Happy Hour With A White Fern

Published in ICC World T20 2012 previewOIn every country in a certain sport, there are names synonymous with the advancement that has seen it all. As i pass the main pavilion of the P.Sara Oval, incidentally a milestone in Sri Lanka Cricket’s growth having staged the first test match, touring New Zealanders are taking on Sri Lanka women.

White Ferns are here as part of the preparation for the ICC World T20 and as the clock ticks one in the afternoon, they manage to scamper through against the spirited hosts.

Nicola Browne is a veteran of the White Ferns having worn the kiwi colours first in 2001 and as the players relax i catch up with her being the reason I’m here for. She has retained her charming smile through a world cup heartbreak in 2010. She’s an all-rounder and soon i get to know that it is not only in Cricket.

She’s a graphic designer by trade and she manages to involve Cricket and Netball to her schedule too. Her sporting idol Bernice Mene is foreign to my mind. As i ask her for the name again, maybe she has read my mind. No need for spellings. We are on the same page about the benefits of google.

Having entered cricket primarily as a fast bowler, Browne reached a pedestal that can be classified as a lifetime achievement for hard work when she won the Player of the tournament award in ICC World T20 2010.

Having reached her peak, it took the world by surprise when she announced her retirement in August 2011 prematurely. But Browne, 28, had to wait only six months to realize what she was missing in her daily routine. She made her comeback in March and being at the receiving end of consecutive defeats in the past two ICC World T20 finals, she is itching to right the ship this time around.

In the twenty minute time period she talks at length about women’s cricket, New Zealand’s sporting renaissance, her unforgettable moments and many more.

Extremely friendly and forward looking, she’ll be back here in September for the big event and a third final at R.Premadasa is something she aspires to be at, the passion in her eye assures me that.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are excerpts:

Q-What’s purpose of this short visit to Sri Lanka? Is this part of the preparation for the ICC World T20?

A-Yes, this is a preparational tour. It’s fantastic because we never had an opportunity like this before. The whole mindset of coming overseas, and to know that you don’t have to have all your game plans, instead do some great research around and find out what kind of work suits for you and the team. So this is a very fortunate opportunity.

We are ten days here in Sri Lanka and then we are back home. Back to the cold. In fact we have never been here before. I have been to India twice. But this is the first time; everyone in our group hasn’t been to Sri Lanka before. So it’s a great opportunity to understand the conditions, pitches, feel the heat, the food and everything else. Hopefully we can go home feeling confident about what we need to do in the next five weeks and we’ll be in good shape when we come back here for the World Cup. Mentally prepared.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ-Let’s go back to the start of your career. You had to make a tough choice early in your career. Netball or Cricket?

A-Yes, In New Zealand people love sports. I played a lot and eventually it came down to Netball and Cricket. I choose cricket because they were going on a tour to Australia. A tour to Australia sounded much better at that time than a trip to Christchurch. And it kind of went from there. I continued playing my netball though. Even In 2007, i was on double duty with National Level netball and International cricket. But that became too much so i dropped Netball and focused solely on Cricket. Ever since it went really well for me.

Q-Looking back at the choice you made. Are you satisfied with it?

A-No regrets. I think the lifestyle of a cricketer, it’s wonderful. You get to be outside the country, get to experience different cultures and i have really enjoyed the people that are involved with Cricket.

Q-You have been playing cricket since 2001. That is more than ten years of experience in a nutshell. Having being part of the evolution Women’s Cricket has undertaken in the past few years, how do you see the development of the game in terms of women?

5504966A-The thing that i love the most about the development is the athleticism. When you have more athletic people it can create much more excitement and dynamism because they can do things that thrill the crowd. Bigger hits. I think that, starting to attract that athletic trait is probably to me the most exciting development of the game.

Q-Earlier, Women’s Cricket used to be dominated by England, New Zealand and Australia. We are seeing signs of bridging of the gap more now. Do you agree with it?

A-Yes and it’s fantastic for the game. If you see this match (the practice match on Wednesday between New Zealand and Sri Lanka) Sri Lanka gave us a real scare. There are some really talented people in the Sri Lankan side. I think T20 game has played a significant part in this regard. People have contrasting emotions about T20. But i firmly believe it has added a missing element to the game in terms of attracting lot more people to the sport. Especially in the women’s game. I think it will overflow into the 50 over game as well. Because of the fun T20 brings, it drives a women’s cricketer and you as a player just want more. T20 has certainly lifted women’s cricket.

Nicola+Browne+New+Zealand+v+Australia+Game+ftDoLh2f6n0lQ-I heard that you are a graphic designer by trade. You are part of Netball and Cricket as well. How do you manage all these?

A-I could say good time management. But i don’t always say that. My personality is someone like the ‘cold in the fire.’ I like lot of things going on. I like to be busy. That is part of my personality and that is what i love. That energizes me, having lot of different projects. Yeah, that’s how i do it, which is part of who I am.

Q-Back to the reason you are here. The World Cup is coming in September. I know the last World Cup was held in West Indies where the wickets were bit similar to here. But this is a different challenge all together. It is not only for New Zealand but all teams. And there’s some unfinished business as well since you finished runner-up twice in a row. Excited?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA-For me it’s all part of the diverse challenges Cricket throws at us. To be able to come to a different country, get accustomed to things, it’s just exciting. As an athlete you thrive on that challenge and learning new things. At the end of the day all that training you do, the strategies you device, you don’t always need to use it all. It’s about picking the elements for the conditions and act accordingly. For someone who’s been in the game for over ten years and having gone through the training drills, it is a challenge rather than about skill. So as you can see, I’m very excited.

There’s unfinished business but still we made two World Cup finals. I guess the biggest thing out of that is we got to feel what it was like. Playing in front of a packed crowd, it gives a sense of pride. Expecting huge crowds for the matches here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ-The final of the 2010 tournament. Australia makes 106 and then New Zealand gets restricted 36/5. You and Sophie Devine construct a partnership to revive hopes. At the end you finish three runs short. How much of a heart breaker was that?

A-It is quite interesting. At that moment i was gutted. Setting my personal achievement aside, (Browne was the player of the tournament of ICC World T20 2010) you go there with one intention. And perhaps obviously with my retirement last year and the ability to get away from the game, get a fresh perspective of everything. I’m not burning inside reminding myself of that day, no hard feelings. It’s part of cricket, really.

Q-How much the ICC player of the tournament award meant to you?

A-It hit me when i got home, around my family and friends that i have seen all the time to be adjudged as the player of a world tournament, to get pictures with it. Small thing it maybe but that was nice. It was a goal i had been working on for a while. At the end of the day it was just one tournament but for me, maybe more than that. It’s not about one event i was striving for consistent performances so it was a nice recognition.

BROWN_Nicola200xvarQ-You have achieved a lot in your career. There must be some unforgettable moments. What is your greatest achievement and some unforgettable moments that you remember fondly?

A-Definitely the player of the tournament probably meant a lot in that regard. Because i was picked as a bowler in 2001 and through that middle period i won lot of batting awards. Didn’t get my bowling right so i was eager to figure it out. To overcome those and get rewarded, it has to be one of my highlights.

Apart from that, the fifty i scored in 2002 during my second tournament (a tour to India) comes to mind. I had a terrible tour. And on the last match, last session i managed to reach my first half century. That moment sticks out. The other is the first ever five wicket haul. It was during the domestic season but what keeps it within me is that it took me fifteen years to achieve that. Worth the wait it was.

Q-Who is your sporting idol?

A-My sporting idol, you may not know her, is a lady named Bernice Mene. She used to play gold defence for Silver Ferns. She had significant moments that more often than not won games which is what i liked to do myself. She could turn a match around at any time and she did it with lot of grace and dignity.

Q-I asked this question from one of your Australian counterparts, Alyssa Healy as well. If given the opportunity which cricketer would you like to see come out of retirement.

A-For me when i was younger and got into cricket, Chris Cairns struck me a lot. The way he hit the ball, so hard, clean and straight, i loved that. He was clean hard hitter of the ball and he did all that with an uncomplicated stance. He may not have got lot of wickets but he had a knack of grabbing wickets at the right time.

Q-After a long time New Zealand won the rugby world cup last year. What was the atmosphere like and how importance is this victory to New Zealand sport?

A-Along with the All Blacks and the Silver Ferns (Netball team, who won the title at the Commonwealth games 2010) the success has inspired a generation of sportsmen and women. Personally for me, last three years has seen a remarkable shift in New Zealand sports. Rugby for men and Netball for women are our main sports. The fact that they are starting to achieve consistently in the world stage has indeed made this a defining time period. About the All Blacks victory, we all loved it. The nation was full of party atmosphere.

If i look into the future, because All Blacks and Silver Ferns has discovered something that has been missing for so long, there will be a huge difference in the way we compete in world tournaments from here on in. I know we have been there and thereabouts but i think we are going to be major forces in the next decade, that’s my prediction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ-What are your thoughts about the progression and the current status of New Zealand Cricket?

A-Sports players are entertainers. If we are going to move closer to the professional era as everyone would like to, we do have to entertain. And if we can continue to attract and maintain athletic players with great cricketing skills that will undoubtedly make the game more marketable. As with the old cycle, if you have exciting talents people want to watch, the young ones coming in has heroes to look forward to.

Q-What advice can you give to a player who aspires of being a women’s cricketer?

A-I believe anyone can be or do whatever they dream to do. Dream big and then go out and get it. As long as you love what you are doing and you are prepared to work hard you can reach anywhere you want.

Q-Final question. How much has cricket helped you into being the person you are and how do you see Life with Cricket?

A-It’s been an avenue for me to open up lot of opportunities. The amazing amount of people i have met from different walks of life and cultures that have to be the biggest plus in my Cricketing life. Whichever way you look at it, Life is about people. When you leave cricket, the people and the challenges that you overcame those are the ones you can cherish the most. The opportunity, people and challenges.

The Island Links-

I Cherish the opportunities, people and challenges-Nicola Browne (Part 1)

Player of the Tournament award in West Indies meant a lot-Nicola Browne (Part 2)

 

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Like Uncle Like Niece (Ian Healy and Alyssa Healy)

Published before ICC World T20 2012
Playing with boys at school pushed me to do things I never thought I would-Australia Wicket Keeper Alyssa Healy

Alyssa Healy’s cricket career so far hasn’t been devoid of memorable moments. The Australian national women’s side wicket keeper has been the focal point from the day she started cricket, and the first of those was lighted when she became the first girl to be selected to play alongside the male counterparts in 2006.

She,22, is part of a cricket-rich family being the daughter of Greg Healy and former Australian wicket keeper Ian Healy, her uncle. This interview was conducted as part of the ICC World Twenty20 Sri Lanka 2012 preparations and here she speaks about how her cricket developed by playing among the boys, how she saw Ian Healy when she was young, who she would like to bring back from retirement if she was given a chance, Australia’s chances during the ICC World T20 and many more.

Here are the excerpts.

Q-Your introduction to Cricket is a unique story. Let’s hear it from you. What was the reason that convinced you to start playing Cricket? Was it a long time goal of yours or you woke up one day and it hit you that you should be a professional cricketer?

A-Obviously there was a lot of cricket in my family before I was born so I sometimes joke that I was always going to end up playing cricket because it was in my blood, however I didn’t start playing cricket until I was at school and a friend of mine at the time actually asked if I wanted to go along to a Kanga Cricket session down at the local park. So I ended up first picking up a bat when I was 7. I apparently was always quite distracted by the sandpit at the local park and often had to be encouraged back into the session by my dad! I think once I got into playing cricket and noticed that I had some talent is when I saw that I could possibly go all the way and play for Australia.

Q-At the age of 16, Baker’s College First XI introduces their wicket keeper; a female by the name of Alyssa Healy is picked to play among the boys in the school cricket tournament. Can you go back in time and ring a bell to those memories? It wasn’t without adversity either. How fondly do you remember them, looking back?

A-That was quite a funny situation to be in! Barker was always really supportive and actually offered for me to try out in the first place, and I agreed that if I wasn’t good enough to play First XI then that was fine I would be happy. So I was quite excited to be selected. I and I don’t think any of the boys actually saw an issue with it until the media caught up with a letter that was written by an Old Barker Boy who wasn’t happy with my selection. It was quite a day when I had channel 9 knocking down my door at 6am wanting my opinion to me being on the front page of the newspaper! I really enjoyed the experience of playing with the boys at school, obviously at that stage the boys are starting to get bigger and stronger so it was quite I challenge for me but I loved every minute of it. The boys and the school were really supportive the whole way through, and whilst I didn’t have the best season performance wise, I really enjoyed it.

Q-Did playing with the boys enhance your career and skills? What kind of an impact did it have on your overall development as a cricketer and who you are today?

A-Definitely, playing with the boys I feel was great for me. I had played boys cricket growing up however stopped at U/15s and came across to play women’s cricket. So to be playing alongside and against 17-18 year old boys who were a lot bigger and stronger than me was a real challenge and I feel my game definitely came along way over that period of time. Not only that, I felt like I learnt a lot about myself and my game and how I could push myself and do things I never thought I could.

Q-Let’s talk about your illustrious uncle; the indomitable Aussie legend, Ian Healy. You must have started watching cricket parallel to the time your uncle reached the zenith of wicket keeping in world cricket and established himself as one of the greats to have donned the gloves. Can you recall that memory from your perspective? What lessons did you carry forward?
A-I think when I was younger I never really understood what he was doing and what it all really meant. I think once I started getting involved in cricket I started to understand what he had achieved and how incredible he was as a cricketer. I remember being a bit younger and gong to watch a test at the SCG and me and my friends stood at the fence yelling at him to come and say hello, meanwhile he was in the middle of warm up!! We had no idea what any of it meant at that time, however I look back now I feel slightly embarrassed about the situation and actually appreciate him coming and saying hello afterwards! I feel privileged to have him as an uncle, he is always very supportive of what I do (even though I play for NSW!) and always willing to help out if I need with anything. I’m pretty lucky that if I have a problem with my game that I am just a phone call away from one of the best wicketkeepers in the world. He always pushes e to do more with my cricket and challenges me to work harder every time I see him.
Q-Women’s cricket has undergone massive changes in the past decade. It has risen to a status that is universally accepted now. How do you acknowledge its journey to where it is today? And what does the future hold for women’s cricket in your point-of-view?
A-Women’s cricket has definitely grown over the last 10 years and it’s pretty exciting to be a part of. The introduction of T20 has enabled not only Cricket Australia but Countries around the world to promote cricket to a female audience and a big part of that is by promoting us as a female playing group. It’s always exciting to play at some of the best grounds in the world in front of decent sized crowds and on tv. The ability for us to play before or after men’s international games has given people a chance to see us play cricket and people are always quite impressed. Obviously we aren’t as big as the boys and won’t be hitting 6s every ball however the way we can accumulate similar big scores to the boys by playing our style is still just as impressive.
Just to see the massive leaps that have been made in the last few years makes it really exciting for the future. The only thing we need to focus on is keeping more females playing the game, and for the ones already playing, keeping them in longer. Cricket Australia have been really good at helping this cause and the future of cricket within Australia is looking really bright with some fantastic young players coming through and beginning to make names for themselves.

Q-Who is your idol in Cricket? If you could bring any professional cricketer back in the game, who would it be?

A-I still love watching Ricky Ponting bat; he is an incredible player and has been for so long which is so impressive. He should be an inspiration to most young players coming through simply by just looking at his records. As a cricket tragic I would love to bring back the Australian bowling attack from the 90s and early 00s just for one more game, preferably against the current England team! To be able to see Glen McGrath and Shane Warne still bowling sides out with ease would be great!

Q-You have achieved so much. Be it playing cricket with the boys, rising through the age groups, being awarded the ‘Rising Star Award’ for New South Wales to the position you are in now. It has happened in a very short span of time which means you must have had some unforgettable moments. What are the top 5 defining moments in your cricketing career?

A-Everything has been such a blur to date; I have enjoyed every moment of playing cricket not only for my country but for my state and club as well. Some of my most memorable moments would have to be:
1. Winning the T20 World Cup in West indies 2010
2. Reclaiming the Ashes from England in 2011 and making my test debut
3. Being a part of 5 WNCL titles with NSW
4. My first tour with the Shooting Stars (AUS U23) to NZ in 2005
5. Playing first XI for Barker College
There are so many more moments however these really stand out in my mind as the most memorable!

Q- Communication between a coach and player is important. What are your thoughts on this and how have you maximized on the training you’ve received?

A-Obviously this is a really crucial part of any sport. Being able to communicate with your coach is essential. I have had a fantastic wicket-keeping coach in Christina Matthews who took me on as a 12 year old and got me to the stage where I could represent my country. It is great to have someone that you can just generally chat about your worries and fears, your strengths and weaknesses and of course just be able to be pushed to your limits by to help you improve not only physically but mentally also, which is an important part of cricket.

Q-We noticed you are a frequent tweeter and is quite active on social media. How important is this new medium of communication to you as a sports woman? Do you think it plays a role today in a sportsman or a woman career? How does it impact you?

A-Yes I do love my twitter! I always said I would never join but then I tried it one day and have been hooked ever since. It’s a great tool to be able to promote yourself and your team to a wide audience. You can be followed by people all across the world. Obviously this can be quite dangerous if not handled properly however I think it’s a good platform to show some of your personality to those that don’t see you every day. I love the fact that I feel like I’m friends with superstars around the world because I know how they are thinking or feeling about an upcoming tournament or gig!

Q- Being a wicket keeper, is there a different method that you adopt with the gloves when keeping wickets for spinners compared to the fast bowlers? How does the concentration factor come in? Does it differ when it comes to the two disciplines of bowling, if any? This question is based on the fact that ICC World Twenty20 will be played in Sri Lanka. Traditionally, it is a country that has tended to provide assistance to the spinners.
A-At the end of the day being a wicketkeeper is all about catching the ball every tie it comes at you, so the most important thing would be to watch the ball! However there are subtle differences in keeping up to the stumps than back to the faster bowlers. You have a lot more to contend with, obviously the ball turning, the bat right in your face distracting you and the worry about having the awareness of having to take the bails off if the batter even moves slightly out of their crease for a split second! It is a lot the think about so concentration is definitely a key. To be able to concentrate the whole game is impossible so it is about learning how to switch your concentration on and off between balls to be able to spread it out throughout the game. Sri Lanka has a reputation of being quite spin friendly so if given a chance to wear the gloves in the upcoming world cup, I will have to be on my game every ball to make sure I take every dismissal that comes my way.
Q-Are you excited about the upcoming ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka? How are you preparing for the tournament? What are your expectations and challenges?
A-I’m so excited for the upcoming ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. I have never been to Sri Lanka before so I’m excited to not only play cricket but see a country I have not yet experienced. I’m training really hard at both aspects of my game at the moment to give myself the best opportunity to win games for Australia if selected. I’m expecting all the games to be incredibly tough and tight fought as most T20 games are. As an Australian squad we are in really good form heading into the tournament so hopefully we can win all our games including the final!
Q-We know Australia has fielded strong women cricketers for many years. You have maintained the standards and performed well in the past ICC tournaments. How do you rate your chances this time around?
A-I think that the competition is going to be really tough. Every team has been performing really well of late and are all looking good heading into the tournament. We have really been working hard and feel like the team is in a really good place to go in and defend our title!

Q-Final question, who are your biggest influences in life and cricket? How do you define ‘Life with cricket’?

A-My parents have been massive influences in my life. They have given me the opportunity to play the game I love for as long as I have and have supported every decision I have made. It is great to have an incredible support system like that behind you, it gives you the confidence to go out and push yourself to constantly improve and be the best you can be. Cricket is a massive part of my life and most of my decisions seem to revolve around cricket! However I have enjoyed every minute and hopefully have many more years left travelling the globe paying and promoting the game I love!The Island Link-Like Uncle Like Niece

Moeen reveals test motives

Originally published 13 April, 2014 in DeepExtraCover

23Moeen-Ali-1

For Moeen Ali, 26, this has been a winter of pre-eminence. Walking into his native soil of New Road after playing in front of vociferous crowds in Bangladesh must have felt like bit under-whelming but there are no signs of a new found swagger. He is still the same down to earth man who pleased the cultured spectators at New Road with his wristy cuts and powerful pulls.

“I enjoyed it a lot. It would have been nice had we gone further. But we performed well. Overall, I really enjoyed it” recollects Moeen about the ICC World T20 where he featured in every game.  A tournament which started in champagne fashion, but departed with a congested fade for him. Those pulls over midwicket off Tim Southee and Corey Anderson meant he would quickly get into oppositions’ counter plans.

In simple terms, he was in touch. Did he feel despondent having not made the most of it? “Definitely. You always feel you want to do better. Even if I did well, I would still feel I want to do better. Last few games I couldn’t score many runs but things like that happen in Cricket.”

The greenery of Worcestershire has been Moeen’s home since 2007. With loyalty ingrained, it’s no wonder folks at New Road believe he’s the closest thing they have ever come to Graeme Hick. His words justify the closeness. “I feel very comfortable and at home playing here. The surroundings, the people, the surface, all those ingredients make it a special place. I haven’t set any targets for the season. Trying to take one game at a time, score big guns and hopefully get into the test team.”

Test team. England whites. Any county cricketer’s dream. But unlike many, Moeen’s dream could become plausible this summer. He did that no harm in Sri Lanka with the English Lions. That was his first taste of England seniors, one which he savoured. “I have been to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka before. It was nice to be among the boys. I played well in the first game.”

His tweaks were hard to get away too. In that domain, does he regret being called up for the senior side for the shorter formats, when further roman candles could have ended in a maiden test? “No, I don’t think so. I showed the coaches in Sri Lanka that I’m good enough at that level. I was delighted to see myself being picked for England at that time.”

12509267_988226291223268_4028156469190229193_nHis role in a team can vary according to a situation. His all-round ability means he’s an asset to have. England is still searching for that elusive spinner who could at least partially cover the loss that Graeme Swann has left behind. To Moeen it doesn’t matter what void he is required to fill in. “I think it would be as a batsman who can bowl occasionally. Having said that, if they pick me I don’t care which role I’m playing. I just want to get in.”

Planting the foot back to the recent occurrences in ICC World T20, it’s conspicuous, the regret in his voice. “It was a shame. Against New Zealand we batted well. We were convinced we would have won that game, had it lasted the duration. Against South Africa, we lost by three runs. Disappointing really to lose by such a small margin but it’s the small mistakes that can cost a game. We can learn from them and hopefully next time we can go further.”

But what about the only game England won? “I was gutted when I got out as it put us in a precarious position. But that Alex Hales innings, I would take that any day of the week even though personally I failed. It’s about winning the game for the country. “

Moeen names Ravi Bopara and Chris Jordan as his best mates in the Three Lions environment and reveals he made lot of friends during the tournament. “Michael Lumb, Hales, Jos Buttler, there were many really good blokes to hang around with. I got on well with everybody.”

He has a special mention for Hashim Amla from the International teams. If he could be half as good as the prolific South Africa right-hander, it goes without saying that England’s top order is in safe hands for the foreseeable future.

Memoirs of the Bradby Shield-When Ravi Bala’s Trinitians Ran Away With The Shield

We pride ourselves in having delivered that unbeaten season for Trinity – Ravi Balasuriya

“The day before the Bradby, we used to come and stay at Royal. There was a diehard Royal supporter called ‘Kadalaya.’ Anyone from the older eras knows him. That year the Royal team refused take him in their bus. This guy came to me and asked whether we can give him a lift to the ground. Without hesitation, I asked him to get on. We took him to CR and he was so grateful that he cheered Trinity that day.”

The last creature, Trinity led by the Rugby Lion Ravi Balasuriya pictured to be on their side before their defence of the six point lead gained from the first leg at Kandy would have been, the guy they gave a lift. Such was the magnanimous gesture; even he began rooting for them.

As Ii visit his company Delmon Holdings at Colpetty where he’s the chairman, Balasuriya welcomes me in the most hospitable way. While I was expecting to sweep the dust from those memories dating more than 35 years, the head start of him assures me that it needs no dusting of any sort. It is entrenched.

“There were only three coloursman. Last year Royal thrashed us and they were gifted with nine couloursman in 1977 too. So normally we were expected to be beaten again. But although we had 12 freshers, we were a very determined side. For example at the beginning of the season, we didn’t even have a coach. They got rid of Berti Dias, and the new coach was to be overseas for the first two matches and I coached the side.”

Trinity had lost the Bradby for two consecutive years and if not for the golden year of 1977, the shield could have been unfamiliar for Kandy for Royal relinquished it again only in 1981. The sequence was too much and someone had to step up.

If Trinity had lost in 1977, that would have been a record in Royal’s history. “We were united. We never had that junior, senior boundary. Those days it was a common thing that the freshers bring a pack of chocolates. That was kind of like a practice at Trinity. In my year we changed that. After a match we used to have a get together, it could be a thosai feed, a cup of tea whatever, we were so together. So much so that when the Muslim guys in the side went to mosque on Friday, we followed them. When I was selected for the Sri Lankan pool, the practices were in Colombo. At least five members accompanied me.”

After planting the side’s motivation as the biggest factor for the success inside me, while changing the addressing from my first name to ‘putha’, he delves into the support given to the team by the principal. “Irrespective of what people would say, I was blessed to have the best principal (Lionel Fernando) any rugby captain would have wanted. When he appointed me in 1977, he was to leave school at the end of that season. At Trinity, behind the principal’s table you have a huge cupboard where all the trophies are kept and the centre is for the Bradby. During the assembly, he called me-he used to call me ‘Bala’-and said ‘Bala, I’m leaving Trinity this year. When I arrived, the Bradby Shield was behind my head. Somehow make sure it is returned when I leave.’

That was motivation. The encouragement weren’t only in expressed terms either. “Before the first leg, he put all of us in a Bungalow in College. And he said ‘breakfast, lunch, dinner in school. Have the team united.’ And for the second leg, we came to Colombo on Tuesday with couple of old boys and we trained. We knew we had to acclimatize ourselves to the heat.”

The proudness in his voice speaking about wearing the Trinity jersey is immense. Being a No8 and the place-kicker of the side, the little secret he tells me about how a kicker absorbs the pressure answers lot of pending questions inside me which I always wanted to unloose about how they withstand it. “It’s unbelievable. All the tensions are there until you start warming up. The trinity colours, the contrast in the red and yellow, it’s special. For any Trinitian, wearing that jersey is the ultimate thing. It never gets exchanged and they’ll do whatever it takes to win the shield. You may think how the players cope with the shouting, booing, hooting and stuff from the crowd, believe me Ii was the place kicker and you don’t hear a thing after you enter the field. It doesn’t even register on you. We now know the sound of hooting because now we are spectators.

“When it comes to Bradby Shield, whatever is your pre-season form, it is a totally unique situation. It’s the way you perform on that day what matters. There are such a lot of things at stake on that particular day. I’m happy to say that Bradby has always been played in the true spirit of rugby.”

Trinity won the first leg in Bogambara 12-6 in front of a full house though pre-season expectations had Royal as the favourites, Balasuriya’s side with the righteous way of positive results had eaten away those. There was one incident that was memorable in which Royal tied the scores 6-6 with a controversial try. A whistle had blown but Royal vice captain Ajith Gunawardena passed the ball to scrum half Raba Gunasekara, who sped away to post a try under the post.

“Ball was kicked by one of the Trinitians and it went out. And someone blew. So we stopped playing, And in actual fact, Gunasekara took the ball and he ran and scored.” What a difference a mock whistle from a referee in disguise in the crowd can make.

On to the second leg, and the visitors had their troubles. “On the day of the match, our regular hooker fell sick. At three o’clock we decided to replace him with another fresher-J.Allegaratnam. I spoke to my vice captain (J. Kiridena) and K. Deen asked them to talk to the guy because the irony was that it was his first XV match. He did his part admirably and we won the match 10-4.”

“As a skipper who has gone the whole season unbeaten, I want to win everything. We pride ourselves in having delivered that unbeaten season for Trinity. Richardson was only 16 years old, and Rahiman (Boxing captain) who later left Trinity and played for Royal, Ravi Ratnayake who played Test cricket for Sri Lanka was our second-row, Y. Wong, Karadena were the flankers while I played at NO8. It was funny that if you take the records that year, most of the tries were scored by the third row. Two Tissera brothers were the halves-combination. Two centres were Kemal Deen, who is a professor in Medicine now and Lain Sourjah (athletic captain). We had M. Bibile and H. Gunasekara with S. Vethanayagam (Basketball captain) on the wing and A. Saheedeen (hockey captain) played at fullback. As you can see, most of the team was filled with captains of other sports but they were all freshers.”

After the Bradby the only hurdle left for Balasuriya’s side was the Thomians who were also unbeaten up to that point. “Our final game of the season was against S.Thomas who were also unbeaten but we beat them easily. The significant thing that year was for the first time ever in the history of Sri Lanka rugby, two school teams were invited to take part in the Asian schools tournament in Bangkok. Trinity and Thomians had booked their tickets after finishing the season at the top.”

Such was the staggering feat they staged last year he was again offered the captaincy. But our story teller had his best friend in mind. “I was under-age for 78 and I was offered the captaincy whichI declined because if I did, my best friend Karadena wouldn’t have got his due of captaining the side. I played the first three matches and later I left for India for my studies. The Bradby first leg finished in a stalemate and I wanted to come back and play in the second. But the Royal principal protested against it saying I was not eligible since I left school but technically I was not.”

“We were not on the mark at start where we had scrap through Wesley. Thomians hammered Wesley and so arrogant were they, spurred by that result they brought in the Canon De Saram Trophy. My flight to India was on Sunday at 2pm in the afternoon. But I took the challenge and played the match on Saturday. I had a brilliant game and we clinched first-ever Canon R.De Saram trophy.”

Leisurely talking about the subject of the crowds, Balasuriya points out that the venues are depriving lot of spectators of their beautiful throb of watching a shield match. He says though the atmosphere could be lost to an extent, the crowd that bemoans missing out on the match should outgrow the other factors. “Look at the interest. As far as me, Royal Complex and Pallekele should not host Bradby. Every day the population who attend this game is increasing tremendously. Bogambara should be permanent venue for Kandy and either R.Premadasa or Sugathadasa stadiums should host the Colombo leg.”

His recollects that his side were the sevens champions and it has a touch of sadness in eyes since according to him it was the last year Trinity had won the abbreviated form’s title. This reminds me the last captain I visited, Sampath Agalawatte of Royal who’s side was incidentally the last of his school to grab the sevens title. Was it not a coincidence, I begin to wonder. Surely not.

Balasuriya’s scrapbook tells me that cameras weren’t privileged enough take a single capture of this warrior but thankfully there’s the group photograph. During the final moments he again reiterates me the obvious. “At Trinity, if you play Rugby that is it. With all due respect to Kumar Sangakkara and others, if you are a rugby player you are more recognized. When you bring the Bradby Shield back and hand it over to the principal the next Monday at the assembly, you feel like you are in cloud nine.”

As I leave I could see the same sense of pride in his smile as he was during the assembly that day.

Trinity 1977 Squad- R. Balasuriya (Captain), M. Richardson, I. Rahiman, K. Congreve, R.Ratnayake, C. Ellepola, J. Kiridena, Y. Wong, J. Tissera, A. Tissera, L. Sourjah, K. Deen, M. Bibile, H. Gunasekara, A. Saheedeen, S. Vethanayagam, J. Allegaratnam, K. Raghavan, S. Rodrigo, T. Omar.

The Island Link- When Ravi Bala’s Trinitians Ran Away With The Shield

Memoirs Of The Bradby Shield-The Unstoppable Royal Side Of 1984

Trinitians still curse me for the intervention-Royal Captain Sampath Agalawatte

“For a schoolboy, going to Bangkok was everything. The promise was given by the coaches that if we win every match and the Bradby that we’ll be granted a trip to Bangkok. We won the Bradby interfering Trinity’s golden run and they haven’t still forgiven me for that.”

Royal had been offset of Bradby for three years ranging from 1981-1983. Had it not been for the year of 1984 which was sandwiched between the rasping onslaughts of Trinity Lions from 1981-1987, Kandy would have linked seven straight years of Bradby hegemony, a record in the series.

While I sit down gingerly, mulling over the fact of my memory bank’s hollowness about this tie, the demeanour of the man in front lends me hope. I wasn’t born when this historical analogy occurred and its best, my plan anyways, to let the narrator of the story, the captain of the unstoppable Royal College side of 1984 which swept all trophies on offer including the sevens, fly half Sampath Agalawatte swim into his recollection of the yore.

“We had nine coloursmen in that year and the same number of players from Royal played for the Colombo team that year. We were a unit and we believed in the theory that the fourteen players will help the fifteenth player. We played the best side at all times. Having said that, we had competition for places. There were 10, 15 guys who could walk in to the side in case of an emergency seamlessly. Those are some of the unseen things in our success that year. We had the best third row and halves-combination and all were equally determined to grab what was put infront of us with relish.”

“Our coaches were Udaka Tennekoon and Malik Samarawickrama. Malik was a master strategist. It is a known fact in rugby circles. He used to study other teams and he came up with separates plans for different teams which was the hallmark of our success.”

Just like that he provides the prelude. Losing the Bradby for two years would have greyed the hair of many not least him and he deepens into the previous year where the millstone around the neck could have provided nutrition for the writing of a different story.

“I missed one game in 83 which was the first leg because of an operation. But within ten days I recovered and there I was, playing in the centenary match. We won the match but unfortunately the lead was too much. I executed a drop goal and we were on our way but we missed it by a whisker. Last minute our captain almost scored but was tackled on the line. And both the captain and the tackler were carried off the field. They were hospitalized.”

Those half-baked dreams and the realization of the fact that this would be the last saloon to regain the Bradby had its imprints. “The effort that goes into a Bradby Shield match is something many people don’t associate with. I played Bradby for three years and won it in my last year. You have to win a Bradby to understand that feeling. As a schoolboy, it was out of this world for me. I’m very happy that I’m associated with winning the shield back while being the captain which is a great honour. I played my heart out that day. I couldn’t even walk, I was carried.”

As I learn methodically the not-so-easy and dedication fuelled route for Bradby, the words come flowing in. Even Tobacco sales suffered. “The preparation for the Bradby Shield for any Royal ruggerite is a moment to cherish. From a discipline point of view, training, eating, drinking, we never got things like what they get today. Whatever we had was from home and we enjoyed it. Our preparation was very clear and dedicated. And I can tell that there were teammates who used to smoke. They gave up smoking.”

“Playing a Bradby is special. Trinity being a reputed institution and they have continuously maintained their high standards in rugby. Say for an example, Royal or Trinity might have had a torrid time in the league, but when the bells for Bradby are heard everybody knows what’s at stake. There was one particular area I must tell you, Royal had lost the Bradby for three consecutive years. And we had a good season. There was hope in everyone within the school. After we won the first leg 6-3, lot of people travelled to Kandy and there was a major crowd. So all that attributed.”

The first leg was won by the home side 6-3 at CR&FC grounds and Agalawatte remembers it being not the cup of tea the spectators would have preferred. “It was sort of a ding-dong battle. Maybe for the spectators it would have been a boring game. As the flyhalf my intentions always revolved around kicking deep or into the box. Gain ground, go to their side and attack. But we missed some chances; it wasn’t a high scoring game.”

While the win gave satisfaction they were not about to let the winning spirit fly high though. There was unfinished business to take care of. “After we won the first leg, as you know there’s a break. But we prepared ourselves for the Kandy leg as if we didn’t have a lead. We were clear in our goals and every teammember played all out. It was raining in Kandy, soggy conditions. I remember our opponents punting the ball in the air and chasing it. I was always after the ball. I didn’t want to give the ball away because I knew, I was playing well.”

A scoreline of 0-0 may flatter to admire, which I fell into before the interview, it goes to show bare cuddling of the stats can isolate one into false visualizations. “But in Kandy it all changed. They worked the line, they basically got ahead of us and if not for a last ditch tackle by Krishan George near the corner flag, they would have been ahead. There were anxious moments when they had kicks, since I wanted to make sure to be where the ball is, I was behind the goal post for penalties waiting for the ball. And there was this penalty kick I remember from Jayanthasiri Perera (Trinity fullback) the way it zoomed in, I thought it’s was over. For our luck, it came under the post and I was there to collect.”

“From all the matches I have played the greatest game will undoubtedly be the 2nd leg of the Bradby in 1984. Feroze Suhaib at center had a cracker of a game. And our forwards in unison, Krishan George who was on double duty as he was our basketball captain too.”

While I rundown the black and white paper-cuttings in his possession and those lovely reports of well-known writers, they give me the impression the crowd did live up to the occasion. “The grounds were packed. And there was a very emotional moment too. When we were approaching the ground one by one after getting down from the bus the whole prefects section of ours gave us a standing ovation. Simply, there were lot of expectations with the form we were in and I’m proud to say we lived up to it. I can guarantee, winning a Bradby makes a big difference.”

And the predilection of the shield yielded some unforgettable moments of which I can feel the buzz even sitting in the couch of his house. “After the match, I didn’t know, I was dead tired; someone came and carried me on to the podium. Only After receiving the shield I knew that it was my brother. After coming back to Colombo, it was not a long walk from the school to Jawatta where I lived. Kuragama, Canegaratne me all lived in the same vicinity. From College to home we walked with Bradby Shield in our hand.”

As with any sportsman the guidance of the parents is a phase that’s scripted in golden letters and I turn the conversation into that. Quickly, I’m forced to regret it for he breaks down into tears. I contemplated the thought to apologise but he returns to conscience and speaks proudly about the linear impact his family, especially mother, have had.

“My mother was very strict. I was the youngest in the family and played lot of sports during school. They were very supportive of everything I did. As I said mother was the one who took decisions and she made one thing very clear. With school everything had to stop, she was strongly against me playing rugby after leaving school. Once I went to CR&FC practises without telling her and got slapped and that was the end of that.”

“And now I know the decisions she made at that time was right. I got emotional because I was attached to my mother in a very definitive way. I lost her in 2008 and if I am anywhere today, it is all because of the strict decisions she took.”

Now the CEO of TVS Lanka, Agalawatte credits rugby for the way it molded his career into the success-driven lane. “Rugby taught me lot of things in leadership. When you approach a rugby match as a captain you are only given 60 (then) minutes to make your decisions. There are no second chances. The leadership and decision making is something that have helped me immensely in my career.”

Finally what about the Bangkok tour? It was on. The promises were kept and while on tour two matches were played too. “I can remember on a lighter note, when the boys came to the dressing room in Kandy everyone was shouting ‘Bangkok Bangkok’ their lungs out. Basically it was like ‘now we have made it. It’s your turn to tell us when we are going.’” He concludes with an unfeigned smile and an aura of a man who had conquered the mission.

Royal 1984 rugby XV-Sampath Agalawatte (Captain), Lalith Samarawickrama, Sanjaya Sigera, Mahil Kuragama, Duminda Senaratne, Chiro Nanayakkara, Ajith Weeratunga, Janaka Lenaduwa, Mahendra Navaratnam, Jehan Canagaratne, Krishan George, Kimal Ousmand, Ajith Gunasekara, Feroze Suhaib, Ahamed Cader.

The Island Link- The Unstoppable Royal Side of 1984

England kick off new era with a bang

England unsealed their prospectus for limited overs cricket at Edgbaston to great effect with a stunning 210 run victory over New Zealand today.  For the World cup runner-up, this was a bringing back down to earth job on a pitch of devilish intentions for bowlers.

When Joe Root reached a century in the 24th over, it had to take something special to highjack that but Jos Buttler’s hurricane was just that. England batsmen tormented and crippled a startled New Zealand attack. The offerings were ordinary at best, hampered by the absence of Tim Southee and Corey Anderson, Mitchell McClenaghan delivering the first yorker of the innings in the 48th over. However, that can take nothing away from a helter-skelter parade of stroke play. For now, England has delivered on their promissory note to entertain.

The measure of the announcement was such that rewriting of records became compulsory. This was England’s highest ODI total, the partnership between Root and Adil Rashid for the 7th wicket, which yielded 177 runs off 111 balls, is a world record and Jos Buttler put himself in the second place of the fastest hundreds scored by a England batsman as he could not better his own record (off 61 balls) by 5 balls. Root’s effort off 71 balls stands at 4th. The victory margin is the largest in England’s history.

New Zealand, chasing a mammoth 409, put up a dispirited reply which was epitomized by the meek surrender of Brendon McCullum. Reproducing the lasting image of the World Cup final, he gave the charge to Steven Finn and was castled. Quite a contrast from Finn’s experience at Wellington. Martin Guptil and Kane Williamson kept the rate going before Guptill edged Finn for 22.

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My view from the press box

 

Ross Taylor, guilty of dropping a dolly which gave a reprieve to red-hot Buttler, fought in vein. Rashid followed up his pyrotechnics (69 off 50 balls) with four wickets, breaking the nexus of New Zealand’s middle order. Finn was back to his pacy best taking four wickets in the process.

However, everything didn’t go England’s way. Jason Roy was at the end of a nightmare start to his international career, slapping Trent Boult’s loosener, first ball of the match, straight to short cover. Root calmed the nerves and along with Alex Hales started a counter punch which shook the visitors.

Hales continued his agenda of impressing but not carrying on, mistiming a pull into the lap of short fine leg. Eoin Morgan, desperately in need of runs after an un-wealthy period at the helm, commenced shakily but was given a lift in life by Nathan McCullum who toss one up. Morgan took the liberty to get out of the sanctuary he was in depositing the ball over the stands thus entering a phase of error-free batting. Root survived a rare drop of luck edging the ball between Luke Ronchi and first slip Ross Taylor to reach his half-century.

When things seemed smooth, having rapped up ___ for the 3rd wicket, Morgan who moments ago reached a defining half century was trapped in front by Mitchell McClenaghan. Morgan’s review was more in hope than wisdom and replays vindicated Michael Gough’s initial verdict.

Root galloped to his century in the 24th over to the roar of an appreciative crowd gathered at Edgbaston to witness the new era of English limited-overs cricket. If the intentions were to be trusted, it’s bound to be entertaining. More of a polar opposite of Peter Moore’s school of building an innings for a late flourish. However, the flaws began surfacing soon. Maturity was tested when Root fell.

Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler had a rebuilding job at hand but Stokes instincts got the better of him. Boult got him to inside edge a delivery on to the stumps. To England’s credit and this could be a little leaflet on their long term approach from here on in, they never stopped playing their shots. Wickets falling around was felt as if an inconvenience rather than a mood of fear. Sam Billings lost the debutants battle to Mitchell Santner, who had him LBW for 3. But Rashid and Buttler went on.

If the carnival atmosphere inside Edgbaston was any indication, the England fans have already approved of the new lease of life. The popularity is England’s to lose.11351355_884027068309858_8848450073716565744_n

 

Hay On Wye’s Loving Touch to British Film Industry

The CastleNot even Richard Booth when he declared himself as ‘The King of Hay’ would have anticipated the central hub of books that it was to become.

Situated in the border of Wales, not only has it been dubbed the ‘town of books’, it has lived up to its reputation. Many festivals echoing the theme has been born along the way with the 4th festival of British Cinema catching the headlines.

Book shops at HayBritish Cinema is in its another one of immobile periods of mediocrity with government’s lack of priority weighting down on it. Film industry has never been the one to challenge the posh altitudes touched by Hollywood and its commercial successes but as the organizers stress the story based almost flowing art of story-telling, as non-mainstream as it can be, has been ever present.

And it’s that factor the organizers are trying to exploit by introducing unknown directors to their spot under the sun. 21 films of relative familiarity and three short stories were to be screened at three venues with Hay Parish hall and Talgarth playing second fiddle to the newly built Richard Booth’s bookshop theatre.

StreetsIts importance can’t be emphasized highly enough considering the climate where Britain’s film industry is. Critics in the field value localness to the core which affects them to abort some directors who have made their name in USA under the bright lights.

The hard reality check is, a film with a multi-billion budget or one that cost tenth of the amount as that, the final verdict
Depends on how well received by the audiences at the end of the day. In simpler terms, how many seats are occupied. This the organizers feel is one of the key elements to pump hope to the new directors.
“Hay is always busy. Predominantly because of the books. But the numbers of people who visit this town has remained static. The special character of the town and its book shops is you can actually find shops that specialize in genres. So choosing which way to go is offered to you very precisely” says Lorna who is looking after one of the children’s best seller book shops.
The CastleAs the smattering of grievances from the organizers suggest, the cinema festival hasn’t reached the pedestal where they want to, the inconsistencies in audiences ranging from full houses to half a dozen people certifies that fact. But it has a direction to follow as has been shown by the popular industry in Hay.Main Street

Further References:
http://www.filmfestivalhay.co.uk/
http://www.hayfestival.com/wales/index.aspx?skinid=2&currencysetting=GBP&localesetting=en-GB&resetfilters=true

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