Award-winning ‘cricket twins’ shine at Aussie series | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Award-winning ‘cricket twins’ shine at Aussie series

26 June, 2022
When Charith Asalanka won back to back Observer SLT Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer awards in 2015 and 2016
When Charith Asalanka won back to back Observer SLT Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer awards in 2015 and 2016

The 44th Observer School Cricketers of the Year is gathering momentum with the key inter-school big matches to come within the next few weeks.

Cricket was at its best after many moons with the Sri Lanka national team registering its first ODI series win over Australia after 30 years.

The Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year too had its own share in those wins with former top award winners Charith Asalanka and Kusal Mendis proving their might. After Mendis made 87 in the third ODI, Asalanka scored his maiden ODI century in the fourth match.

Asalanka said Dhananjaya de Silva’s run-a-ball knock of 60 gave him a lot of relief. He said they had a good plan at this deciding game last Monday which gave them a 3-1 lead before Friday’s game. But the four-wicket defeat in the fifth ODI reduced their series win to 3-2.

“When he came to the middle after losing three wickets for 34 runs we had a chat and played according to the plan. Dhananjaya scored freely and I played a long innings to build up the innings. Dhananjaya went for big shots while I gave a good supporting role and collected singles to give more chances to my senior partner. Once Dhananjaya departed in the 27th over, I came forward to go for the attacking role to increase the run rate,” said Asalanka.

Asalanka, the former Richmond and National under 19 team captain made a fluent 110 while Dhananjaya de Silva (60) and Waninidu Hasaranga de Silva (21n.o) also from Richmond chipped in with useful contributions.

“We all are good friends from the school level but coming to the Sri Lanka side each of us had a better relationship than at school level. Now we are all are eager to win for the country. My task is to play for the team and give honour to the country,” he said.

Asalanka is only the seventh cricketer in the 44-year-old history to win the Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year grand title twice - in 2015 and 2016, after Arjuna Ranatuna (1980 and 1982), Roshan Mahanama (1983 and 1984), Thilan Samaraweera (1994 and 1995), Lahiru Peiris (2004 and 2005), Bhanuka Rajapakse (2010 and 2011) and Navod Paranavithana (2020 and 2021).

Sri Lanka’s national mobile service provider, Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel continues to provide that ‘smart connection’ to the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest. Under the directions of the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Telecom and SLT Mobitel Rohan Fernando, SLT Mobitel has made a lavish contribution towards the success of the event during the past decade.

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.

Meanwhile, voting for the most popular segments of the 44th Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has reached its peak with the traditional big match season. Voting coupons for the Observer-Mobitel Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest appear in the Daily News, Sunday Observer, Dinamina and Thinakaran.

Sri Lanka’s inter-school cricket structure is considered one of the best and well-organised one in the world. Over the years, it has been the feeder pool to the national team. Many school cricket officials and youth coaches world over have hailed Sri Lanka’s well-knit school cricket structure which has five different age groups under three divisions for each age group.

Despite the island-wide participation, there has not been an organized inter-school cricket tournament for Under-19 until the 1990s.

There was hardly any recognition for the milestone achievements of schoolboy cricketers. Lack of an organized inter-school tournament deprived young schoolboys of their due recognition. Even the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) first had only a limited over knock out tournament at Under-19 level, on completion of the first XI matches and traditional big matches.

Sri Lanka’s flagship English newspaper - the Sunday Observer, and its publisher Lake House understood the need to recognize the talents of the country’s schoolboy cricketers and inspire them to continue their careers at club level.

It is with those great goals in mind that the Sunday Observer commenced the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest way back in 1978/79. That proved to be a resounding success and the event ultimately turned out to be the most looked forward to event in the school cricket calendar.

Ever since the then Royal captain Ranjan Madugalle was adjudged the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Award in 1979, Sri Lanka’s first ever inter-school cricket awards show has produced many legendary cricketers who have played for Sri Lanka with distinction.

It was a fitting tribute to Madugalle who led the Reid Avenue boys in the centenary Battle of the Blues cricket encounter against S. Thomas’ in the same year. Crowning Madugalle as the first-ever Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year was a memorable and a great beginning not only to the prestigious contest but also for the first-ever recipient of the title who later went on to play for Sri Lanka and now the Chief Match Referee of the International Cricket Council.

A couple of months after becoming the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, the then Royal captain found a place in the Sri Lanka team for the second ICC World Cup tournament and made his Sri Lanka debut against India in Manchester on his 20th birthday.

It turned out to be a perfect birthday celebration for Madugalle as his team, then Sri Lanka only an associate member of the ICC without Test status, beat much fancied India by 47 runs in their first round match of the 1979 World Cup tournament.

Three years later, the very next winner of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title Arjuna Ranatunga (in 1980 and 1982) was selected to play for Sri Lanka in its inaugural Test – against England way back in February, 1982.

Both grabbed the memorable opportunity they got to score half centuries. Ranatunga (54) became the first ever Sri Lanka batsman to score a half century in Test cricket. Minutes later, Madugalle (65) completed his half century in Sri Lanka’s first innings.

During the four decades of its cherished history, the Mega Show has produced some of the legendary cricketers that Sri Lanka has ever produced, including the country’s 1996 World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga, world’s highest wicket-taker in Test cricket Muttiah Muralitharan and the most valuable player of the 1996 World Cup tournament Sanath Jayasuriya.

The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest baptized some of the most outstanding players to the big league - 1996 World Cup star Asanka Gurusinha, former captains Roshan Mahanama and Marvan Atapattu to name a few.

Former Trinity skipper, Dickwella won the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title in 2012. Kusal Mendis, who led Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa with distinction, was adjudged Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 2013.

Finding huge funding that is needed to host a great show of this magnitude is no easy task. Although the cost to host the show in the first couple of decades was marginally less, it was a commendable contribution by Haliborange which sponsored the inaugural show and the Bata Shoe Company which followed.

But the entry of Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel as the sponsor added value to the Mega Show, improving the standard of the event to solid trophies and larger cash awards.

The Observer-Mobitel partnership which celebrates its 15th successive year, has not only recognized the achievements of schoolboy cricketers but also rewarded their coaches and masters-in-charge who play a silent role in moulding the next generation of champion cricketers.