Gurusinha the scholarly Number Three sri lankan | Sunday Observer

Gurusinha the scholarly Number Three sri lankan

The long awaited inter-school big match season has just begun. The big match season gives a new rhythm as the schoolboys and their old boys get proactive with excitement and renew loyalty with true feelings for their schools.

The big match season and the venues are the annul meeting places for old boys of their respective schools to meet, greet and swap yarns, especially those who have domiciled abroad flying down for the big occasion.

Most of the old boys living overseas plan to make their annual cricketing pilgrimage to Sri Lanka in March to meet their school buddies and go down memory lane. In the good old days, there were individuals who had created big names in the game right from their junior school cricket level.

Winning a national cap at the age of 19 years is something unique, admirable and memorable. Only a few cricketers have had the distinction of achieving that rare feat.

One of those cherished cricketers who has shown his might and achieved that distinction was former Nalanda captain Asanka Gurusinha. He is only the second from the Campbell Place school to be adjudged ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ after Roshan Mahanama.

Mahanama became the first Nalandian to win the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer in successive years in 1983 and 1984.

After Mahanama’s dominance, yet another Nalandian, Gurusinha, won the coveted title in 1985.

The 53-year-old 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 1996 Sri Lanka World Cup winning star said the year 1985 was a memorable year for him after winning the title.

“When Roshan Mahanama won this award twice in 1983 and 1984, I truly understood how prestigious it is to win the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ award. It was a rare honour and a rich 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 cricket,” he said.

Gura 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. “I knew hard work and dedication with exceptional performance could take a schoolboy cricketer towards that goal. I successfully achieved my dream as a schoolboy in the following year,” recalled Gurusinha. After an outstanding 1984/85 season for Nalanda, with a rich harvest of over 1,000 runs with his magical bat, young Gurusinha was adjudged the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer’ in 1985.

“Winning the title gave me tremendous confidence and 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 years 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 of by the selectors.

“I am glad that the ‘Sunday Observer’ is hosting the awards show uninterrupted, thus encouraging the budding schoolboy cricketers. During our time, this was the only one school cricket awards show by the Observer 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.

He played 147 ODIs for Sri Lanka to aggregate 3902 runs inclusive of two centuries and 22 fifties to average 28.27. Merely four days after making his ODI debut, Gurusinha won his Test cap on November 7, 1985 to play for Sri Lanka 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.

Gurusinha is 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 the 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.

He said that there is a vast gap between the 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 achieving that at all levels. High performance culture should work from school level with intense training and high fitness levels,” he said.

Physical fitness is a key area that helps make a complete cricketer, according to Gurusinha. “Fitness is very important, not only to play school cricket but even excel 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 maintaining 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 in the last match of his Test career, he made a patient 88 off 239 balls against Zimbabwe at the SSC ground in September 1996. “The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year show has not only produced top cricketers but also an international level umpire such as Kumar Dharmasena who serves in the ICC elite panel.

“We must not forget but also appreciate the tireless roles played by coaches and masters-in-charge, who render yeoman service,” Gurusinha concluded.

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