When the maiden show shocked Madugalle | Sunday Observer

When the maiden show shocked Madugalle

There is a four-decade long unique and memorable story behind the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest.

Until 1978, there had been no formal school cricket awards show, although the country’s oldest inter-school cricket match – the Royal-Thomian, was set to complete its centenary then.

The schoolboys involved in inter-school cricket merely played their traditional fixtures sans any recognition whatsoever. Even though the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) had not even thought of conducting a league tournament for Under-19 First X1 school cricket, there was a great necessity to reward the most outstanding players and motivate them.

Schoolboys played only for the love of the game and purely for their satisfaction. There wasn’t a single school cricket awards show at that time to reward the milestone achievements of the country’s schoolboy cricketers.

But the country’s flagship English newspaper – the Sunday Observer and its publisher Lake House, understood the need to reward the most outstanding schoolboy cricketers and inspire them before they step into club cricket and the national team.

Even the then Royal captain Ranjan Madugalle was taken by surprise when he, along with several other outstanding schoolboy cricketers, was invited for an awards show after the 1978/79 inter-school season.

Attending a school cricket awards show was something new to them because even the SLSCA had not thought of conducting an annual school cricket awards show at that time. Forget an awards show altogether, the SLSCA had not even thought of conducting an inter-school cricket tournament at that time.

Madugalle never knew that there would be an awards show for outstanding schoolboy cricketers after the 1978/79 First X1 season, which included the centenary Battle of the Blues cricket encounter between Royal and S.Thomas’.

Ultimately, Madugalle was adjudged the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year to become the first-ever recipient of the most prestigious award in school cricket.

Former Sri Lanka captain Madugalle, who now serves as the Chief Match Referee of the ICC, said he was “honoured and privileged” to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award at its inaugural show in 1979.

“In fact, we didn’t even know that there was such an award on offer. We played traditional friendly matches to enjoy the game and not for competition or personal glory,” says Madugalle. “But it was great to feel that your hard work as a schoolboy cricketer is appreciated at the end of the season. It is a great inspiration and a satisfaction to feel that your performances are recognized.

It is not merely for individual glory but your performances as a team. It was great for the Sunday Observer to recognize the achievements of school teams and their players,” he added.

Ananda College, a household name in school cricket which had produced many brilliant Sri Lanka cricketers, did not take long to produce a champion. In the very next year, Ananda produced its first Observer Schoolboy Cricketer – Arjuna Ranatunga who was then a 17-year-old youngster.

When Rohan Buultjens of St. Peter’s College emerged the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer in 1981, Ranatunga ended up as the runner-up.

But the outstanding left-handed middle order batsman Ranatunga had another rich harvest with the willow to secure the top award in 1982.

During the same season, he had the honour of representing Sri Lanka in its inaugural Test against England, while still being a schoolboy cricketer. He not only had that rare honour but also made it a double celebration by becoming the first Sri Lankan batsman to score a half century in Test cricket. Ranatunga, now a Cabinet Minister, is best remembered as the country’s World Cup winning captain after piloting Sri Lanka to a memorable seven-wicket victory over Australia in the final of the 1996 tournament played in Lahore.

Despite going places as one of the most successful captains that Sri Lanka has ever produced, Ranatunga still feels the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year trophies he had won to be among the most precious in his rich collection.

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

“Winning this award twice remains the most cherished moment in my life. Those titles had given me tremendous inspiration and confidence for me to step into the international arena,” says Ranatunga. “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 a youngster, who could then aim at club level and international level thereafter”, he added.

After Ranatunga’s dominance from 1980 to 1982, the next two years of school cricket was completely dominated by one brilliant batsman who showed no mercy to bowlers in school cricket in that period.

He was none other than Roshan Mahanama of Nalanda who became the first ever to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title in successive years (1983 and 1984).

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 made it a point to skip all other engagements to watch their school team’s matches. It was a great honor for us to see our names in 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”, Mahanama recalled. When Mahanama was stealing the Mega Show in 1983 and 1984, there had been an ambitious and talented batsman from his same school team in the audience, thinking what a prestige it would be for a schoolboy to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title.

Much to his delight and that of his Nalanda supporters, this very same player was adjudged Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1985. He is none other than former Nalanda captain and ex-Sri Lanka middle order batsman Asanka Gurusinha, who now serves as the manager of the national team.

“When Roshan Mahnama won this award twice in 1983 and 1984, I felt how prestigious it is to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award. It is not an award that everybody could win.

One has to perform exceptionally well and be consistent right throughout a season to win that – work really hard to reach the pinnacle of school career,” recalls Gurusinha.

Better known as Gura in cricketing circles, the 1996 World Cup star said he was ambitious after witnessing the proud moment of Mahanama as well as for his alma mater Nalanda. “I knew hard work and dedication with exceptional performance could take a schoolboy cricketer towards that goal. That was exactly what happened in the following year,” recalled Gurusinha.

After an outstanding 1984/85 season for Nalanda, with a rich aggregate of over 1,000 runs with the willow, young Gurusinha was adjudged the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer in 1985. “It was a great moment, to win the highest award in school cricket before a packed house at the BMICH. After winning the title, I started believing in myself more. In less than five months after that I made my Test debut for Sri Lanka,” he added.

Meanwhile, voting for the most popular segments of the 40th Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest, conducted under three divisions, is on its last lap.

Voting for the Observer-Mobitel Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contests could be made through voting coupons which continue to appear in the Daily News, Sunday Observer, Dinamina and Thinakaran.

Comments

This article by Dinesh Weerawansa statesthat there was no formal recognition of Schoolboy Cricketers whatsoever prior to 1978.I beg to differ as this is not true. The Ceylon Daily News inauguarated the first ever Schoolboy Cricketer of the year contest for the Wimaladharma Trophy in 1956, 62 yeras ago. In addition awards were presented to the best batsman and the best bowler. The presentations were made at a grand ceremony in Colombo each year amidst good publicity.. The winners up to 1962 are as follows: 1956 Wijepala.Premaratne, St Anthony's, Kandy 1957 Ronald.Reid. Royal College 1958 Maurice.Fernado, Kingswood, Kandy 1959 Charlie.Joseph, St Anthony's, Kandy 1960 Charlie.Joseph, St Anthony's, Kandy 1961 Raja De Silva, St Joseph's, Cbo 1962 Franklyn Burke, St Anthony's, Kandy If Ceylon was recognised as a Test playing nation then, all of these outstanding winners would have walked into the team and done well. Sad to see there memory forgotten and achviements unreognised so soon.

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