A busy sporting season for the Karunaratnes from Sri Lanka

Youngest sibling Chamika is featuring in the Sri Lankan cricket team for the ongoing limited-overs series against India, while the eldest, Niluka, is currently in Tokyo - gearing up for his third Olympics appearance in badminton.

Niluka Karunaratne in action at the Rio Olympics in 2016.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

It’s a busy sporting season for the Karunaratnes. The youngest of the four siblings, Chamika, is featuring in the Sri Lankan cricket team for the ongoing limited-overs series against India, while the eldest, Niluka, is currently in Tokyo - gearing up for his third Olympics appearance in badminton, with his brother and coach Dinuka in tow.

Sports runs deep in the Karunaratne family. Their father Louis was a shuttler, who also played first-class cricket in the 1970s, and that’s how his four sons, too, grew up with a fondness for both the games.

Before making his debut for the Sri Lanka cricket team, Chamika played badminton at the national level, along with his brothers. “In his early days, Chamika was a good badminton player and was also into athletics, before choosing cricket as his career. He was a really good athlete in college and clocked 10.09 in inter-college 100m sprint events. He was very fast, but gradually, cricket became his career,” Niluka told Sportstar from Tokyo on Monday.

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In his U-19 days, Chamika led the Sri Lankan team and slowly fell in love with the sport. In May this year, he made his Test debut and in the first ODI against India on Sunday, his 43-run innings guided Sri Lanka to a competitive total.

While the other members of the family did watch the ODI, Niluka missed it due to his training regime in Tokyo. “Even I played cricket when I was in school. But in the end, I chose badminton over cricket,” Niluka, who is the top-ranked shuttler in Sri Lanka now, said.

“It’s always a great feeling to be at the Olympics and this is my third appearance. In the London Games in 2012, I led the Sri Lankan contingent and did well. Unfortunately, I lost to P. Kashyap in the pre-quarterfinals,” he reminisced.

Chamika Karunaratne plays a shot during the first ODI against India in Colombo on Sunday.   -  AP


Having reached Tokyo a few days ago, Niluka is now trying to adapt to the new normal. “It is not easy in the middle of a pandemic. We have to accept it and capitalise on our strengths - what can we do, how can we train? It’s the same situation with all of us, so in a way, it is a plus, but also it has its challenges,” Niluka said.

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Even though he is busy planning strategies against India, Chamika, too, is excited about his eldest brother’s chances in the Olympics. “I am happy that my brother Niluka is taking part in this year’s Olympics. This is his third time and I am looking forward to it,” Chamika said, after the first ODI against India.

“I am also a badminton player and was once among the top-ranked players in Sri Lanka. Later on, I decided to just play just cricket. But I am excited to see my brother in the Olympics,” Chamika said, hoping to see his eldest brother win a medal at the Games.

In his long international career, Niluka has travelled the world and has been to Bengaluru a lot of times to train at Prakash Padukone’s academy. “I have trained with Vimal (U. Vimar Kumar) and others, so I know the Indian players well. This time in the Olympics, the challenge is more because you have not played one another for a long time and have not seen how they have prepared. So, you might not feel that confident…”

The Karunaratne brothers (from left): Niluka, Dilip Somaratne (Chamika's junior coach), Chamika, Diluka and Dinuka   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT


“But this situation is for everyone. Everybody has a huge challenge to overcome, so psychologically, it is a big thing. We have to be very strong, focused and be mindful in our training,” the seasoned shuttler said.

Aware of the challenges, Niluka, however, is keeping calm and focusing on his game. And when he is not busy training, he makes it a point to watch the highlights of Chamika’s innings against India. “It is a great feeling to represent Sri Lanka in two different sports. It is a matter of pride. I hope the Sri Lankan team can win at least one game against India,” Niluka said, revealing that the entire family admires Hardik Pandya.

“We are big fans of Hardik - my parents and all the brothers like him a lot. We like his approach towards the game and his commitment to the team and the sport. He is an all-rounder and his fitness is something to admire. He always wants to win and there is a lot to learn from him,” Niluka said, before rushing to the practice arena for final preparations.

He begins his campaign on Saturday against Chinese Taipei’s Wang Tzu-wei in a Group F match. 

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