Apsari promotes women’s cricket through girls’ big matches : Mega Show - the stepping stone says Hashan Tillakaratne | Sunday Observer

Apsari promotes women’s cricket through girls’ big matches : Mega Show - the stepping stone says Hashan Tillakaratne

Hashan and Apsari
Hashan and Apsari

Former Sri Lanka captain Hashan Tillakaratne, the high performance batting coach of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) and his charming wife Apsari Singhabahu Tillakaratne who heads women’s cricket of the SLC, said the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has been a source of encouragement and inspiration to young cricketers to progress beyond school level.

The couple paid a tribute to Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel and the Sunday Observer for conducting the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year awards ceremony at the end of each school cricket season.

Tillakaratne, who was adjudged the runner up to Asanka Gurusinha, the present manager of the Sri Lanka national team, for the Best Batsman award in 1986, said they anxiously looked forward to the event during their school days.

“It was a big event for us when we were playing school cricket for DS Senanayake College. Similarly, the present schoolboy cricketers too are eagerly looking forward to this event which rewards the most outstanding schoolboy cricketers,” he said.

“You have a hope. There is a great feeling when you know that your hard efforts would be rewarded at the end of a school season. Appearing at the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer victory podium is a great feeling for any schoolboy crickter,” Tillakaratne said adding that the organisers the Sunday Observer of Lake House and its present sponsor SLT Mobitel deserves credit for recognizing school talent.

“School cricket is the stepping stone for club cricket and to the Sri Lanka national pool thereafter. It is important that we encourage and inspire them to march to the next level,” said the veteran Sri Lanka captain who was a member of Arjuna Ranatunga’s 1996 World champion team.

“Mobitel is rendering a great service by providing the financial backing for the show which is undoubtedly a great source of encouragement for thousands of schoolboy cricketers in the country who are dreaming of representing their country at some level,” added Tillakarate who had represented Sri Lanka in 83 Tests to aggregate 4545 runs with 11 centuries and 20 fifties at an attractive average of 42.87.

He made his Test debut for Sri Lanka in December 1989 in the second Test against Australia in Hobart. Incidentally, his last Test for Sri Lanka too had been against Australia where he made an unbeaten 74 at the SSC ground in March, 2004.

Tillakaratne’s talent was not only confined to the established game but also in ODIs. He was a vital ingredient in the Sri Lanka ODI team, including that of the 1996 champion team which beat Australia by seven wickets in Lahore to win the ICC World Cup 22 years ago. He had represented Sri Lanka in 200 ODIs to aggregate 3789 runs at an average of 29.60 with two centuries and 13 half tons.

Meanwhile, Apsari Singhabahu Tillakaratne stressed the importance of having a similar event to recognize the achievements of schoolgirls playing cricket. Since taking over the role of heading women’s cricket at SLC, she has worked hard to popularize the game among girls’ schools.

Along with the district coaches of SLC, she travels across the country to spot raw talent that could be carefully groomed to fill vacancies in the national women’s team. Since taking over the destinies of women’s cricket, she has been able to discover rich talent for the national women’s pool.

“The best way to have a strong Sri Lanka national women’s pool is by popularizing the game at school level. When I took over, only a few girls’ schools were involved in cricket. But now we see more and more girls’ schools playing cricket. That’s a positive sign,” she said.

In a bid to further promote and popularize the game among girls’ schools, Apsari introduced a series of ‘big matches’ to make it a passion among the new generation. “It has been a great success. We encouraged major schools in selected towns to play big matches, similar to customary annual encounters played among boys’ schools. We provided technical and logistical support for them to inaugurate a series of big matches so that schoolgirls would come to witness those and generate a passion for the game. Such girls’ big matches were played in several areas, including Nuwara Eliya,” she said.

Apsari said promoting women’s cricket among schools enables them to have a strong national development pool, giving better options for the selectors when picking the Sri Lanka women’s team. “When more and more girls’ schools play cricket, we have enough talent for the district squads. We are maintaining district squads throughout the island.

The most outstanding girls at those squads will be picked to the national development pool,” she said while adding that the Sri Lanka women’s team has been training under Hemantha Devapriya, assisted by Oshadee Weerasinghe.

“We have introduced the Super Four format in women’s cricket too. Dambulla, Galle, Kandy and Colombo teams will compete in the Super Four. Outstanding players from other areas will get a chance to represent these teams and gain experience. They could prove their class at the highest domestic level and make a strong claim for places in the national pool,” she added.

The national mobile service provider, Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel continues to provide that ‘smart connection’ to the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Contest as the principal sponsor. Under the directions of the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Telecom and SLT Mobitel P.G. Kumarasingha, the Chief Executive Officer of the SLT Mobitel, Nalin Perera has made a significant contribution towards the success of the event during the past decade. The Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year continues to enjoy the longstanding association of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) and the Sri Lanka Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association with the blessings of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), headed by Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala.

Voting for the most popular segments of the 40th Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest, continues under three divisions. The most popular contest is gradually reaching its peak as the season is coming to an end by early next month. Voting coupons for the Observer-Mobitel Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest appear in the Daily News, Sunday Observer, Dinamina and Thinakaran.

The 40th edition of the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest is scheduled to be held in July. Incidentally, this will be the 11th consecutive year that SLT Mobitel will be sponsoring the Mega Show, which has a rich history of producing legendary cricketers, including Sri Lanka’s World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga, world’s highest Test wicket taker Muttiah Muralitharan and the Chief ICC Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle.

Winning the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title has been the dream of every schoolboy cricketer as they generally believe that the prestigious title would take them closer to wear the Sri Lanka ‘cap’. Most past winners of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the tile had made their Sri Lanka debut in next to no time, some of them just months after winning the ‘Crown’.

There are three past Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year main award winners in the current Sri Lanka team - Dinesh Chandimal (2009), Niroshan Dickwella (2012) and Kusal Mendis (2013).

The trio stepped into the Sri Lanka team just months after their crowning glory to become vital ingredients of the national team.