Schools interested only in winning matches, not producing quality players - ATAPATTU | Sunday Observer

Schools interested only in winning matches, not producing quality players - ATAPATTU

Former Sri Lanka captain and ex-Sri Lanka national coach Marvan Atapattu said that he considers the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title he won in 1990 as a ‘certification or a guarantee’ that he would play for Sri Lanka.

“When I had been performing well and scoring constantly for Ananda as a schoolboy cricketer, many considered me as a future Sri Lanka prospect. Although I too had felt that I had a chance, there was no guarantee,” he said.

But his crowning glory as the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 1991 was an assurance that he would play for Sri Lanka. “All those who had won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title before me had gone on to play for Sri Lanka with distinction. So, when I won the title, I knew that I too could join that select band, provided I work hard,” Atapattu recalled as the early era of his career.

“I considered it to be a certification and a guarantee that I would play for Sri Lanka, a source of encouragement and inspiration. So I worked harder, dedicated myself and gave 100 per cent to achieve that goal. I finally made it shortly after winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title,” the 46-year-old former Sri Lanka opener said.

Just a few months after winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, young Atapattu was selected to make his Test debut against India in the one-off Test in Chandigarh on November 23, 1990. But it was an inauspicious Test debut for young Apapattu. In reply to India’s first innings total of 288 all out, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 82.

Five Sri Lankan batsmen were out for ‘ducks’ - Hashan Tillakaratne, Rumesh Ratnayake, Greame Labrooy, Jayananda Warnaweera and debutant Atapattu. Sri Lanka, made to follow on, were bowled out for 198 runs in the second essay – once again with five batsmen failing to open their accounts – Asanka Gurusinha, Rumesh Ratnayake, Labrooy, Warnaweera and Atapattu.

Despite his failure in the first three Tests of his career, there was no stopping when he found the rhythm at the highest level. Representing Sri Lanka in 90 Tests, Atapattu had aggregated 5,502 runs at an average of 39.02.

He had scored 16 centuries, including six double tons, and 17 fifties with a career best Test innings of 249. Atapattu feels that the undue competition to win matches at any cost has prevented schools from producing talented players to feed the national pool.

Flashback: When Atapattu won the title in 1990

“I see schools going all out to win matches, rather than targeting to producing top cricketers to play for Sri Lanka national team. In an inter-school match, or at any level for that matter, one team has to win. But that does not necessarily mean that the standard of that particular school team has improved. In my opinion, what is important for a school is the number of players they produce to play for Sri Lanka,” the veteran former Ananda, SSC and Sri Lanka captain said.

Unlike during his era during which many schoolboy cricketers directly matched into the national team, Atapattu sees a huge gap between the present day school cricket and international level. “You can hardly identify a schoolboy cricketer and say that he would play for Sri Lanka.

When I look at the present Under-19 players, except for one or two, I don’t see future national prospects who have potential to become great Sri Lanka players,” he said.

But Atapattu does not put the blame on players. Instead, he said that wrong guidance and coaching they have got due to undue competition to win matches at any cost, have killed young talent. “I don’t blame players.

It is because of the wrong guidance and coaching they have got. Old boys,principals, school masters and coaches are only interested in winning matches, rather than producing quality cricketers to play for Sri Lanka,” he pointed out.

Atapattu, who had played the role of a dependable Test opener for 17 long years until 2007, said players switching schools and coaches trying to ‘Import’ outstanding players from outstations to make champion teams has affected school cricket.

“Offering a chance to a top player or two from outstations could be approved as an inspiration to outstation cricketers.

But the present trend is far from that. I know a particular instance where top schoolboy cricketer from Kalutara had even been offered cash incentives to change school teams.

This is crazy. School coaches, principals and old boys must act in a responsible manner rather than hiring players from outstations just for the sake of winning,” he said.

The reliable former Sri Lanka opener better known for his superb technique said they had a huge respect for their coaches during his era. “I wonder whether the players have the same respect for their coaches now. Some teams say they have obtained the services of level one coaches but their ability to produce and offer proper guidance and coaching to the players could be questionable,” he said.

He attributed improper guidance and coaching as the reason for school cricket’s faliure to produce enough national level players for the Sri Lanka pool. “I don’t blame schoolboy cricketers. At that young age, they do all what the coaches say.

It is something to do with the wrong or improper advice they get. It is important they change the approach and think of a broader aspect of producing quality players. It is all about the number of players they produce for the national team and not just the number of matches a team wins,” he stressed.

“It is the duty of the coaches, principals, masters and Old Boys to abandon the present practice of merely winning matches. Instead, they should focus on producing top cricketers. Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) and the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) should look at a big picture at the highest level,” he said.

Asked about reasons that had attributed to poor spectator interest, unlike during his school era, Atapattu said the present day school cricket lacks brilliant individuals.

“Why should somebody come to see a match when all 11 players in a team are alike? During our days, spectators, irrespective of their school affiliations, came to see top players in action, respective of their school affiliations. That does not happen now because there are no outstanding players who could woo spectators,” he said.

Atapattu was totally against T20 cricket at school level, saying it would kill the natural abilities of players and destroy their careers with the instant stuff. “It is good at a different level such as IPL, to entertain spectators but definitely not at school level. In T20 cricket, batting becomes hitting from the first ball and not building an inning.

Then the bowling becomes negative, who merely try to contain the batsmen and not to earn wickets,” the ex-Sri Lanka coach said. “Schoolboy cricketers must get a good foundation, good advice, good coaching from younger age. If the boys are not given correct technicality and discipline, you can’t expect them to perform miracles,” he added. Atapattu’s brilliant career is a classic example to any schoolboy cricketer aspiring to play for Sri Lanka.

He is one of the most technically accomplished batsmen that Sri Lanka has ever produced.

Exactly a week after his Test debut, Atapattu represented Sri Lanka in his debut ODI – against India at Nagpur on December 1, 1990.

Since then, he had played for Sri Lanka in 268 ODIs to aggregate 8,529 runs at an average of 37.57 with 11 tons and 59 half centuries that included a career best knock of 132 not out.

“There are no short cuts or instant stuff to make a successful cricketer. It’s nothing but the hard work. Believe in yourself and work hard with dedication so that you could taste success,” was Atapattu’s advice the young schoolboy cricketers.