‘School cricket, a mixture of good and bad’ | Sunday Observer

‘School cricket, a mixture of good and bad’

28 November, 2021

Former Sri Lanka captain and ex-Chairman of Selectors Sanath Jayasuriya was the chief guest at the 42nd Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year mega awards ceremony at the BMICH last April. Here Jayasuriya, along with his son Ranuk, was welcomed to the venue by ANCL Chairman W. Dayaratne PC, along with Director Operations Canishka G. Witharana, Director Finance Janaka Ranatunga, Director Legal and Administration Rakhitha Abeygunawardhana, Director Editorial Dharma Sri Kariyawasam (partly covered), Editor-in-Chief Dinesh Weerawansa and Acting General Manager Sumith Kothalawala.

The 43rd Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year mega show will be held at the BMICH in Colombo on December 14 commencing at 5.30 pm.

This will be the second Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year mega show to be held in eight months in the same calendar year.

Never in the 43-year history of the Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year have there been two shows within the same year.

But with the 42nd Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year, being postponed from last year to April this year due to Covid-19 pandemic, school cricket lovers will get a rare opportunity to experience another Mega Show this year.

Not even the schools controlling body for cricket – the SLSCA, could hold its annual awards ceremony for the last two years as sponsors were hard to find due to worldwide pandemic situations.

But SLT Mobitel kept its promise in the most difficult periods as a true corporate citizen, funding two mega events within the space of eight months spending millions of rupees.

Although the 43rd Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year has been finalised for December 14, the final green light and the number of participants – whether it will be increase or decrease from the current figure, will be decided next month, depending on the Covid-19 situation.

With the Sunday Observer and SLT Mobitel showing its continuous support and commitment towards schools cricket, we were able to hold the Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year without interruption. This was when all sporting activities came to a standstill, including similar events.

It is very important for school cricketers to win an award or two 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.

The Sunday Observer is able to host its awards show uninterrupted, thanks to the commitment and dedication of the Sunday Observer and SLT Mobitel to honour the school cricketers when it matters the most.

When that huge commitment is spoken, a big thank you is owed to Sri Lanka Telecom Group Chairman Rohan Fernando, who is also the Chairman of SLT Mobitel. Fernando is a great promoter of sport and an ex-president of the Amateur Rowing Association of Sri Lanka and former National Olympic Committee vice president.

Since winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Outstation in 1988, former Sri Lanka captain Sanath Jayasuriya last graced the Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year show twice as chief guest - in 2013 and 2021 (held in April).

He began his cricket career as a schoolboy at St. Servatius’ College, Matara, prior to blossoming as an aggressive all-rounder. Apart from winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Outstation, Jayasuriya won two more glittering awards – the best batsman and best all-rounder outstation in the same year in 1988.

Recalling those early parts of his cricket career, 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,” said Jayasuriya. He said winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year is the most cherished moment as a schoolboy cricketer.

He said the inspiration and encouragement he got after receiving the top award was immense. Recalling his proud moment more than three decades ago, he thanked the then principal of his school, GL Galappathy and coach Lionel Munasinghe who had been instrumental in nurturing his school career as a youngster.

Just months after winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year crown, Jayasuriya had a rich harvest playing for the Sri Lanka Under-23 team. That was instrumental in his ODI debut for Sri Lanka against Australia in Melbourne the following year on December 26, 1989.

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

Although he was branded a limited-overs cricketer during the early part of his career, he proved his credentials in the established game too. Jayasuriya’s career best 340 against India in 1997 became the highest individual innings by a Sri Lanka batsman in Tests at the time.

In 110 Tests, Jayasuriya has a rich aggregate of 6,973 runs 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, who had later become the Chairman of Selectors, said he feels that a good cricketer must devote a lot of time to become a successful player.

“The young schoolboy cricketers should be focused on the game so that success would come their way if they play their hearts out. I never thought I would go this far and achieve such success for Sri Lanka cricket when starting my career. All this was due to my hard work and dedication,” said Jayasuriya.

Besides the loads of trophies that had been added to his rich collection starting with 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 in 1980 and 1982, Arjuna Ranatunga.

Jayasuriya praised the Sunday Observer for the yeoman service to the young cricketers and promotion of the game in conducting the mega awards show since 1979.

“I must comment on the superb 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. Especially during a tough situation like this, it is not easy to hold the show uninterrupted. But the Sunday Observer and the SLT Mobitel have done it,” he observed.

Jayasuriya was of the view that the Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year would take outstanding young players a step closer to the Sri Lanka team.

“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. That was the feeling that I got when I won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year outstation title. 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 said.

“When we were playing school cricket, we only had 12 First X1 inter-school matches at that time. But some schools now play over 20 inter-school matches in each season until the Covid-19 set in last year. 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 school tournament structure is a mixture of good and bad things. It has given an opportunity to some top school teams in the outstations to play against the leading Colombo schools. Apart from that positive sign, there are some concerns about the competitiveness and standard of cricket that is dished out in some matches,” he said.

“There is 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 school cricket body has a big responsibility and a bigger role to play to further improve our school cricket standards,” Jayasuriya said.

“It has not improved from the level it was, compared to other standards in the world. It has stagnated instead of going further up from the point we were in. We must pay serious attention to that,” he added.

“Our country’s school cricket structure was considered to be the best in the world about two to three decades ago. 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.

The 52-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.