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Warriors crisis and Nuggets supremacy: now is the time to be wrong about the NBA

We are a quarter of the way through the NBA season, which means that – aside from Jimmy Butler’s escape from Minnesota – absolutely nothing of consequence has happened  yet. We know this. We know that the NBA season doesn’t really start until Christmas, and Thanksgiving has only just gone. And yet, despite the fact that we know we’ll feel stupid about it later, we get carried away.

Remember last year, at the start of November, when the Orlando Magic were good? Aaron Gordon was knocking down threes, all that young talent was finally gelling, and they were going to make some noise in a weak East. And then two weeks later it turned out they were bad.

This fall, thanks to his move to the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James entered the season facing lower expectations than he has in a decade.

For once, the NBA hive mind was preaching caution with his team – finding a groove with this young/old, fragile/insane Lakers supporting cast would take time. Of course it would, we all agreed quite reasonably. And then the Lakers got off to a sluggish start and we all lost our minds. Even Magic Johnson got in on the act. We shouldn’t misread Magic’s tirade at head coach Luke Walton as a sign that there’s anything actually wrong; superstar ex-athletes are just as prone – sometimes more prone – to overreact as the rest of us. And that’s all it was.


Kevin Durant’s Warriors have lost four in a row, but the funk is unlikely to last. Photograph: Eric Gay/AP

On 5 November, the Denver Nuggets were 9-1, and had somehow transformed one of the NBA’s worst defenses into one of its best, a huge leap that the healthy return of Paul Millsap, bless him, did not entirely explain. We restrained ourselves from wondering if they could beat Golden State – we’re not delusional – but what about second in the West? A home playoff series? Anything (other than beating Golden State) is possible. Then the Nuggets lost six out of seven and currently sit just half a game above the Lakers, who are now firmly back over .500 and in a playoff place thanks to coach of the year candidate … Luke Walton.

The Houston Rockets, meanwhile, have pulled a reverse Nuggets, erasing both their bad start and all traces of Carmelo Anthony from their franchise, winning five straight, including a blowout win over the Steph-less, Draymond-less Golden State Warriors, who, by the way, are reeling and on the brink of implosion after a somewhat heated argument between two of their five superstars, both of whom get in arguments a lot and always seem fine a week later.

In fact, we need to declare a moratorium on all “The Warriors are in trouble” hot takes until at least mid-April, and only then if Draymond Green bites off Kevin Durant’s lower right leg and pummels Boogie Cousins with it. (And even then, Warriors will win the NBA finals in five.) As ESPN’s Zach Lowe put it last week, with magical simplicity: “The Golden State Warriors are going to win the NBA title this year. They are so much better than everyone else.” Yes. What he said.

The real question is how bad things would need to get between Dray and KD before it actually impacted either of them on the court. Both are such merciless and title-driven competitors that their families could be trapped in a blood feud and they’d still ball out with each other between the lines. It’s almost cute that we think a brief shouting match in mid-November will derail the Warriors in the finals next June. It’s cute we think we’ll even remember it happened.

Denver Nuggets, team of the future? Not just yet. Photograph: Veronica Dominach/AP

That’s pretty much the only thing this chunk of the NBA season is good for: lining up a bunch of things for us to be wrong about, despite all our better judgment. We’ve come back to Earth on the Nuggets, and we’ve stopped predicting the apocalypse for the Rockets and the Lakers and especially the Warriors. But we still need to settle down about so many things.

The Sacramento Kings are not this year’s Orlando Magic – they’re more talented, they run older teams until they collapse, and they have a budding star point guard in De’Aaron Fox – but sorry, we need to calm ourselves: they are not going to win 40-plus games, nor are they going to compete for a playoff spot in the West.

We need to settle down about Derrick Rose’s return to form, because he is not going to continue shooting 47% from three-point range (he’s a 30% shooter for his career) and also because his comeback narrative has been enabled by people who want to ignore the part about his dubious exoneration from a gang-rape charge. With any luck, he’ll start missing soon. But it won’t take luck. It’ll just take a few more weeks.

We need to settle down about skyrocketing scoring across the league – partly because it’s already starting to come back down, and also because it’s fun.

One of the biggest reasons we need to settle down about many of these teams and their playoff prospects is that many of them will look very different by the playoffs. It’s already begun. The Lakers added Tyson Chandler. The Rockets ushered Anthony out of the door (and, more significantly, coaxed defensive coaching guru Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement). The Sixers saw themselves slipping behind not just Boston but also Toronto and Milwaukee, so they traded for Butler and probably have at least one more deal to make.

The shuffling will accelerate in mid-December, which is when league rules permit teams to begin dealing free agents whom they signed over the summer. Holes that we think are fatal now will be plugged by Valentine’s Day. Kyle Korver will go to a good team in need of a three-point shooter. The Celtics could flip plucky young point-guard Terry Rozier, whom they can’t afford to keep – not if they also intend to pay Kyrie Irving – for the bouncy big man they lack. The Wizards look ready to rip their entire team apart. And the Spurs, hovering just outside the playoff bubble, may decide to surrender and send LaMarcus Aldridge – an All-NBA power forward and unrestricted free agent this summer – to a title contender.

Any of them would have a bigger impact on this NBA season than some silly squabble between Green and Durant. And none of them would change a thing about how it ends.

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Despite corruption probe by ICC, Sanath Jayasuriya attends Sri Lanka-England Test

Cricket administrators’ zero tolerance for the corrupt or those suspected of corruption is being severely tested. It has emerged that former Sri Lanka captain Sanath Jayasuriya, who has been charged by the International Cricket Council of failing to co-operate with an investigation and "concealing, tampering with or destroying evidence", has been attending the ongoing Test between England and Sri Lanka at the Galle International Cricket Stadium. 

On Tuesday, Jayasuriya attended the first day of the Test, along with some other big names of Sri Lanka cricket like Arjuna Ranatunga, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumara Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralitharan, who had gathered to witness the last Test of left-arm spinner Rangana Herath. 

He was there at the stadium on Wednesday too and was spotted with his former opening partner Romesh Kaluwitharana, sitting in a Sri Lanka Cricket hospitality box. The red-carpet welcome to Jayasuriya seemed absurd, given the nature of charges against him leveled by the ICC on October 15. Jayasuriya had 15 days to respond to them. 

According to an ICC statement issued on that day: 

“Mr Jayasuriya, the former Sri Lanka Cricket Chair of Selectors, has been charged with the following offences under the Code: 

“Article 2.4.6 – Failure or refusal, without compelling justification, to co-operate with any investigation carried out by the ACU, including failure to provide accurately and completely any information and/or documentation requested by the ACU as part of such investigation. 

“Article 2.4.7 – Obstructing or delaying any investigation that may be carried out by the ACU, including concealing, tampering with or destroying any documentation or other information that may be relevant to that investigation and/or that may be evidence or may lead to the discovery of evidence of corrupt conduct under the Anti-Corruption Code. Mr Jayasuriya has 14 days from 15 October 2018 to respond to the charges.” 

According to sources, Jayasuriya has replied to the notice. The sources also claim that the ICC’s anti-corruption unit is looking into a match involving Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in July 2017. This was a time when Jayasuriya was the chairman of selectors. 

A day after the ICC charges, Jayasuriya, via a press release, denied any wrong doing. He said he has always conducted himself with integrity and transparency with matters concerning the sport and that the charges laid upon him do not contain any allegations pertaining to match fixing, pitch fixing or any other similar corrupt activity. 

It is believed that at this point of time the authorities have no problem about Jayasuriya attending the game as he is not banned. They are calling it more of a matter of ethics than law as according to them it’s not a breach of any law. Shockingly, the TV commentators also had no moral or ethical issues as they discussed about the Jayasuriya- Kaluwitharana partners exploits on live TV and made no mention of the ICC investigation.

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England cricketers visit Sri Lankan minefields in stark reminder of civil war horrors

The last time England won a Test series in Sri Lanka, the country was still ravaged by a civil war that lasted 25 years, caused over 100,000 deaths and nearly one million islanders to be displaced. 

And this week the tourists got a reminder of how much works there still is to do in repairing the damage of that bloody conflict. 

England’s Test players arrived on the island at the beginning of this month amid a backdrop of political uncertainty as the president, Maithripala Sirisena, unconstitutionally ousted the prime minister and replaced him with his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

Rajapaksa is best-known as the prime minister when the civil war ended but has also been accused of war crimes in the closing stages of the conflict. His name still adorned the pavilion at Galle, where England won the first Test and posters on the streets in Pallekele, where England won the second Test professed their support for the ‘strong man’ leader.

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Olly Stone, Joe Root, Keaton Jennings and Jonny Bairstow visited Periyamadu. Getty

A day after that Pallekele victory, some England cricketers went to the north of the island to witness the damage the civil war is still wreaking on some communities. 

Captain Joe Root, Keaton Jennings, Jonny Bairstow and Olly Stone travelled to the village of Periyamadu where a charity, the Mines Advisory Group, is still working to clear the landmines left behind during the war that ended in 2009.

The players watched on as specialist minesweepers painstakingly worked to find and remove explosive devices left behind, with the target of clearing the area by 2020. 

“The scale of it really is amazing,” said Bairstow. “To be able to come up here and learn about a country’s history, with the war and how they’ve tried to get people back together, this is a massive project.

“They seem to be doing a great job. The intricacies of de-mining must be so nerve-wracking. Knowing that if you place one finger wrong that could be it.”

England’s players are used to dressing in protective gear but for this test they were given heavy-duty flak jackets, helmets and faceguards as they were taught about the damage residual minefields continue to cause, even years after the conflict has ended. 

minefield 2England players learned about how charities locate and remove landmine. Getty

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Herath becomes third bowler to take 100 wickets at a single ground in farewell Test match

Rangana Herath became only the third player in the history of Test cricket to take a century of wickets at a single ground.

The spinner got his 100th wicket at Galle in his farewell Test appearance when England captain Joe Root came down the wicket and was bowled.

Joe Root’s England side had a shaky start after another batting collapse but Ben Foakes’s partnerships with Sam Curran, Jos Buttler and Adil Rashid steadied the ship.  

Foakes starred on the opening day of the first Test with an unbeaten 87 on his debut as England reached 321-8 at the close of play.

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Ireland shocks New Zealand for first win in Dublin

Ireland recorded a memorable first ever home victory over New Zealand in Dublin last night - only the second time they have ever beaten the All Blacks.

The World number one side were simply not allowed to get any room as Ireland pounded them and man for man produced an awesome display in a massively physical contest in the Aviva Stadium. It was a frantic opening to the much anticipated high profile game. New Zealand pressed the Irish in the early stages, but the men in green's defence held solid.

Then the Irish came out fighting, going through the phases, building well. The spelll ended with a penalty in front of the posts, outhalf Jonathan Sexton firing over.

Beauden Barrett, Damien McKenzie and Reiko Ioane made lots of runs for the visitors as it was their turn to inject something into the game. That pressure eventually told when Ireland conceded a penalty and outhalf Barrett obliged to level the scores.

But Ireland get the bit between their teeth again and some solid pressure has them pressing hard. Stander makes the initial surge but it is held up. From the 15m scrum a little chip over from Sexton seems to be recovered on the ground by fullback Rob Kearney and he appears to ground. Referee Wayne Barnes gives an onfield decision of a try, but on TMO review it is ruled out as the ball went slightly forward.

It comes back for the penalty advantage and Sexton goals to make it 6-3.
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Ireland's Keith Earls makes a tackle as New Zealand attack

The All Blacks attack again as the end to end game continues. Barrett finds an instant response as he sends a drop goal sailing between the posts to level matters again after 29 minutes.

Ireland's workrate was through the roof as they mounted another series of attacks. It is sparked by a brilliant break from the Ulster winger as he gathers Smith’s box kick and then surges through the middle. The hosts are on the front foot as Furlong picks up the mantle, before Stockdale carries again on this left side.

It is a sea of green as the hosts press. The Irish scrum obliterates the All Blacks at the set-piece and with a penalty advantage coming, Sexton looks cross-field for Stockdale. Nothing comes of it and then Sexton opts to go for the corner once again.

The driving maul never comes off, but Ireland remain in the ascendancy and a further penalty sees Sexton goal to send them in with a 9-6 lead - scant enough in some respects given the dominance they have had.

Ireland's dominance at the set piece see's Kiwi boss Steven Hansen send the shepherd's crook out for the entire front row two minutes into the second half.

But it is the All Blacks who have an early chance, Stockdale's attempted chip charged down by Kieran Read. Only the number eight knocks it on it may well have led to a try.

Things can turn quickly, another attack from Stockdale, he chips it over the defence and this time races through to gather and get over for the try as the Aviva Stadium lifts out of its foundations. It is is 12th try in 14 games. Sexton's conversion gives Ireland a 16-6 lead after 48 minutes.

Stockdale then turned defender as he stopped a threat on the All Blacks right hand side, Barret popping a grubber kick through, but the Ulster winger gathered to halt the imminent danger.

But it was now a sea of Black hitting the Irish line, Barrett instrumental in it with replacement Richie Mo'unga and Loane threatening. Peter O'Maohny made two huge hits to stop two separate attacks, it took its toll and he was replaced by Ulster;s Jordi Murphy while Iain Henderson came on for the hard working and ever present Devin Toner.

Barrett looked as if he had eluded the home defence, but as he turned for support he passed straight into the grateful hands of Kearney.
Ireland grew back into the game but two missed lineouts by replacement Sean Cronin foiled good attacking positions as the game ticked into the final 10 minutes.

The play was all in the All Blacks half as the Irish pressed and reacted to every touch the visitors got.

Replacement scrumhalf Luke McGrath foolishly kicked possession away when the Irish were in control and that led to a nervous finish as the tourists pushed one final time. A knock-on was met with a thunderous roar in the Aviva Stadium - Ireland had won!

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Unsettled England plot to ruin Rangana Herath farewell

Many a visiting team have succumbed to the trial by spin in Sri Lanka and Joe Root's England will have to step up their game against the turning ball to escape that fate in the test series beginning at Galle on Tuesday. Sri Lanka have never shied away from milking their home advantage and the team, who have lost only one of their past six test series at home, are unlikely to do anything different against an unsettled England.

The three-test series promises a familiar sight, with Sri Lanka's wily spinners to bowl tirelessly and often in tandem, preying on the technique and temperament of the touring batsmen on tracks where the fast bowlers will play cameos.

leading Sri Lanka's charge, for one last time, will be a bulky 40-year-old with a golden arm and creaky knees as Rangana Herath ends his illustrious career at the same Galle where he made his test debut 19 years ago.

Herath has carried Sri Lanka's spin burden on his shoulders since Muttiah Muralitharan's exit but the left-arm spinner has decided he cannot carry on.

He will retire after his 93rd test, having already established himself as the most successful left-arm spinner in test history with 430 scalps.

Sri Lankan cricket of late has been a microcosm of the politically riven country, and Dinesh Chandimal's team will have to find ways to focus on the game amid turmoil off-field.

Former captain Sanath Jayasuriya and bowling coach Nuwan Zoysa are battling anti-corruption charges, while Sri Lanka Cricket chief financial officer Wimal Nandika Dissanayake has been remanded in custody by police for suspected financial misappropriation.

In comparison, England's problem is to identify the best combination, especially the selections of their number three and wicketkeeper.
With Keaton Jennings set to open with the uncapped Rory Burns, Joe Denly was primed for the number three slot, but the 32-year-old's struggle in the warm-up matches has jeopardised his test debut.

With wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow recovering from an ankle injury, Jos Buttler is set to play but it could be purely as a batsman, with Surrey wicketkeeper Ben Foakes donning the keeper's gloves.

"It's probably the likely scenario (that Buttler plays)," Root told the BBC last week.

"But the reason we called Ben up is he's a high-quality wicketkeeper and gives us another way to balance the side up. It's a nice position to be in."

Kandy hosts the second test from Nov. 14 and the final match is in Colombo from Nov 23.

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Resolute Roshen Silva guides Sri Lanka to a first-innings lead 

Half-centuries from three batsmen and resistance from the lower order saw Sri Lanka record a 46-run lead on day two of the second Test against England.Nightwatchman Jack Leach, who went out to bat alongside Rory Burns, played out one over in England's second innings before the close of play.

Sri Lanka, who started the day at 26/1, posted a total of 336 after batting through almost the entirety of the second day. Opener Dimuth Karunaratne notched up a 125-ball 63 and middle-order batsman Dhananjaya de Silva supported him with 59 off 98 balls. 

The best performance with the willow, though, came from Roshen Silva, who was the last Sri Lankan wicket to fall in the innings. He scored a splendid 85, batting smartly with the tail to take his team to a sizeable first-innings lead. 

Roshen was resolute in his innings, facing 174 balls and adding 125 runs with the last three batsmen in his valuable effort. He came into the middle with Sri Lanka in trouble at 165/6, even as the England spin attack continued to wreak havoc on the dry surface. 

All the wickets that fell on the day – barring the Karunaratne run-out – came from spin bowling. Jack Leach, the pick of the English bowlers, returned figures of 3/70 in his influential bowling effort, while Adil Rashid claimed three scalps for 75 runs in his 22-over spell.

Sri Lanka looked in a spot of bother at 31/2 in the morning session, when Malinda Pushpakumara fell to Moeen after adding just four runs to the total. However, Karunaratne and De Silva steadied the ship with their 96-run stand for the third wicket. 

The momentum swung back in England's favour, however, when Karunaratne fell to a moment of brilliance in the field by Ben Stokes, who sprang from gully, picked up the ball at point, and threw down the stumps with only one to aim at. The visitors tightened their hold on the game by dismissing Kusal Mendis, De Silva and Angelo Mathews within the next 15 overs. 

Just when it started to look like the hosts would have to accept a first-innings deficit, Roshen brought his A game. He stitched a 46-run stand with Niroshan Dickwella before the latter was dismissed by Joe Root in the 67th over. He then built formidable partnerships with the last three batsmen, denying England the chance to cap the innings on a high. 

Dilruwan Perera, Akila Dananjaya and skipper Suranga Lakmal scored 15, 35, and 15 respectively, facing 106 deliveries between them as Roshen steered Sri Lanka to a first-innings lead.

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Sri Lanka's bowling coach suspended over match fixing allegations 

The International Cricket Council (ICC) on Wednesday suspended Sri Lanka's bowling coach Nuwan Zoysa after accusing him of match-fixing and other "corrupt conduct" in the sport.

"Mr Zoysa has 14 days from 1 November 2018 to respond to the charges," the ICC said in a brief statement.

Zoysa is charged, among other things, for "being party to an effort to fix or contrive or to otherwise influence improperly the result, progress, conduct or other aspect of an International match", the statement said.

It gave no further details.

Forty-year-old Zoysa is the second Sri Lankan to be charged by the ICC's anti-corruption unit (ACU).

Earlier this month, dashing former batsman, ex-chief selector and former captain Sanath Jayasuriya was charged for failing to cooperate with a match-fixing probe and concealing information.

Jayasuriya, 49, was reportedly asked to cooperate with an inquiry from ACU chief Alex Marshall who visited Sri Lanka last month.

The ACU is acting further on their previous investigation which in January 2016 saw Galle stadium curator Jayananda Warnaweera banned for three years after he failed to cooperate with the ACU.

ACU head Marshall last month said: "There is currently an ICC (ACU) investigation under way in Sri Lanka. Naturally as part of this we are talking to a number of people."

It was not immediately clear if the charges against Zoysa and Jayasuriya relate to the same case or if they are being investigated separately.
Sri Lanka has recently sought help from neighbouring India to drafting laws to combat cheating in the game.

Colombo has also promised to establish a special police unit to investigate match-fixing after a documentary aired in May showed Galle groundsman Tharanga Indika and professional cricketer Tharindu Mendis allegedly talking about doctoring the pitch for the Test against England starting 6 November.

Indika and Mendis have been suspended by Sri Lanka Cricket pending an ICC investigation. A third man, provincial coach Jeevantha Kulatunga, was also suspended.

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Iran lets women attend soccer match, ending decades-old ban

Iran allowed hundreds of local women to attend the Asian Champions League final in Tehran on Saturday, Iranian news agencies reported, in a possible step toward ending their decades-old exclusion from top soccer matches in the country.

The semi-official news agency Tasnim said an unspecified number of women had entered the Azadi (Freedom) Stadium to watch Persepolis seek to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Japan’s Kashima Antlers and claim their first continental crown. 

It said the women had joined in with chanting in support of Persepolis, Iran’s best-supported club.

Iranian women and girls have not been allowed to attend any men’s sporting events in the country for much of the 39 years since the Islamic revolution, and have not been granted access to matches involving top clubs since 1981.

However, in a rare move last month, about 100 women were allowed to watch a friendly soccer match between Iran and Bolivia.

As 80,000 people gathered at the Azadi to watch Saturday’s game, Iranian social media reports said most of the women who had been let into the stadium were relatives of players or members of Iran’s female football and futsal teams and football federation employees.

The ISNA news agency said fans around the stadium cheered as the women entered the stands set aside for them, which an official said had a capacity of 850 seats.

Elaheh Hamidikia, a reporter for ISNA, said on Twitter that about 500 women were admitted.

Female fans from other countries have previously been permitted to attend games at the Azadi Stadium.

Parliament member Fatemeh Zolqadr said earlier that world soccer’s governing body FIFA had demanded women be allowed to attend top-level games.

“This should be done to avoid any problems for the country’s football,” she was quoted as saying by the parliament news website ICANA.

Campaign group Open Stadiums has been lobbying for access to venues for women in Iran, and representatives of the organization met with FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura this week to hand over a petition signed by more than 200,000 people.

Speaking before Saturday’s game, a spokesperson for the group said overturning women’s exclusion “has been our dream for decades”
“We are always excluded from public happiness and excitement,” the spokesperson told Reuters by e-mail on condition of anonymity.

Samoura said FIFA would work with Iran to end the long-running ban on women attending matches but offered no insight as to when a breakthrough could be expected, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported on Thursday.

The restrictions on Iranian women that were relaxed for the match against Bolivia were quickly reinstated under pressure from hardliners within the government.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has also held talks with Iranian soccer authorities in an attempt to find a solution to the long-running issue.

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Sri Lanka Cricket sacks booze supplier for England tour

Sri Lanka Cricket on Thursday sacked its food and beverage supplier for selling booze without a licence during England's tour of the island, sparking a mid-match raid by tax agents.

The decision followed revelations that tax officers seized bottles of whisky and wine being served to England fans during the fifth one-day international match in Colombo.

The island's cricket board said its hospitality partner, Classic Destination, did not obtain the necessary licences to serve hard liquor at the ground.

"As the firm has failed to act within the law... and bringing disrepute to Sri Lanka Cricket, SLC decided to immediately terminate Classic Destination from delivering further hospitality services during the England tour," the board said in a statement on Thursday.

There was no immediate comment from the company.

It was not the first controversy of the series, with England fans complaining of being charged more than local fans for the same tickets.
Sri Lanka Cricket said entry fees were the same for foreign and local supporters.

But its hospitality partner, Classic Destination, bundled food and drinks together with grandstand seats in packages selling for 20 500 rupees ($120).

British media described the arrangement as a "rip off".

England fans, known as the Barmy Army, asked Sri Lankan cricket authorities to lower charges, but authorities said prices for the tickets was the same for all, so they could not be lowered.

England won the ODI series 3-1.

A one-off T20 is due on Saturday.

Three Test matches will begin on November 6 with the final match due to end on November

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Akila Dananjaya reported for suspect bowling action against England

Sri Lanka’s off-spinner Akila Dananjaya was reported for a suspect bowling action during the first Test against England.

The match officials’ report which was handed over to the Sri Lanka team management cited concerns about the 25-year-old’s action, which will be scrutinised further under the ICC process laid down for international cricket.

Dananjaya is required to undergo testing within 14 days but he is permitted to continue bowling in international cricket until the results of the testing are known.

The chances of Dananjaya being selected for the Kandy Test had already been reduced since he endured a wretched game in Galle, where he took two for 183 in the match while scoring only eight runs in his two innings.

Definitely out of the remainder of the series is Sri Lanka’s captain Dinesh Chandimal because of a groin injury. Charith Asalanka, who scored an unbeaten half-century against England in a warm-up match, has been called up as a replacement.

England, who arrived in Kandy in time to mark Armistice Day in the gardens of their hotel, have taken the unusual step of trimming their party in the middle of the tour. Ollie Pope, the 20-year-old batsman from Surrey, will leave Sri Lanka on Wednesday, the first day of the second Test match and head for Dubai. There he will join the Lions tour in the UAE and he will be available for the unofficial Test match against Pakistan A, which starts on 18 November, which is followed by five ODIs and two T20s.

With Jonny Bairstow returning to fitness and Joe Denly also available the chances of Pope being required for the Test matches have dwindled to practically zero. So his imminent departure clearly makes sense. He will gain far more benefit from playing cricket in the UAE than batting in the nets and carrying drinks in Sri Lanka.

“It is important that Ollie is playing and the selection panel felt that to aid his development the best course of action is for him to go and play for the Lions in a competitive series against Pakistan A,” said the head coach, Trevor Bayliss.

“Ollie needs some game time before the West Indies Test tour early next year and will get more out of playing competitively for the Lions than spending the next three weeks on the sidelines. He will get the opportunity of playing up to eight matches across all formats in the UAE.”

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Kumar Sangakkara demands protection for cricket stars to stop match-fixers

It has been a busy few days for the sport, with the ICC announcing last week that Sanath Jayasuriya, a former team-mate of Sri Lanka legend Sangakkara and the fourth-highest ODI run-scorer, had been charged with two counts of corruption while working as a selector last year.

Then, on Sunday, TV network Al Jazeera alleged English players had been involved in fixing seven matches across all formats in 2011-12. It is understood that senior players and coaches from that England team are furious with the allegations and the integrity of the team being called into question.

Sangakkara told Standard Sport that, in light of such damaging accusations, the game’s authorities must work together with “a more concerted effort” to stamp out corruption.

“These allegations need to be taken very seriously by all concerned and investigated thoroughly,” he said. “Everyone needs to come together and really knuckle down to search for an answer.”

In the documentary, one England player is purported to be on the phone to Aneel Munawar, a bookmaker, being told that he would soon receive funds for his role in a fix. The Daily Telegraph today reported that that unnamed player was considering legal action.

Al Jazeera are continuing to not co-operate with the ICC, and the ECB, along with Cricket Australia, have given the allegations short shrift.
The latest documentary showed Munawar, who has links to the crime syndicate D-Company — run by Dawood Ibrahim, one of the world’s most wanted men — up close with  players such as Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and Graeme Swann in hotel lobbies at major tournaments. There is no suggestion the players knew who he was or had anything to do with him.

Sangakkara added: “We must protect players, not just in terms of awareness and education, but a solid barrier so that players are not in a situation where anyone has access to them.

“It needs a more concerted effort after what we’ve seen happen in the last few months.

“It’s a very confusing time for everyone and the ICC and anti-corruption security unit need to get together with everyone to find the best possible way forward, educating administrators, vetting player agents and managers.

“It’s not an easy task, but now is the time for co-operation to make sure the game is as clean as possible.”

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