Coaches are killing school cricket -Atapattu | Sunday Observer

Coaches are killing school cricket -Atapattu

Marvan Atapattu
Marvan Atapattu

Former Sri Lanka captain Marvan Atapattu was one of the most technically sound batsman that Sri Lanka has ever produced. From the early Test era of Sri Lanka, Atapattu earned a prominent place when it came to technicality after Sidath Wettimuny, Ranjan Madugalle, Roshan Mahanama and Hashan Tillekeratne.

Young Atapattu was playing junior cricket for Ananda when his school’s first X1 captain Arjuna Ranatunga was adjudged the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1982. He was a witness when Ranatunga won the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award for the second time after first winning the title in 1980.

“I was a junior cricketer at Ananda. I happened to witness the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year awards show in 1982. I saw our then school captain Arjuna Ranatunga emerging out of a huge cricket ball erected on stage to receive the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award,” Atapattu said in a recent interview.

He said it was a great inspiration to him. “I thought that I too could make my family, the team and my school proud if I could win that top award one day. Then things worked well for me to emulate Ranatunga’s feat eight years later,” Atapattu explained his first-hand experience about the mega show.

The Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of Year awards have always been a great source of inspiration to thousands of budding cricketers across the country for over four decades. The show is sponsored by Sri Lanka’s national mobile service provider SLT Mobitel.

Atapattu’s achievement was a classic example on how such cherished moments could inspire even a junior cricketer witnessing the mega show, which has been rewarding to Sri Lanka’s schoolboy cricketers since 1979.

Atapattu achieved that dream in 1990 and a few months after winning the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award in 1990, he was selected to make his Test debut for Sri Lanka on November 23 the same year, against India in Chandigarh. His ODI debut came a month later - on December 1, 1990 also against India in Nagpur. The former Lankan skipper and ex-Sri Lanka coach said that most schools now tend to employ young coaches who could inspire the cricketers to win matches.

“But they are not interested in producing quality players who could step into the national team. During our time, we counted the many former cricketers of our school who were in the national team. But it’s not the case anymore,” he said.

“Almost all those who have won top awards at the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year show have stepped into the national team in quick time. Most importantly, many of them have established their mark as top national players,” he said.

Atapattu said that the unnecessary competitiveness has destroyed the standard of Sri Lanka’s school cricket system which was once considered to be the best in the world with a well-knit tournament structure.

The dependable opener has scored six double-hundreds in Tests, a feat bettered only by Don Bradman (12), Kumar Sangakkara (11), Brian Lara (9), Mahela Jayawardene and Wally Hammond (7 each).

Virendra Sehwag, Javed Miandad, Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar too have scored six double centuries each but had played more Tests than Atapattu.

He identified the unwarranted competitiveness created by coaches, school authorities and old boys as one of the main reasons for the deteriorating standard of school cricket. “They force cricketers of their school to win matches in all formats. They are not interested in producing quality cricketers who could dish out top class cricket but only insist on winning matches at any cost. That kills the standard of school cricket,” said Atapattu. When asked about the huge spectator interest during his era of school cricket, nearly three decades ago, Atapattu said there are several other factors, although the main reason for such disinterest is the poor standard of school cricket.

“Everybody is busy with their day to day work. Nevertheless, we could still attract spectators to inter-school matches if they could witness some high quality cricket, instead of dull and monotonous stuff we see quite often now. There are hardly any outstanding players who could attract crowds,” he pointed out.

“During our era, there were many promising schoolboy cricketers who could march into the national team. We could spot them early as future Sri Lanka prospects. Unfortunately, we hardly see that now ,” said Atapattu who has made an immense contribution to Sri Lanka cricket as a stylish opening batsman who is famous for his copybook stroke play.

Atapattu said Sri Lanka could still get back to old glory if they concentrate on improving school cricket with a new approach. Explaining how the country’s school cricket could regain its glorious past, Atapattu said coaches should be careful about the developing of schoolboy cricketers.

“We must go back to where we were. Coaches must teach the basics properly, the correct technique and not instruct them merely to win matches at any cost. What coaches do now is to try out modifications at a very early age.

Coaches remote-control their players and expect the boys to react. This should be changed,” he explained.

He also said that the present day schoolboy cricketers are subjected to undue pressure by their coaches, principals, masters and old boys. “The system is under pressure, trying to win many matches as possible in different formats during a single school cricket season,” he said.

Atapattu, who has aggregated 5502 runs including 16 centuries and 17 fifties in 90 Tests, commended the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest for inspiring budding schoolboy cricketers, giving his personal experience as a junior cricketer at Ananda College, Colombo.

He has proved his class in limited over cricket too, aggregating 8529 runs in 268 ODIs at an average of 37.57 with 11 centuries and 59 half tons. It was a treat to watch when Atapattu was in full flow, mostly in Tests with the high-elbow cover-drive being his signature shot.