School cricketers need the maestro’s guidance | Sunday Observer

School cricketers need the maestro’s guidance

3 April, 2022
Arjuna Ranatunga in action during his day
Arjuna Ranatunga in action during his day

There has been slow but steady progress in voting as the most popular contests of the 44th Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers contest began last week.

It was only last December that Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga graced the Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers contest, 42 years after he first kissed the glittering trophy.

Speaking as the chief guest, Ranatunga warned the country’s school cricketers of the evils of focusing on money while drawing a contrast to his own success without a cent in his pocket.

He singled out the Sri Lankan (LPL) and Indian (IPL) domestic leagues that could put budding players on the road to ruination while noting that a third force in the form of T20 cricket has taken over the sport.

“Today cricket has come under the influence of money and if your target is playing cricket for money and a place in the LPL, IPL or whatever PL, then it is better for you to go home and plough the land. Cricket is a sporting technique. I am not a fan of T20 cricket. It is just entertainment,” Ranatunga was quoted as saying to a packed crowd at the BMICH.

Ranatunga recalled how he was looked at as a street kid when he enrolled as a member of the elite Sinhalese Sports Club that he batted for until the day he retired.

“I am sorry to say this, but it causes heartburn to me to know that today’s school coaches don’t mould players or teams. Their main focus is on how to get their contracts extended year after year. We did not win the World Cup in a day. It took years of preparation and focus and there were the senior players before us who played their part to create the pathway for us to win,” he added.

“Let’s go back to the past to face the future and this can be changed at school level. You boys and girls make note of this. You are going to be the future to take this sport forward and bear in mind that only hard-work, playing cricket for national pride with a strong mind set and commitment can take you to where I ended up. Otherwise, I would not have been standing here and addressing you,” said Ranatunga.

He hit at the administration of Sri Lanka Cricket calling it a place that never changes while everything else does and told the teenage aspirants not to be discouraged if they don’t end up as anyone’s favourite because they went to the wrong school or played for the wrong club.

“There have been eight captains during the last six years and six team-selection committees, but the same old faces continue in administration,” Ranatunga pointed out.

The 42nd Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year 2022 is organized by Sri Lanka’s flagship English newspaper the Sunday Observer and sponsored by the country’s national mobile service provider SLT Mobitel.

Going down memory lane, Ranatunga is one of the few past heroes we could never forget. Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning captain who emerged Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1980 and 1982, has always made it a point to grace most of the past awards ceremonies whether he is the chief guest or not.

Ranatunga, even during his busy schedule when he was a Cabinet Minister, always made it a point to join our awards ceremonies whenever possible to encourage the next generation Sri Lanka cricketers. But the hoodoo was broken when he graced the Mega Show as the chief guest last December.

“It’s a big boost for schoolchildren when they are adjudged the Best Batsman, Best Bowler, Best All-rounder or the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year. That gives courage to them to aim at club level and thereafter international level,” said Ranatunga in a interview with the Sunday Observer.

“You may achieve greater milestones at international level thereafter but an award won at the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year event remains the most memorable in any cricketer’s life,” Ranatunga said.

“The most important moment in my life was to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer award twice - in 1980 and 1982. Those have given me tremendous inspiration and confidence when I stepped into the international arena,” Ranatunga added.

Ranatunga had the honour of representing Sri Lanka at the country’s inaugural Test against England in 1982 while still being a schoolboy cricketer playing for Ananda College.

He not only had the rare distinction of being the first ever Sri Lankan schoolboy to play in the inaugural Test but also made it a memorable occasion by becoming the first Sri Lankan to score a half century (54) in Test cricket.

He is of the view that the standard of local school cricket has dropped drastically, making a negative impact on the national pool. “It is sad to see the deteriorating standards of school cricket. Unfortunately, officials do not pay much attention to school cricket,” Ranatunga was quoted as saying.

He said the cricket authorities have forgotten the fact that the foundation of the national pool is school cricket and stressed the importance of school cricket when filling the vacancies in the national team.

“It is important that they keep in mind that school cricket is the cradle of the national team. The government must also focus on sports and particularly on cricket which has brought glory to our country internationally,” the former Ananda, SSC and Sri Lanka captain said.

He feels that lack of spectator interest in school cricket at present is due to poor standards dished out at school level. “The quality of cricket that is produced is poor and discourages spectators. Spectators will always be there if quality cricket is played, maintaining high standards. School cricket could regain the spectators it has lost if we could improve its standard,” he pointed out.

“The future Sri Lankan stars could be identified from junior cricket level during our playing era. When we played first XI cricket, more than half of the top 20 schoolboy cricketers were assured of their places in the national pool. But it is altogether a different story now due to poor standards,” Ranatunga lamented.

“Even if a player has performed well at school level now, he will find it extremely hard to break the ice. They often fade away, being unable to absorb the pressure at club or national level. That is why we don’t see schoolboy cricketers stepping straight into the national team and cement their place as experienced during our era,” Ranatunga said.

Sri Lanka’s flagship English newspaper - the Sunday Observer, understood the need to recognize the raw talent of the country’s schoolboy cricketers at a time when there had been no organized inter-school cricket tournaments, apart from the traditional first XI matches of the so-called leading schools.

But the introduction of the show and its expansion to have a separate segment for outstation schoolboy cricketers went a long way in inspiring the talented cricketers in the far flung areas.

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), the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year contest has gone from strength to strength.