Arjuna Ranatunga, the first to win the main Award twice | Sunday Observer

Arjuna Ranatunga, the first to win the main Award twice

Arjuna Ranatunga does not need any introduction. He has come a long way since his early days as a junior schoolboy cricketer to go places to end his sporting career as a legend in world cricket. He now holds an important Cabinet portfolio as a politician, serving as Minister of Petroleum Resources Development.

Despite achieving loads of success as a cricketer, including his dynamic leadership to pilot Sri Lanka team to win the 1996 World Cup, Ranatunga still admires the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer’ trophies he had won in 1980 and 1982 as a school cricket star from Ananda College.

Talking about Sri Lanka’s success in the global cricket tournaments, our memories go back to Sri Lanka’s first ever success at a World Cup tournament. It was way back in 1996 that Sri Lanka had its most cherished moment in international cricket, winning the ICC World Cup tournament in Lahore Pakistan on March 17.

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 world cricket. They are Asanka Gurusinha (1985), Roshan Mahanama (1983 and 1984), Muttiah Muralitharan (1991), Kumara Dharmasena (1989) and Marvan Atapattu (1990). Former Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year (Outstation) Sanath Jayasuriya too had been a member of that champion outfit, ending as the player of the tournament for his memorable success with the bat and ball.

Jayasuriya, the former Sri Lanka captain and ex-Chairman of Selectors, was 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 in 1988. Those credentials are ample testimony to prove that the ‘Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ contest has always produced future champions to enter the international arena.

Ranatunga became the first schoolboy to win the prestigious award on two occasions – in 1980 and 1982, as one of the most successful players ever produced by Ananda College. On several occasions, he has cautioned on the poor standard of school cricket, urging the country’s cricket authorities to take meaningful steps to face the challenge. Ranatunga feels 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 to school cricket,” Ranatunga was quoted as saying in a recent interview.

Ranatunga, who has made an impeccable contribution to Sri Lanka cricket, said the cricket authorities have forgotten the fact that the foundation to national pool is school cricket. “They must keep in mind that school cricket is the cradle to the national team. The Government must also focus on sports and particularly on cricket which has brought glory to our country internationally”, he said.

The former Ananda, SSC and Sri Lanka captain feels that lack of spectator interest in school cricket at present is due to poor standard dished out at school level. “The quality of cricket that is produced 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 my school cricket days, future Sri Lankan stars could be identified from junior cricket level. Then when we played first XI cricket, more than half 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, a reliable middle order batsman who had 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 event is a life-time experience for any cricketer.

“You may go places and win many other Awards at higher levels, 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 this Award twice remains the most cherished moment in my life” he further added that those title had given him “tremendous inspiration and confidence” when he had stepped into the international arena.

“When a schoolboy is adjudged the Best Batsman, Best Bowler, Best Allrounder or the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, that’s a tremendous boost for a youngster, who could then aim at club level and international level thereafter”, he added.

While being a schoolboy cricketer playing for Ananda, Ranatunga had the honour of representing Sri Lanka at the country’s inaugural Test against England in 1982. 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.

The ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ contest is sponsored by Sri Lanka’s national mobile service provider - SLT Mobitel, which has taken the four-decade-old contest towards new horizons. Sunday Observer’s great partnership with SLT Mobitel has gone from strength to strength due to the untiring efforts of its CEO Nalin Perera.

The entry of Mobitel 11 years ago to provide financial support to the oldest Cricket Awards show in Sri Lanka has undoubtedly lifted the standard of the contest after its humble beginnings way back in 1978/79. Since then, it has come a long way to set new standards and inspiring other media organizations 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 the international arena.

Sri Lanka’s flagship English newspaper - the Sunday Observer, understood the need to recognize the raw talent of the country’s schoolboy cricketers at a time when there had been no organized inter-school cricket tournaments, apart from the traditional first XI 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.

Voting coupons for the Observer-Mobitel Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, conducted under three categories, are being published in the Lake House national newspapers – Sunday Observer, Daily News, Dinamina and Thinakaran.