Unmatched Murali cricket’s all-time prototype | Sunday Observer

Unmatched Murali cricket’s all-time prototype

Flashback: Muttiaih Muralidaran of St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota receiving the glittering Observer Schoolboy Cricketer Trophy 1991 title from the chief guest, the late Minister of Housing Sirisena Cooray while the then Chief Editor of the Sunday Observer Mahindapala looks on
Flashback: Muttiaih Muralidaran of St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota receiving the glittering Observer Schoolboy Cricketer Trophy 1991 title from the chief guest, the late Minister of Housing Sirisena Cooray while the then Chief Editor of the Sunday Observer Mahindapala looks on

None thought or expected some three decades ago that a schoolboy cricketer excelling at that time would eventually end up as the world’s highest wicket taker in Test cricket. He was none other than the off-spinning and Doosra-bowling spin wizard Muttiah Muralidaran.

But people started talking in a big way about this spin bowler who represented St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota at that time. He first showed his dominance in the 1989/90 season by capturing over 100 wickets (109) in that season.

He continued his merciless attack in the following 1990/91 season too, completing another century of wickets (127 wickets in 14 matches) that season, having almost all dominant schoolboy cricketers at that time kneeling before him.

Even his name was not familiar at the early part of his school career and the writer could well remember going to the Air Force ground, Katunayake for the Antonians’ Under-19 inter-school cricket match against Maris Stella some 30 years ago to see the young spin magician and also to get the correct spelling of his name as sports writers used different spelling of his name at that time.

Those were the humble but sensational school career beginning of none other than Muttiah Muralidaran who eventually went on to break almost all international bowling records and becoming Test cricket’s leading wicket taker (800).

Before entering the international arena, young Muralidaran was adjudged Observer Schoolboy Cricketer in 1991 after Kumara Dharmasena (1989) and Marvan Atapattu (1990).

The four-decade old history of the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has given that much-needed inspiration and motivation to the country’s budding schoolboy cricketers to extend their playing careers beyond school level.

There have been many outstanding players who aggregate over 1,000 runs or capture over 100 wickets during a season but only a few have taken such performances to the next level. Playing for a reputed club after ending their school careers and winning the Sri Lanka cap thereafter has been the dream of every schoolboy cricketer but only a handful would eventually fulfill that dream.

One such outstanding player, who not only had achieved that goal in style but had also gone to erase world records in Test cricket, had emerged through the premier school cricket awards show some 29 years ago. The big news in school cricket during that era was about a magical off spinner who had shattered the dreams of all batsmen in inter-school cricket during that period.

Having come to the limelight with rich harvests of over 100 wickets each on successive seasons, the soft-spoken and publicity-shy young cricketer from the hill capital ultimately turned out to be the biggest headache to all top batsmen in world cricket.

After making his Sri Lanka debut soon afterwards, he cemented his place in the national team in next to no time. He eventually became the highest ever wicket-taker in Test cricket, establishing several other world records in international cricket. Muralidaran returned to the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year stage in 2011 as the chief guest, some 20 years after his crowning glory.

Speaking at a past Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year awards ceremony as the chief guest, Muralidaran looked emotional when he went down memory lane. “You are the future Sri Lanka players. You must keep the Sri Lanka flag flying wherever you go,” he told the audience of mostly schoolboys.

“Play hard and dedicate yourself, then success is bound to come automatically. As young cricketers, you must keep in mind that only 11 could play in a team. When you get that rare chance of playing, you must put your heart and soul and give hundred percent to the team, so that success will come your way,” Muralidaran said.

He paid a tribute to the Sunday Observer for its role in rewarding the outstanding schoolboy cricketers since 1979. “Don’t be disappointed if you fail once or twice in the early stages of your career. Keep on trying and success is bound to come your way,” he was quoted as saying.

Muralidaran also advised the schoolboys present at the show. “Keep absolutely cool even when the going is not the way you want it. I learnt this from my captain Arjuna Ranatunga (another proud recipient of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award in 1980 and 1982) who sported a cool head even when the going was tough. Arjuna used to take pressure off the players when the going is not to his liking. He doesn’t show any anger – that’s why he is called ‘captain cool’,” Muralidaran said.

Born on April 17, 1972, Muralidaran has achieved loads of records which would be hard to emulate. He is the only bowler to capture 800 wickets in Test cricket. Representing Sri Lanka in 133 Tests, Muralidaran has accounted for 800 scalps with an attractive average of 22.72.

Muralidaran has enjoyed match bags of ten wickets or more on 22 occasions which too accounts for a world record. No other bowler has captured five wickets or more on 67 occasions in Test cricket. His one day international record too is equally impressive. In 350 ODIs, the master spinner has captured 534 wickets with an average of 23.08.

It is heartening to see the Mega Show completing its 42nd anniversary this year. Most importantly, the country’s national mobile service provider has been associated with Sri Lanka’s first-ever school cricket awards show for 13 years. Together with Sri Lanka Telecom and SLT Mobitel management, SLT Mobitel’s Chief Executive Officer Nalin Perera is extending the fullest support to make the ‘Mother of all Shows’ a resounding success once again as it continues to remain the dream of every schoolboy cricketer.

Hence, it’s high time to support your alma mater by voting for your favourite schoolboy cricketer and motivate the next generation cricketers. It will be a morale booster for those outstanding young cricketers as the cream of them prepare to enter the club arena with the hope of proudly sporting that Sri Lanka cap eventually.

Needless to say how important it is for schoolboy cricketers to win an award as recognition for their commendable achievements after a strenuous season. It is not just appreciating their achievements but also a big inspiration for them to step into the big league. All past winners of this prestigious title have repeatedly said what a big inspiration the award had been to their cricket careers.

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