Catch the cricketers young, if one wants the best off them -
SCHOOL CRICKET: Among the many eligible people who talk on the
subject of school cricket in Sri Lanka, renowned commentator Premasara
Epasinghe undoubtedly is one of the top most qualified people in the
field to comment. He represented his school Nalanda at cricket,
thereafter the University, and back at his Alma Mater Nalanda as a
teacher, Master-in-Charge cricket, he held various responsible
administrative posts in the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association and
Sri Lanka Cricket.
Epasinghe's 45-year-old experience as a radio cricket commentator who
has seen many emerging cricketers, expressed his views on the present
day school cricket set up which cannot be classed on the same level as
what it was some years ago.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer he reflects on
cricket then and now. Premasara is best known for his cricket
commentaries in the Sinhala language in the pre-TV era and his booming
voice and appropriate description and coin words kept the listeners
spellbound. He had led the way for others to follow.
Excerpts of the Interview:
Q: Once upon a time, Sri Lanka school cricket was known as one
of the best in the world due to their structure and meticulous coaching
and planning which have produced top quality players even before the
country was granted Test status. Can we class it the same today? If not,
what are the remedies to bring it back to the standard what it was then?
Premasara Epasinghe - a leading cricket commentator now and
a former cricketer.
A: I personally feel that you have to pay more emphasis to
youth cricket. If you are thinking of the future of Sri Lanka cricket
you will have to fetch them young.
The best age is by about 11 years you will have to catch them. In the
good old days, may be in the 1980's we had these under 11 tournaments
and the Masters-in-Charge and the Coach should instil discipline, fair
play and guide them and show them how to play the game. What has
happened today is in limited overs cricket they always adopt the
negative approach by trying to stop scoring runs rather than taking
wickets and trying to anyway win by hook or by crook. This should be
stopped. It should be the top priority and hunt for the talent in the
For an example, the Australia Cricket Academy in Canberra which I
visited I saw children walking down early in the morning. The guy who
was in charge of them was an Olympic gold medallist. I asked him 'what
are these children doing here early morning?', the reply he gave was
"these are our future Olympic gold medallists".
Q: While catching them young isn't it important to maintain
their natural ability and talent?
A: I am the one who spotted the late Anura Ranasinghe who was
a fighting cricketer. He was playing cricket at the Kirulapone Park,
batting while I was going to the 'pola' on a Sunday. He had the natural
instinct. I didn't know that he was attending the same school Nalanda
where I was teaching. I got him down and trained him. His natural talent
was amazing and I did not want to correct his batting style. Then I
consulted my coach the late Mr. Gerry Gooneratne to have a look at this
boy. He said: 'Epa', this is a future champion and one advice I could
give you is do not try to meddle with this boy's natural ability. Do not
try to coach him, instead try to build his natural talent.
Q: What is the parents' role in guiding the youngsters?.
A: Lot of parents are mad over cricket. They always want to
see their son to be a Arjuna Ranatunga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan
Atapattu or a Romesh Kaluvitharana: Why , because of money, nothing
else. But there are certain things lacking, things like character
As a teacher I know how important character building is. My main
focus was building one's character. During our time we use to read a lot
and collect cricket pictures etc. This sort of thing is lacking in
schools today. This coupled with cricketing aspects helped me to build a
champion under 13 side for three consecutive years at Nalanda College in
1980. Parents should also not interfere during practices.
Q: In 1969 a Sri Lanka Under 19 team probably one of the best
junior teams to leave our shores, went on tour to India under Anandian
Mithra Wettimuny and fared extremely well, winning the unofficial Test
series and impressed everyone. You were a member of the Selection
Committee at that time, what was the selection process for the tour to
be a highly successful one?
A: In that particular year I was a selector, and the others
were P.M. Jayatilleke (Chairman, Thurstan), Edmond Dissanayake (Wesley),
Orville Abeynaike (S. Thomas'), Angelo Rayer (St. Jopseph's), A.D.
Karunananda (Ananda) and John de Saram (Royal, Colombo). The selectors
did an excellent job in finding the right combination. In fact that was
a tour which provided the base for Sri Lanka gaining full Test status.
It was an amazing tour for the youngsters which produced the first two
Test captains Bandula Warnapura and Duleep Mendis.
The selection was done in Ratmalana at P.M. Jayatilleke's home. There
was no favouritism, I suggested only the names of Bandula Warnapura and
There were other players too from Nalanda, like Lalith Kaluperuma who
captained Nalanda that year and Jayantha Seneviratne.
We had to encounter a problem as it was a two-month tour we were
looking to include a left-arm leg-spinner. When I was going through the
statistics I came across a name call G.R.A. de Silva from Dharmasoka,
Ambalangoda who had a reasonable average. When I came across this name I
proposed it at the expense of one of my boys. But opinions deferred with
another selector and he opposed this name and said "Epa they do not play
good cricket' then I said that there is nothing call good and bad
cricket and I was adamant to have him in the side and ultimately Ajith
de Silva became the best left-arm spinner that Sri Lanka had ever
The other members of the team if my memory serves me correct, are:
Mithra Wettimuny (Captain, Ananda), Asitha Jayaweera (Royal - V.
Captain). Ananda Jayatilleke (Ananda), Jagath Fernando (Royal), L.
Thalaysingham (Royal), Bandula Warnapura and Leslie Narangoda (Nalanda),
Rory Inman (St.Peter's), Wendel Kelaart, Manik de S. Wijeratne (St.
Joseph's), Duleep Mendis (St. Sebastian's), Ajith de Silva (Dharmasoka),
Priyantha Jayasekera (Prince of Wales) Diyanesh Rajaratnam (Thurstan)
and Ajith Mendis.
Q: What should be done to improve the standard of school
cricket which is not the same as it was in the past?
A: Number one is proper, systematic planning. The schools
should give more priority for junior cricket. I have been a cricket
commentator for the past 45 years in all forms of the game including
school matches and through my experience I would say by watching a
school cricketer in action that some day this lad will play for Sri
Lanka. When I was commentating in the Richmond- Mahinda match in Galle,
I saw Athula Samarasekera scoring about 25 to 30 runs and in my
commentary I mentioned that he was a future Sri Lankan player.
For example, Nalanda has produced dozens of cricketers because it had
a good base, especially junior cricket where they have been champions
But today, I feel sorry as a Nalandian, because I very rarely see a
boy coming through from Nalanda. What is the reason? Another thing is
too much of coaching.
If you step onto any ground today, every Dick, Tom and Harry have
become coaches,and it has become a massive business. What they do is to
teach them to bat up and down and curb their shots. Mahela Jayawardene
came from the last string of cricketers from Nalanda to represent the
country. He was extraordinary talented. Prior to that it was Roshan
Mahanama and Asanka Gurusinha.
Players like Arjuna Ranatunga who won the World Cup in 1996 was
coached by people like Lionel and Nelson Mendis. They were top class
coaches and strict disciplinarians. You must get the children to enjoy
cricket and not to win trophies alone. Winning trophies is not a bad
idea, but good habits and the true spirit of the game should be
inculcated in the players' minds.
Q: What do you think of the Sri Lanka Under 19 team's
performance at the on going Under 19 World Cup played in Australia?
A: I have not been following it too closely, but what I feel
is the whole cause for the failure should be analyzed. The root cause
is, one must be systematic, plan your cricket and catch them young and
get them to play their natural game and discipline the boys. These are
the two main factors for success. We can't blame the selectors. They are
doing a very difficult job. Because when the team win matches the
selectors become heroes and when you lose, they are treated as villains.
So, that policy is all wrong. The School Cricket Association is doing a
marvelous job. But there should be something wrong somewhere. They
should rectify that. The Sports Ministry should get the best people and
get advice from them. There are people like Bertie Wijesinha and other
top class coaches available.
Q: What are your views on Twenty20 cricket?
A: It is entertaining and the people who want to have a good
outing it's an ideal one. But Test cricket is number one and limited
overs cricket number two. The T20 format should not be played at school
level because from the beginning they will spoil their technique. With
one's natural instincts, a player should have technique as well. Take
batsmen like Roy Dias, Ranjan Madugalle,
Michael Tissera, Anura Tennekoon, Sunil Wettimuny, Mithra Wettimuny,
and Sidath Wettimuny, Marvan Atapattu all are batting artists.
If you take Arjuna Ranatunga and Anura Tennekoon they are two players
with two different styles. So the school cricket authorities should get
together and consult the top players and coaches like Bertie Wijesinha
who is an asset to the country's cricket.