Lankan cricket needs a complete overhaul
By Bernie Wijesekera
The year 2002 is one of the saddest chapters in the annals of Sri Lanka cricket after the country gained ICC status in 1981. There are many factors that brought about this downward trend. The game reached the Everest when the little Lankans outplayed the mighty Australians to win the World Cup final in Lahore under Arjuna Ranatunga. Later, it fell apart due to a power-struggle by interested parties due to political machinations to hold office at all cost at the expense of the game.

Apparently in some quarters even some players joined the band wagon infiltrating into the administration, instead of concentrating on the game. Their idea was to enrich themselves with material gains. It was brought about due to a weak management, who lacked commitment or a professional approach. It's the main cause for most of the present ills. At times this has led the game to be played in the portals of the Hulftsdorp rather than on the playing field.

The player performances in the recent past is an eye-sore winning an odd one-day series here and there. Imagine in the recent Test series in S. Africa, the Lankans lost the first Test at Wanderers under three days despite their world records. A performance bordering to minnows Bangladesh. Where is the consistency in the established game ?We got thrashed by England at home and then away in the Test series. We won against Pakistan 2-1, but lost ( at home) 2-0. We beat the Indian team at home 2-1. Lost 2-nil to (S. Africa) the Test series and the one-dayers 4-1 despite the super stars in action. Their pathetic performances continue in the ongoing VB Triangular series". Their performances shocked people like Dr. Ali Bacher, presently the CEO of the World Cup organizing committee and other knowledgeable critics despite the Lankans oozing with rich talent, they are performing dismally.

Like in other countries does the under-privileged get an opportunity of playing regularly in competitive cricket barring a few, who migrate to the affluent clubs in the city for personal gains? Where is the exposure as found in S. Africa. They are all assistance to get the much needed exposure. Youth players, Robin Peterson and Zondi are some of them. The district cricketers play an odd match here and there. Where is the continuity and support for them?

Discipline, leadership, and management in any walk of life is a 'must'. They are the main pillars of success. Sri Lanka cricket is on the correct path, but requires professional management and the ones who have the know-how to run its affairs, but not mere figure heads. The former president of the Indian Cricket Board, The Maharaja of Baroda, said, he was impressed with the Lankan schoolboys playing when he visited Sri Lanka for the annual Indo-Ceylon schools contest.

The likes of Duleep Mendis, Sunil Wettimuny, Jagath Fernando, Ray de Silva, Bandula Warnapura etc., came into limelight. What happened to that much looked forward to annual contest today? Apparently there are quite a number of them in the schools section hanging on for reasons best known to them. The Maharaja said, this was one of my suggestions during his tenure with the BCCI to continue playing with Sri Lanka.

It was the likes of late P 'Sara', Robert Senanayake etc., who worked ungrudgingly for the Lankans to gain ICC status. While late Gamini Dissanayake put the icing on the cake for the Lankans to be admitted to the ICC in 1981. The game took a turn after the first Test (inaugural) in 1982 here. It took an upward trend in '84 with a professional management with several hands joining to help the game to reach greater horizons. The Lankans had the Englishmen running for shelter when Sidat Wettimuny, Duleep Mendis, Amal Silva and others displayed abundant skills. The team was coached by Stanley Jayasinghe. 'Lord' Ted Dexter was the advisor.

That team was the pride of Sri Lanka barring the '96 World Cup match final winning team. It opened the gates for other ICC member teams to take note of Sri Lanka's capabilities. What has happened today is power struggle has ruined the game. 1984 was the "Red Letter Year" for Lankan cricket sans petty politics in sport.

Two of the most successful captains Duleep Mendis and Arjuna Ranatunga must be drafted to the main-stream. Arjuna's removal from the captaincy, too had its side effects.

All made mistakes due to greed, lust and hatred. Supporters of the game must bury the hatchet and work in unison for a common objective that, too with a disciplined and professional management. They must re-build the country's cricketing image, which at present has hit a new-low. The men that matter should hold office from whatever quarter.

The nucleus of the admin., must be elevated to the levels of the TCCB (England) ACB (Australia), the UCBSA (S. Africa) etc., and handled by men of ability. Part-timers have no place. Shun club rivalry and personal loyalties which is the bane of most of the problems in this country. With the present elective process its doubly difficult to get the correct men to run its affairs. There is so much of lobbying no person with ability, who still has the time, will stand for a contest. Let's have team of 15 and five on standby to make it 20 handled by a competent committee. No one should be allowed to hang on for too long. Let there be an interim committee for a longer duration to administer without outside interference.

It is given to understand a letter to this effect has been sent to the powers that be for consideration and for necessary action. Put the country before self. The agony has been going on for quite some time.

Muthum Nandasena Junior Champion
Milo of Nestles moved into the Golf scene to sponsor the nursery conducted by the Sri Lanka Golf Union at the recently concluded Championship. Muthum Nandasena performed outstandingly to be crowned the Junior Champion of Sri Lanka.

The cubby son of maestro Nandasena Perera gave his injury-stricken father good cheer with a resounding victory comprising three rounds of 81 each. The wiz kid plays off a handicap of 8 and had been quite impressive in recent months playing in very competitive company in the "A" Division. Coming behind Nandasena to take 2nd place was W. Bandara beaten by 11 storks.

Copper division
Little Arvind Fernando, son of Tennis ace Arjun Fernando performed superbly showing much promise to win the Copper Division comfortably, coming behind was another attractive stroke player Scahin Unamboowe, grandson of the sports giant of yesteryear Stanley Unamboowe.

Bronze division
Sprightly Saakya Ukwatte moved leisurely oozing with confidence to win the Bronze Trophy and also be identified as the overall winner. A. Mansoor, a bold and beautiful player is a stylist. He tied with Ukwatte.

Impressive crop
There was a small crop of talented fellas made up of Channaka Perera, A. Fernandopulle, S. Gunawardena, P. Dias and S. Sangani. They need to be watched and nursed with enthusiasm and the Golf Union should encourage this contest at least every quarter while MILO provides the energy.

Regal affair
The absolute pride of Scotland Chivas Regal came in for much acclaim when they sponsored a quick contest for the beverage of world fame in 4 divisions at the Ridgeways of the Royal Colombo Golf Club.

Unbelievably Mithun Nandasena, the teenager outshone a strong competitive field to win the "A" Division classic beating Lalith Ramanayake.

Chaminda Galagedera was exceptionally good with nett 68 and he happily collected the title and a bottle of the Regal Blend. Bandula Weerasinghe who was at incessant practice was in absolute distress beaten by one stroke.

Dhevan Pieris was outstanding in this division with a remarkably good score of nett 66. He collected the award, cracked a bottle and celebrated exhaustingly. M. Hiroyame came behind with 69.

The ceremony was brisk and crisp packed with Trophies and bottles of CHIVAS.
Attractive Yasmin Mishara adorned the evening session and gave away the awards. Anil Panagoda the Wooden Spoonist collected a crate of gold embossed CHIVAS

REGAL Corks. The contest was quite popular and there was a rush for participation.
The disaster zone was packed to capacity and the pond boys were lavishly compensated by a mass of erring golfers.

New generation of youth champions
By M. Shamil Amit
Year 2002 has been the most successful one for the SLTA where the outstaion youngsters too showed that they are also capable of flexing their muscles with better players in the metropolis. This year will also be remembered as the year that produced the youngest men's singles winner in the 87 year history of the national championships when a young fifteen year old from Royal College Franklin Emmanuel ousted defending champion Renouk Wijemanne.

The year could be termed as the "Year of the Youth" as tennis was dominated by the youth. Two schoolgirls Jancy Paramanathan of Holy Family Convent and Mahesha Seneviratne of Bishop's College took the national women's doubles title overcoming experienced and long standing champions Shalini Pereira and Chaya Beiling. Jancy was unfortunate in losing the singles title.

Other notable achievements in the year 2002 saw Sri Lanka's two junior players make impressive performances at two international tournaments. Fifteen year old Amrit Rupasinghe of St. Thomas Kollupitiya won the singles title in the ITF Under 18 championships held in Colombo in September. Two weeks later sixteen year old Harshana Godamane of Royal College won the singles title in the ITF Under 18 championship which was held in Islambad, Pakistan. Over 50 players from over 12 countries participated at these tournaments. The last time a Sri Lankan won a singles title overseas was in the late 80's through the talented Umesh Walloopillai.

The Sri Lanka Under 14 boys team also put an impressive performance when they were placed fifth at the Under 14 World Juniors (Asia/Oceanic) Championship held in Colombo from 15 countries finishing behind tennis giants India, Australia, Korea and China. Sri Lanka's team comprised Franklin Emmanuel, Emmanuel Nishendran and Udith Wickremasinghe. It provided evidence of a bright future for the country's tennis.

Emmanuel and Nishendran also did proud when they had the honour of being selected to represent the five year player ITF team at the East Asian Championship in Malaysia. The Sri Lanka duo also represented the five player ITF team in four European tournaments in France, Germany, Holland and Belgium. It showed how they benefited from this overseas exposure as Emmanuel clinched the national title soon after this overseas exposure.

At the Junior Davis Cup tournament held in Indonesia, Sri Lanka represented by Amrit Rupasinghe, Oshada Wijemanne and S. Sabanathan did well to finish eighth out of seventeen countries. Sri Lanka defeated Philippines and Iran but could not get the better of Asian giants Japan and Korea.

Nevertheless in finishing eighth they were ahead of countries like New Zealand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines and Thailand who are all group two Davis Cup nations. The SLTA's president Suresh Subramaniam's aim next year is to graduate to group three from the present position of four in the Davis Cup. The players are there to achieve this aim. And the ultimate target is to be in group two by the year 2004. This year has been a significant stepping stone towards achieving this.

The Mirinda Mini tennis programme organized by the SLTA which has won the praise of the ITF who has intiated these programmes in all the Asian countries with the intention of popularising tennis on a global level is another successful story. This programme which is for school children between 5 to 10 years and is in operation in seven regions namely Colombo, Kandy, Negombo, Bandarawela, Ratnapura, Panadura and Batticaloa.

It has a massive enrollment of 40,000 youngsters from 45 schools. A development officer has been appointed by the SLTA for each region who in turn is supervised by a national coordinator. Four more regions Jaffna, Galle, Matara and Kurunegala are earmarked for next year. The programme has been an instant success and has been rewarded with two awards by the ITF. “The entire programme is financed by SLTA as we think the future of our tennis lies in this programme” said Arjan Perera, vice president, SLTA who is also the chairman of coaching and promotion. This year Ratnapura won the All Island mini tennis tournament which included Colombo.

Never before in the history of SLTA's development work had they spent as much as the year 2002.The total amounted to Rs. Ten milion by far the biggest they had managed in many, many years. All expense and the effort put in is shows good signs for the future. The major backers of tennis this year has been Mirinda, Peop;es Bank, Sri Lankan Airlines, Jembo Cables and Aggreko.

With 2002 at its tail end the SLTA are already gearing itself for a challenging 2003. The ITF has awarded SLTA with the task of hosting eight international tournaments beginning January 2003 which includes three US$ 10,000 Futures Championship a World Ranking women's tournament and the 10 nation Davis Cup (Group 4) championship.

Why overlook Pushpakumara?
Twenty-six-year-old Ravindra Pushpakumara, the strongly built medium fast bowler with 58 Test scalps in 20 Tests is being overlooked by the national selectors. Ravindra, a raw paceman who came into limelight whilst playing for Panadura SC is one of the best young prospects to come from the District.

The lad emerged from a scrapheap, and later blossomed out to be a gangling fast bowler, thanks to former Secretary of the Cricket Board, Neil Perera, who helped him. Today he plays for the NCC in the Premier Tournament and performing reasonably well. According to a senior official of the NCC, how come Tilan Thushara, a young paceman who can't find a place in the regular place in the club team was preferred to go with the national team in their recent S. African tour? The NCC's pace trio comprise Ishara Amerasinghe (who toured England), Ravindra Pushpakumara, the experienced fast bowler and Akalanka Gamage.

On what basis was Thushara picked for the S.A. tour? The lad hardly got a bowl on that tour, but returned home after enjoying a pre-paid holiday at BCCSL expense, after the two-Test series. Pushpakumara is not even in the 'A' squad put aside in the national team. The selectors go abroad to watch when the Lankan team is on tour, but doesn’t have the time to watch domestic cricket.

Pushpakumara, was kept in the cold for the 1999-2000 tour of Pakistan. He got an opportunity to play and bowled with much fire and venom. This scribe was on tour. He impressed. Even the ardent Pakistan fans were asking where he was kept all this time. Pushpa's bowling may be wayward at times, then what is the bowling coach doing? Certainly he could have been a better bet than some of the fast bowlers, who got the nod to go on the S. African tour. Where is the continuity for this bowler, who had still a few more years of cricket before him? Despite setbacks he is working hard at the nets regularly, to be in trim.- BW

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