Point-blank: Triple celebrations for Tamil Union

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Tamil Union Cricket & Athletic Club, a club steeped in tradition and with a history of 116 years has been in the news in recent times, the latest occasion being the stunning bowling performance of Chanaka Welegedera, the Sri Lanka left-arm quick who returned the amazing figures of 4-2-2-4, to equal the world record for the most economical four-over T20 spell in domestic cricket.

Welegedera whose international cricket career has been stalled by a series of recurring injuries helped Tamil Union rout SSC by 45 runs in a Premier T20 match played at the CCC grounds last Monday. SSC could muster only 97 in reply to Tamil Union’s 142.
Only two other bowlers have come close to equaling Welegedera’s feat - South African-born Chris Morris who had figures of 4-3-4-2 for Lions v Cape Cobras at Johannesburg in 2014 and Pakistan’s Zulfiqar Babar 4-2-3-2 for Tigers v Quetta Bears at Lahore in 2012.

A product of St Thomas’ College Matale, Welegedera represented Moors SC when he broke into the Sri Lanka Test side as the spearhead of the bowling attack in 2007 against England at Galle taking four wickets in the match and being hailed as a successor to the great Chaminda Vaas. However Welegedera failed to fulfil the early promise as he was struck down constantly by injuries that saw him fail to secure a permanent place in the team. In seven years of international cricket he made only 21 Test appearances for his country taking 55 wickets.

However in the ongoing Premier T20 tournament Welegedera is the leading wicket taker with 16 wickets from 6 matches at an economy rate of 4.20. However at 34 with a history of injuries behind him Welegedera can consider himself lucky if he is ever picked to play for Sri Lanka again.

The day Kithuruwam Vithanage was scoring a monumental triple hundred for Tamil Union against Sri Lanka Air Force SC in a Premier league match at Katunayake; the country’s attention was focused on their opening World Cup fixture against New Zealand at Christchurch. Thus Vithanage’s marathon effort of 283 balls for a record breaking 351 runs hardly got the publicity it deserved. It is the second highest individual score made in first-class cricket in Sri Lanka after Mahela Jayawardene’s 374 for Sri Lanka against South Africa at the SSC in 2006 and, it is easily the highest score ever made in a domestic first-class match in Sri Lanka beating Thilina Kandamby’s 340 (not out) for SSC v Tamil Union at the P Sara Oval in 2012-13.

Sanath Jayasuriya scored the first triple century in a first-class match in Sri Lanka when he made 340 for Sri Lanka against India at the R Premadasa Stadium in 1997. Kusal Perera is the only other cricketer to score a triple first-class hundred in Sri Lanka with 336 for Colts v Saracens at Havelock Park in 2012-13.

West Indies opener Chris Gayle’s knock of 333 against Sri Lanka in the Test match played at Galle in 2010-11 is the highest score made by a batsman from a visiting side.

A talented left-hand batsman who likes to get on with the game, Vithanage who made his Test debut at the age of 22, has already a Test hundred to his name – 103 (not out) v Bangladesh at Dhaka in his short career of six Tests. He is expected to form an integral part of Sri Lanka’s future batting line up following the retirements of Dilshan, Jayawardene and Sangakkara (in August).

However Vithanage needs to discipline himself in his personal conduct if he wants to succeed at the highest level. He escaped severe punishment because of former chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya’s behest. He is currently serving a one-year probation imposed by Sri Lanka Cricket after he was found guilty of leaving the team hotel overnight during the first Test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at Galle last year - an action that was treated as a serious breach by team captain Angelo Mathews and coach Marvan Atapattu who wanted him removed from the squad.

The “suspended sentence” effectively means that Vithanage who has a past record of similar incidents would likely be punished with a suspension if he breaks team protocol or breaches the terms of his contract again before September 15, 2015.
However the individual brilliance of Welegedera and Vithanage has failed to bring Tamil Union the desired results. The club ended up fifth out of seven in Group A and failed to secure a semi-final place in the T20 tournament and in the Premier league they finished second from the bottom of the Super Eight table with one win and four losses.   

Tamil Union also have much to celebrate in the current year after being awarded two back to back Tests against Pakistan and India in June and August. As it is the policy that the two Colombo Test venues – SSC and P Sara Oval get a Test match by rotation, on this occasion the Sara Oval gets two because last year they forewent the Test against Pakistan to allow SSC to host the farewell to Mahela Jayawardene.

The P Sara Oval or the Colombo Oval/P Saravanamuttu Stadium (as it was known then) was the venue to host matches against international teams during the pre-Test era and has played a huge part in the development of Sri Lanka cricket. It was at this hallowed venue that Sri Lanka played its inaugural Test match in 1982 (v England) and three years later recorded their maiden Test victory (v India).

It is not the fault of the venue that Sri Lanka has not won a Test match there for the past six years. The sporty wickets that are prepared gives both batsmen and bowlers equal opportunities and Sri Lanka has been undone by pace and spin alike.

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