Out of the Ashes of War: North-East Under 22 Team pushes ahead

Daily Mirror, 2014 where the title is “Taking their chances, North East U23 team make strides”

Overcoming the most difficult realities during and after the 30-year civil war, a group of young cricketers have made great strides in showing the hidden talent waiting to be discovered in the North and East of the country. Playing in the domestic Under 23 tournament, the North East Combined team have taken just two years to make significant progress and prove that given a chance they could do as well as anyone. Having made the finals of the Division III this year, with a combination of players from Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Kanthale, Vavuniya, Killinochchi and Jaffna, they have not only beaten their opponents, but moved up a notch into the Division II tournament. NE under 22 team

Fostering and mentoring these youngsters is the long-serving Sri Lanka Cricket-appointed provincial coach Manjula Karunaratne who has seen some of these players developing through the junior ranks of the province, and are now on the cusp of taking their careers to the next level.

“The players are definitely talented and have what it takes to make it to the national team some day, and the success of this team has brought more attention to the talent that lay hidden in the North and East of the country,” Karunaratne said.

The team only came about a few years ago, when Sri Lanka Cricket officials – namely Nishantha Ranatunga, Sanath Jayasuriya and Hashan Tillakaratne – travelled to the area, and decided to fast track the development for these cricketers, by giving them an opening to play in the Division III of the Under 23 Inter-Club domestic tournament.

Through the graciousness of the Foundation of Goodness and its founder Kushil Gunasekera, the team was sponsored by the British retailchain Tesco, who have not only helped meet the costs, enabling them to practise regularly, but also afforded the team the opportunity to travel and play against other teams, which has strengthened their growth and helped improve their competitiveness, while also being provided with the required match and practice kits.

“Their first season, they had a good return winning two games, and losing two, before Kushil Gunasekera stepped in to help fund the further development of the team,” Karunaratne said, adding, “We’re really thankful for his support and the support from the Cricket board.”

Ably assisted by Lakshitha Herath, a district coach, Karunaratne is proud of the success of this team, and the general evolution of the cricketers in the region, through all the age groups.

“Cricket in the North has grown. Previously only some schools in Jaffna played leather ball cricket, but now there are about 15-20 schools each in Trincomalee, Jaffna and Batticaloa, who play leather ball cricket.”

“There were a lot of difficulties for these boys during the war. Because there was no way they could travel by road, boys from Jaffna had to travel by boat to Trincomalee to play games, and then travel back the same way.”

National cricketers in the past have also talked up the interest and talent in those parts of the country, and Karunaratne also had similar sentiments to share. “Such was the interest that even during the war, we were asked to come and do some training camps in the North, and even during the ceasefire, we were able to have a coaching camp for these cricketers. The tamil people in these areas are very interested and supportive of the promotion of the game,” Karunaratne said.

“There is more interest shown by the selectors now, and we have the freedom to let them know if there are any potential talents, and then they take them down to Colombo for further evaluations,” Karunaratne said.

These cricketers have come a long way says their coach, and though they don’t have the logistical luxuries and facilities of their Colombo counterparts, they have seen a vast improvement in facilities available to them, which has translated into good performances.

The efforts to promote, develop and identify talent is still ongoing, with former cricketer Hashan Tillakaratne having recently travelled to conduct a coaching camp, and Sri Lanka Cricket set to open two turf pitches in Trincomalee and Batticaloa next week. One talent coming out of the region is S Sanjeewan, who was brought in by the selectors to train with one of the teams in the recent Super 4s national T20 tournament, and Edward Edin and Rishan Tudor – the latter duo who have had a lot of exposure thanks to the Foundation of Goodness.

The talent of young cricketers in the North was underlined, when a visiting Yaara Valley Cricket Association XI was easily beaten by a Jaffna Combined Schools Team, in a T20 game played in Jaffna earlier this year, the first time an Australian team had travelled there in 42 years – and no doubt that with the continued development of the game in the area, the next cricketing hero could come from its most afflicted parts.

For this particular team, more challenging competition awaits in the second division, but with all they have faced and overcome, the support by the Foundation of Goodness and their mental fortitude, they have the platform to reach an all new high in their budding cricket careers.

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