


CPRFU - AGM

The Annual General meeting of the Central Province Rugby football Union (CPRFU) will take place today at the Kandy Sports Club house in Nittawella, where the CPRFU is housed.

The meeting will commence at 11.00 a.m., and Iswan 0mar is tipped to elected as President for a second time.

CPRFU is a large district spread over Kandy, Matale, Gampola, Nawalapitiya, Nuwara Eliya, Dambulla, Hangutanketha, Wasgamuwa etc. 

Maurice Perera, he was instrumental in getting 54 schools to take up rugby in the rural areas. Now over 200 schools are involved in rugby training.

Iswan said that he wishes to emphasise on strategic observation of the overall national interest in the game, developement at grass root levels, competent coaches at all levels, introduction of the game in new area, encourage all schools to participate in Division tournaments, development of play grounds to accommodate more rugby fixtures, formation of new clubs and retaining the clubs already in the game. 


Negombo branch emerge winners

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka conducted its first ever sports gala for members recently at the St. Josephs College grounds Maradana. In a keenly contested event, the Negombo branch association emerged winners with 400 points. Colombo with 200 points came second. Godfrey Cooray of the Negombo branch excelled in many sports to bag the overall best sportsman award.

Photo: Cooray with his award and the winning team posing with the judges of the Negambo jurisdiction.

 


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