After the exciting Champions League which was just concluded cricket will enter a more tranquil and a serene environment in China when it becomes the 42nd sport in the 16th Asian Games to be held in Guangzhou China. I mean tranquil and serene as the competition is not expected to be as tough as a T 20 World Cup or an IPL. But the fact that Gold Medals are on offer and as it involves pride, it is bound to get the teams motivated enough to put their best foot forward.
Cricket this year will see a men’s as well as women’s event. The men’s event will comprise of ten teams -- with the top three teams Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh the full members participating with the fourth --India deciding not to do so.
In the women’s event 8 teams will participate with both India and Sri Lanka withdrawing and leaving it to Bangladesh and Pakistan to battle it out.
Jehan Mubarak leads a strong Lankan contingent to China
At a time when the ACC is doing all within its powers to globalize the game of cricket using some former greats such as Bandula Warnapura and Rumesh Ratnayake from Sri Lanka amongst many others to take it to areas hardly known for its cricketing powers, the participation of teams such as China, Maldives, Nepal and Singapore is most welcome and also interesting. If the game of cricket can see the light at end of the tunnel in an unknown land such as China I am sure the potential for the game to move forward is immense, considering the size and the population of that country. Having said that one shouldn’t let it die as it did in the Commonwealth Games where it is most appropriate to have such an event considering the English influence in once the then British Raj!
Back to the Asian Games and Sri Lanka’s participation and its contingent, it is clear that the Lankans are deadly serious about winning a gold medal in this format. To start with the selectors should be lauded for naming a team with experience and youth. The team is led by the very talented Jehan Mubarak who without doubt posses a very good cricketing brain and is cut out for the captaincy. It is a pity though that Mubarak hadn’t done justice to his immense talent by not scoring the runs that he is capable of when the opportunities were given to him at Sri Lanka level.
Besides Mubarak the batting takes an exciting flavour with the likes of Jeewantha Kulatunga, Indika De Saram, Dilshan Munaweera, Sampath Tillakaratne and Kusal Perera included. Whilst both De Saram and Kulatunga are match winners in their own right with their devastating batting, young Munaweera should be the one player who could really set the world on fire with his very aggressive and punishing batting which is bound to be effective during the Tournament. As for Kusal Perera the Champions League clearly showcased his potential and it could be a matter of time before he takes the next step up the ladder.
With regards to the all-round talent Kaushalya Weeraratne, Chinthaka Jayasinghe, Nuwan Zoysa, Dilhara Lokuhettige and Kaushal Lokuarachchi are the ideal set of players for the job with their very hard hitting batting besides being more than useful bowlers. As for Weeraratne possibly one of the hardest hitters of a cricket ball in Sri Lanka and the scorer of a world record list A 50 in just 11 balls, it would be an ideal launching pad for his cricket career which has had a roller coaster experience up to now. Nuwan Zoysa, Chinthaka Jayasinghe and Lokuhettige along with Lokuarachchi are also proven customers at the highest level and China could be a huge turning point in all these cricketers’ careers, having much to offer for the cricketing cause of Sri Lanka. Whilst Chilaw Marians all-rounder Gayan Wijekoon makes a come back after being out of the big league, young Isuru Udana would be raring to go after his hat-trick against the Central Districts in the Champions league.
As for spin there are two specialists selected. The leg spinner Malinga Bandara considered the ODI and T 20 spinner for a long time gets an opportunity to once again showcase his mettle after his excellent showing with the English County Kent where he shone with the ball in the OD and the T 20 game.
Bandara’s spin partner will be the underrated left-arm spinner Sajeewa Weerakoon. Having had to battle it with Rangana Hearth for most of career Weerakoon at best only played ‘A’ cricket for Sri Lanka. But given the green light to be a part of the Asian Games squad Weerakoon will look to grab this opportunity with both hands.
The Sri Lankan selectors and the Board has sent out a very clear and a strong message about their seriousness with regards to this tournament by appointing Ranjit Fernando the ‘A’ team Manager and a National selector as the Manager on tour and Sumithra Warnakulasuriya as the coach of this very experienced squad.
Fernando will surely be able to relate to the rest of his co selectors on the performance of the players on tour, giving the players the added incentive to perform. With a World Cup at hand and with the intention being a proper and a balanced side for the said event, the players selected to the Asian Games couldn’t have asked for a better opening as an outstanding performance will surely propel them to the next level.
And on the Games front having cricket as an event which is a hugely popular sport especially in the sub continent, would naturally enhance the following and the interest of the Asian Games in China. This would only make the entire event better and sought after, with cricket invading into events with traditional sports adding to the versatility the Games need and also paving the way for other sports too to be part of this prestigious Asian event.
* Roshan Abeysinghe is a leading cricket promoter and an international cricket commentator