x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Festivity in final marked by distinct Sri Lankan flavour

The Cricket for Care Under 15 Inter Academy tournament, which saw strong performances, proves that game is in good shape in nation.

G-Force's Akhilesh Sawant hits the winning run.
G-Force's Akhilesh Sawant hits the winning run.

DUBAI // Goodness only knows how Matt Prior would have responded, had he been in Aaron Joseph's boots as he was called through for an ambitious single by his Desert Cubs batting partner, Waruna Perera.

As the cursory run out was completed by the G-Force Academy fieldsmen, the play was accompanied by a less than appropriate soundtrack booming out of big speakers on No 2 Oval at the ICC Global Cricket Academy.

Streaming over the airways was the classic John Paul Young anthem Love is in the Air. Which, at that specific moment in time, it was clearly not.

Happily for the organisers of last night's Cricket for Care Under 15 Inter Academy final, young Joseph was far more forgiving and far less combustible than Prior, the England wicketkeeper.

He calmly removed his equipment, and all the windows at the Global Cricket Academy remained intact, and the music played on.

The Desert Cubs have a heavy Sri Lankan influence, meaning they will have felt at home in this atmosphere, even though they eventually slid to a six-wicket defeat.

With music, drums, flag-waving, and a tray of Dunkin Donuts being passed around for the supporters to feast on, this final had the carnival atmosphere which is characteristic of a Colombo schools Big Match.

All through the game one of the Cubs supporters waved a flag bearing the academy's colours, yellow and blue. It is little coincidence they play in Sri Lanka colours.

The Cubs academy was set up in 2007 by Presley Polonnowita, a former first-class all-rounder who represented Sri Lanka Under 19 in his youth, before moving to the UAE in 1994.

His first academy intake comprised 10 boys and a girl. Now he has in excess of 200 children practising at the twice-weekly Cubs training sessions at Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

"We always have a special atmosphere like this at games," Polonnowita, who juggles running the academy with his day job in a bank in Sharjah, said.

"We come with music and always make sure we have fun and enjoy it. Most of our children are from Sri Lanka and India."

Polonnowita calls on a roster of 18 coaches, including UAE national team players such as Shadeep Silva and Indika Batuwitarachchi, to provide specialist coaching for his academicians.

Their work is bearing fruit. Nelukshan de Silva and Zafri Zafardeen both scored centuries on their way to last night's final.

However, when both of them fell cheaply against G-Force, the Cubs struggled to 103 all out, with Perera top-scoring with an undefeated 22.

Karthik Shekhar was the last bowler brought on, but he still returned the best figures of the G-Force attack, taking three wickets for seven runs.

The fact Kathik Dudeja and Varun Todari then carried their side almost all the way to victory on their own was of little surprise.

The G-Force openers put on 257, the highest stand of the tournament, when they faced Sharjah Academy earlier in the campaign. They were parted after sharing 88 runs for the first wicket this time.

Despite a late flurry of four wickets, victory was sealed shortly after, with Todari, an elegant left-hander, top-scoring with 46.

"This is very good for the boys, they will take so much confidence from it," Gopal Jasapara, the G-Force Academy coach, said.

"It bodes very well for the future, and most of the players are still only 13 any way, so they will be able to play again in this competition next year.

"These boys are so well prepared because they get to play so many matches now [G-Force are one of the few academies to have a home ground of their own, in Al Jadaf]. They play over 80 matches per year, so they are very well drilled."

The array of talent on show suggests junior cricket in the UAE is in good health, according to Mohamed Lokhandwala, the tournament organiser and Dubai Cricket Council honorary secretary.

"I am part of the national team set up and it is exciting to see how much talent there is here," he said. "I am sure we will see more than one of these players representing the national team in the future."