Recalling Dickwella and the brothers who saved a match while mourning | Sunday Observer

Recalling Dickwella and the brothers who saved a match while mourning

12 June, 2022
Niroshan Dickwella - included in the 21-member Sri Lanka squad for the five-match ODI series against Australia   |    Sanjeewa Ranatunga
Niroshan Dickwella - included in the 21-member Sri Lanka squad for the five-match ODI series against Australia | Sanjeewa Ranatunga

Niroshan Dickwella gave a timely reminder to the national selectors when he cracked a timely 83 off 73 balls to lead Sri Lanka A team to a superb four-wicket win over Australia A team in their second unofficial ODI played at the SSC ground on Friday.

He was immediately included in the 21-member Sri Lanka squad for the forthcoming five-match ODI series against the touring Australians, along with former captain Dinesh Chandimal who too has won the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 2009.

Opening the innings after a lapse, Dickwella was at his brilliant best with some excellent power play during his innings which included one six and ten fours.

It was exactly ten years ago that Dickwella won the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 2012 after a splendid school season for Trinity College, Kandy.

Trinity Lion Dickwella is another promising cricketer gifted to Sri Lanka cricket through the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest which has remained as undisputed leader in rewarding schoolboy cricketers for over four decades.

The attacking left-hand and unorthodox wicket keeper-batsman first made his Test debut as far back as July 2014 - at the age of 21. But on his debut half century, Dickwella could not hold his place for long. His second comeback to international cricket in 2017 brought better success with some impressive sweeps, scoops and ramp shots.

The outstanding Trinity Lion has so far represented Sri Lanka in 49 Tests, scoring 2,602 runs inclusive of 20 half centuries with a top score of 96, averaging 32.52. In 53 ODIs, he has aggregated 1,578 runs with two centuries and nine half tons with an average of 32.20 that gives him an impressive strike rate of 93.48.

Going down memory lane, there is another talented cricketer who went on to represent Sri Lanka after graduating from the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer stage. Former Sri Lanka batsman and present Ananda College head coach Sanjeeva Ranatunga said that schoolboy cricketers must play only for the love of the game while coaches should refrain from trying to win at any cost.

In a recent interview with the Sunday Observer, the former Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year said everyone must keep in mind that it is not winning or losing that matters but how one plays the game.

“These unsporting practices ruin the game. We must put an end to those immediately. During our playing era, these ugly practices were never witnessed,” said Ranatunga who began a stint at his alma mater as head coach in an honorary capacity a few years ago.

Ranatunga said he was keen on becoming Observer Schoolboy Cricketer after seeing his elder brother Arjuna winning glory for the second time in 1982.

“I was there to witness my elder brother winning this unique title once again, emerging out of a cricket ball. That inspired me that l too should do the same. I narrowly missed it in 1987, by finishing runner-up to Rohan Weerakkody but achieved the cherished dream in the following year,” he said.

“We remember coaches like Lionel Mendis with profound gratitude. They taught us not only the lovely game of cricket but also its values. Thus, we were interested in building teams with values, not to win at any cost that most of them do now,” he said.

Ranatunga became the sixth Anandian to win the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award in 1988. He played in only eight matches excluding the big match out of 12, as he was playing for the Sri Lanka youth team in 1988, but still aggregated 900-plus runs.

The star left handed batsman had the honour of leading the Sri Lanka ‘A’ team and also represented the country in Tests and One-day Internationals.

He made his Test debut for Sri Lanka on August 26, 1994 in Kandy against Pakistan. His short nine-Test career had only an aggregate of 531 runs but included two centuries and an equal number of fifties.

Ranatunga’s ODI debut for Sri Lanka came days ahead of Tests, on August 3, 1994 also against Pakistan. His career-best innings in Tests was 118 while his top knock in ODIs was 70.

“I really earned my place on form in Zimbabwe. I scored a century in the three-day practice match and they were compelled to assure me my due place in the Test team,” he said.

“The two Test centuries I scored in Zimbabwe were simply great. The penultimate day was disappointing on the ground as well as off it as the then Cricket Board President, Minister Gamini Dissanayake had passed away. We were keen on saving the match for him,” he recalled.

“All of us wanted to save the match on the final day. Moreover, my brother (Arjuna) told me not to return to the dressing room without completing a century and l just did that,” he said.

Yet, he recalled twin fifties he scored in the Adelaide Test as his best. “Comparatively, it was under more challenging circumstances against a far superior Australian bowling attack,” he pointed out.

The talented left-handed top order batsman who celebrated his 53rd birthday on April 25 had a rich harvest of runs in club cricket. Unlike his famous elder brother Arjuna, Sanjeewa hardly hit mighty sixes at international level, but he was a talented left-hand batsman at domestic level.

He scored heavily at the inter-school level for Ananda to be adjudged Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1988, six years after his elder brother became the first to win the title twice. He then represented Sri Lanka ‘A’ on several occasions, after which he was picked for the home series against Pakistan in 1994.

Sanjeewa Ranatunga began well in the one-day series, scoring 70 only in his second match. However his form dropped later and he played the last of his 13 ODIs in January 1996.

But he showed more promise in Test cricket, with back to back centuries in Zimbabwe in his second and third matches - his average after seven Tests was 59.71 - and was given the chance to tour New Zealand, Pakistan and Australia.

Unfortunately international cricket proved a difficult hurdle and he was dropped from the side. A somewhat controversial recall came in June 1997, for Sri Lanka’s tour to the West Indies, but just one poor match ruined his international career.

Meanwhile, the 2021/2022 inter-school season is moving to an end with the big matches. The Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year will be held for the 44th year shortly. One of the highest performers in the Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year series has been Sanjeewa Ranatunga’s elder brother – Arjuna, Sri Lanka's World Cup winning captain.

More than any of the past top award winners, Arjuna Ranatunga has maintained a strong affiliation with the oldest and only uninterrupted schools awards ceremony ever since he first won the highest award way back in 1980 – some 43 years ago.

He became the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer for the second time in his final year for Ananda College in 1982.

Since then, Ranatunga has made it a habit to be at the Mega Show whenever possible, irrespective of who the chief guest is. But finally, Arjuna Ranatunga became the chief guest at the 43rd Observer-SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year show last year.

That is one unique and humble quality shown by Ranatunga, always giving that vital encouragement to the next generation cricketers. It is something which cannot be seen in most of the legendary cricketers of his caliber.

Thus, the Ranatunga brothers - Arjuna and Sanjeewa, became the only brothers to take pride of place in the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year series.

The Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year has now completed 44 successful years. When it completed 40 years four years ago, it had the most appropriate chief guest – the winner of the first ever title in 1979 – the then Royal College captain and present ICC Chief Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle.

A special award for the Best Behaved team on and off the field was introduced to the series on a proposal made by Madugalle in 2013. Incidentally, former Sri Lanka captain Madugalle reached a golden milestone in his career by completing 200 Test matches and still continues as Chief ICC Match Referee.