Jayasuriya to toast the Show | Sunday Observer

Jayasuriya to toast the Show

4 April, 2021

Flashback: Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year (Outstation) 1988, Sanath Jayasuriya of St. Servatius’ College, Matara receives the prestigious Award from the late Mrs Malini Bodinagoda, wife of then ANCL Chairman Ranapala Bodinagoda. Looking on at centre is the late compere Laddie Hettiarachchi

Former top award winner and the highest scorer for Sri Lanka in the recent veterans World Cup final, Sanath Jayasuriya will be the chief guest at the 42nd Observer School Cricketers of the Year awards show to be held at the BMICH, Colombo 7 on April 20 commencing at 5.30 p.m.

The long postponed event on a couple of occasions due to the Covid-19 pandemic will finally be a reality. But this time, the heath authorities have given a firm guarantee to host the event, in keeping with strict guidelines.

It is with those fresh memories that the 42nd edition of the Observer School Cricketers of the Year will be held giving new hopes for the Sri Lanka sports community.

Fresh memories of Sri Lanka’s World Cup1996 triumph - exactly after 25 years, came to surface at the recently concluded World Cup Legends final. Jayasuriya, who was adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament in 1996 World Cup, once again showed that he still had some talent left cracking a blistering 43 off 35 balls in the Legends World Cup final.

Sri Lanka lost by a mere 14 runs. But if Jayasuriya or Tillakaratne Dilshan had faced less than one more over, the Lankans would have painted a different picture.

Batting first, India Legends, led by Sachin Tendulkar made 181 for 4 in their allotted 20 overs with Yusuf Pathan (62 not out) and Yuvaraj Singh (60) scoring half centuries in the final played at Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh International Stadium, Raipur.

In reply, Sri Lanka went down gallantly, scoring 167 for 7 in 20 overs with Jayasuriya top scoring with 43. Despite undergoing three operations including two knee surgeries and putting a stent for his heart element, Jayasuriya showed that he still has his old magical touch.

It is with this most recent form that Jayasuriya will grace the Observer Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year on April 20.

The only schools cricket awards show until the last couple of decades, the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year mega show is now considered the Mother of all school cricket award shows in its 43rd years.

What is unique in the show is that it had developed a new culture by recognizing the raw talent, at a time when there had not been any organized tournament for First X1 cricket.

When none of the other competitive school cricket awards shows which had begun lately had failed to commend the performance of schools last season, only the Sunday Observer is able to host its 42nd awards show. This proves the commitment and dedication of the Sunday Observer and Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel to honour the school cricketers when it matters the most.

When all other sponsors of rival school cricket shows failed to honour their commitments due to the Covid-19 pandemic last year, SLT Mobitel is standing tall to host the Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year uninterrupted, thereby supporting the country’s sporty young generation. A big thank you is owed to Sri Lanka Telecom Chairman Rohan Fernando, who is also the Chairman of SLT Mobitel.

Former Sri Lanka captain Jayasuriya last graced the Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year show eight years ago in 2013 as the chief guest. Prior to blossoming as an aggressive all-rounder, he began his cricketing career as a schoolboy at St. Servatius’ College, Matara and won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Outstation in 1988.

Jayasuriya who later went on to captain Sri Lanka with distinction, says that the inspiration and encouragement he got after receiving the top award was immense. Recalling the most cherished moment as a schoolboy cricketer, Jayasuriya said it gave him a great feeling, being rewarded at the conclusion of a strenuous inter-school cricket season. “Unlike today, there were hardly any such shows to reward the outstanding schoolboy cricketers,” Jayasuriya said.

He recalled his proud moment and thanked the Principal of his school, G. L. Galappathy and coach Lionel Munasinghe who had been instrumental in nurturing his school career as a youngster.

Jayasuriya’s outstanding contribution for St. Servatius with the willow earned that top award - a dream of any schoolboy cricketer.

In the very next year after winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year crown, Jayasuriya made his ODI debut for Sri Lanka against Australia in Melbourne - on December 26, 1989.

Ever since then, he became a vital ingredient in the Sri Lanka team’s successful recipe until he retired from ODIs on June 28, 2011. By then, he had aggregated 13,480 runs in 445 ODI matches, cracking 28 centuries and 68 fifties. He had also captured 323 wickets in ODIs.

Jayasuriya’s contribution was not only confined to ODIs. Though he was branded a limited over cricketer during the early part of his career, he has proved his credentials in the established game beyond reasonable doubts. Jayasuriya’s career best 340 against India became the highest individual innings by a Sri Lanka batsman in Tests at the time.

He has a rich aggregate of 6,973 runs in 110 Tests inclusive of 14 centuries and 31 fifties at an attractive average of 40.07. His all-round qualities as a Test player include 98 wickets and 78 catches.

Jayasuriya said the young schoolboy cricketers should be focused on the game so that success would come their way if they play their heart out. Jayasuriya who had later become the Chairman of Selectors, feels that a good cricketer must devote a lot of time to become a successful player.

Jayasuriya said he never thought he would go this far and achieve such success for Sri Lanka cricket when he began his career. Apart from the loads of trophies that had been added to his rich collection after the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year trophy, Jayasuriya was adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the Series when Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996 under another proud recipient of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title, Arjuna Ranatunga.

Jayasuriya said that the Sunday Observer and its publisher Lake House has done yeoman service to the young cricketers and promotion of the game in conducting the mega awards show since 1979. “It is a fine gesture on the part of Lake House and the Sunday Observer to host the show uninterrupted so that the young boys across the country will have something to look forward to when they end their school career,” he observed.

He said the Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year would take outstanding young players closer to the Sri Lanka ‘cap’.

“When I won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year outstation title, I thought I should stand a greater chance of playing for Sri Lanka, if I continue to focus on the game with dedication and devotion. It inspired me to go places. Once you win this coveted title, all you need is commitment and dedication to find a place in the Sri Lanka team,” Jayasuriya recalled.

He said the country’s school cricket structure, once considered to be the best in the world, needs a complete overhaul to meet today’s challenges.

Jayasuriya said the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) and Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) should make a joint effort to uplift the standard of local school cricket while adding that the Under-19 tournament structure of the SLSCA should be reviewed to focus more on producing quality cricketers to the national pool.

“We only had 12 First X1 inter-school matches at that time. But some schools play over 20 inter-school matches in each season, including their third term matches. That’s too much. Scoring 1,000 runs in 20 to 24 matches is not a big deal, compared to the 10 to 12 matches most schools played in the past,” he said.

“The present schools tournament structure has a good and bad mixture. It has given an opportunity to some top school teams in the outstations to play against the leading Colombo schools. That’s a positive sign. But at the same time, I have some concern about the competitiveness and standard of cricket that is dished out in some matches,” he said.

“We see too much school cricket now. There are too many matches for a team to honour during a season. That does not sound good for the game. The SLSCA has a big responsibility and a bigger role to play to further improve our school cricket standards,” Jayasuriya said.

“The standard of our school cricket has dropped. But it has not improved from the level it was, compared to other teams in the world. It has stagnated, instead of going further up from the point we were. We must pay serious attention to that,” he added.

“About two to three decades back, our country’s school cricket structure was considered to be the best in the world. For example, India was far below us then. But now, India has a good under-19 structure which is capable of feeding the youth and Indian national team. A couple of other Test nations have made vast improvements in their youth teams. We must also change our strategies and restructure our tournament to meet the future challenges,” Jayasuriya said.

Paying a glowing tribute to the Sunday Observer and Lake House for conducting the country’s first-ever school cricket awards show for four decades, Jayasuriya said every schoolboy who wins the prestigious Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award stands a good chance of representing the country, if they continue the game with dedication.

The 51-year-old dashing opener, who introduced the art of pinch -hitting during the 1996 World Cup tournament and underlined his supremacy as one of the best batsmen in world cricket, has proved his class in both the Tests and ODIs.

Sri Lanka’s national mobile service provider, Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel continues to provide that ‘smart connection’ to the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest for the 14th successive year.

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 School Cricketers of the Year contest has gone from strength to strength.