Gunatilleke: A rare breed of Anandian cricketer | Sunday Observer

Gunatilleke: A rare breed of Anandian cricketer

Dushan Malith Gunatilleke
Dushan Malith Gunatilleke

Ananda College has been the most impressive team in school cricket and has produced the most number of Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of Year main award winners. They have claimed the Mega Award on no less than nine occasions out of the 40 awards ceremonies held during the past four decades. That includes two champions who had won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year titles on two occasions each – Arjuna Ranatunga (1980 and 1982) and Thilan Samaraweera (1994 and 1995).

Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning captain Ranatunga was the first Anandian to win the main award after ICC Chief Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle won the inaugural contest in 1979 for Royal College. He became the runner up in 1981 to Peterite Rohan Buultjens before winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year once again in 1982.

After his brother Sanjeewa Ranatunga won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1988, old Anandians Marvan Atapattu (1990), Samarweera (1994 and 1995) and Muthumudalige Pushpakumara (1999) accounted for the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year winners before Malith Gunatilleke became the proud owner of the title in 2007.

The last of the nine Anandians to become the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year winners was witnessed exactly ten years ago when former Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chamdimal won the glorious title in 2009. Thus, Gunatilleke was the eighth winner for Ananda, just two years before Chandimal.

Dushan Malith Gunatilleke was born on March 29, 1987 in Colombo and had a highly impressive school cricket career for Ananda. In the 2006-2007 inter-school season, he had loads of success that took him to glory at the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 2007 show. He proved his talents as a right hand batsmen and slow left-arm orthodox bowler.

Although he played for Baduraliya Sports Club and Chilaw Marians Cricket Club, he was one of those rare award winners not to play for Sri Lanka, restricting his career only to 22 first class matches.

What is unique in Gunatilleke’s school career was that he not only became the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 2007 but also won the Observer Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year (voting contest) in the same year.

This was the first time that a schoolboy got the two top awards in the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year competition. Besides those two top awards, Gunatilleke was also picked as the Best All-rounder and figured well in the Best Bowler and Best Captain contests.

He was able to fit in at any position in batting and was a clever match-winning bowler too. He caused havoc among top cricketers in the schools.

But once his playing days for school were over, he didn’t come into the big league immediately due to injury.

Gunatilleke played for Ananda from the age of 10 years in various age groups. He captained the under-14, under-16 and 1st XI teams with success and peaked for Ananda in 2007, scoring over 600 runs which included a century and four half centuries.

His best innings was against Richmond where he had an unbeaten 100 and 50. His half centuries were against St. Joseph’s (74), Mahinda (76 not out) and Wesley (51) in 2006-07 season. As a bowler with his left-arm ‘leggies’, he set a record being the first Anandian to capture 90 wickets or more in a school cricket season at that time.

Gunatilleke’s best effort in bowling was a match haul of 13 for 58 against Royal which enabled Ananda to emerge victorious after 47 years. The other best performance came against St. Benedict’s College (13 for 32). He had a match bag of five wickets on 13 occasions in the 2007 season and was also a smart fielder in any position.

As a fourth-year coloursman in 2007, he also played for Old Anandian SC in the Division Three Cricket Tournament and in the Under-20 Provincial cricket tournament with success. He was in the Sri Lanka Schools spin clinic managed by former Sri Lanka player Ruwan Kalpage. It was a pity that Gunatilleka, a gifted all-rounder who had performed exceptionally well in the inter-school cricket matches, could not play for Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, the 41th edition of the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest is scheduled to be held shortly. Incidentally, this will be the 12th consecutive year that SLT Mobitel will be sponsoring the Mega Show and the voting for the Observer-Mobitel Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year ends this week.

Winning the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title has been the dream of every schoolboy cricketer because they generally believe that the prestigious title would take them closer to sporting the Sri Lanka ‘cap’. Most past winners of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the year title had made their Sri Lanka debut rapidly.

SLT Mobitel has played a key role in the promotion of the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year during the past 12 years.

It is all thanks to the innovative leadership of Sri Lanka Telecom Chairman Kumarasinghe Sirisena and SLT Mobitel Chief Executive Officer Nalin Perera who play a superb role in promoting school cricket in a big way. The untiring efforts of Chairman of Lake House, Krishantha Cooray has always helped this event to go from strength to strength. 

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