“Winning at any cost should not be the motto” | Sunday Observer

“Winning at any cost should not be the motto”

Former Sri Lanka captain and ICC Match Referee Roshan Mahanama, the first to win the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year on successive occasions way back in 1984, is one of the greatest stars who had emerged through the Mega Show.

A proud product of Nalanda College, Colombo, Mahanama was a household name in school cricket during early 80s.

He first won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title in 1983 after a highly successful inter-school season. He continued to let his willow to do the talking in the following year too and his superb form won him the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title for the second successive year in 1984.

Former Ananda captain Arjuna Ranatunga too has won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title twice before Mahanama and Ranatunga did not win the crown on successive years. Ranatunga first won the coveted title in 1980 after Ranjan Madugalle but failed to repeat the following year which was carried away by Rohan Buultjens of St. Peter’s.

However,Ranatunga bounced back during his final inter-school first X1 season for Ananda and was crowned Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1982. Following Ranatunga and Mahanama to join the select band of schoolboy cricketers to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title twice each were Thilan Samaraweera (1994 and 1995), Lahiru Peiris (2004 and 2005), Bhanuka Rajapaksa (2010 and 2011) and Charith Asalanka (2015 and 2016).

The last of those six rare occasions was witnessed last year when Richmond’s emerging hero Asalanka won back to back titles.In his last interview with the Sunday Observer, Mahanama urged schoolboy cricketers to work hard to achieve their targets in a disciplined manner, maintaining the high traditions of the game - instead of being “remote-controlled”.

He said that schoolboy cricketers should be willing to make sacrifices, rather than looking for short cuts to success. “Young schoolboy cricketers must have a genuine willingness to work towards their targets with dedication. There are no shortcuts,” he said.

The former Nalanda captain said the Mega Show has always motivated schoolboy cricketers at the end of each season, recognizing their hard work. “These events motivated us as youngsters. It is always a great motivation when you know that your achievements are being recognized,” he said. It was his father Upali Mahanama who has been a tower of strength behind the celebrated cricketer’s success story - a great source of encouragement. “He stressed the importance of adding values and discipline to our lives. Then I was lucky to come under the watchful eyes of Lionel Sir (Lionel Mendis).

He set us targets from our young ages and groomed us well,” he added. Mahanama pointed out that schoolboy cricketers should be given adequate rest between their games. “During our time, we had enough rest between the games.

Most importantly, we were taught to respect the game, its culture and to follow team ethics. Even the coaches and the masters in charge during our time conducted themselves in an exemplary manner to earn respect. We had the highest respect and regard for the umpires,” he said.

“The heavy load of matches per season, compared to the past, does not give adequate time for schoolboy cricketers to rest or recover between the games. It is not the quantity but the quality that matters.

Most junior cricketers tend to depend totally on the messages sent by their coaches and masters in charge, for on-field decisions.

They are being remote-controlled at the middle. Hence, they are not in a position to stand on their own and take decisions. Winning at any cost should not be the motto,” Mahanama pointed out.

Mahanama said that deteriorating standards in school cricket has prevented producing youngsters who could directly march into the national team, as in the past. “In the past, players such as Ranjan Madugalle earned their places in the national squad directly from school level. Unfortunately, we do not often find consistent players in school cricket, geared up to face that challenge,” he said.

The stylish former Sri Lanka top order batsman said the schoolboy cricketers during his era did not get many opportunities to play international matches at under-19 level.

“I had played for Nalanda for five seasons but we had only two Under-19 tours. But the present day players get better opportunities. I wonder whether the players are making full use of those Under-19 tours,” he said.

Mahanama feels that there should be a balance on the number of matches a school team has to play during a season to maintain the quality of the game. “True that we need to give more opportunities to outstation teams but that should not happen at the expense of quality,” he said.

He said that winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title was a major milestone in his career. “Becoming the best schoolboy cricketer and being honoured for our hard work was a great encouragement. I was privileged to achieve one of my dreams.

That was my stepping stone. Becoming the best schoolboy cricketer made me even more determined to work harder to reach greater heights,” he said. “As a kid, I had watched former Nalanda players such as Bandula Warnapura in action. We had full houses for all those inter-school games. It was a passion. The school authorities too encouraged the boys to watch matches,” he said.

Recalling his days as a schoolboy cricketer at Nalanda College, Mahanama said it was a great feeling to have their names on the team’s fixture card.

“Even the old boys set aside time to watch those matches.

For us, it was a great honour to have our names on the fixture card - first as a player, then as a coloursman and later as vice-captain or captain. I still have those Nalanda fixture cards with me,” he concluded.

Mahanama, who turned 51 last month, has represented Sri Lanka in 52 Tests to aggregate 2,576 runs with four centuries and 11 fifties.

His career best innings of 225 was registered against India in 1997, sharing a then record partnership of 576 runs with Sanath Jayasuriya (340) at Premadasa Stadium in Colombo as Sri Lanka recorded the highest team total in a Test.

He made a half century in his last Test for Sri Lanka - against South Africa at Centurion Park in 1998. Mahanama has played in 213 One Day Internationals for Sri Lanka to enjoy an aggregate of 5,162 run with four centurie and 35 half tons.