Pradeep Hewage: A cricketer that bloomed now regrets the buds are fading | Sunday Observer

Pradeep Hewage: A cricketer that bloomed now regrets the buds are fading

28 August, 2022
Pradeep Hewage – Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in1998
Pradeep Hewage – Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in1998

It was nice to see the cream of schoolboy cricketers in the recently concluded 2021-2022 inter-school season being rewarded for their hard work with a tour of England.

The touring Sri Lanka Under-19 team began their assignments with the first Youth Test against the England Under-19, concluded in Chelmsford last Wednesday.

The Lankan team, led by Nalanda and Tamil Union batsman Raveen de Silva, did well to score 407 all out in their first innings with Katugastoda Antonian Asitha Wanninayake making a top score of 132 off 315 balls with 19 fours.

It was nice for Lankan schoolboy cricketers to start the tour with an exciting three-wicket win though they enjoyed only a 20-run first innings lead. In reply to England Under-19 first innings total of 387, Sri Lanka Under-19 made 407.

But the hosts were bowled out for 292 in the second essay, after being 198 for 2 at one stage. They lost their last eight second innings wickets for the addition of only 94 runs.

Sri Lanka Under-19 were reeling at 98 for 5 in the second innings but an unbeaten 120 off 115 balls with one six and 12 fours by Ranuda Somaratne led them to a sweet win in the end. He made 65 in the first innings. Wicket keeper bat Lahiru Dawatage gave fine support with a run-a-ball 49 as the young Lankan brigade reached the victory target with three wickets in hand and only two mandatory overs left.

The Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year contest has been held annually for 44 successive years since 1979.

When 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.

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

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 who 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 talent 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 from 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 not 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.