School cricket needs a watch post says ex-Secretary | Sunday Observer

School cricket needs a watch post says ex-Secretary

B.S. Perera
B.S. Perera

Former Secretary of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA), B.S. Perera said more schoolboy cricketers are stepping into the Test arena now, than in the past, but only a few have been able to cement their places.

Comparing the golden era of Sri Lanka’s school cricket – 1979 to 1991, during which legendary Sri Lanka cricketers in the caliber of Ranjan Madugalle, Arjuna Ranatunga, Roshan Mahanama, Asanka Gurusinha, Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan, Marvan Atapattu, Kumara Dharmasena, Chaminda Vaas, to name a few, to present day school cricket, the veteran school cricket official said a greater number of schoolboy cricketers are being produced at present although most of them have failed to retain their places.

“If you go by the number, there are more schoolboys stepping directly to the national tram. But quality-wise there is a vast gap compared to what was dished out in the 80s and early 90s,” he said.

The former SLSCA Secretary, who was affectionately known as ‘BS’ during his unblemished three-decade long career as a top school cricket official and a veteran teacher at Sri Jayewardenepura MV, recalled the origin of Sri Lanka’s inter-school league tournament in late 1980s.

“We did not have an official inter-school under-19 league tournament for the under-19 age group, though the SLSCA had its own structure for junior age groups. There were only friendly traditional games for first X1 teams. But with Coca-Cola stepping in to sponsor a knock out limited over tournament for Under-19 school teams, we had to find criteria to select the top eight school teams,” he said.

BS said since the Coca-Cola Under-19 limited over knock out tournament was organized after the First X1 season in April, they decided to take the performances of the teams during the first X1 season into account to pick the best eight teams that would play in the knock out tournament. “Although there was no league tournament as such, we introduced a points system for friendly matches played during the season so that we could find some basic criteria to pick the teams,” he said.

“There could have been mistakes when selecting the best eight teams for the limited over knock out as there was no official league tournament.

“It was a difficult task. It is easy to organize things now but in an era where there had not been any organized under-19 league tournament, we had to work hard to get things going. At the same time, we had to look after the interests of the sponsors who preferred to accommodate teams considered as crowd pullers,” he said.

Comparing the present day school cricket to that of yesteryear, BS said schoolboy cricketers are rewarded better as tournaments now have a better monitory value. “At the initial stages, we did not get any financial support from the national governing body, the then Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka. I remember how former SLSCA President Merrill Fernando, the then Principal of Prince of Wales College, presented the case to the then board president, the late minister Gamini Dissanayake who had responded favorably,” he added.

BS said the late Fernando was of the view that school cricket should be a mere extra-curricular activity for schoolboys as in other sport and not with the sole intention of producing Test cricketers. “Yet, we produced top Sri Lanka cricketers during that era,” he said.

Asked about lack of spectator interest for school cricket now, the former school cricket stalwart said people would prefer to watch action from home.

“Not only for school matches, there are hardly any spectators even for club matches. The lives of people have turned out to be more complicated and busy. Moreover, with the development of technology, people could watch action in home comfort. That’s why even home Test matches project virtually empty stadia,” he pointed out.

BS said the decision makers at the school cricket governing body should be knowledgeable. But he alleged that the SLSCA has a huge executive committee in which the majority is from division 11 and 111 schools with relatively poor knowledge of the game.

He said most qualified teachers in the past had volunteered to serve as masters-in-charge of cricket purely for the love for the game, forgoing numerous opportunities they had to make an extra earning through private tuition in the evenings.

“There are only a few good school teachers and masters who devote their time with school teams now. You can’t blame them, circumstances are different now. Some school teams, mostly in division 11 and 111, don’t even have a master-in-charge and their coaches play a dual role. Then the boys lack the protection of a guardian to look into their needs. This is an unfortunate situation,” he said.

BS maintained his old stance to scrapping Under-13 and 15 inter-school tournaments. “I still maintain what I have told about junior tournaments, that the Under-13 and under-15 inter-school cricket should only be confined to friendly matches.

They should not be exposed to undue competition at that age,” he explained.

He alleged that the present school cricket structure is designed to promote school teams individually but not the game in general. BS stressed to need to change the SLSCA Constitution and also to introduce a better tournament structure to meet present day challenges.

“We need more knowledgeable people to man school cricket and dedicated people who are willing to sacrifice their free time for the game and take care of schoolboy cricketers,” Perera said.

He commended the Sunday Observer for launching a school cricket awards for the first time in 1979, stating that it was a huge inspiration for schoolboy cricketers.