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When Ranjan Madugalle set the ball rolling

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It started with the country opening its doors from the beginning of this month after a 42-day lookdown. The voting for the 2021 Observer-SLT Mobitel Most Popular School Cricketers of the Year has been an interesting one from the start.

It was heartening to see there is tremendous response from the first week itself. The positions of the schoolboys and schoolgirls will be published shortly on a regular basis.

Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) and the Sri Lanka Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association have joined hands with the Sunday Observer and SLT Mobitel to hold the Mega Show.

When we staged the first ever show some 43 years ago, there wasn’t a single awards show to reward the school cricketers for their milestone achievements at the end of each season, not even by the SLSCA.

When the success story of the mega event is spoken about, one cannot forget the lavish contribution made by SLT Mobitel since 2008, especially its role to keep the Mega Show uninterrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When almost all other sponsors abandoned their events during the past two years, SLT Mobitel stood firmly with the Sunday Observer to keep the Mega Show going.

As the proud sponsor of the Mega Show for the past 15 years, SLT Mobitel has greatly helped us to improve the standards and quality of the game. It has also helped increase the prize money by a significant amount.

Not only for the players but SLT Mobitel has taken a giant leap forward by rewarding the coaches and masters-in-charge who sacrificed their entire careers to mould and sharpen the skills of the next generation cricketers.

The standard of the Mega Show entered a new era in 2008 with lavish cash incentives and high quality trophies to the outstanding school cricketers. Even their coaches and masters-in-change, who have done a silent job behind the scenes, too have been richly rewarded.

It is nice to see a true sportsman and a great promoter of the game Rohan Fernando in the saddle of Sri Lanka Telecom and SLT Mobitel as the Chairman. Former Thomian Fernando, as ex-President of the Sri Lanka Rowing Association and ex-Vice President of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka, was a skilful rower during his days.

It was the then Royal College cricket captain Ranjan Madugalle who opened the innings for a galaxy of stars by becoming the first ever Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1978/79.

Most importantly, it was the centenary Royal-Thomian Big Match year and in the very same year, Madugalle got a rare opportunity of representing Sri Lanka at the 1979 World Cup in England.

Chief Match Referee

Madugalle’s career was decorated with the captaincy of Royal, NCC and the Sri Lanka team with distinction before finally holding his current position as the Chief Match Referee of the ICC for two decades.

It was a singular honour for Sri Lanka as a country to have one of its greatest cricketers in that elite position.

Madugalle lavishly praised the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL – Lake House) and the country’s flagship English newspaper Sunday Observer for promoting school cricket and introducing the concept of rewarding school cricketers.

Madugalle represented Sri Lanka in 21 Tests, aggregating 1,029 runs with a top score of 103 against India. He has played in 63 ODIs to aggregate 950 runs.

He made a debut half-century in Test cricket scoring 65 runs against England in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test, minutes after Arjuna Ranatunga had become the country’s first ever half-centurion in Tests.

Madugalle last came to the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer presentation podium when it celebrated the 40th Anniversary in 2018. Joining us as the Chief Guest, he went down memory lane.

“I stand here with a great sense of nostalgia and I can still remember the day I received the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Award in the inaugural show hosted by the Sunday Observer in 1979,” Madugalle said in his special address as the Chief Guest.

He said that cricket is a noble game and it moulds character and makes it a way of life to the individual concerned.

“The great game of cricket is governed by laws. Although the laws have changed from time to time to suit modern demands, one has to play the game within the laws because no one is greater than the game and its laws of cricket,” he said.

“The players must respect their opponents while playing the game within the laws of the game. All are human beings and we must learn to take victory and defeat in the same spirit,” he said.

“In cricket what I have learnt all these years is to treat the opposite side players not as opponents but as friends. There are many things that one has got to learn from the game.”

“Team strategy and leadership will ultimately bring success and rejoicing and a disciplined mind and body,” Madugalle said.

Several other legendary Sri Lanka cricketers including the world’s highest Test wicket taker Muttiah Muralitharan, star all-rounder Sanath Jayasuriya and World Cup winning Captain Arjuna Ranatunga have entered the big league after their graduation at the Mega Show.

Ranatunga, who had won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year twice in 1980 and 1982, said it is the dream of any schoolboy cricketer to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Award.

Budding cricketers

“It’s great to conduct the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Contest since 1979 to encourage the budding schoolboy cricketers.”

“I am happy at the improvement of outstation cricket as the game has spread far and wide in the country,” he said in a recent interview.

“Many Sri Lankan cricketing giants of the past and the present are those who have either won the prestigious and coveted Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Award or won other awards at the contest,” Ranatunga said.

Former Sri Lanka captain and ex-ICC Match Referee Roshan Mahanama, who had won the main title in successive years in 1983 and 1984, said the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has always motivated schoolboy cricketers.

“These award shows have motivated us as emerging players. It is always a great motivation when you know your achievements are recognised at the end of the season.”

“It was a great honour for a schoolboy cricketer to win. I was privileged to achieve one of my dreams during a school career,” he said.

Ex-Nalanda College Captain turned Sri Lanka cricketer Asanka Gurusinha, the winner of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Title in 1985, said witnessing his school senior Roshan Mahanama, who won this award twice in 1983 and 1984, was a great inspiration to him.

“I knew how prestigious the award is and the importance of winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award.”

“It is not an award that everybody could win. One has to perform exceptionally well and be consistent right throughout a season to win that – work really hard to reach the pinnacle of a school career,” he said.

“The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year show has not only produced top cricketers but an ICC Elite Panel Umpire such as Kumara Dharmasena,” Gurusinha said in his previous interview.

Former Sri Lanka captain and ex-Chairman of Selectors Sanath Jayasuriya, who was an architect of Sri Lanka’s World Cup triumph in 1996, had won the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year – Outstation title in 1988.

Jayasuriya said that it is hard to express that great feeling he got after winning the title and he got the same feeling when he graced the Mega Show as the Chief Guest last April.

“Not only me but also my parents, brother, relatives, coaches and school masters, they all enjoyed that cherished moment in 1988.

“All past winners before me, be it the All-island or Outstation, had made their mark in Sri Lanka cricket. I felt that I was getting closer to earning a place in the national squad,” Jayasuriya said.

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