Big match blues and a firebrand Joe who lit up school cricket | Sunday Observer

Big match blues and a firebrand Joe who lit up school cricket

30 July, 2022
Rohan Weerakkody who won the top award – Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1987
Rohan Weerakkody who won the top award – Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1987

The 143rd Battle of the Blues between Royal College and S. Thomas’ College ended in a tame draw at the SSC ground last week. Thus, almost all key big matches were concluded, but with only the Battle of the Maroons between Ananda and Nalanda producing a result.

S. Thomas’ lost five early wickets but late fight backs by Senesh Hettiarachchi (55) and Charuka Peiris (51) helped them to make 242 in 106.2 overs. Gishan Balasooriya (3 for 56), Sandesh Ramanayake (2 for 16) and Ramiru Perera (2 for 36) shared the wickets for Royal.

Royal made 219 for 8 declared in 70.4 overs with Uvindu Weerasekara making a top score of 66. Kavindu Dias bagged four Royal wickets for 65 runs. Ryan Fernando cracked a fluent 74 as S. Thomas’ played for a meaningless draw scoring 142 for 6 at stumps. Gishan Balasooriya (3 for 56) and Sadisha Rajapakse (2 for 30) shared the bowling honours for Royal.

Last year’s Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, Sadisha Rajapakse of Royal had an outstanding game to win the Best Fielder’s award and the Best Bowler’s award went to Kavindu Dias of S. Thomas’. The Best Batsman award went to Uvindu Weerasekara of Royal while the Man of the Match title went to Thomian Ryan Fernando.

When we look at the past winners of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer awards, we cannot forget Rohan Weerakkody, who is perhaps the only schoolboy cricketer to win five titles in a single Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year. Yet, his 1987 glory was confined only to school cricket and failed to go beyond Sri Lanka youth level.

“It was an honour to win five titles including the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in a single event,” he said in an interview from Laguna, Lusiana in the Philippines.

But he said he has no regrets and was honoured to win those awards. “There is no point in talking about the past and what has been missed. But if I had held on to some more time, things would have been different,” said Weerakkody, who played for NCC under Ranjan Madugalle.

Weerakkody, born on April 30, 1968 in Colombo, represented NCC and Air Force SC as a right-hand batsman and right-arm fast medium bowler. Prior to that, he led St. Joseph’s College with distinction. But he could play only ten first class matches during the 1988/89 to 1994/95 seasons capturing 26 wickets with innings analysis of five wickets and above twice.

He made his debut for the Sri Lankan Young Cricketers side after captaining the side on seven occasions during the 1987/88 Youth World Cup, winning three matches. But his Sri Lanka Youth side failed to go beyond the qualifying round after losing four matches.

The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1987 brought the climax of Weerakkody’s school career, being called for the honours on five occasions, including the top most one. He brought tremendous honour for the Darley Road school winning awards for the Best Bowler, Best All-rounder and Best Captain. After winning the runner up award for the Best Batsman, he was ultimately adjudged the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year for 1987.

But his fight for a place in the Joes team was an easy one. In his first season for the school in 1984, he was on the reserve list for the big match, only playing a single match against St. Benedict’s. But within two years, he rose to lead his school, winning five awards at the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year awards ceremony in 1987. That included the most important one.

The Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year, ever since its inception in 1979, has always been producing top Sri Lanka and international cricketers beginning with two great Sri Lanka captains Madugalle and Arjuna Ranatunga.

Madugalle who was the first-ever Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year in its inaugural year, went on to captain Sri Lanka and currently serves as the ICC’s Chief Match Referee. Ranatunga who won the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year twice in 1980 and 1982, became Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning captain in 1996.

Former ICC Match Referee Roshan Mahanama, the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year twice in 1983 and 1984, too went on to play for Sri Lanka and also lead the country in ODIs. Asanka Gurusinha became the next cricketing celebrity to win the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year in 1985.

While the majority of past winners went on to represent Sri Lanka with distinction, there were a few top schoolboy cricketers who lost the grip after their teenage life. Last two weeks, we talked about two outstanding former Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year winners Rohan Buultjens and Roshan Jurangpathy who won the top awards in 1981 and 1986.

One of the few Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year award winners who was not fortunate to play for Sri Lanka was Rohan Weerakkody who won the top award in 1987, after Royalist Jarangpathy. Despite playing for Sri Lanka Youth teams, Weerakkody could not get into either Test or ODI team after his brilliant school career at St. Joseph’s.

Making his debut for St. Joseph’s in February 1984, Weerakkody taught an unforgettable lesson for Royal’s batsmen, finishing with a match bag of nine wickets, the architect of a superb nine wicket win.

In reply to Joes 255 for 6 declared, Royal were bowled out for 118 runs after lunch on day two. He finished with figures of 15.8-8-32-5 with his victims being Dinesh Wijewardena, Heshan de Silva, Roshan Jurangpathy, Nalinda Premachandra and H. Amarasekera.

Royal could make 165 in the second essay after the Joes enforced the follow-on. Once again, it was Weerakkody who troubled the Royal batsmen the most, with his vicious second innings spell being 19-8-41-4. It was his match bag of 9 for 73 that gave the Joes a well deserved win after 32 years. Prior to the 1984 win, their last win against Royal was in 1952 under Kenneth Serpanchy.

Even in the very next outing played in mid-February, Weerakkody’s magic worked again, this time against Wesley. He produced a penetrative spell of 12.3-8-6-8 as Wesley were shot out for 48. St. Joseph’s made 154 for 4 declared and restricted Wesley to 42 in the second innings to register a runaway innings and 64 runs victory. Weerakkody had figures of 8-5-12-2, thus completing a match bag of 10 wickets for only 18 runs. In his first two matches, he had 19 wickets for 91 runs.

Having represented St. Joseph’s in 1985 under Jonathan Alles, 1986 under Rohitha Tillekeratne, Weerakkody was given the captaincy for the 1986-87 season as a fourth-year Coloursman. He became the first Joes player to win the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year. It took another 27 years to see another cricketer from St. Joseph’s win this glory - Sadheera Samarawickrema in 2014.

Weerakkody was picked to lead the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association President’s X1 in a two-day match against the visiting England Youth Cricket team. It was the first time that a Joe was selected to lead a school’s XI against a foreign team since 1974.

Weerakoddy was also made vice captain of the Sri Lanka Youth team against the England Youth team. He was an architect of Sri Lanka’s victory over England in the first youth ODI, with a highly economical spell of 2 for 14 in 9 overs and scored 27 not out which earned him the man of the match award.

Under Weerakkody’s captaincy in 1987, St. Joseph’s remained unbeaten, enjoying a rich harvest with five outright wins - four of those by an innings. St. Joseph’s beat Carey by an innings and 133 runs, beat Mahinda College by an innings and seven runs (Weerakkody 6 for 30 in second innings), beat Prince of Wales College by an innings and 41runs (Weerakkody 4 for 25 and 5 for 31), beat St. Benedict’s College by an innings and 30 runs and beat Isipatana by six wickets (Weerakkody 5 for 13 in the second innings).

In the 1987 Coca-Cola trophy limited over Knockouts, St. Joseph’s College were declared as joint champs with DS Senanayake College after the final was washed out due to rain.