Who will be the best from the best | Sunday Observer

Who will be the best from the best

6 November, 2022

Flashback 2007: Malith Gunathilaka - the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year All-island 2007 (left) receives the award from chief guest former Sri Lanka opening batsman Sidath Wettimuny (centre) while on right is Managing Director of Bata Shoe Company Raphael Mollo. Anandian Gunathilaka also won the Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer All Island and Best All-rounder All-Island awards

The cream of Sri Lanka’s school cricketers who have been outstanding in the recently concluded 2021-2022 have now been shortlisted to share the top awards at the Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year grand finale to be held mid next month.

These names were picked at the special selection committee meeting held at the Galadari Hotel last Wednesday. Top ranking officials of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) and the national umpires association took part in the meeting.

Pawan Pathiraja of Trinity College, Kandy, Dunith Wellalage of St. Joseph’s College and Shevon Daniel, also from St. Joseph’s have been shortlisted for the Observer SLT Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 2022. Sri Lanka Under-19 captain Welalage has already been picked the Observer SLT Mobitel Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 2022.

It will be a tussle between Vishmi Gunarathna of Ratnavali Balika Vidyalaya, Gampaha and Navodya Nethmini of Wadduwa Central for the Observer SLT Mobitel Schoolgirl Cricketer of the Year 2022. Chushadi Kaushalya of Dharmapala College, Pannipitiya has already been picked the Observer SLT Mobitel Most Popular Schoolgirl Cricketer of the Year 2022.

When going down memory lane, it is on record that Malith Gunathilake has won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer title once again for Ananda in 2007. Thus, he became the sixth Anandian to win this prestigious title after Arjuna Ranatunga (1980 and 1982), his brother Sanjeewa Ranatunga (1988), Marvan Atapattu (1990), Thilan Samaraweera (1994 and 1995) and Muthumudalige Pushpakumara (1999). Overall, it was the eighth occasion that the glittering trophy went to an Anandian when considering the doubles won by Arjuna Ranatunga and Samaraweera.

Dushan Malith Gunathilake was born on March 29, 1987. He has played 22 first-class and 13 List A matches for multiple domestic sides in Sri Lanka between 2008 and 2013. His last first-class match was for Colombo Cricket Club in the 2012-13 Premier Trophy on March 30, 2013.

In his 22 first class matches, he aggregated 457 runs with a career best score of 62 runs. As a slow left-arm orthodox bowler, Gunathilake captured 11 wickets. As an all-rounder, he represented Baduraliya Sports Club and Chilaw Marians Cricket Club.

Though a few people tried to emulate the undisputed Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year began way back in 1978/79, the couple of rival shows cut a sorry figure as their sponsors deserted at the height of Covid-19 pandemic.

When the devastation entered Sri Lanka in mid-March 2020, these rival sponsors and newspapers abandoned their schoolboy cricketer shows in next to no time. But the SLT Mobitel stood by the Sunday Observer and continued with the Mega Show even during the difficult periods during the last two years. Thanks to the untiring efforts of SLT Mobitel with their lavish sponsorship package, the Sunday Observer was able to host the Mega Show uninterrupted.

Though the hosting of any big gathering was impossible in 2020 due to the fast spreading Covid-19 pandemic, we were able to host two Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year events last year – the 2020 event in 2021 April and the 2021 show in 2021 December. Thus, even the Covid-19 pandemic could not upset the uninterrupted staging of Sri Lanka’s first ever school cricket awards show.

After all, it is the country’s budding schoolboy cricketers who will be rewarded at the end after a strenuous season. But at the same time, it is sad that none of those copied school cricket award shows took place until 2019 and the Observer School Cricket Awards show remains the “Mother of All Battles”.

When the oldest uninterrupted inter-school cricket match in the world – the Royal-Thomian encounter was played in the second week of March 2020, things looked gloomy. If not for the determined efforts of the health authorities, security forces and Government officials, Sri Lanka would have not been getting out of the pandemic so quickly.

While citizens in the so-called developed countries in the world perished in next to no time, Sri Lanka was on a firm footing, setting new world marks in combating the virus.

The concept of rewarding schoolboy cricketers at the end of each season was introduced to Sri Lanka by Lake House and it started the prestigious event in 1978/79. Organized by the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL), the event is sponsored by the country’s national mobile service provider SLT Mobitel for the 15th successive year.

The Sunday Observer realized the need to reward the raw talent of the country’s schoolboy cricketers way back in 1978-79 at a time when there had been no organized inter-school cricket tournaments, apart from the traditional first XI matches between the so-called leading schools.

With the introduction of the Show and its expansion to have a separate segment for outstation schoolboy cricketers it went a long way in inspiring the talented players from remote areas. The cherished dream of every schoolboy cricketer for over four decades has been winning a title at the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer. It all began in 1978/79 when the then captain of Royal College, Colombo Ranjan Madugalle was chosen the first ever Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year.

Eventually, it 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.

Having captained his alma mater at the centenary Royal-Thomian cricket encounter in 1979, Madugalle had a wonderful time since then. He was immediately picked to the Sri Lanka team for the World Cup in the same year 1979 and went on to captain his club NCC and Sri Lanka with distinction.

Starting from Madugalle in 1978/79, the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer has produced a galaxy of stars who have marked Sri Lanka’s position prominently on the world cricketing map. Among them are Arjuna Ranatunga, Roshan Mahanama, Asanka Gurusinha, Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralidaran, Mavan Atapattu and Kumara Dharmasena to name a few.

ICC’s Chief Match Referee Madugalle who is currently on duty at the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia, has represented Sri Lanka in 21 Tests, scoring 1,029 runs which includes a brilliant 103 and seven half centuries. In 63 ODIs, he had aggregated 950 runs with three half centuries.

The former Royal College captain was a member of the Sri Lanka team to play in the country’s first ever Test team. In fact, Madugalle (with 65) and another Observer Schoolboy Cricketer Arjuna Ranatunga (with 54) were the first Sri Lankans to score half centuries in Test cricket, in the historic match against England played at the Saravanamuttu Stadium in February 1982.

Our World Cup winning captain Ranatunga was the first player to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award on two occasions.

After Madugalle’s initial year, Ranatunga won it in 1980. The left-handed middle order batsman from Ananda College was the runner up to Rohan Buultjens of St. Peter’s College in 1981 before once again winning the title in 1982.

Group Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom Rohan Fernando has given his full blessings to the Mega Show. The ANCL Chairman and board of management have always given their best possible support to keep the Mega Show alive.

ANCL Chairman and Secretary to the Ministry of Mass Media Anusha Palpita, together with Director Editorial Sisira Paranathanthri, Director Legal and Administration Janaka Ranatunga, Director Finance Prof. Harendra Kariyawasam and Director Operations Manjula Makumbura have helped this show to go from strength to strength.