Air Force and South Asian TT keep Priyantha busy

Text and Pic by Rangi Akbar

Many things have been written about our TT star Lalith Priyantha. Yet it looks as if there is always more to be said about him. He is not shy to say that it was a squint in his left eye due to sinus that made him pursue TT, mainly to master the eye and focus on the bouncing ball.

They say that TT is the only game that can make one concentrate and take focus on what has to be done. For instance cricketers make it a point to play ping-pong or TT before a game to get one’s eyes accustomed to the ball. This is still being practiced. It is common to see a TT table in any cricket club, mainly for this reason. He is an old boy of Mahabodhi MV Colombo.

Lalith is perhaps is the only player in Sri Lanka’s brief TT history to have been National Player, National Champion, National Captain, National Selector, National Association President and the only player to have held the National title for five consecutive years!

Lalith rose to stardom when he beat Shabbar and Shabbir Hussain, the leading players in 1985 at the first All Island Sakura TT Championships. He recalls that he beat Shabbar in the final in the fastest time of 28 minutes which was a record at that time. He bagged his first National Title in 1988 when he overcame Shabbir in the final. Previously he was known as the ‘TT King without the Crown’, but with this win over Shabbir he climbed to the highest pedestal in Lanka’s TT.

What is he up to now? I posed this question to him at his residence in Koswate, Nawala. “I am coaching the Sri Lanka Air Force team. The Sri Lanka Air Force has offered jobs to a host of TT players including the cream of the game such as Rohan Sirisena, Milinda Lakshita and Buddhika Dikkumbura (Men) and Ishara Madurangi, Srimalee Wimalaratne and Ruhansi Wijekoon (Women). It is my task to get them in proper trim,” said Priyantha.

Air Force in their quest to recruit sportsmen and women has realized the talent in TT circles and has launched this drive mainly due to the initiative taken by Group Captain Lakshman Ranatunga, Sqd. Leaders Harsha Nanayakkara and Razeen and the Air Force Commander Roshan Gunatilleke. According to Priyantha the facilities available for TT players at Air Force is simply ‘Fantastic.’ Priyantha says that the present lot of TT officials is doing their job dedicatedly and the focus will be on the South Asian Table Tennis Championships to be held at the purpose built stadium Jagath Rajapaksa International Indoor Table Tennis Stadium. This venue overlooks the picturesque Galaha and Nilambe Range along the Gampola Road, Kandy, 10kms from the Colombo-Kandy Highway. The competition will take place from April 24 to 28.

Jagath Rajapaksa is the present National Head Coach for TT and is as Old Boy of St. John’s College Nugegoda. He has represented Sri Lanka as an accomplished pen-holder player originally coached by N.H. Perera. He was also coached by Chandana Perera, Jothipala Samraweera and Lalith Priyantha and also by Panan Kunana, the Chinese Coach. Jagath also represented his school in cricket and athletics. Lalith Priyantha is the Director Media and Publicity of the South Asia TT Championships.

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