Cricket: Sri Lanka

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.

Sri Lanka's cricket clubs

The Times of India, Aug 19 2015

Devadyuti Das

Sangakkara's long tryst with NCC helped shape the perfectionist in him

How Lanka's club of `gentlemen cricketers' moulded a legend

Tucked away in the cozy surroundings of the Cinnamon Gardens in the capital city , one can find the holy trinity of Sri Lankan cricket -three clubs by the names of CCC (Colombo Cricket Club), NCC (Nondescripts Cricket Club) and the SSC (Singhalese Cricket Club). These clubs form the pillars on which the foundation of Lankan cricket is set. The NCC is one of the oldest of the trio, established way back in 1888. This is the breeding ground for a lot of top Lankan internationals, from former captains Michael Tissera, Aravinda de Silva, Ranjan Madugalle, Hashan Tillekaratne, Tillekaratne Dilshan to, of course, one of their finest, Kumar Sangakkara.

The word `Nondescripts' seems an odd for a club, but has a history behind it. “Nondescripts was the only club open to anyone without racial bias of any kind. Although the major cricket club at time was the Europeans, Nondescripts had a lot of people playing from different backgrounds, be it executives, lawyers or judges,“ Ranjit Fernando, a member of NCC for over 50 years now, told TOI on Tuesday .

The NCC, though, managed to land Sangakkara by chance. As the story goes, Sangakkara was heading towards the CCC because one of his school friends used to play there. Umpire Asoka de Silva saw him outside the NCC gate and recognized him immediately because he had umpired some of his school games. De Silva invited Sangakkara to have a look around the NCC and play there if he wanted.

“There was a lot of excitement when people found out that the Trinity College captain Sangakkara was going to be playing with the NCC, because some of the past Trinitians like Ravi Ratnayake had been outstanding gentlemen cricketers. He fit in brilliantly and I think played under Russell Arnold when he first got here,“ former Lankan wicketkeeper Fernando said. The NCC, in fact, prides itself in providing `gentlemen' cricketers like Sangakkara. “The club those days had a lot of players in the national team, so it was not difficult to play for the first team.But after a few years I saw Kumar was getting frustrated because he was not getting the break to move up to the national team,“ he said.

Sangakkara, who will make his final Test appearance at the P Sara Oval from Thursday, first came into the limelight when he was touring with the SL ` A' team to South Africa.

His eloquence was what caught everyone's eye. Soon after, when a strong Zimbabwe team came to tour Sri Lanka, the southpaw scored a brilliant 150-odd playing for the Board President's XI, which was watched by then coach Dav Whatmore.

The man with over 27,000 international runs has always been an idol for youngsters. His pictures proudly adorn the walls of the NCC pavilion -the most prominent one being the list of Sri Lanka captains from the club.Sangakkara is one of the nine over the years.

Sanga's obsession with perfection became a problem for the authorities sometimes. “There was a time when Sangakkara came to the nets and just batted on and on and on. He batted in one net for an hour, moved to another and another. The young kids started to do the same.I had to call him up and he said he doesn't do that regularly but only when he feels that there is something wrong with his game,“ Fernando, who represented NCC between 1961 to 1979, said.

“Other times he used to come to NCC cement nets and had people throw down balls to him.Other times, he would call his father down here from Kandy and seek his opinion.“

Sangakkara is one of the few cricketers who are a `one-club' man. “His loyalty to one club has been an example for young players. When he was not picked, he used to come with his girlfriend Yehali, the wife now and spend time around here just playing billiards. There was a time when he wondered if it was worth his while to continue playing cricket, since he was enrolled in college at that time but it all worked out in the end,“ Fernando recalls.

Giving back to society

The Times of India, Aug 26 2015

Devadyuti Das

How Lanka's cricket legends are giving back to society  Seenigama is a small village some 20 kilometres from Galle, on the south west coast of the Sri Lanka. Muttiah Muralitharan would have been headed that way on the fateful morning of Dec 26, 2004 if he had woken up on time. As it stands, Murali missed the trip but his then-agent and current SLC interim committee vice-chairman, Kushil Gunasekara, was still there in the village and sought refuge at a nearby Buddhist temple when his family home was washed away by the tsunami. Just a few years before the tsunami came, Muralitharan and Gunasekara had got together to start the initiative called the `Foundation of Goodness' to bridge the gap between rural and urban Sri Lanka.

“Five years after we started, the tsunami turned everything to rubble. However, we harnessed the waves of compassion and put together a holistic village model, like a campus-type environment which caters to every segment of society . From preschool to computer training to photography classes to English-teaching to healthcare to cricket and badminton, the children here get to experience everything,“ Gunasekara told TOI on Tuesday .

Murali might have got the foundation under way but it has made rapid progress with the help of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. “Murali has been a phenomenal person and his manager at that time got him involved in this process. His backing has been tremendous, Kumar joined later and so did Mahela. It's all about giving back on their part.They have come on board to bridge the gap between urban and rural sectors. They have managed to transform the dynamics of cricket in the country -earlier 90 per cent of cricketers came from Colombo now 70 per cent come from outside Colombo in this team,“ the SLC vice-chairman added.

Among other things, the foundation runs a sports academy a kilometre away from Seenigama. It has a wonderful cricket ground as well as netball and volleyball facilities. Their centre for excellence is supported by London's Marylebone Cricket Club, while a six-lane 25-metre swimming pool called the Bryan Adams Swimming Pool has been built from proceeds generated by the Canadian rock icon's auctioned guitar.

Off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal is one of the products of the cricket academy . “Kaushal is one of the finds. An orphan from the academy, Pulina Tharanga, went on to open the batting for Sri Lanka in the under-19 World Cup,“ Gunasekara said.

The foundation has now headed north after the Jaffna conflict. Sangakkara's `Bike for Life' campaign was a huge success in this area. “Since the war ended in 2009, we have gone every month to the north. It is our effort to replicate the same centre and the same facilities we have down south in Mankulam and we have just got approval for the land as well, which was granted to us a few years ago. These are exciting times,“ Sangakkara said.

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