Sanjeewa Ranatunga: Coaches should build teams, not win at any cost | Sunday Observer

Sanjeewa Ranatunga: Coaches should build teams, not win at any cost

5 December, 2021
Sanjeewa Ranatunga - the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 1988, receives his cherished award from chief guest, former Sri Lanka captain Michael Tissera
Sanjeewa Ranatunga - the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 1988, receives his cherished award from chief guest, former Sri Lanka captain Michael Tissera

Sri Lanka’s World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga will grace the 43rd Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year grand awards ceremony to be held at the BMICH, Colombo on December 14, commencing at 5.15 pm.

More than any of the past top award winners, Ranatunga has maintained a strong affiliation with the oldest and only uninterrupted schools awards ceremony ever since he first won the highest award way back in 1980 – some 41 years ago.

He became the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer for the second time in his final year for Ananda College in 1982. Since then, Ranatunga has made it a habit to be at the Mega Show whenever possible, irrespective of who the chief guest is.

Apart from Ranatunga, his whole family too – wife Samadara, son Dhyan and daughter Thiyangie have witnessed most of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer award shows.

That is one unique and humble quality shown by Ranatunga, always giving that vital encouragement to the next generation cricketers. It is something which cannot be seen in most of the legendary cricketers of his caliber.

On the other hand, his younger brother Sanjeewa Ranatunga became the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1988. Thus, the Ranatunga brothers - Arjuna and Sanjeewa, became the only brothers to take pride of place in the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year series.

Having taken a closer look at the world renowned elder brother’s career earlier in this series, we today take stock of the second of the Ranatunga brothers to win the Award.

Former Sri Lanka batsman and present Ananda consultant coach Sanjeeva Ranatunga emerged Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1988, the very same year that Sanath Jayasuriya won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Outstation crown.

In a recent interview with the Sunday Observer, the former Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, Sanjeeva Ranatunga, said that everyone must keep in mind that it’s not winning or losing that matters but how one plays the game.

He said schoolboy cricketers must play only for the love of the game and that school coaches should refrain from trying to win at any cost.

“Undoubtedly, these ugly and unruly practices ultimately ruin the game. During our playing era, these practices were never even heard of,” said Ranatunga who is functioning as the head coach at his alma mater.

“It is with profound gratitude that I remember coaches of the caliber of Lionel Mendis. They taught us not only the game but also values in life. They were interested in building teams with values, not to win at any cost,” he said.

Sanjeeva said he was keen on becoming Observer Schoolboy Cricketer after seeing his elder brother Arjuna winning glory for the second time in 1982.

“I was there to witness my elder brother winning this unique title once again, emerging from a cricket ball in 1982. That inspired me, that l too should do the same one day. I narrowly missed it in 1987, by finishing Runner-up Observer Schoolboy Cricketer but achieved the cherished dream in the following year,” he recalled.

Sanjeewa became the second of the six Anandians to win the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award in 1988. He played in only eight matches that season, excluding the big match out of 12 matches played by Ananda in the 1987/88 season. That was because he was playing for the Sri Lanka Youth team in 1988 but still aggregated over 900 runs in that season.

The star left handed batsman had the honour of leading the Sri Lanka ‘A’ team before representing the country in Tests and One-day Internationals.

He made his Test debut for Sri Lanka on August 26, 1994 in Kandy against Pakistan. His short nine-Test career had only an aggregate of 531 runs but included two blistering centuries and an equal number of fifties.

Ranatunga’s ODI debut for Sri Lanka came days ahead of his Tests, on August 3, 1994 also against Pakistan. His career-best innings in Tests was 118 while his career best in ODIs was 70.

“I had to work really hard to earn my place in the Sri Lanka team against Zimbabwe. I scored a century in the three-day practice match and pressed hard for a place. The selectors were compelled to give me a place in the Test team,” he said.

“The two Test centuries I scored in Zimbabwe were simply great. The penultimate day was disappointing on the ground as well as off as the then SLC President, Minister Gamini Dissanayake had passed away. We were keen on saving the match for him,” he added going down memory lane.

“All of us wanted to save the match on the final day. Moreover, my brother (Arjuna) told me don’t ever return to the dressing room without completing a century. That was a big challenge but I rose to the occasion - just did what the team expected from me,” he said.

Nevertheless, he treats the twin fifties he scored against Australia in the Adelaide Test as his best. “It was under more challenging circumstances against a far superior Australian bowling attack. There too, I believed in myself and faced the superlative Australian bowling attack bravely,” he said.

The 52-year-old former left-handed top order batsman had a rich harvest of runs in local club cricket. Unlike his famous elder brother Arjuna, Sanjeeva hardly hit mighty sixes at international level.

He scored heavily at the inter-school level for Ananda to be adjudged Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1988, six years after his elder brother won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer for the second time in 1982.

He then represented Sri Lanka ‘A’ on several occasions, after which he was picked for the home series against Pakistan in 1994.

Sanjeewa began well in the one-day series, scoring 70 in his second match, but his form dropped and he played the last of his 13 ODIs in January 1996.

But he showed more promise in Test cricket, with back to back centuries in Zimbabwe in his second and third matches. His average after seven Tests was 59.71 and was given the chance to tour New Zealand, Pakistan and Australia.

But his international cricket proved a difficult hurdle and he was dropped from the side. A somewhat controversial recall came in June 1997 for Sri Lanka’s tour of the West Indies, but one poor performance cut short his international career.

The Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year has now completed 43 successful years. When it completed 40 years three years ago, it had the most appropriate chief guest – the winner of the first ever title in 1979 – the then Royal College captain and present ICC Chief Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle.

Former Trinity College skipper Hasitha Boyagoda was lucky to receive his Observer SLT Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 2018 title from Madugalle. It was a special memory for Madugalle because he had his primary education at Trinity before joining Royal.

A special award for the Best Behaved team on and off the field, was introduced to the series on a proposal made by Madugalle in 2013. Incidentally, former Sri Lanka captain Madugalle reached a golden milestone in his career by completing 200 Test matches as ICC Match Referee in Sri Lanka’s 2-0 home series win against the West Indies concluded last Friday.