Ranatunga; Still unmatched | Sunday Observer

Ranatunga; Still unmatched

16 February, 2020

The Observer-Mobitel School Cricket awards has gained momentum over the years and accounts for almost half of the life story of Sri Lanka’s flagship English newspaper the Sunday Observer.

The historic first ever school cricket awards show in Sri Lanka began exactly on the 50th anniversary of Sunday Observer. When the Sunday Observer celebrated its 92nd year this month, the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer had flourished for 42 years opening new horizons.

Apart from rewarding the most outstanding schoolboy cricketers, it has embarked on another mission to appreciate and reward schoolgirl cricketers in similar fashion.

After Royalist Ranjan Madugalle, present ICC Chief Match Referee, became the first ever Observer Schoolboy Cricketer in 1978/ 79, former Ananda captain Arjuna Ranatunga became the first to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer award twice.

The country’s World Cup-winning captain and former Minister first won the mega title in 1980 and once again became the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer in 1982 after emerging runner up in 1981.

In a recent interview, Ranatunga said that winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year remains the most memorable lifetime experience any schoolboy cricketer could be proud of.

As a dependable middle order batsman Ranatunga had aggregated 5,105 runs including four centuries and 38 fifties and captured 16 wickets in 93 Tests. Known as ‘Captain Cool’ he has said that winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year or any other major Award at the event is a life-time experience.

“It’s a big boost for a schoolboy when he is picked to receive any award – for the Best Batsman, Best Bowler, Best All-rounder or the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year. That will give him confidence when he takes strike at club level and international level,” said Ranatunga in his previous interview.

“As a cricketer you may go places and win many other Awards at higher levels, but an Award won at the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year event remains the most memorable in any cricketer’s life,” he said.

Ranatunga considers winning the Award twice as the most cherished moments in his life. He further added that the titles had given him “tremendous inspiration and confidence,” when he 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 but also made it a memorable occasion by becoming the first Sri Lankan to score a half century (54) in Test cricket. It was the great West Indian Sir Garfield Sobers who spotted the talent in Ranatunga and forced the selectors to play him in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test team and he obliged by scoring a half century. He thereby proved Sir Garfield Sobers right.

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 has proved his class in limited overs 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.

When Sri Lanka’s success in world cricket tournaments is talked about, the greatest mark was the achievement way back in 1996. That was when Sri Lanka enjoyed its most cherished moment in international cricket, winning the ICC World Cup tournament in Lahore, Pakistan on March 17, 1996. 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 cricket’s Mount Everest in world cricket.

Ranatunga is one of the most successful players ever produced by Ananda. He pointed out the poor standard of school cricket now, urging the country’s cricket authorities to take meaningful steps to face the challenge and improve it. Ranatunga feels the standard of 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 said.

Ranatunga 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 the 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 attract spectators like in the past if standards are improved,” 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 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 cementing their places as was the case 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 entry of Mobitel 13 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 inspiring other media organizations to conduct similar contests.

Sri Lanka’s flagship English newspaper - the Sunday Observer - realized the need to recognize the raw talent of the country’s schoolboy cricketers and reward them 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.