Ranatunga: Inseparable icon of school cricket | Sunday Observer

Ranatunga: Inseparable icon of school cricket

Flashback: Arjuna Ranatunga and his son Dhyan prepare to bat for Ananda in a old boys match against Nalanda in Canada
Flashback: Arjuna Ranatunga and his son Dhyan prepare to bat for Ananda in a old boys match against Nalanda in Canada

Sri Lanka’s World Cup-winning captain turned Cabinet Minister Arjuna Ranatunga was the first ever to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the year title twice.

Having won the mega title in 1980 after Ranjan Madugalle in the previous year, Ranatunga once again became the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer in 1982. Ranatunga feels that winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year remains the most memorable lifetime experience to any schoolboy cricketer. A reliable middle order batsman who had aggregated 5105 runs including four centuries and 38 fifties and captured 16 wickets in 93 Tests, Ranatunga 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.

“It’s a tremendous boost for a schoolboy when he is adjudged the Best Batsman, Best Bowler, Best Allrounder or the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year. He could then aim at club level and international level,” said Ranatunga in his last interview on the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year.

Ranatunga emphasized the impact the Mega Event has on schoolboys. “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,” he said.

“Winning the Award twice remains the most cherished moment in my life,” he said. He further added that the titles had given him “tremendous inspiration and confidence,” when he had stepped into the international arena.

When he was 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 not only played for Sri Lanka while still being a schoolboy cricketer but also made it a memorable occasion by becoming the first Sri Lankan to score a half century (54) in Test cricket.

Ranatunga 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 a key Cabinet Minister.

He has proved his class in limited over cricket too, aggregating 7456 runs in 269 ODIs, including four centuries and 49 fifties.

Despite achieving loads of success as a cricketer, including his dynamic leadership to pilot the 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.

When we talk 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 and ICC Chief Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle, 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 were Roshan Mahanama (1983 and 1984), Asanka Gurusinha (1985), Muttiah Muralitharan (1991), Kumara Dharmasena (1989) and Marvan Atapattu (1990). Former Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year (Outstation) 1988, 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 and he 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 is one of the most successful players ever produced by Ananda College.

He 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.

Ranatunga, who has made an impeccable contribution to Sri Lanka cricket, said the cricket authorities have forgotten the fact that the foundation of the national pool is school cricket. He stressed the importance of school cricket when filling the vacancies in the national team. “They must keep in mind that school cricket is the cradle of 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 standards 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 our 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.

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.

The 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 12 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.

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 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.