Samaraweera: The Mr. Cricket of Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

Samaraweera: The Mr. Cricket of Sri Lanka

Thilan Samaraweera
Thilan Samaraweera

The Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year has always been the prime target of many schoolboy cricketers. Winning such a mega event would definitely change the destiny of a deserving personality.

This year’s Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year is going great guns with the all-important first team matches reaching its peak with the annual big matches also being played.

We have been talking about some of the top schoolboy cricketers of yesteryear from Ranjan Madugalle, the former Royal College, NCC and Sri Lanka captain. Among the others we featured were Arjuna Ranatunga, Roshan Mahanama, Asanka Gurusinha, Marvan Atapattu, Muttiah Muralitharan and Kumara Dharmasena.

Today, we recall the great features of another top cricketer - Thilan Thusara Samaraweera who won the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year twice in 1995 and 1996. Born on September 22, 1976 in Colombo, Samaraweera is a product of Ananda College who later played for Sri Lanka.

He played for the national team as a permanent member in the Test squad and was in the side primarily for his rock solid right-handed batting. He was also a capable off spinner. He later excelled as the batting coach of the national team. He also served as the fielding coach of the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League 2018.

The latest in that ever-increasing distinguished club is former Sri Lanka Test batsman turned international coach Samaraweera.

“I’m happy about my Test average. Among the Sri Lankan batsmen I am third behind two of our greatest batsmen,” he was quoted as saying. “The highest-pressure match I ever played in was the World Cup semi-final game at the Premadasa Stadium. There were 35,000 plus spectators who came to support us. But we lost some quick wickets and the response from spectators were unacceptable. When I looked up at the dressing room, I saw tail-enders Ragana Herath, Lasith Malinga, Mendis and Murali. To get them all out you only need an over at times. Thankfully Angelo and I remained not out and finished the game in our favoir,” he has said.

He paid a glowing tribute to former captain and Observer Schoolboy Cricketer (1980 and 1982) Arjuna Ranatunga. “He used to be such a great example in my first years in at SSC. I mean, here was this guy who was a huge personality in international cricket. Even for a club game, he gets there early. He plays the game in an intensity you wouldn’t believe. In the SSC team, only two players avoided getting an earful from him as captain at that time – me and Marvan Atapattu,” he was quoted as saying. Samaraweera, under the guidance of head coach – another former Sri Lankan batsman Chandika Hathurusinghe, had done a great job in fine-tuning the skills of Bangladesh. As the batting consultant of the Bangladesh team, Samaraweera had proved his class.

Samaraweera has a proven track record as a classy batsman right from his school career at Ananda College, Colombo. His outstanding performances in successive years earned him the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year titles in 1994 and 1995.

In the four decade long history of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest, only six players have been fortunate enough to win the coveted award twice each and exactly half of them had been from Ananda.

Heading that elite band of cricketers is Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga (1980 and 1982). Besides Samaraweera and Ranatunga, Roshan Mahanama (Nalanda -1983 and 1984), Lahiru Peiris (Ananda - 2004 and 2005), Bhanuka Rajapaksa (Royal - 2010 and 2011) and Charith Asalanka (Richmond - 2015 and 2016) have won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title twice each.

In less than three years after winning the title for the second time, Samaweera made his Sri Lanka debut in the Champions trophy ODI against India in Sharjah on November 6, 1998.

Although he did not get an opportunity to bat, he had Indian wicket keeper bat Nayan Mongia (51) as his first ODI scalp.Samaraweera’s Test debut too had been against India but on a memorable note. He made a debut Test century in Sri Lanka’s third Test against India at the SSC ground in August/ September 2001. Coming in as No.8 batsman, Samaraweera made 103 not out on his debut, facing 175 balls in a 201-minute stay, hitting ten fours. Samaraweera was the fourth Sri Lanka batsman to score a century in the home team’s first inning of 610 for 6 declared with Marvan Atapattu (108), Mahela Jayawardene (139) and Hashan Tillakaratne (136 not out) giving a torrid time to the Indian bowlers.

Despite making his debut, Samaraweera showed the class of a seasoned batsman and was associated in an unfinished 194-run partnership for the seventh wicket with Tillakaratne as Sri Lanka emerged victorious by an innings and 77 runs. Samaraweera’s rock-solid batting and tantalizing off spin bowling enabled him to cement his place in the Test team.

Representing Sri Lanka in 81 Tests, Samaraweera aggregated 5462 runs with 14 centuries and 30 fifties. In fact, he is among the top Sri Lankan batsmen who had maintained an impressive Test average of 48.76. Although Samaraweera was better known as a Test batsman, he had also represented Sri Lanka in 53 ODIs with a top score of 105 not out.

The 42-year-old had been working with some Australian Test players ahead of their 2016 tour to Sri Lanka, in his brief consulting stint at Australia’s National Cricket Centre in Brisbane. In 2013, he had a successful season with Worcestershire in the English county championship and made a top score of 144 not out against Leicestershire at Leicester on August 28, 2013.