Precious gem from Thurstan | Sunday Observer

Precious gem from Thurstan

Umesh Karunaratne
Umesh Karunaratne

The Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year show will be held uninterrupted for the 42nd year maintaining its undisputed record of being the Mother of All cricket Shows.

Of the 41 awards ceremonies held to date since its inaugural Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year show in 1978-79, Thurstan College could not produce a single champion, except for once in 2008.

The Thurstanite schoolboy cricketer who had that rare honour in the annals of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year history was Umesh Karunaratne, the golden boy of Sri Lanka school cricket some 12 years ago.

Karunaratne became the first cricketer from Thurstan College to win the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, 30 years after the launch of Sri Lanka’s first ever schools cricket awards show. But even after another 12 more years up to now, Thustan has not been able to find another champion cricketer to emulate Karunarantne.

What was unique in his crowning glory as the first and only Thurstanite so far to win the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year prize was that he received the glittering trophy from its first-ever winner – the ICC Chief Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle, exactly 30 years after the Royalist had won the title in the inaugural show.

Incidentally, when the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2018, Madugalle was the chief guest to encourage the country’s budding schoolboy cricketers.

Out of 22 Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year events before the new millennium, Thurstan could not produce a single champion since its inception in 1978-79. Thurstan even had to spend eight more years after the dawn of the new millennium before they finally produced a champion at the prestigious Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year series.

In fact Trinity’s Kaushalya Weeraratne became the first Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in the new millennium in 2000 before Kaushal Lokuarachchi of St. Peter’s College won it in the following year.

Cambrian Sahan Wijeratne won the richest prize in school cricket in 2002, followed by Farveez Maharoof of Wesley in 2003.

This was followed by yet another rare moment in producing a double champion, as Lahiru Peiris of St. Peter’s who won back to back titles in 2004 and 2005.

The dominance of Ananda and Nalanda was witnessed in the next two years with Gihan Rupasinghe winning the 2006 crown for the Campbell Place school, followed by their rival school’s Malith Gunatilleke in 2007.

Then came the most cherished moment for Thurstan when they produced Karunaratne as the winner.

Tennakoon Mudiyanselage Umesh Samantha Karunaratne was born on January 19, 1989 in Sri Jayewardenepura and represented Bloomfield Cricket and Athletic Club, the Chilaw Marians Cricket Club and the Seeduwa Raddoluwa Cricket Club in inter-club tournaments. Prior to that, he represented Sri Lanka Under-19 but was unfortunate not to see his career grow.

An off spinner, Karunaratne made his first Sri Lanka Under-19 appearance in the 2005-06 season and recalled for the tri-nation tournament at home in 2007, he was included in the U-19 World Cup squad the following year.

At the annual awards night of Sri Lanka Cricket in 2005, young Karunaratne won the best all-rounder award in the domestic tournaments in 2004.

It was a double celebration for Thurstan as they produced the runner up in the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year – Geeth Kumara. In addition to his crowning glory, Karunaratne was also adjudged runner up in the best bowler and best all-rounder categories.

The first to win the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in successive years (in 1983 and 1984) was Roshan Mahanama who was one of the greatest stars who had emerged through the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest.

A proud product of Nalanda College, Mahanama was a household name in school cricket during the early 80s.

He first won the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ title in 1983 with a rich harvest of runs with the willow.

He continued to let his willow to do the talking in the following year too and his superb form won him the title for the second successive year in 1984.

Former Ananda captain Arjuna Ranatunga too won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title twice prior to Mahanama.

Ranatunga did not win the crown in successive years. He first won the coveted title in 1980 after Ranjan Madugalle but failed to repeat it in the following year in which Rohan Buultjens of St. Peter’s won the prestigious title.

Ranatunga, in his final inter-school First XI season for Ananda was crowned Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year once again in 1982.

Following Ranatunga and Mahanama to join the select band of schoolboy cricketers to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title twice each, were Thilan Samaraweera (1994 and 1995), Lahiru Peiris (2004 and 2005), Bhanuka Rajapakse (2010 and 2011) and Charith Asalanka (2015 and 2016).

Meanwhile, the 42nd chapter of the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest is scheduled to be held in a couple of months. Incidentally, this will be the 13th consecutive year that SLT Mobitel is sponsoring the Mega Show and the voting for the Observer-Mobitel Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year still continues.

Winning the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title has been the dream of every schoolboy cricketer as 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 title had made their Sri Lanka debut in double quick time.

SLT Mobitel has played a key role in the promotion of the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, thanks to the leadership of Sri Lanka Telecom Chairman Rohan Fernando and SLT Mobitel Chief Executive Officer Nalin Perera who have played dynamic roles in promoting school cricket in a big way.

The ever willing support from Lake House Chairman W. Dayaratne has always helped this event to go from strength to strength.

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