While others fall we stand for all | Sunday Observer

While others fall we stand for all

20 September, 2020
Former Sri Lanka paceman and Chairman of national selectors Ashantha de Mel was the head of the selection committee which picked the winners of the Observer-Mobitel  contest along with the SLSCA and Umpire Association
Former Sri Lanka paceman and Chairman of national selectors Ashantha de Mel was the head of the selection committee which picked the winners of the Observer-Mobitel contest along with the SLSCA and Umpire Association

The long-awaited 42nd Observer -Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year contests have been fixed to be held in mid-November, no sooner the GCE Advanced Level examination is over. The Mega Show has been planned to be held at the BMICH.

Schoolboy and schoolgirl cricketers who will carry away the top awards were picked last Friday by officials of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) and Cricket Umpires Association at a meeting at the Galadari Hotel, Colombo. The distinguished panel was chaired by Ashantha de Mel, the chairman of the National Selection Committee.

Having De Mel as chairman of the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy and Schoolgirl Cricketers of the Year was a fitting tribute to one of Sri Lanka’s top fast bowlers in the early Test era.

As Sri Lanka’s bowler who sent down the first ever over in the inaugural Test against England in 1982, he also captured the country’s first Test wicket, that of Geoff Cook. In fact, Sri Lanka played its inaugural Test four years after the Observer Cricketer of the Year contest was inaugurated.

Ashantha Lakdasa Francis de Mel, who had the honour of bowling Sri Lanka’s first ball in a Test match, was one of the few Sri Lanka bowlers in the 1980s who bowled above medium pace. He also had the ability to bowl a well disguised out-swinger that baffled batsmen.

He had his early education at Isipathana College, Colombo up to Ordinary Level and then moved to Royal College Colombo. The most notable event as a bowler came at the 1983 World Cup in England, where he made maximum use of the seaming conditions to bag his only two ODI five-wicket-hauls. At Headingley against Pakistan, he took five for 39 and once again took five wickets – this time for only 32 runs, as New Zealand crumbled to 181 and Sri Lanka won the match by three wickets, their only win in the tournament in Derby.

He ended the 1983 World Cup having Sri Lanka’s best bowling figures in every match. He was the tournament’s second highest wicket taker with 17 wickets, one behind champion India’s Roger Binny. His international career ended in 1987 due to a knee injury.

The SLSCA delegation at Friday’s selection committee meeting was led by its president Thilak Waththuhewa, Principal of Nalanda Vidyalaya. Apart from the SLSCA top officials, several umpires and batsman.lk officials also supported the panel with their statistical data in picking the winners.

Rewarding schoolboy cricketers at the end of each season was first moved by Sri Lanka’s flagship English newspaper Sunday Observer with the inaugural show taking place in 1978/79.

From its humble beginnings at the Nawarangahala to the posh Grand Ballroom of the Colombo Hilton, the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has gone from strength to strength via the BMICH and Galadari Hotel. But for a longer duration, the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer show has been associated with the BMICH – the venue for this year’s event too.

Returning to the BMICH was mainly due to the fact that it has the capacity to accommodate a large gathering in keeping with the Government’s Health Ministry regulations after the Covid-19 pandemic. Hence, the Mega Show that was originally held at the BMICH will return to the same arena for its second innings.

The Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy and Schoolgirl Cricketers of the Year has improved in every aspect to become the best in rewarding the champion of champions. Even the initial sponsor Haliborange to Bata Shoe Company and current sponsor SLT Mobitel, the quality and standards of the contest has improved every year since Sri Lanka’s first school cricket awards show.

A couple of competitive shows which copied the Mega Show are not rewarding cricketers this year. We have always encouraged these events as the Mother of All Shows for the benefit of the teenagers. But the rival events will not be at play this time as their sponsors seem to have ended their innings due to lack of mileage owing to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Nevertheless, the sponsor of the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year show – SLT Mobitel played a straight bat with the Sunday Observer to maintain the uninterrupted run of the event for the 42nd year. Thus, the 42nd Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year will be the only formal school cricket awards show for the year 2020.

Hence, this event has turned out to become the showpiece of Sri Lanka school cricket that has given birth to legendary cricketers from Asia Cup winners to World champs, man of the series winners at ICC World Cup tournaments, highest wicket taker in Test cricket, Chief ICC Match Referee and the best umpire in the ICC elite panel.

These are some of the memorable happenings among many that tell how the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has been associated with Sri Lanka cricket history.

It has been the feeder pool for the national team, providing an ideal opportunity for the next generation of cricketers once they graduate from the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year ‘cricketing university’.

Organized by the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL), the event is sponsored by the country’s national mobile service provider Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel for the 13th successive year. Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom and SLT Mobitel Rohan Fernando and SLT Mobitel CEO Nalin Perera have given their maximum financial backing to keep the Mega Show alive.

The Sunday Observer realized the need to reward the raw talent of the country’s schoolboy cricketers way back in 1978-79 at a time when there had been no organized inter-school cricket tournaments, apart from the traditional first XI matches between the leading schools.

With the introduction of the Show and its expansion it has a separate segment for outstation schoolboy cricketers and it went a long way in inspiring players from remote areas to showcase their talent.

The ANCL Chairman and board of directors have always given their best support to keep the Mega Show alive. Chairman/CEO W. Dayaratne, President’s Counsel, together with Director Editorial Dharma Sri Kariyawasam, Director Legal and Administration Rakhitha Abeygunawardhana, Director Finance Janaka Ranatunga and Director Operations Canishka Witharana have helped this show to go from strength to strength.