There are three of the most important inter-school big matches to be played from next month. The only under-19 inter-school cricket encounter which went uninterrupted during the 2020-21 Covid-19 pandemic – the Battle of the Blues Royal-Thomian, will be played from July 7 to 9 this year.
Now that the threat posed by the pandemic is gradually fading away here, the joint organizing committee expects to have a better crowd. Hence, the picturesque SSC ground which has hosted the Battle of the Blues encounter in recent times is likely to be the popular venue.
The 2020 Battle of the Blues encounter had a close call as the country was locked down due to the Covid-19 pandemic immediately after the third day two years ago.
Almost all traditional big matches have been completed this year, except for three of the most important ones – Royal vs S. Thomas’, St. Joseph’s vs St. Peter’s and Ananda vs Nalanda. The Battle of the Saints Joe-Pete big match is scheduled for next month but the dates have not been confirmed.
The Battle of the Maroons between Ananda and Nalanda, which was only confined to a limited overs game last year, will be played on June 25 and 26 at the SSC ground subject to final confirmation. The Ananda-Nalanda one-day encounter is scheduled for July 10, also at the SSC ground.
Among the key inter-school big matches completed this year are St. Benedict’s vs Wesley big match and one-dayer, Richmond vs Mahinda big match, Kingswood and Dharmaraja big match and one-dayer, Vidyartha vs St Sylvester’s big match, D.S Senanayake vs Mahanama one-dayer, Rahula vs Dharmapala one-dayer, St. Servatius vs St. Thomas’ Matara big match and one-dayer, Dharmasoka vs Sri Devananda big match and one-dayer, Jaffna Central vs St John’s, St. Mary’s Chilaw and St Joseph Vaz one-dayer, Devapathiraja vs P.de S Kularatne, St. Mary’s Kegalle vs Kegalu Vidyalaya, Mahinda Rajapaksa MV vs Defence Services College, St Mary’s Matugama vs Ananda Sastralaya and Kaburawela College vs Mahinda MMV at Agalawatte.
Meanwhile the 44th Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year Most Popular contest is on its second month. But once again there was a slowdown in voting due to curfew and pre-Vesak holidays. Nevertheless, the boys and girls competitions have shown a keen progress, especially in the first five places each.
Ranjan Madugalle, now the ICC Chief Match Referee, is the proud first ever winner of the prestigious Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award in 1978/ 1979 when he was captaining Royal College. Since then, it took eight years to pick another distinguished schoolboy cricketer from the Reid Avenue school.
The first recipient of the coveted title, Ranjan Madugalle not only reached the pinnacle of his career as a cricketer by going on to captain Sri Lanka but also reached the very top as an official by becoming the Chief ICC Match Referee.
After Madugalle (1979), Arjuna Ranatunga (Ananda – 1980 and 1982), Rohan Buultjens (St. Peter’s), Roshan Mahanama (1983 and 1984) and Asanka Gurusinha (1985), yet another outstanding cricketer brought fame to Royal College in 1986. He was none other than Roshan Jurangpathy, who made a big name in the schools arena at that time as an aggressive batsman and an effective off spinner.
Jurangpathy went on to represent Sri Lanka mainly as a spinner but the national selectors of that time did not give him a fair deal.
Jurangpathy was the fourth youngest player to represent Sri Lanka as a supremely gifted all rounder. But the selectors showed little or no interest to persevere with him and discarded him after playing him in just two Tests.
Although his efforts were below par in the two Tests, considering his age, if the selectors had shown faith and guided him with time he could have developed into an all rounder of international class.
When representing the Sri Lanka Under-23 side against Pakistan, young Jurangpathy had some remarkable performances. At 17 years and 342 days he became the youngest Sri Lankan player to score a first-class hundred. Unfortunately, he found the transition from schoolboy to Test cricket a difficult one with hardly any opportunity and time given to blossom. Moreover, he was under-bowled in his Test debut.
Discarded by the selectors and ignored unreasonably, Jurangpathy thereafter turned up playing grade cricket in Western Australia.
Jura, as he was affectionately known, was a household name in school cricket during that era and the country lost a cricketer of promise as he later domiciled in Australia.
The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has produced a group of elite cricketers who have engraved their names in Sri Lanka cricket history in golden letters.
Former Ananda captain Ranatunga, who won the title after Madugalle in 1980, is another great Sri Lanka cricketer who marshalled the national team to conquer the Mount Everest of world cricket. Ranatunga, who became the first Schoolboy Cricketer to win the Mega Award twice in 1982, captained Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning team in 1996.
The galaxy of stars who have excelled in the Lankan cricket firmament include the world’s highest Test wicket taker Muttiah Muralidaran the Most Valuable Player award winner in the 1996 World Cup tournament Sanath Jayasuriya (outstation title), former Sri Lanka captain and ex-national coach Marvan Atapattu (1990), former Sri Lanka captain and ex-ICC Match Referee Roshan Mahanama, former Sri Lanka player cum 1996 World Cup star turned manager of the present Sri Lanka team Asanka Gurusinha, former Sri Lanka player and ICC Elite Panel Umpire Kumara Dharmasena and ex-Sri Lanka Test batsman turned batting coach of the Bangladesh team Thilan Samaraweera (1994 and 1995).
Three members of the Sri Lanka pool have won the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year titles during their school careers in recent times.
They are former Sri Lanka T20 captain Dinesh Chandimal (Ananda – 2009), Niroshan Dickwella (Trinity – 2012) and Kusal Mendis (Prince of Wales – 2013).
Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Mendis are two youngsters who have stepped into the national team after winning the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award in successive years (2012 and 2013 respectively) and cemented their places in next to no time.
Apart from those popular figures, there are several other past award winners who have proved their class with the Sri Lanka team and at various other levels.
Among them are Rohan Buultjens (1981), Rohan Weerakkody (St. Joseph’s – 1987), Sanjeeva Ranatunga (Ananda – 1988), Sajith Fernando (St. Anthony’s, Katugastota – 1992), Naveed Nawaz (D.S. Senanayake – 1993), Nimesh Perera (St Sebastian’s, Moratuwa – 1996), Chinthaka Jayasinghe (Dharmapala -1997), Pradeep Hewage (St. Benedict’s – 1998), Muthumudalige Pushpakumara (Ananda – 1999), Kaushalya Weeraratne (Trinity – 2000), Kaushal Lokuarachchi (St. Peter’s – 2001), Sahan Wijeratne (Prince Of Wales – 2002), Farveez Maharoof (Wesley – 2003), Lahiru Peiris (St. Peter’s – 2004 and 2005), Gihan Rupasinghe (Nalanda – 2006), Malith Gunatilleka (Ananda – 2007), Umesh Karunaratne (Thurstan – 2008), Bhanuka Rajapakse (Royal – 2010 and 2011), Sadeera Samarawickrema (St. Joseph’s – 2014), Charith Asanlanka (Richmond – 2015 and 2016), Nipun Ransika (P de S Kularatne MV, Ambalangoda 2017), Hasitha Boyagoda (Trinity 2018), Lakshitha Rasanjana (Nalanda 2019) and Navod Paranavithana (Mahinda, Galle 2020 and 2021).
Asalanka who has won the big award in successive years on two occasions represented Sri Lanka ‘A’ against England Lions at Pallekele earlier this year. Last year, Navod Paranavithana of Mahinda College, Galle completed a similar feat by winning the main titles for 2020 and 2021.
Sanjeewa Ranatunga too went on to represent Sri Lanka in Test cricket. In nine matches, he had aggregated 531 runs with two centuries. He also played 13 ODIs for Sri Lanka and scored two half centuries.
Among the other former Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award winners who had represented Sri Lanka at the highest level are Farveez Maharoof (22 Tests and 109 ODIs), Muthumudalige Pushpakumara (three ODIs), Naweed Nawaz (one Test, three ODIs), Kausal Lokuarachchi (four Tests and 21 ODIs) and Kaushalya Weeraratne (15 ODIs and five T20I).