Hewage rues school cricket hit by outside interference | Sunday Observer

Hewage rues school cricket hit by outside interference

24 January, 2021

FLASHBACK: Umesha Thimeshani of Devapathiraja Vidyalaya made history by becoming the first Schoolgirl Cricketer of the Year as schoolgirl cricketers were recognized for the first time in 2019. Here she receives the top award for girls from Champika Weeratunga (Secretary SLSCA) while Chanaka Liyanage (Channel Manager, Lake House) looks on. Pic: Chinthaka Kumarasinghe

The Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year has been held annually for 41 successive years since 1979, except for last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But that too will be held later next month for the 42nd year, paving the way for the commencement of the 43rd Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year.

It is encouraging to see that the local health authorities are giving the green light to go ahead with the 42nd Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year show next month provided all health guidelines are strictly observed.

Once the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) begins the First X1 inter-school matches for this year, we would also launch the 43rd Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year 2021. Hence, the voting for the 43rd Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year will commence next month.

The Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year contest is considered as the Mother of All Battles in Sri Lanka school cricket, commencing from the early days when even the SLSCA ever thought of rewarding the outstanding school cricketers.

Going down memory lane, the first and the only Benedictine to win the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year was witnessed in 1998. Since then, no other schoolboy cricketer from St. Benedict’s has won this prestigious title again.

Pradeep Hewage, who won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 1998, was a superb batsman during his day. “Those were the lovely days, we only thought of our school and played for its success,” said Hewage in an exclusive interview with the writer.

Recalling his days as a schoolboy cricketer, Hewage said that school cricket has lost some of its good qualities now. “I have been involved since my school and club career. But some of my contemporary players who took to coaching confess how much school cricket has been ruined by some of the parents, masters in charge and school principals.

“They want their fancied players in the team, even if they don’t deserve it. Even when they pick the captain, it may not go to the most senior and deserving player. Most of the decisions are made on their whims and fancies. As a result, most of the former players turned school coaches have given up their jobs. They simply can’t do an honest job,” he said.

“The T20 games and the Indian Premier League (IPL) have ruined the natural talents of most of the brilliant players. Even most parents of the players want their sons to target playing in the IPL, rather than playing for the country - because of the huge money involved. It is a very pathetic situation,” rued Hewage.

Born on December 7, 1978, Hewage was a stylish right-handed opening batsman and a useful medium pace bowler. He was educated at St Benedict’s College, Kotahena where he excelled in cricket with dedication.

His entire family has been involved in cricket. He made his first class debut in the domestic scene in 1994. He became the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1998 and went on to captain the Sri Lanka Under-19 team for the 1998 World Cup in South Africa.

He batted superbly in the tournament and was adjudicated as the best batsman. On his return the selectors included him in the Sri Lankan squad against New Zealand. Unfortunately, Hewage did not get the chance to represent the country, apart being the 12th man in a Test match.

“I fared extremely well in the Under-19 Mini World Cup in 1998. Immediately after we returned to the country, I was included in the Sri Lanka pool for the series against New Zealand. For the first Test played at the Galle International Stadium, I was the 12th man in the Sri Lanka team against the touring New Zealand. Unfortunately, that was the maximum I could go,” Hewage recalled.

He remained a member of the Sri Lanka ‘A’ squad and played against Zimbabwe ‘A’, scoring a century in the first unofficial Test match at Kurunegala. He also captained the Sri Lanka Colts XI against the England team that toured Sri Lanka in 2000-01 at Moratuwa. However, he was unfortunate to go beyond that, missing the dream of playing for Sri Lanka in Tests or ODIs.

He had been a leading player for Nondescripts Cricket Club (NCC) in the domestic Premier league tournaments and played for the Sri Lanka Board XI, Sri Lanka Colts XI and Sri Lanka Under-19 teams.

He figured in 88 First Class matches aggregating 4,206 runs at an average of 33.64 with five centuries and 20 fifties. His career-best score in First Class matches was an unbeaten 200. He has been a smart fielder, accounting for 53 catches and with his occasional bowling he captured 22 First Class wickets with a best of 4 for 56.

In the very same year he won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, he was also chosen for a similar title when the British High Commission in Colombo decided to select a Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year from 1998. He was rightfully picked as the inaugural winner.

When Prince Charles visited Sri Lanka for the Independence Day celebrations in February that year, he was keen to commemorate his visit with something which demonstrated both the bond between our countries and his interest in the development of the skills of young people.

“We all sincerely hope that this trophy will serve that purpose and become a coveted accolade in the trophy cabinets of Sri Lanka’s stars of the future,” the then British High Commissioner, David Tatham said at the presentation of the Prince of Wales Trophy to Pradeep Hewage, as the most promising schoolboy cricketer for 1997/98 at Westminster House in Colombo.

“One does not have to live in Sri Lanka for long to realise that cricket is a passion.

“The inaugural winner of the trophy is Pradeep Hewage, an all-rounder with a bright future. In addition to his impressive performances for his College, St. Benedict’s, he has already represented his country (though not at Test and ODI) and made his mark on the international scene.

“He was voted Best Batsman in the 1998 Youth World Cup in South Africa and captained the team which so narrowly lost out on a place in the final against England.

“He progressed to the Sri Lankan ‘A’ side and played against England ‘A’ on their recent tour. Test recognition cannot be far away,” the former High Commissioner further said in his presentation speech.

“Indeed it is interesting to note that the equivalent prize in English cricket, the Young Cricketer of the Year, has been won in the past by the likes of Geoffrey Boycott, Tony Greig, Mike Atherton and in the year of Pradeep’s birth, a certain David Gower,” he added. The Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year is conducted by Sri Lanka’s number one English newspaper the Sunday Observer and sponsored by Sri Lanka Mobitel.

Thanks to the longstanding association of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA), the Sri Lanka Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association and Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), headed by Shammi Silva, the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has gone from strength to strength.

The first-ever Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, sponsored by Warner-Hudnut Haliborange, was held in 1979 to felicitate the outstanding schoolboy cricketers of the 1978/79 season. Former Sri Lanka captain Ranjan Madugalle was the first ever recipient of the glittering Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award in 1979.

From 1980, the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer event was sponsored by the Bata Shoe Company before SLT Mobitel took the baton 13 years ago.

This prestigious event, started way back in 1978/79 is organized by the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL) and sponsored by the country’s national mobile service provider Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel.

Winning a title at the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer has been the cherished dream of every schoolboy cricketer for over four decades. It all began in 1978/79 when the then captain of Royal College Madugalle was chosen the first ever Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year.

It eventually became a highly successful beginning for Sri Lanka’s first ever school cricket awards show but also gave birth to a new generation of cricketers who took Sri Lanka cricket to new horizons.

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 First XI 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 players in far flung areas.

Under the directions of the Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom and SLT Mobitel, Rohan Fernando the Mega Show will march forward with more power and strength.