Gulf Cup triumph spurs Shalani's dreams of being a UAE cricket star
Women's cricket in the Gulf may be undergoing labour pains but a couple of talented Sri Lankans are already making their mark for champions UAE.
Kyna Vedhasinghe, 19, is a UAE 'veteran' representing the national team for the sixth consecutive time at the Gulf Women's T20 Cricket Championship held in Qatar while Shalani Wanniarachchi, 25, has made her international debut.
Another Sri Lankan youngster Kavisha Kumari was a member of the UAE team that successfully defended the title won in Oman last year.
A product of Desert Cubs Cricket Academy headed by a former Sri Lanka first-class cricketer Presley Polonnowita, UAE-born Kyna made a memorable half century in a league match against Oman.
Her sparkling career-best knock of 62 off 48 balls studded with eight boundaries earned her the player of the match award.
In the final against Qatar when UAE lost five wickets chasing a small target of 47, Kyna kept her composure to hit the winning boundary for UAE.
“We bowled really well but we lost a lot of wickets in the final. We managed to lose five wickets,” said Kyna who has ambitions of pursuing her cricket career either in Sri Lanka or
Australia once she completes her higher education at Emirates Aviation Academy.
A keen student of the game from the age of 11, Kyna has toured Australia, England Sri Lanka and Oman with Desert Cubs where she has enjoyed her cricket with different conditions. She has also toured Kuwait twice, Thailand, Doha, and Oman with the UAE team.
A batting all-rounder, Kyna also earned the player of the finals award for the Dubai Cricket Council organised tournament before the Doha tour.
“It was a really good experience. We showed other teams how much more professional the cricket is here (UAE) now and how much we developed since the beginning. Qatar and Oman were saying they have a lot more to learn from the way we play cricket because we have so much aggression on the field. We have remained unbeaten since last Gulf Cup in nine matches,” said Kyna who made her international debut for the UAE at the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) tournament in Kuwait in 2012.
Kyna hails from a sporting family. Her mother Christine was a netballer and athlete at school level in Sri Lanka while her father Aaron played cricket, rugby and badminton. Retired Sri Lanka great Mahela Jayawardene is her role model.
For Shalani it was a dream come true when she received the call to play for UAE in the Gulf tournament.
A right arm fast bowler, she was elated after picking up a wicket on debut against Qatar and bowled an impressive spell in the final conceding just three runs in three overs.
“I liked cricket from childhood. I really wanted to play but I did not get chance in Sri Lanka because we did not have cricket that time,” said Shalani who played everything from netball volleyball, football and athletics (high jump) in school.
“I had a habit of collecting pictures of cricket players from childhood,” said Shalani who idolises Sri Lanka legend Kumar Sangakkara, South Africans AB de Villiers and the fiery Dale Steyn.
Her cricketing journey took off when she came to the UAE two years ago after joining Desert Cubs, even touring South Africa with their boys’ team in March 2014 where she won two medals for best performances.
She missed the inaugural Gulf Cup because she had to qualify by residency.
“This year I got the opportunity. I want to be become a cricket star in UAE now,” declared Shalani while expressing her gratitude to Desert Cubs coach Indika Batuwitarachchi, UAE women's coach Mohammed Hyder Kazmi and her bosses Sadiq and Shamsudeen.
A gym instructor by profession, the Gulf tournament has raised her confidence so much that she plans to qualify as an ICC Level 1 coach.
“It was good experience for me actually. It gave me confidence and encouragement to continue my cricket career. I want to improve with more practice. I always wanted to become a fast bowler. My family always supported me,” said Shalani whose other talent is singing being the elder sibling of Tharuka Wanniarachchi, a rising actress on the small screen.
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