Net closes in on the best of the best | Sunday Observer

Net closes in on the best of the best

The final selections of the most outstanding schoolboy cricketers who will receive the top awards at the 40th Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest will be made shortly.

The names of the most outstanding cricketers who will be considered for respective awards have already been shortlisted. But the final selections will be made by a special selection panel, headed by the President of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) Oshara Panditharathna.

The special selection panel will comprise of officials from the SLSCA as well as representatives from umpiring bodies, including the Sri Lanka Cricket Umpires and Scorers’ Association.

This year’s Mega Show is of greater importance as Sri Lanka’s first school cricket awards show will be celebrating its 40th anniversary. Last week, we went down memory lane to discover the four-decade long unique story behind the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest, especially its first half since 1979.

In 1979, Royal College captain Ranjan Madugalle was taken by surprise when the Sunday Observer introduced the country’s first-ever school cricket awards show.

In fact, Madugalle, who now serves as the Chief Match Referee of the ICC after captaining Sri Lanka with distinction, was totally unaware that there would be an awards show for outstanding schoolboy cricketers after the 1978/79 First X1 season.

Since Madugalle became the first recipient of the most prestigious award in school cricket, the Mega Show has produced many legendary Sri Lanka cricketers who have made their presence felt in the international arena in a big way.

Following the footsteps of Madugalle and Ranatunga was Roshan Mahanama of Nalanda College who became the first ever player to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title in successive years (1983 and 1984).

Then another Nalandian, who had been in the audience to witness Mahanama’s crowning glory – Asanka Gurusinha, was adjudged the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1985.

The organizers of the Mega Show always believed in the rich outstation talent and the need to lend them a helping hand while inspiring them to become future national players. It was with these goals in mind that a separate segment for outstation school is accommodated.

It was through the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Outstation contest that yet another legendary Sri Lanka cricketer, named Sanath Jayasuriya, had been born.

From his school days at St. Servetius College, Matara, Jayasuriya had shown signs of a world class cricketer. His willow had been a nightmare for the then bowlers in school cricket. His rich harvest for St. Servatius’ won him the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Outstation title in 1988.

Recalling that great milestone in his cricket career that had taken place exactly 30 years ago, Jayasuriya said it is one of the most unforgettable moments in his career.

“Not only me, but also my parents, brother, relatives, coaches and school masters, were thrilled and excited to witness that moment of glory. They all enjoyed that cherished moment. It was a great feeling. All past winners, be it the All-Island or Outstation, had made their mark in Sri Lanka cricket. So, when I won the title, I felt that I am getting closer to earning a place in the national squad,” said Jayasuriya, the most valuable player at the 1996 World Cup tournament.

The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year produced a galaxy of stars in the next three years too – Kumara Dharmasena, Marvan Atapattu and Muttiah Muralitharan. ICC Elite Panel umpire, Dharmasena won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award in 1989, followed by Atapattu and Muralitharan.

“It was one of the greatest moments in my career. Winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title was a big inspiration.

That helped and encouraged me to play for Sri Lanka. Winning such a mega award gives a huge image and confidence to a schoolboy cricketer to go places. We were determined to reach the top of the ladder and did so with dedication,” the former Sri Lanka all-rounder Dharmasena said. The next star to emerge through the contest after him was former Ananda College, SSC and Sri Lanka captain Marvan Atapattu, who had won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title in 1990. Atapattu, who had also served as Sri Lanka national coach, said he had considered the mega title as a ‘certification or a guarantee’ that he would play for Sri Lanka after his school career.

“As I had been performing well and scoring constantly for Ananda as a schoolboy cricketer, many considered me as a future Sri Lanka prospect. Although I too had felt that I had a chance, there was no guarantee. All those who had won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title before me had gone on to play for Sri Lanka with distinction. When I won the title ultimately, I knew that I too could play for Sri Lanka within months,” he said.

The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest is not only a part of Sri Lanka cricket history but also in world cricket. The world record holder for the most number of wickets in Test cricket Muttiah Muralitharan too had stepped into the big league through the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest.

Right from his early school cricket career, Muralitharan had been a highly successful bowler and was adjudged Observer Schoolboy Cricketer in 1991 when he was playing for St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota. Gracing the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year awards night as the chief guest seven years ago, Muralitharan went down memory lane.

“You are the future Sri Lanka players. You must keep the Sri Lanka flag flying wherever you go,” he told the gathering.

“Play hard and dedicate yourself, then success is bound to come. As young cricketers, you must keep in mind that only 11 could play in a team. When you get that rare chance of playing, you must put your heart and soul and give hundred percent to the team, so that success will come your way.

“Don’t be disappointed if you fail once or twice in the early stages of your career. Keep on trying and success is bound to come your way”.

Meanwhile, voting for the most popular segments of the 40th Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest, conducted in 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