Junior Sri Lankan cricket stars in UAE excel but hindered by 'bone tests'
The Asian Cricket Council conducts a variety of age group tournaments for affiliate cricket-playing countries each year. Teams from Afghanistan, Nepal to UAE, where I'm reporting from, took part in the ACC U-16 Challenger Cup held during the first week of March in Thailand. Six talented Sri Lankan boys managed to catch the eye of the UAE selectors and were chosen for the final 25 member squad that underwent a rigorous two-month training camp.
Three of the boys, namely Zafri Zafardeen, Renaldi Dias and Waruna Perera, were easily earmarked to be on the eventual touring squad of 14.
ACC insists on all selected players being put through a bone test which determines their skeletal age and bizzarely they tend to go with that judgement.
Two of the boys, Zafardeen (14.5 years) and Dias (15.5 years) unfortunately were ruled out of the tour since their skeletal bone test confirmed they could possibly be 17-18 years old. Five other boys of different nationalities faced the same fate.
Saudi Arabia had half their squad fail the test and had to pull out of the tournament, possibly in protest.
No amount of appeals to overturn this made a difference as the UAE team eventually flew with the available squad that comprised of two Sri Lankan-born players in Bilal Passela and Waruna Perera.
Passela took a remarkable 7 for 4 against Maldives, while Waruna scored two consecutive half centuries in the preliminary games. Their performances surely helped UAE finish second in the tournament to Afghanistan thus earning UAE a promotion to the elite tournament next year.
Patum Herath, another Sri Lankan-born talent, represented Qatar and earned the best figures of the tournament with 8 for 11 against China. Herath ended up being the Man of the Tournament for his exploits with both bat and ball.
Spare a thought for the two Sri Lankan players who missed out on this momentous occasion to represent a national team. Young Zafardeen and Dias both come from steep sporting family backgrounds.
Zafardeen's grandfather Seyed Mohamed Razeek is a double international, having represented Sri Lankan at soccer and hockey.
Dias's grandfather Sylvester Dias was hailed as one of the fastest bowlers produced by Sri Lanka. Naturally, it was heartbreaking to see these two young stars being sidelined by an X-ray image that produced conflicting reports of their age.
Zafardeen has already been called up to represent UAE at the U-19 level and has featured in three local games for them.
Dias was recently voted the best batsman in a very strong local academy tournament. Both these players are part of the development squad that has been nurtured to represent UAE at the 2014 ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup to be held in Dubai.
As hosts, UAE receives automatic qualification to this prestigious tournament. But why on earth does the ACC have a different method of age test as compared to the ICC, which easily goes by the birth certificate and the passport?
This is a hotly debated topic in the Middle East. Many former Sri Lankan start cricketers happen to be part of the development committee of the ACC, namely Bandula Warnapura and Rumesh Ratnayake, with Warnapura being the head of development there.
Nevertheless, there's more to come from these young lads and also watch out for a few others promising players such as Kulith Rabel, Nelukshan De Silva and Kirk Vedhasinghe.
While Rabel and De Silva have won numerous awards over the years for their consistent all round performances in the local junior circuit, Vedhasinghe has already represented the UAE U-19 team last year on an overseas tour and continues to be a regular on the team.
Incidentally, Kirk's sister Kyna Vedhasinghe currently plays for the UAE national senior women's team in what could be a unique achievement of a brother and sister representing the national team.
Stay tuned for plenty of updates from all these and more Sri Lankan names here.