By Harsha Amarasinghe
After nine years of sheer humiliation within the Asian netball circuit, Sri Lanka last week returned to where they truly belong to; the top of Asia. From being a laughing stock at the World Cup in 2015 to becoming an Asian powerhouse once more, Sri Lanka have come a long way during the last nine months under head coach Thilaka Jinadasa.
Knowing what Jinadasa had achieved as a coach previously with Sri Lanka and Brunei, those who were desperate to see Sri Lanka winning again welcomed her warmly while those who were desperate to save their jobs did not.
As soon as her appointment was made official, a certain section of coaches who had guided Sri Lanka to their lowest ever rankings in the world, rallied around criticising the decision. These netball rebels made it so personal that they told certain players not to attend training, they kept on calling then Minster of Sports Dayasiri Jayasekara with their complaints, and by the end of January as an outsider one could sense that everything was about fall apart, again, but that was when the Iron Woman of Sri Lanka Netball – Trixie Nanayakkara stood up.
By that time Nanayakkara had understood the importance of allowing Jinadasa to completely focus on working with the girls and Nanayakkara herself taking care of matters outside the netball court.
The former Sri Lanka Netball captain turned up the heat on the rebels and put them in their place during a council meeting which will go down as the council meeting that changed Sri Lanka netball forever.
“They caused problems at the time as we all know, but we dealt with it and I am very pleased Thilaka and the team were able to bring us back the Asian Championship and prove them all wrong,” Nanayakkara told the Daily Mirror after Sri Lanka clinched their fifth Asian title.
On their way to glory Sri Lanka went undefeated in seven games and they were outstanding as a team, but there was one standout performer who would go on to win the Player of the Tournament award – Tharjini Sivalingam.
It is hard to believe that Asia’s tallest netball player somehow did not play for Sri Lanka for the last four years along with several senior players who claimed to have been disappointed with coaching standards in the national setup at the time.
As soon as Jinadasa was appointed as the head coach Sivalingam returned to the national pool despite certain master tacticians who have not won anything in the last decade calling her ‘too old.’ All Sivalingam needed at the time was a bit of confidence and that was exactly what Jinadasa was able to give her.
Sri Lanka’s greatest goal shooter Sivalingam and head coach Jinadasa have maintained a very good relationship having known each other for more than a decade. Even during the time Jinadasa was away coaching Brunei, they kept in touch which made it easy for the coach to convince her to play at the highest level again, and on the other Sivalingam would even break a leg for the coach that she has a lot of respect for.
“From the beginning I said Tharji must be there in the squad because when you have a player as tall as her, you don’t have to worry a lot about shooting and all she needs to do is stay fit. I can also see that she has matured a lot as a player because I remember she used to get frustrated when players from other teams sort of push her and do things like that, but now she takes everything in a very calm manner and is very determined to play even better. I think playing club netball in Australia has helped her immensely. She knows how to deal with physical players,” Jinadasa told the Daily Mirror as Sivalingam left Sri Lanka for her second stint in Australia yesterday.
This victory also meant that Sri Lanka qualified for the Netball World Cup in Liverpool next year.
“I think it’s too early to talk about it, but I have my plans for the World Cup. Sri Lanka would need to pick the country’s best 20 players before the end of this year and prepare the team from their onwards,” Jinadasa stated.