7th November 1999
He bagged his third gold medal at the SAF Games in Nepal
By Ravi Nagahawatte
The name Sumith Prasanna injects fear into most boxers today. His ferocious punches and quick moving legs have made him invincible to such an extent that all his opponents see him as some kind of predatory monster.
Opponents hardly dare to get into the ring with him. The bolder ones are usually toyed with before he unleashes his killer punch. Fights have rarely gone beyond one round. Not surprising for a 'pugilist' who was unbeaten in the boxing nationals for the last 14 years.
Sumith bagged his third gold medal in the South Asian Federation Games (SAF) when he had a fruitful tour in Nepal recently. His familiarity with 'gold' in his hand has been greater than with money. This has been the form since he commenced his winning streak by bagging his first SAF Games gold in 1991 in the Games held in Colombo.
However the twenty- nine-year-old boxer was over the moon when he knew that the Amateur Boxing Association of Sri Lanka wanted to honour him for the recent gold medal he won for his country.
It might have come as a surprise. But surprises do not come often. And so do the chances of winning gold medals.
Sumith received Rs 100,000 before his bout at the nationals from the Army Commander Srilal Weerasuriya. When this boxer came up to receive his reward the stadium echoed with the thunderclaps from the partisan crowd.
It was heartening to see his fans appreciating so much for a feat that they did not see. Sumith is the youngest in a family of five boys and two girls. He has been12 years of age when he thought of taking up boxing. The reason: "I live in Maradana. You know the things which happen in this area. So I though it is best to learn how to fight" said Sumith. However he says that he has still to punch someone outside the boxing ring.
Having had four elder brothers who boxed for the country too had an influence on Sumith to try boxing. The four brothers who earned a name for themselves in boxing were R.K Aminda, R.K Chandrasiri, R.K Ananda and R.K Indrasena, at present the Army coach.
However the boxing ring at his school, Maradana Central, was a place where he did not get much encouragement to be in.
In fact his brothers had usually chased him away when he showed up at the school gymnasium.
However Sumith has trained on the sly till his brother and first coach R.K Aminda approved his taking part in the sport.
It all happened when there had been a shortage of boxers at his school for an inter-school meet. Sumith's school career however has been lacklustre and he remembers losing all his bouts in the 14 years he represented Maradana Central.
Though he improved with every bout there came a lean but decisive period for Sumith at a time when he was training at the Central Y.M.C.A.
"I could not do much training. I was sent to my brother's house and also had to take up a lot of chores at home. Later I took up basketball but did not give up boxing. I tried out both sports and realized that I was a little better in boxing. That's when I decided what I wanted to do in life" reminisced Sumith.
In 1987 he took up boxing seriously again and for the first time got the feeling of what winning was. His rise to stardom began with two stunning victories over K. Rose and Senaratne, two of the most feared boxers at that time. Sumith has never looked back since then.
The much improved Sumith impressed the Army authorities so much that he received an invitation to join the forces on his merits in boxing.
"The Army is the place for boxing. I got a salary for doing what I liked best - boxing. It was a relief" said Sumith.
As Sumith blossomed into a technically perfect boxer he also turned invincible. It was soon before he realized that there wasn't any opponent impressive enough to learn from.
Boxing enthusiasts were drawn to see the champion fighter just like film-goers would flock to see their screen hero. His presence at a meet became so important that people often inquired whether he was boxing before coming to watch the boxing".
Once Prasanna had seen an old man clapping and shouting at a meet, whilst Prasanna had been seated next to him. Prasanna had asked him whether one of his sons or relations were fighting. He said no. Then Prasanna had inquired why he had come.
He said that he had come specially to see Sumith Prasanna box. Then Prasanna had asked him whether he was a relation of Sumith's. He said no.Then it was with great hesitation that Prasanna had identified himself, saying:" I am Prasanna," recalled Prasanna reminiscing on one of his happy moments in the sport.
However good Prasanna was, there had been times when he had been overlooked for the national team, specially for tours.
"I was simply ignored. The authorities at that time even tried to discourage me from boxing. When I was in the ring, opponents gave up very easily. I even went to the extent of telling my opponents that I will not punch them too hard. Even with that assurance they evaded me. Usually I am alone in the ring when I am declared the winner. This however has worked against me. I have been blunted due to lack of competition here. I suffer from this most at international competitions when I receive punches. I wince as I am not used to being at the receiving end. When I receive a punch I get dazed," said Sumith.
Though he escapes from 'getting hit' by his opponents Sumith has a tough time with his two children, Thejana Tharindi (5) and Kesava Thineth Prasanna (2) who do everything to stop him from slipping away to see his friends. "When I am at home they rarely let me go out of the house. My son seems to like boxing.
He imitates me and punches me wearing my gloves. He expects me to fall afterwards. But I would like if he takes up another sport. I know how I have suffered to come to this state".
It is nine years since he married his wife Thanuja Pradeepika.
"I first saw him when I came to seek lodging at his house. He was so rough looking and strange. I still remember that day when I met him. It was after he has returned from a tour.
He has made himself a drink from avocado and came and sat in front of me. He started the conversation by offering me some of his drink.
I told all about myself and he told all about his life. We liked each other and married after a four-year relationship", said Thejani adding that she has supported her husband right along in boxing.
"In every gold medal he wins there is also my heart and tears because I know he takes up a lot of beating even though he wins," concluded Thanuja.
With the Women's World Cup 2000 at hand, I was able to coax Gwen Herath, President of the Women's Cricket Association of Sri Lanka to speak about the arrangements and our chances at the tournament in New Zealand in 2000.
She was brimming with confidence and I got the impression of a woman full of zest and energy.
She was excited and her eyes sparkled when she spoke.
Herath is one of our foremost cricket administrators - not only women's but men's too. To date she is the only woman to have headed a District Cricket Association and has written two books on Cricket.
Her mentor was the late Gamini Dissanayake who nurtured and guided her until she was able to stand on her feet. As a teenager she played and represented a club against a visiting Australian team. So, it is presumed that Herath knows her onions and can manage to sail through to win the World Cup for Sri Lanka.
'We have already qualified', Herath said and 'we are going to win it, no matter what the obstacles are' but we have yet to sort out our sponsors. We have a terrific array of girls who are young, energetic and determined. They have improved after the World Cup 97 and coach Guy de Alwis knows exactly how to extract the best out of them. He is a strict disciplinarian and the girls look up to him with awe, admiration.
What about the National body for women's cricket formed lately?
We are not in the least bit concerned about it because we are an independent body just like the International Women's Cricket Council and the International Cricket Council for Men. All of us are governed by our own Constitutions. The IWCC is strongly behind us and we have already attained Test status. There is nothing for any other women's cricket body to achieve. We do not need the tag 'NATIONAL' to win the World Cup. We are the pioneers of women's cricket in Sri Lanka. The 22 countries who are members of the IWCC unanimoulsy voted for us and were adopted at the Annual General Meeting at the International Conferance. In 1997, 22 countries played each other only and not with any other group from any country. So, the newly constituted national body will not even get an opportunity to play international Cricket unless with our authority. They can play only club cricket with any country.
'Would you allow the so-called national body to join hands with you? 'Yes of course, but it will be under our Constitution. Any Club or organisation who is involved in hard ball cricket are welcome to join us and improve the game. We are not petty minded'
How did you qualify to be in the SUPER-8?
It was our performance at the World Cup 97. We were able to beat many big and experienced countries. ' We stood out as a formidable team and qualified into the quarter-finals. We are in the fifth slot.
Who do you think your rivals are?'
Australia and New Zealand. May be, we can beat England. Our girls have improved and they have the professional approach. I am determined to bring home the World Cup because our male counterparts failed. Australia is not only the World Cup Champions '99 but they are the Women's World Cup champions at the moment.
We are aware that you called for neutral umpires at the last International Conference. How is it coming?
'It was adopted in principle, but we are still not sure whether it will be implemented.
Who will host the next World Cup 2004'?
'Why not Sri Lanka'
'The climate is still not conducive for me to take on the responsibility'
'What are your ties with other countries?'
'As members of the IWCC we play each other at international level both in ODIs and Tests'
'Will you invite the national body to join you in such tours? '
'So what is the use of the National body for women's cricket?'
'That is best answered by them'
'Why did the Sports Ministry do this'
'That is also best answered by them. I think the Sports Minister has been misled and misinformed' 'and this sorry situation has arisen'
'Will you want to be in the national body?'
'Never, ever. We have achieved everything. We do not violate sports law. We do not go as a national team but as Lanka Women's XI. This is a democratic country and we are at liberty to do what is right and bring glory and fame to our country.'
'Any plans for the future?'
'We shall be playing more domestic cricket to unearth new players. There are two international tours lined up before the World Cup. Why did you not get national status?
'We applied as far back as '96 as we were getting ready to go for the World Cup '97 but apparantly Sports Ministry decided otherwise. This was after we inaugerated our Assosciation at the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka. I am very grateful to Mr. Upali Dharmadasa and Mr. Thilanga Sumathipala for putting us on our feet. Thilanaga in particular was a great source of inspiration and he guided me in the right path. Without his help, I would not have achieved so much in such little time'
'We work as a team. Our Secretary, Mrs. C.M. Munaweera, Treasurer, Susilough Wijeratne, Coach , Guy de Alwis have been monuments of strength for me. They have been a terrific team and together we shall put our country on the map of women's international Cricket
The cricket-loving nation of Sri Lanka wishes the President and the association all the best to bring back the glory that was. They have achieved so much in so little time, a feat the BCCSl could not do in such a short term.
Meanwhile the International Women's Cricket Council has sent the following fax to the Hony Secretary of the Sri Lanka Women's Cricket Association:
I received a fax on 8 October requesting membership of International Women's Cricket Council.
This request is acknowledged but refused.
I must advise you that your application cannot be accepted as only one member association in each country is recognised by our council and we have already accepted Women's Cricket Associastion of Sri Lanka from your country. This was done firstly by postal vote and then by ratification at the General Meeting in Calcutta, India in December 1997. W.C.A. of Sri Lanka played well at the 1997 Cup and gained a place in the top eight teams to be invited to participate in the 2000 World Cup in New Zealand.
As you have already been informed I.W.C.C. is an independent body with no ties to any Government or other organisation, including International Cricket Council and acts under our own Constitution. I.W.C.C. is very pleased with this relationship which has been formed with W.C.A.Sri Lanka and their President, Mrs. Gwen Herath and her prompt response to any query asked of her.
The best way of improving and strengthening women's cricket in Sri Lanka is to unite with W.C.A. of Sri Lanka and pool the talent that is available in your country, and become an even stronger contender in the international scene.
Please , let cricket be the winner - not politics or personal esteem.
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