Sri Lanka’s cricket future in safe hands
by Dhammika Ratnaweera

The Sri Lanka cricket team performed well during the ongoing triangular series to enter the final. The team led by Marvan Atapattu included a few youngsters who made their debut in this series. All-rounder Dilhara Lokuhettige, left-hand opening batsman Upul Tharanga and right-arm medium paceman Pradeep Jayaprakashdaran are the new players.

Chairman of the cricket selection committee Lalith Kaluperuma acted wisely by including the youngsters in the team allowing them to get international exposure while key players Sanath Jayasuriya, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan could rest.

Lokuhettige and Jayaorakashdaran performed reasonably well with the ball and made some early breakthroughs. Champaka Ramanayake who heads Sri Lanka Cricket’s Fast Bowling Academy was instrumental in grooming the youngsters. His latest additions are Lokuhettige and Jayaprakashdaran.

Lokuhettige has been performing well in the domestic level for the last three years but unfortunately he was not named even to the Sri Lanka ‘A’ side. He got a chance to play in the Hong Kong sixes tournament last year. A product of Asoka MV, Lokuhettige later joined Antonians CC before crossing over to Galle CC. When he was performing for Galle CC, Ramanayake spotted the talented young pacmean drafted him to the Academy. However, in the last two seasons he represented Moors SC and performed well to catch the eyes of the selectors.

Lokuhettige has played 59 matches, scoring 1761 runs with an average of 21.47. He has taken 137 wickets. He proved his all round abilities in his debut match against India by taking two wickets and hitting a brisk 21. He is a gutsy bowler. His first over in the big league cost 13 runs, but he came back strongly to pluck his first scalp in the very next over. He bowled the hard-hitting Mahendre Dhoni.

Jayaprakashdaran is virtually an unknown bloke. He has played only 12 first class matches taking 28 wickets with best figures 6 fo4 46. He played for Royal College and later joined the Tamil Union. He opened bowling for them in the last season. Fortunately he received a chance to enter the Academy and that was his turning point.

The 21-year-old Jayaprakashdaran, popular known as Jayaprakash, played for Sri Lanka Cricket XI, led by Marvan Atapattu in the warm-up game against West Indies. He captured three vital wickets in that game played at the NCC grounds and repeated the feat in another side match against India at the same venue. When strike bowler Chaminda Vaas was sidelined due to injury Jayaprakash was called up for national duty. He played his debut against India at Dambulla. He bowled seven overs, gave away 38 runs, and got the prize wicket of hard hitting Virenda Shewag in his forth over.

The 20-year-old left handed opener Upul Tharanga hails from Ambalangoda. Sri Lanka have been searching for a hard-hitting opening partner for Sanath Jayasuriya. During the last 17 months no less than five players have been tried at the slot. Sri Lankan new coach Tom Moody said ‘the opening slot has been a revolving door and the time has now come to shut the door’.

However, Tharanga failed to come up with a big innings in the ongoing series. But, given his potential, one simply cannot overlook him. He put up a solid 96-run stand with Marvan Atapattu in the warm-up game against West Indies at the NCC and then made quick 39 runs with eight fours against India in the other warm-up game at the same venue.

A product of Dharmasoka College Ambalangoda, Tharanga represented Sri Lanka Under 19. He cracked a fine 117 against South Africa during the Under 19 World Cup before scoring 61 in 42 balls against India in the same tournament. Then he performed well during the Under 19 Pakistan tour. Spotting his potential Sri Lanka Cricket offered him a chance to play league cricket in Essex for Loughton Cricket Club.

However, the December 26 deadly tsunami dealt a severe blow to this rookie cricketer. Although his family members saved their lives, their house with all their belongings was swept to the sea.

Now they stay with their relatives. At a time Tharanga struggled to make the ends meet, Sri Lanka’s premier batsman Kumar Sangakkara came to his rescue. Sangakkara helped him to acquire cricket materials. Tharanga has played 24 first class matches scoring 1146 runs with an average of 29.38. He has scored a century and six fifties.

When he was selected to the national one day squad, Tharanga said; "I am looking forward to the challenge and can’t wait to play. I am completely devoted to this game and my ambition is to cement a place in the Sri Lanka team."

Youngsters like Lokuhettige, Jayaprakash and Tharanga should be well looked after and given enough opportunities to develop. Sri Lanka should prepare for the days to come when Atapattu, Jayasuriya, Vaas and Murali will no longer be around.


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