Kumara Dharmasena the Motivator regrets there is no Terminator | Sunday Observer

Kumara Dharmasena the Motivator regrets there is no Terminator

Kumara Dharmasena
Kumara Dharmasena

In the golden era of Sri Lanka cricket, one player was prominent in the close-catching positions, motivating the team even when the opponent was on top.

His encouraging words played a big role for the Lankan team - to bounce back at crucial stages. The pencil-slim player’s extraordinary role in keeping the spirit of the team high at all times won him the right nickname – Unanduwa, which in Sinhalese means Motivator.

He is none other than the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year turned ICC elite panel international umpire Kumara Dharmasena. After finishing his distinguished school career at Nalanda College, he found his rightful place in the Sri Lanka team.

After calling it a day with the Sri Lanka team, he took to umpiring and within a short period of time he blossomed to become the most sought after person in the ICC’s elite panel of umpires.   

The former Sri Lanka all-rounder who was a member of the 1996 World Cup-winning team, attributed the recent performance of the national team to lack of experience and international exposure and expressed confidence that the team would be able to bounce back in the near future.

Dharmasena said winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title in 1989 was the turning point in his cricket career and paid a tribute to the Sunday Observer and the present sponsor SLT Mobitel for keeping the mega awards ceremony running, identifying it as a great source of encouragement to thousands of schoolboy cricketers across the island.

“There is a drastic drop in spectator interest. When I was playing for Nalanda in the late 80s, we saw good crowds at most of the inter-school matches” said Dharmasena comparing present day school cricket and that of his era.

“But it does not happen now. That may be due to various factors – too much of cricket and the spectators’ preference to watch the television coverage in home comforts,” he said.

He said that the present day schoolboy cricketers are being groomed more on T20 games and limited over cricket, rather than the conventional two-day matches and added that during their time, they were mainly focused on outright wins in school two-day matches.

“Our coaches always told us to earn wickets with quality bowling. But now, it’s a matter of the bowlers trying to contain the batsmen to go through the overs or batsmen going for unconventional strokes to maintain their run rate in limited over games. That kills the established game,” he pointed out.

Asked how he felt when he was adjudged the proud recipient of the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year some three decades ago, Dharmasena said it was the biggest turning point in his early cricket career.

“In fact it was a big blessing for my school career when I stepped in to club cricket and the international arena after representing Nalanda in school cricket. When you win such an award, you are always a step ahead. It was the most rewarding thing that a schoolboy cricketer could ever dream of, after all the hard work during a strenuous season of over seven months,” he said.

He said that the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award was a source of encouragement for him to go places in international cricket.

How could the Sri Lanka team get out of its present crisis situation and what are his suggestions to build another world champion team?

Talking about the Sri Lanka team, he said that there is enormous talent to feed the national pool. “We always had rich talent. But the problem was that we have not set the right retirement plans for the top cricketers and allowed them to retire whenever they wish. When most top players quit in the same era, a big vacuum develops in the team,” he said.

“In the past we have seen some top schoolboy cricketers marching directly to the national team from school level and cement their places in next to no time. We hardly see that now and the problem could be attributed to present day strategies of school cricket coaches and officials who pay undue attention to limited-over cricket and T20s,” Dharmasena declared.

“The present day schoolboy cricketers are not focused enough on the longer version of the game. During our time, almost every top team had players who captured over 80 wickets or scored over 800 to 1,000 runs. But we don’t experience that now. They only try to contain the batsmen and don’t work hard to earn wickets. This is the scenario we experience not only at Under-19 level but in other age groups in school cricket as well,” Dharmasena added.

Having achieved great heights as a cricketer, Dharmasena has now established his credentials as an international umpire. Asked what level of umpiring he enjoys the most - Tests, ODI or T20s, Dharmasena opted for the established game.

“Honestly, I enjoy the most as a Test umpire. Officiating as an umpire in the Ashes series or a Test at Lord’s is greater than any other level in the limited over games,” he said.

Having made his international debut as an umpire on January 28, 2009, he has so far officiated in 105 ODIs and stood in 65 Tests as an ICC elite panel umpire along with 22 T20s.

Dharmasena made his Test debut in September 1993, against South Africa. Playing in 31 Tests for Sri Lanka, he has an aggregate of 868 with three half centuries that included an undefeated 62 and has captured 69 wickets in Tests.

He has played 141 ODIs for Sri Lanka, aggregating 1,222 runs with four fifties. But he has a better record as a bowler with 138 wickets.

His quickish off-spinners, delivered with a slightly unorthodox action, troubled many top batsmen in the world. With time he also developed into a useful middle order batsman, which guaranteed him a regular place in the Sri Lankan one-day squad during his playing days.