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From school stage to world podium

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From school stage to world podium

The most popular voting segment of the 43rd Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year has been going on for three weeks with a tremendous early response.

The 2020-21 season’s official tournament matches are confined to only one-day matches as they were badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic while only a few two-day matches were played.

The Division one and two tournament matches conducted by the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA), all one-day limited over matches, have been concluded before the country was closed for the third wave of the pandemic on August 20. The Division three matches which could not be completed before the last lockdown are expected to be played next month after the schools reopen from next week.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic badly affecting all activities in the world, all school sports activities here too came to a complete standstill from the second week of March, 2020. Nevertheless, it could not affect the high traditions of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer conditioned from 1979. Thanks to the untiring efforts of SLT Mobitel, the Sunday Observer was able to hold the awards show uninterrupted.

Sri Lanka’s World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga was the first ever to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the year title twice. After becoming the second to win the prestigious title after Ranjan Madugalle in 1980, Ranatunga once again became the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer in 1982.From school stage to world podium

Ranatunga, who narrowly missed a hat trick of wins after finishing runner up in 1981, feels that winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year remains the most memorable lifetime experience to any schoolboy cricketer.

He was a reliable middle order batsman who had aggregated 5,105 runs including four centuries and 38 fifties and captured 16 wickets in 93 Tests.

From school stage to world podium
The most glorious moment in Sri Lanka career – the 1996 World Cup with Arjuna Ranatunga.

Ranatunga, in a recent interview said winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year or any other major Award at the event is a life-time experience for any cricketer.

“It’s a tremendous achievement for a schoolboy. Being adjudged as the Best Batsman, Best Bowler, Best Allrounder or the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year is a big boost for your career. When you achieve that sort of glory at that level, you could easily aim at club level and international level with confidence,” said Ranatunga in his last interview on the Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year.

“You may go places and win many other Awards at higher levels, but an Award won at the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ event remains the most memorable in any cricketer’s life,” Ranatunga added as he emphasized the impact the Mega Event has on schoolboys.

“The most cherished moment was winning that glory for the second time in1982,” he said. He pointed out that the titles had given him “tremendous inspiration and confidence,” when he stepped into the international arena.

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

Apart from playing for Sri Lanka while still being a schoolboy, Ranatunga had the honour of becoming the first ever Sri Lankan to score a half century (54) in Test cricket. Ranatunga has come a long way since his early days as a junior schoolboy cricketer to go places to end his sporting career as a legend in world cricket. Playing in 269 ODI matches for Sri Lanka, Ranatunga has aggregated 7,456 runs with four centuries and 49 fifties.

Although his success as a cricketer, including his dynamic leadership to pilot the Sri Lanka team to win the 1996 World Cup are immense, Ranatunga still admires the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer’ trophies he had won in 1980 and 1982 as a school cricket star.

Besides Ranatunga and ICC Chief Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle, there had been several other past ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ title winners in that champion outfit which opened a new chapter in Sri Lanka sport by conquering Mount Everest in world cricket.

Among them are Roshan Mahanama (1983 and 1984), Asanka Gurusinha (1985), Muttiah Muralidaran (1991), Kumara Dharmasena (1989) and Marvan Atapattu (1990). Former Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year (Outstation) 1988, Sanath Jayasuriya too had been a member of that champion outfit, ending as the player of the tournament for his memorable success with the bat and ball.

Former Sri Lanka captain Jayasuriya was adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the 1996 World Cup tournament and he too had been a recipient of the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ outstation title in 1988.

Those credentials are ample testimony to prove that the ‘Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ contest has always produced future champions to enter the international arena.

He cautioned on the poor standard of school cricket, urging the country’s cricket authorities to take meaningful steps to face the challenge and regrets the standard of local school cricket has dropped drastically, having a negative impact on the national pool.

“I feel sad when I see the deteriorating standards of school cricket. Officials must pay greater attention to school cricket,” Ranatunga said.

Ranatunga said the cricket authorities have forgotten the fact that the foundation of the national pool is school cricket. He stressed the importance of school cricket when filling the vacancies in the national team. “They must 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,” he said.

He feels that lack of spectator interest in school cricket at present is due to poor standards dished out at school level. “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 added.

Recalling his era at Ananda, there had always been a decent spectator gathering at almost every match. “During our days, future Sri Lanka cricketers could be identified from junior cricket level. When we played First XI cricket, more than half of the top 20 schoolboy cricketers were assured of their places in the national pool,” he recalled.

“Even if a player has performed well at school level now, he will find it hard and is 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 lamented.

The Sunday Observer’s great partnership with SLT Mobitel has gone from strength to strength due to the untiring efforts of Sri Lanka Telecom Group Chairman Rohan Fernando.

The entry of SLT Mobitel 15 years ago to provide financial support to the oldest cricket awards show in Sri Lanka has lifted the standard of the contest after its humble beginnings way back in 1978/79. Since then, it has come a long way to set new standards and inspire other media organizations to have similar contests.

Unfortunately, none of those competitive cricket awards shows, including official ones by the school cricket authorities, were held during the past two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic as their sponsors deserted due lack of usual mileage.

But the Sunday Observer was able to become the proud host of the only such awards ceremony as its sponsor SLT Mobitel firmly backed up displaying true corporate social responsibility.

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 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.

Voting coupons for the Observer-Mobitel Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year are being published in the Lake House national newspapers – Sunday Observer, Daily News, Dinamina and Thinakaran.

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