There were hardly any people at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium to witness New Zealand play their must-win ICC Under-19 World Cup match against England on Tuesday (February 18). But, for Asoka Weerasundara, Rangika Weerasundara and Nathalie Weerasundara it was one of the most important matches they had ever been to.
Ashoka and Rangika along with their daughter and a family friend have travelled all the way from Wellington to support their son. The name of Rakitha Weerasundara in a New Zealand scorecard has generated a lot of curiosity ever since he made his Under-19 debut against Australia in April 2013.
It is not that Asian origin players are a new trend in New Zealand, but every time one of them has made it to the national team, he has been a subject of interest and now it is Rakitha’s turn.
A right-hand opening batsman, Rakitha is one of the best players of his side with an average of over 40. Against England, he got going with a square cut, followed it up with a flick, played the pull shot reasonably well, got a boundary with the sweep shot and also handled the spinners well. However, he could not push on to a big score and was out for 41, deceived by a straighter delivery from Rob Sayer, the offspinner, that kept a bit low.
His wicket proved to be crucial as New Zealand collapsed soon after that to be bowled out for 114, and got relegated to the plate championship.
Rakitha’s batting has a mark of subcontinental flair, and with the ball he comes across as a typical Sri Lankan spinner, who loves to run through his overs. He believes that his style is in his “blood”.
Before this game, he had made 33 against his country of origin, but what made news was the fact that he decoded the opponents’ language for the convenience of his team-mates. Sinhalese, after all, is his mother tongue, though he and his sister speak mostly English at home.
That Rakitha has pursued a career in cricket is because of his father’s foresight and passion. The 1990s were a difficult period in Sri Lanka because of the civil war. Therefore, Asoka migrated in 1998, prompted by the need to secure his children’s future. Considering that he once played for Nalanda College, the alma mater of Bandula Warnapura, Sri Lanka’s first Test captain, Roshan Mahanama and Mahela Jayawardene, Asoka was always clear that he had to shift to a country where cricket was a major sport.
Both Asoka and Rangika found jobs as bankers, and enrolled Rakitha into the Wellington cricket system when he was just four years old. While Asoka went on to become the head of schools for Wellington Cricket, it was under the tutelage of Ivan Tissera, a Sri Lankan coach settled in New Zealand, that Rakitha worked on his technique and made progress.
Rakitha has been to Sri Lanka just thrice, where one of his aunts still resides. But he is lucky to have a father who is in regular touch with Jayawardene through the school’s Old Boy’s Association. Rakitha has met Jayawardene thrice and also received a congratulatory text from him after getting selected for the World Cup.
Interestingly, Tissera was a product of Ananda College – the fiercest opponents of Nalanda. But, now in Wellington two foes have turned friends for Rakitha’s cause.