When Mahanama nudged Gurusinha | Sunday Observer

When Mahanama nudged Gurusinha

Asanka Gurusinha
Asanka Gurusinha

Many schoolboy cricketers have made it to the top and excelled in international cricket, but sporting a national cap at the age of 19 years is something unique and admirable. Only a few cricketers have had the distinction of achieving that rare and memorable feat.

Asanka Gurusinha is one of those cherished cricketers who have shown his might and achieved that distinction. He is only the second Nalandian to be adjudged ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ after Roshan Mahanama.

Mahanama became the first Nalandian to win the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer’ in 1983. He also became the first ever schoolboy cricketer to win the Mega title on successive years when he also won it in 1984. In the very next year after Mahanama’s dominance, yet another Nalandian won the title in 1985 in Gurusinha.

Former Sri Lanka cricketer and ex-Cricket Manager of the Sri Lanka national team, Gurusinha said that the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ title he won in 1985 was the turning point in his cricket career.

In a recent interview, the 52-year-old ex-Sri Lanka World Cup winning star said the year 1985 turned out to be a memorable year for him after winning the most sought-after title in school cricket. “When Roshan (Mahanama) won this award twice in 1983 and 1984, I realized how prestigious it is to win the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ award. It is a rare honour and an award that not every schoolboy cricketer had the fortune to win. One has to be outstanding and be consistent right throughout a season to win that – work really hard to reach the pinnacle of school career,” he said.

Popularly known as ‘Gura’ in cricketing circles, he said he was hungry to win that title after watching the proud moment when Mahanama won the award which was also an honour for his alma mater Nalanda College, Colombo. “I knew hard work and dedication with exceptional performance could take a schoolboy cricketer towards that goal. My dream as a schoolboy became a reality in the following year,” recalled Gurusinha.

Following an outstanding 1984/85 season for Nalanda, with a rich harvest of over 1000 runs with the willow, young Gurusinha was adjudged the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer in 1985.

“It was a great moment in my school cricket career, to receive the highest award in school cricket before a packed house of wildly cheering cricket fans at the BMICH. The title gave me confidence. I started believing in myself more. In less than five months after that I made my Test debut for Sri Lanka,” he added.

Gurusinha was called up at 19 as a wicket-keeper, a role he performed in a further two ODIs and one Test. He gradually established himself as a one drop batsman in the national team with many responsible innings that was taken notice by the selectors.

Gurusinha paid a glowing tribute to Lake House and the ‘Sunday Observer’ for conducting the show for almost four decades since 1979. “I am glad that Lake House is hosting the awards show uninterrupted and encouraging the budding schoolboy cricketers. During my time, this was the only school cricket awards show and we were eagerly looking forward to it,” he said.

The technically sound left-handed top order bat, who eventually turned out to be one of the most dependable one drop batsmen ever produced by Sri Lanka, made his ODI debut on November 3, 1985 in Sri Lanka’s fourth ODI against Pakistan in Hyderabad.

Representing Sri Lanka in 147 ODIs, Gurusinha has aggregated 3902 runs inclusive of two centuries and 22 fifties to average 28.27. Just four days after making his ODI debut, Gurusinha won his Test cap on November 7, 1985 to play for Sri Lank in the third Test against Pakistan in Karachi. The reliable left-handed batsman has represented Sri Lanka in 41 Tests to aggregate 2453 with seven centuries and eight half tons, including a fluent 88 in his farewell Test innings. He has a Test average of 38.92 with a career best score of 143.

He stressed the importance of paying enough attention to school cricket. “It is the feeding ground for the national pool. Aggregating 1000 runs or capturing over 100 wickets was not an easy task in our era with a school playing a limited number of traditional fixtures.

In my final year, there was only one other batsman who had scored over 1000 runs. Players like Ranjan (Madugalle), Arjuna (Ranatunga) and Roshan (Mahanama) marched directly into the national level just after their school careers. I would like to experience the same again to enrich the national team,” he added.

He was concerned about the dying spectator interest in school cricket, which had been at its best during his era. “One reason for that is that there is too much of cricket being played now. Live television coverage also discourages fans from going to grounds. I could remember the Royal-Nalanda match in 1983. We were after five wins and Royal after seven wins. The Reid Avenue ground was packed,” he said.

Gurusinha said outstanding performances by star schoolboy cricketers too prompted cricket fans to come in their numbers, irrespective of their school affiliations. “When Aravinda (De Silva) was playing for D.S. Senanayake College, most fans who had nothing to do with DSS, came purely to witness Aravinda in action,” he pointed out.

Sri Lanka Cricket Manager feels that there is a vast gap between present day school cricket standard and that of the Sri Lanka ‘A’ or national team.

“There is a big gap now and you need to come out with an exceptional performance to make it to the national team. Fitness and sharp fielding play an important role and these aspects should be looked into from school level,” he said.

Nevertheless, Gurusinha sees a bright future for Sri Lanka cricket. “We must set one goal and work towards that at all levels. High performance culture should work from school level with intense training and high fitness levels,” he said.

SLC Director Gurusinha said physical fitness is a key area that makes a complete cricketer.

“Fitness is very important, not only to play school cricket but even in studies with a sound mind. They must work hard with dedication. Just because one takes 50 wickets, he should not expect a direct place in the national team. Instead, he should keep on performing and maintain consistency,” he said.

Gurusinha is an architect of Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup triumph, aggregating 307 runs – the sixth highest among all teams, with three half centuries in six matches to average 51.16.

Even at the last match of his Test career, he made a patient 88 off 239 balls against Zimbabwe at SSC ground in September 1996. “The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year show has not only produced top cricketers but some international level umpires such as Kumar Dharmasena who serves in the ICC elite panel.

“We should also thank school coaches and masters-in-charge who render yeoman service,” Gurusinha concluded.