Voting for the 44th Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year Most Popular contest has turned out to be a keen tussle as the contest entered its third month.
Since the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year began in 1978/ 79, the Mega Show has turned out to be the most looked forward to event by school cricketers.
Besides thousands of school cricketers, old boys of the respective schools and sports enthusiasts too who have made it a fashion.
Former Sri Lanka player Muthumudalige Pushpakumara had been one of the most prominent schoolboy cricketers to have emerged through the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer contest.
Having graduated from the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer contest with the top award in 1999, Pushpakumara went on to play for the Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club and later the Ananda College all-rounder went on to play for Sri Lanka.
What is significant in Pushpakumara’s performance is that he not only won the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer award but also won two other division one titles in 1999 – best bowler and best all-rounder. He pushed Ranil Dhammika of Lumbini to second place to become the best bowler while he also became the best all-rounder, ahead of his Ananda teammate Thilina Kandambi who finished the runner-up.
Pushpakumara, born on September 26, 1981 in Colombo, became the sixth Anandian to win the coveted Observer Schoolboy Cricketer award in 1999.
Together with Pushpakumara, others short-listed for the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer award in 1999 were Tilina Kandambi (Ananda), Jerome Fernando (St. Peter’s), Ranil Dhammika (Lumbini MV), Ian Daniels (St. Joseph’s College), Pubudu Seneviratne (Dharmaraja College) and Chamara Silva (Royal College Panadura). But in the end, Pushpakumara was picked for the big award while Ian Daniels of St. Joseph’s College ended the runner up.
Pushpakumara also won the Player of the Tournament award in the 2007-2008 inter-club Premier League championship. In his debut season with Tamil Union in big time cricket, Pushpakumara played a superb role helping the club to secure third spot behind SSC and Moors SC with a fine all-round contribution of 590 runs at 42.14, including a century and four fifties to add to 34 wickets.
“Pushpakumara has inexplicably not showcased his natural and promising talent to blossom. We have given him the responsibility and he has responded very well. As a left-hand bat and a genuine off spinner he has the potential to make the grade,” coach Brendon Kuruppu, the former Sri Lanka wicketkeeper-batsman was once quoted as saying.
When Pushpakumara stormed into the Sri Lanka Under-19 team, he was considered a future prospect for the national side. But in the following years Pushpakumara hardly made the grade with performances so sporadic the selectors barely took any notice of him.
Joining Tamil Union from Colts changed Pushpakumara’s outlook into the all-rounder he originally promised to be. Promising Pushpakumara followed World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga (twice in 1980-1982), Sanjeeva Ranatunga (1988) former Sri Lanka captain Marvan Atapattu (1990) and Thilan Samaraweera (twice) 1994-1995) to have won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer title before him from Ananda College.
Muthumudalige Pushpakumara showed tremendous potential as a top all-rounder – a left-handed bat and right-arm off-spinner. He was able to fit in at any position in batting and he was a vital and match winning bowler too.
The resounding success he enjoyed in inter-school cricket prompted the Umpires Associations who officiated in the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Contest, to pick him as Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1999.
Pushpakumara not only won the main Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the year but also achieved that in record style – carrying away a bagful of awards for the wonderful performances with both bat and ball in the 1998/99 season.
He made a clean sweep to be picked as the best bowler, best all-rounder and best fielder in the All-Island contest. He aggregated 650 runs in 1999 with an unbeaten 122 against St. Sebastian’s College as his best. He captured 63 wickets with his off-spin bowling and held 26 catches.
He had plenty of success in the inter-school cricket season in 2000 too. Muthumudalige Pushpakumara was also selected as the Most Outstanding Sportsman of the Year at the Sri Lanka Schools Colours Awards Ceremony held in December 2000.
Pushpakumara pocketed yet another top award on offer the Prince of Wales Trophy on conclusion of the inter-school under-19 tournament organised and conducted by the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association.
He was an automatic choice for this award, following his fine showing on the field throughout the year 2000.
The all-rounder played a significant role during the Youth World Cup tournament in Colombo where Sri Lanka emerged the runners-up to India. The Prince of Wales’ award was handed over to him by the then British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Linda Duffield.
Immediately after his crowning glory, he got a break in January 2000 to be a member of the national tour party. At 18 years, Pushpakumara was selected for the Sri Lanka Test tour of Pakistan.
He was the ‘baby’ of the side, led by Sanath Jayasuriya and included Mahela Jayawardena, Marvan Atapattu, Romesh Kaluwitharana, Russel Arnold, Tillekeratne Dilshan, Chamara Silva, Pramodaya Wickremasinghe, Chaminda Vaas, Nuwan Zoysa, Ravindra Pushpakumara and Indika Gallage.
However, Pushpakumara was unfortunate not to find a place in the final Playing X1. One of the brightest prospects to emerge in that era he made his mark and was included in the national squad as a schoolboy cricketer – the third schoolboy to be named in the national squad after former captain Arjuna Ranatunga and former Royalist Roshan Jurangpathy, who had won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer title in 1986.
Pushpakumara impressed with the bat and ball in two warm-up matches against England in March 2001, scoring a half century and being among the wickets.
He has played for major teams like Basnahira North, BCCSL Academy XI, Colombo District CA, Colts CC, John Keells Group, Sri Lanka ‘A’, Sri Lanka Board President’s XI, Sri Lanka Board under-23, Sri Lanka Board XI, SL Cricket President’s XI, Sri Lanka Emerging Team, Sri Lanka under-19s, Tamil Union, Uva Province and Western Province.
Pushpakumara toured Pakistan and South Africa without being given a chance in the Test side, being a fine all-rounder, who bowled steady off-spin.
The former Ananda captain Pushpakumara’s best performance in his cricketing career was when he stroked a sparkling century (134) which included 14 boundaries and a six in a ‘Test’ against England when the under-19 Sri Lanka team toured England.
The 2021/22 school cricket season is now reaching its last leg within the next few weeks.
With the cream of big matches yet to come, there is tremendous interest in school cricket and also on the Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year most popular contest.
It is going to be the last couple of months voting in the Observer- SLT Mobitel Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer voting. Hence, it’s time to rush in your final set of votes for your favourite cricketers from your Alma Mater.