By Channaka de Silva
The biggest star Sri Lanka has ever produced in netball Tharjini Sivalingam left for Australia for a six-month playing and training contract in a move that may signal the end of an era.
But the humble sports icon also gave a clear indication that it is still not too late if the country’s sporting authorities are ready to wake up to the reality and think about the country than playing petty sports politics.
Tharjini was the world’s number one netball player at the peak of her career when she was named as the Best Shooter at the 2011 World Netball Championships but was forced to depart from the National Team in 2014 due to dirty politics played by corrupt officials.
Tharjini, at 35, is still capable of matching the best in the trade but has been confined to watching in horror as Sri Lanka slid down the world ladder largely due to her self-inflicted exile.
She proved a point while routinely starring for the Seylan Bank Team and for the Mercantile Netball Association Team in domestic tournaments.
But when she received a scholarship from one of Australia’s strongest netball clubs, City West Falcons in Melbourne, she grabbed it with both hands realising it presented her with an opportunity to both stamp her class and also to send a message to the Sri Lankan netball authorities.
“There’s no place I love more than my motherland. I am what I am today because I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to play for Sri Lanka. My dream has always been to play for Sri Lanka. It has never changed a bit. Given the chance, I would be delighted to help Sri Lanka do better” Tharjini told Daily Mirror on the eve of her departure to Australia.
Asked if she would consider the possibility of playing for Australia in the case she gets an offer, Tharjini couldn’t be clearer.
“My only dream is to play for Sri Lanka again. No one can take away my love for my motherland” she insisted.
At six feet and ten inches, Tharjini has often been talked about more as a freakishly tall person than for her outstanding netball skills.
She used her height to great advantage in a sport where it provides an obvious edge, not much different from freakishly gifted Muttiah Muralitharan whose permanently bent arm and unusually rotatable wrist propelled him to be a world record holder in cricket.
Tharjini who was born as the fifth of six children in a family in Evenai, Punnalaikattuvan, Jaffna first grabbed the attention of scouts in 2004 during a district netball tournament in Vavuniya where she represented the Batticaloa District as she was doing her Bachelors at the Eastern University. She was immediately invited to join the National Team and the rest was history.
She steadily rose through the rankings and was the undisputed star when Sri Lanka became the Asian Champions in 2009. In the crucial final Tharjini scored 74 out of the 77 points and easily bagged the Best Shooter’s award for her total score of 380 in the tournament.
Tharjini was appointed Sri Lanka Captain in 2011, but usual Sri Lankan politics prevailed easily and mercilessly over the brilliantly skilled but poorly connected player and she was relegated to be a ‘joint captain’ in a shocking move for the Asian Championships held in Sri Lanka.
The netball authorities perhaps felt it was still not time for a player from Jaffna to captain Sri Lanka!Being continuously disgusted with corrupt officials and politics they played that led the game to ruins, several past Sri Lanka captains finally made a mass exit from the national netball pool and Tharjini was the most prominent name among them.
Some of the others included star players in the calibre of Shashikala Samarasinghe, Kumerini de Silva and Marissa Fernando.
Even the celebrated Coach Thilaka Jinadasa who guided Sri Lanka to several titles, left unceremoniously but was eagerly snapped up quickly by Brunei as their National Coach.
Tharjini would be rubbing shoulders with the world’s best players from today in Australia but she promised her heart would always be a few thousand miles away. “I still hope I would be able to lift Sri Lanka netball up” she added.