‘The most memorable in a schoolboy cricketer’s life’ | Sunday Observer

‘The most memorable in a schoolboy cricketer’s life’

It would be interesting to see how the three past Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy cricketer in the Sri Lanka squad fares at the ICC Champions Trophy tournament now in progress in England. Dinesh Chandimal (2009), Niroshan Dickwella (2012) and Kusal Mendis (2013), who have come to limelight through the Mega Show in recent times, will add more weight to the Lankan team at the eight-nation tournament.

Sri Lanka, drawn in group ‘B’, launched their campaign in the first of the three league round matches against South Africa at Kennington Oval in London yesterday. Sri Lanka’s other first round matches in group ‘B’ will be against India (on June 8 at Kennington Oval in London) and Pakistan (on June 12 at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff).

Talking about Sri Lanka’s success in the global events of this magnitude, our memories go back to Sri Lanka’s first ever success at a world level tournament. It was in 1996 that Sri Lanka had its most cherished moment in international cricket, winning the ICC World Cup tournament in the subcontinent.

Besides Ranatunga, there had been several other past Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title winners in that champion outfit which opened a new chapter in Sri Lanka sport by conquering the Mount Everest in cricket. They are Asanka Gurusinha (1985), Roshan Mahanama (1983 and 1984), Muttiah Muralitharan (1991), Kumara Dharmasena (1989) and Marvan Atapattu (1990).

Sanath Jayasuriya, the current Chairman of Selectors, who was member of that champion team and adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the 1996 World Cup tournament, too had been a recipient of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year outstation title. Those credentials are ample testimony to prove that the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer has always produced future champions of the international arena.

Interestingly, it was under another past Observer Schoolboy Cricketer award winner that Sri Lanka registered the 1996 World Cup triumph, Arjuna Ranatunga who became the first schoolboy to win the prestigious award on two occasions – in 1980 and 1982.

In a recent interview, Ranatunga has cautioned on the poor standard of school cricket, urging the the country’s cricket authorities to take immediate action to overcome the situation. He is of the view that the standard of local school cricket has dropped drastically, making a negative impact on the national pool. “It is sad to see the deteriorating standards of school cricket.

Unfortunately, officials do not pay much attention on school cricket. School cricket gets step motherly treatment,” Ranatunga was quoted as saying.

Ranatunga, who has made a lavish contribution to Sri Lanka cricket, said the cricket authorities have forgotten that the foundation to national pool is school cricket.

“They must keep in mind that school cricket of the cradle to the national team. The Government must also focus on sports and particularly on cricket which has brought international glory to our country over the years,” he said.

He said that the lack of spectator interest in school cricket at present is due to poor standard in school cricket. “The quality of cricket that is dished out is poor and discourages spectators. Spectators will always be there if quality cricket is played, maintaining high standards. School cricket could regain the spectators it has lost if we could improve its standard,” he added.

“During our time, future Sri Lanka stars could be identified from junior cricket level. Then when we played first X1 cricket, 10 to 15 out of the top 20 schoolboy cricketers were assured of their places in the national pool. But it is altogether a different scenario now due to poor standards.

Even if a player has performed well at school level now, he will find it hard and is unable to absorb the pressure at club or national level. That is why we don’t see schoolboy cricketers stepping straight into the national team and cement their place as experienced during our era,” Ranatunga said.

Ranatunga, who has aggregated 5,105 runs including four centuries and 38 fifties and captured 16 wickets in 93 Tests, said winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year or any other major award at the Mega Show is a life-time experience for any cricketer.

Flashback: When Arjuna Ranatunga won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award for the second time in 1982

“You may go places and win many other awards at higher levels subsequently, but an award won at Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year event remains the most memorable in any cricketer’s life,” said Ranatunga.“Winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award twice remains the most cherished moment in my life.

That gave me tremendous inspiration and confidence when I stepped into the big league. When a schoolboy is adjudged the best batsman, best bowler, best all-rounder or the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, that’s a tremendous boost for that youngster, who could then aim at club level and international arena thereafter,” he added.

“I always admire the event and the awards I have won there. That is why I always try to make it to the event if I am in Sri Lanka when the show is being held,” he said.

Ranatunga, as a schoolboy cricketer at Ananda, was lucky to represent Sri Lanka at the country’s inaugural Test against England in 1982, only a year after winning his first Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title. He made it a memorable occasion by becoming the first Sri Lankan to score a half century (54) in Test cricket.

He has proved his class in limited over cricket too, aggregating 7,456 runs in 269 ODIs, including four centuries and 49 fifties. Meanwhile, the 39th Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year most popular contest is reaching its peak with more votes pouring in for the leading schoolboy cricketers.

The contest is sponsored by Sri Lanka’s national mobile service provider - SLT Mobitel, which has taken the four-decade-old contest towards new horizons.

The entry of Mobitel to provide financial support to the oldest cricket awards show in Sri Lanka has undoubtedly lifted the standard of the contest which had its humble beginnings way back in 1978/79 with the then Royal captain Ranjan Madugalle winning the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year ‘crown’.

Since then, it has gone from strength to strength to set new standards and inspiring other media organisations to have similar contests, Not only the winners of the main award – the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, but also the winners of many other awards such as the best batsman, best bowler and the best all-rounder, have made their mark in theinternational arena over the years.

Sri Lanka’s flagship English newspaper – the Sunday Observer, felt the need of recognizing the raw talent of the country’s schoolboy cricketers at a time when there had been no organized inter-school cricket tournaments,other than the traditional first X1 matches of the so-called leading schools.

But the introduction of the show and its expansion to have a separate segment for the outstation schoolboy cricketers went a long way in inspiring the talented cricketers in the far flung areas.