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Too much of cricket is killing the school game – Gurusinha

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When Asanka Gurusinha won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer award in 1985.

Sri Lanka continued its dismal performance at the T20 World Cup tournament but it was heartening to see three past Observer SLT-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketers of the Year main award winners showing their might.

Although Sri Lanka managed to win their opening match against Bangladesh in the ongoing T20 World Cup tournament in the UAE, they lost decisive back to back matches against South Africa and England.

Nevertheless, it was some relief to find the past Observer SLT-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketers of the Year winners making their presence felt – Dinesh Chandimal, who emerged the Observer SLT Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 2009 and two-time winners of the big award – Bhanuka Rajapakse (2010 and 2011) and Charith Asalanka (2015 and 2016).

Asalanka has been in fine form by scoring 80 not out off 49 balls against Bangladesh and 35 off 27 balls against Australia. Meanwhile, Rajapakse joined the Lankan run feast by scoring 53 in 31 balls against Bangladesh and 33 not out off 26 balls against Australia. Asalanka and Rajapakse also shared a match-winning 86-run partnership for the fifth wicket in the match against Bangladesh.

In the T20 World Cup qualifiers, Rajapakse made an unbeaten 42 off just 27 balls including two sixes and four fours against Namibia.

The Observer Schoolboy Cricketers playing for the Sri Lanka team have been in practice since the very first winner of the Mega Show. Royal College cricket captain Ranjan Madugalle was picked to represent Sri Lanka in the 1979 World Cup tournament in England as a schoolboy, only a few months after winning the top honours in the Mega Show.

Since then, we have experienced many past Observer Schoolboy Cricketers in almost every Sri Lanka cricket team.

While the big league matches are going on in a spectacular manner in the UAE, local inter-school matches continue with the Royal-Thomian – the king of the big matches in local school cricket. Despite being affected by rain, it was nice to see the Battle of the Blues continue their traditions for the 142nd time as the oldest uninterrupted inter-school match in the world.

The big matches will always give a new rhythm as the schoolboys and their old boys get proactive with excitement and renew loyalty with true feelings for their schools.

These big match venues eventually turn out as the annual meeting places for old boys of the respective schools to meet, greet and swap yarns, especially those who have domiciled abroad flying down for the big occasion. Unfortunately, the Royal-Thomian this year did not offer that comfort as it was played under a bubble sans the usual spectators.

Gurusinha was the chief guest at the Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers awards show in 2017.

But up until last year, most of the old boys living overseas planned to make their annual cricketing pilgrimage to Sri Lanka in March to meet their school buddies and go down memory lane. In the good old days, there were individuals who had created big names in the game right from their junior school cricket level.

Going down memory lane, we find a unique cricketer winning a national cap at the age of 19 years. It is something unique, admirable and memorable as only a few cricketers have had the distinction of achieving that rare feat.

One of those rare cricketers to achieve this unique honour is former Nalanda captain Asanka Gurusinha, only the second from the Campbell Place school to be adjudged Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year after Roshan Mahanama.

Mahanama became the first Nalandian to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer award in successive years in 1983 and 1984 and after his dominance, yet another Nalandian, Gurusinha, won the coveted title in 1985.

Gurusinha, the former Sri Lanka cricketer and ex-cricket manager of the Sri Lanka national team, who turned 55 last month, said that the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title he won in 1985 was the turning point in his cricket career.

Gurusinha, in a recent interview, said the year 1985 was a memorable year for him after winning the glorious title. “Roshan Mahanama won this award twice in 1983 and 1984. Having watched those feats, I understood how prestigious it is to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award,” he said.

“It was a rare honour and a prestigious award that not every schoolboy cricketer had the fortune to win. One has to be outstanding and be consistent right throughout a season to win that and work really hard to reach the pinnacle of school cricket,” he added.

Gurusinha was eager to win that title after watching the proud moment when Mahanama won the award, an honour for his alma mater Nalanda. “I knew hard work and dedication with exceptional performance could take me towards that goal. I worked very hard and successfully achieved my dream as a schoolboy the following year,” recalled Gurusinha.

An outstanding 1984/85 season for Nalanda, with a rich harvest of over 1,000 runs, won the young Gurusinha the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer title in 1985.

“The elusive title gave me tremendous confidence. I started believing in myself more. In less than five months after that I made my Test debut for Sri Lanka and from that point there was no stopping,” he said.

Gurusinha was called up at 19 years as a wicket-keeper, a role he performed in a further two ODIs and one Test. Gura gradually established himself as a one-drop batsman in the Sri Lanka team with many responsible innings that was taken notice of by the selectors.

Gurusinha paid a tribute to the Sunday Observer for being the proud host. “I am glad that the Sunday Observer is hosting the awards show uninterrupted, thus encouraging the budding schoolboy cricketers. In our era of school cricket, this was the only one school cricket awards show by the Observer and we were eagerly looking forward to it,” he said.

He made his ODI debut on November 3, 1985 in Sri Lanka’s fourth ODI against Pakistan in Hyderabad and went on to cement his place as a technically sound left-handed top order bat. He eventually turned out to be one of the most dependable one-drop batsmen ever produced by Sri Lanka. Playing in 147 ODIs for Sri Lanka, he aggregated 3,902 runs inclusive of two centuries and 22 fifties to average 28.27.

Merely four days after making his ODI debut, Gurusinha won his Test cap on November 7, 1985 to play for Sri Lanka in the third Test against Pakistan in Karachi.

As a reliable left-hand batsman, he represented Sri Lanka in 41 Tests and aggregated 2,453 runs with seven centuries and eight half tons, including a fluent 88 in his farewell Test innings. He has a Test average of 38.92 and a career-best score of 143.

Gurusinha is concerned about the dying spectator interest in school cricket, which had been at its best during his era. “One reason for that is that there is too much cricket being played now. Live television coverage also discourages fans from going to the ground. I could remember the Royal-Nalanda match in 1983. We were after five wins and Royal after seven wins. The Reid Avenue ground was packed. We do not get that type of spectators now,” he said. According to Gurusinha, there is a vast gap between the present day school cricket standard and that of the Sri Lanka ‘A’ or national team. “There is a huge gap now and you need to come out with an exceptional performance to make it to the national team. Fitness and sharp fielding play an important role and these aspects should be looked into from school level,” he said.

But Gurusinha predicted an improved future. “We must set one goal and work towards achieving that at all levels. High performance culture should work from school level with intense training and high fitness levels,” he said.

Gurusinha rated fitness to be a key area that develops an accomplished cricketer. “Physical fitness is extremely important, not only to play school cricket but even excel in studies with a sound mind. They must work hard with dedication. Just because one takes 50 wickets or scores 1,000 runs, he should not expect a direct place in the national team like those days. Instead, he should keep on performing and maintaining consistency,” he said.

“The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year show has not only produced top cricketers but also an international level umpire such as Kumara Dharmasena who still serves in the ICC elite panel. We must not forget the tireless roles played by our early coaches and masters-in-charge, who rendered yeoman service,” Gurusinha concluded.

When Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup victory is spoken about, one cannot forget Gurusinha who turned out to be a key ingredient. He became an architect of Sri Lanka’s triumph, aggregating 307 runs – the sixth highest among all teams, with three half centuries in six matches to average 51.16.

It is rare even for big names excelling in their farewell match of an international career but Gurusinha made a patient 88 off 239 balls against Zimbabwe at the SSC ground in September 1996 in his last Test.

Thursday, November 4, 2021 – 01:00











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