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Sunday, 28 February 2016

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Memories that made the 'Mother of all Shows'

None even in their best of dreams would have thought that the then Royal College captain Ranjan Madugalle would go places in such grand fashion when he was adjudged the first-ever Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year some four decades ago.

Since then, the stylish middle order batsman who led the Reid Avenue school at the centenary Royal-Thomian cricket encounter way back in 1979, had achieved what a schoolboy cricketer could ever dream of - captaining his club NCC and Sri Lanka with distinction and finally serving as the Chief Match Referee of the ICC.


Ranjan Madugalle

This is merely just one of the many classic examples of the world class star cricketers brought to the limelight by Sri Lanka's first-ever school cricket awards show. The galaxy of Observer Schoolboy cricketers include some of the greatest cricketers produced by the country - Arjuna Ranatunga, Muttiah Muralitharan, Sidat Wettimuny, Sanath Jayasuriya, Roshan Mahanama, Asanka Gurusinha, Marvan Atapattu, Kumara Dharmasena and Dinesh Chandimal to name a few.

But the entry of Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel about a decade ago to boost the 'show of all shows' with a lavish sponsorship package took this great show towards new horizons. Since then, the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has gone from strength to strength, inspiring the country's budding schoolboy cricketers to aim for the big league.

Sri Lanka's flagship English newspaper - the Sunday Observer, felt the need of recognizing the raw talent of the country's schoolboy cricketers at a time when there had been no organized inter-school cricket tournaments, other than the traditional first X1 matches of the so-called leading schools.

But the introduction of the show and its expansion to have a separate segment for the outstation schoolboy cricketers went a long way in inspiring the talented cricketers in the far flung areas.

The selection of one of Sri Lanka's greatest cricketers and the winner of the Most Valuable Player award in the country's 1996 World Cup triumph Sanath Jayasuriya as the Observer Outstation Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in the late 80s turned out to be a tremendous boost for players in the outstations.

During his last interview with the Sunday Observer on the event which initially brought him to the limelight at an awards show, ICC Chief Match Referee and former Sri Lanka captain Ranjan Madugalle said that it was a great source of encouragement for youngsters who aspire to become international cricketers.

"The Sunday Observer should be complemented for keeping the show going for all these years. Sponsors are essential to keep the show going. May the show continue for many years to come.

'In the past, most of the winners of the top awards came from Colombo and its suburbs, but now, the outstation schools have come in a big way and it is a positive sign for the game," he was quoted as saying.

Sri Lanka's World Cup-winning captain turned Minister Arjuna Ranatunga has been a regular guest at the event, since he had won the prestigious award on two occasions in 1980 and 1982.

"It is the dream of any schoolboy cricketer to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award. It's great for the Sunday Observer to conduct the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Contest for over three-and-a-half decades to encourage the budding schoolboy cricketers," says Captain Cool.

Year after year, the standard of the show and the enthusiasm it generates have gone from strength to strength. Its 'connection' with SLT Mobitel has been the key to the overwhelming response the show has attracted over the years. Chief Operating Officer of SLT Mobitel Nalin Perera has played a key role in supporting the Sunday Observer to take the show towards greater heights.

Based on the past success and tremendous response it has received from thousands of schoolboy cricketers across the country, voting for the 38th Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year most popular contests began a fortnight ago and is expected to reach its climax towards the end of the on-going First X1 season.

The Sunday Observer's initiative to recognize the achievements of schoolboy cricketers some four decades ago have brought rich dividends. The paper has been extremely happy to see several other awards shows following her example to reward outstanding schoolboy cricketers at the end of each season.

Yet, the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year remains the 'Mother of all Shows' and would continue to foster the country's next generation cricketers.

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