Big anticipation as schools cricket returns | Sunday Observer

Big anticipation as schools cricket returns

14 February, 2021
Secretary of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLCSA) JAKS Indrajith
Secretary of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLCSA) JAKS Indrajith

The Secretary of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLCSA) JAKS Indrajith said they have just got the approval from the Education Ministry to begin the new 2020-2021 Under-19 cricket season from March 15.

It will also be the date for the Western Province schools reopening after the postponed G.C.E. Ordinary Level examination.

The SLSCA Secretary said they now have got the final green light from the Education Ministry as well as the local health authorities. He said a team will play five qualifying round matches each and that those matches will be played under closed doors.

Asked whether the final round matches too would not entertain spectators, Indrajith said it will be too early to make a decision. “It is too early to talk about that. If we get approval from the health authorities then we could. But as it is, we play behind closed doors to ensure the health of all parties,” he said.

He said prior to the preliminary round matches, the host team will inform public health inspectors of the area. All preliminary round league matches will be played at venues convenient to the two teams while final round matches from quarter final stage will be played at neutral venues.

The makeshift 2020-2021 inter school Under-19 inter-school cricket season will begin mid next month, giving some hopes after exactly one complete year’s play was lost due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

After the tail end of the last first X1 season was stopped by the first wave of Covid-19 pandemic in March last year, the next season will begin exactly a year’s time in 2021 mid-March.

Indrajith said they will follow all guidelines set by the Education Ministry and health authorities strictly when conducting the tournament.

“We will strictly follow all guidelines set by the Education and Health ministry officials because we don’t want the school children to fall into trouble against Covid-19. At the same time, we want to offer maximum opportunity to schoolchildren to indulge in sports activities,” the SLSCA Secretary said.

Royal, Trinity, DS Senenayake, De Mazenod, Wesley and Gurukula MV have been drawn in Division One Group ‘A’ section ‘X’ in the Inter-school Under-19 limited over tournament to be played from later next month.

The Division One Group ‘A’ section ‘Y’ will comprise of St. Benedict’s, St. Joseph’s, Mahanama, St. Thomas’, Matara, St. Sebastian’s and St. Anne’s, Kurunegala while section ‘Z’ of the same group will have Nalanda, S. Thomas’, St. Anthony’s Katugastota, Prince of Wales, Richmond and Maliyadeva.

“Unfortunately, there will be no two-day tournament this year due to limited time left after the Covid-19 pandemic took away almost the entire first term. Hence, the official 2020-2021 Under-19 tournament will only be confined to a limited-overs tournament,” the SLSCA Secretary added. He said the Division One Group ‘B’ section ‘X’ will have St. Peter’s, Thurstan, Mahinda, Dharmaraja, St. Aloysius’ and Moratu MV while section ‘Y’ will comprise Ananda, Isipatana, Zahira, Joseph Vaz, Dharmapala and Maris Stella.

Section ‘Z’ of Division One Group will comprise St. Sylvester’s, Dharmasoka, St. Servatius’, Devapathiraja, Lumbini and St. Anthony’s, Wattala.

He said another 36 school teams will battle in the Division One tire ‘B’ tournament drawn under three groups A, B and C.

“All in all, there will be 72 teams competing in the Under-19 Division One and Two tournaments,” Indrajith said.

The SLSCA will conduct the Under-19 tournament from March 15 to May 2 and each team is drawn to play five qualifying round league matches.

There will be 32 teams competing in Division One – 16 in tier ‘A’ and another 16 in tier ‘B’. Similarly, there will be another 32 teams in the Division Two.

There again in division two 16 teams will be in tier ‘A’ and another 16 in tier ‘B’.

The teams will get about 47 days to complete their matches including the finals by May 2. In-between, there will be a few days break after the first round for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

After the qualifying league round, eight teams each will be selected to play in the final rounds from the quarter final on-wards. The maximum number of tournament matches a team has to honour is eight, including the five qualifying round games.

Schools may play their traditional two-day matches such as big matches, provided they get clearance from the health authorities due to the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic threat.

For instance, the world’s only uninterrupted big match – the Battle of the Blues between Royal and S.Thomas’ is likely to be played in Hambantota at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Cricket Stadium. Though it was earlier planned from April 8 to 10 behind closed doors, the joint organizers now plan to put it off by a month.

There will be live television coverage of the three-day affair, similar to the recently conducted Lanka Premier League (LPL). The idea is mooted to maintain the 142-year-old traditions since 1879.

If it takes place as planned, the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium will become the first venue outside Colombo and the ninth venue overall to host the prestigious Royal-Thomian cricket encounter.

When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit Sri Lanka badly in mid-March, last year’s Battle of the Blues had just been concluded. Most of the First X1 matches of the 2019/20 season were completed by then.

With the commencement of the new First X1 under-19 cricket season from March 15, the 43rd Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year will also be launched with the most popular contest.

The Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year contest has been held annually for 41 successive years since 1979, except for last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the postponed awards ceremony for 2020 will be held next month.

The Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year is conducted by Sri Lanka’s number one English newspaper, the Sunday Observer and sponsored by Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel.

Thanks to the longstanding association of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA), the Sri Lanka Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association and Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), headed by Shammi Silva, the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has gone from strength to strength.

With Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel coming forward to add more power and energy to the Observer School Cricketers of the Year show 13 years ago, the quality of the event has been drastically improved.

In addition to giving away rich cash awards to the schoolboy and schoolgirl cricketers, the coaches and masters in charge who put a lot of effort behind the scene have been rewarded.

The Mega Show’s expansion to have a separate segment for outstation schoolboy cricketers went a long way in inspiring the talented players in far flung areas.

Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom and SLT Mobitel, Rohan Fernando has given every possible assistance to the Mega Show which will march forward with more power and strength.

The SLT Mobitel is sponsoring the show for the 14th successive year, at a time when the company is heading towards new horizons under the dynamic leadership of Fernando, the former Thomian ace rower.

It has been enjoyable working with Fernando who has a tremendous sporting record, including being the President of the Sri Lanka Sailing Association and ex-Vice President of National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka.

The management of Lake House has strongly backed the Mega Show. Its current Chairman, W. Dayaratne and the team of Board of Directors – Dharma Sri Kariyawasam (Editorial), Rakhitha Abeygunawardhana (Legal and Administration), Janaka Ranatunga (Finance) and Canishka Witharana (Operations) have always been a tower of strength to take the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year forward.

It is a plus point and gives encouragement to see more and more school cricket award shows emerging, following that great initiative of Sri Lanka’s flagship English newspaper – the Sunday Observer way back in 1978/79.

It was the ANCL which inaugurated the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest at a time when there wasn’t a single awards ceremony to recognize the talents of schoolboy cricketers. Even when the newly found schoolboy cricketer award shows deserted and abandoned their shows when the Corona-19 pandemic hit last year, the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year remained intact.

It is because the Sunday Observer and Sri Lanka Mobitel understood their real corporate role when it matters the most.

Neither the school cricket governing body - Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association, nor the national governing body for cricket - Sri Lanka Cricket or the then BCCSL, had a program to reward outstanding schoolboy cricketers.

There were no inter-school tournaments for under-19 First X1 cricket four decades ago. But 43 years ago, the Sunday Observer, as the country’s undisputed English newspaper since 1928, realized the need to recognize talents of budding schoolboy cricketers who could step into Sri Lankan teams and become international stars by organizing this show of shows.