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Sunday, 24 April 2016

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Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 1988 (Outstation) speaks

School cricket needs complete overhaul - New Chairman of Selectors Sanath Jayasuriya:

Former Sri Lanka captain Sanath Jayasuriya said that the country's school cricket structure, once considered to be the best in the world, needs a complete overhaul to meet today's challenges. The winner of the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year (Outstation) award in 1988, Jayasuriya who will be re-appointed as the Chairman of the National Cricket Selection Committee from May 1, said the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) and Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) should make a joint effort to uplift the standard of local school cricket.

"During our time, we had only 12 first X1 school matches. But now, some schools play over 20 inter-school matches in one season, including their third term matches. That's too much. Scoring 1,000 runs in 20 to 24 matches in not a big deal, compared to the 10 to 12 matches most schools had in the past," he said.

The master blaster who was adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the Series in Sri Lanka's 1996 World Cup triumph said the new Under-19 tournament structure of the SLSCA should be reviewed to focus more on producing quality cricketers to the national pool. "I'm not saying the new tournament structure is bad. It has given an opportunity to some top school teams in the outstations to play against the leading Colombo schools. That's a positive sign. But at the same time, I have a concern about the competitiveness and standard of cricket dished out in some matches," he said. "My problem is that we see too much of cricket for a team in one season. That's not good. I think the SLSCA is working on to streamline these problems. They have a big responsibility and a leading role to play to improve Sri Lanka's school cricket," Jayasuriya said.

Nevertheless, the chief selector designate said the standard of the country's school cricket has not dropped. "I don't think that the standard has dropped. It has not improved from the level it was, compared to other teams in the world. It has stagnated, instead of going further up from the point we were in. We must pay attention to that," he pointed out.

"When Sri Lanka's school cricket structure and the standard was considered to be the best in the world a couple of decades back, India was far below us. But now, India has a good under-19 structure. Similarly, the West Indian under-19 cricket too has made a marked improvement. We need to change our strategies and restructure our tournament structure to meet the future challenges in cricket," Jayasuriya said.

Recalling his early days as a schoolboy cricketer at St. Servatius College, Matara, Jayasuriya said winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title is everyone's dream from the good old days. "When I won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year outstation title, I thought I should stand a chance of playing for Sri Lanka, if I continue to focus on the game with dedication and devotion. It inspired me to go places," he said.

Paying a rich tribute to Sunday Observer and the Lake House for conducting the country's first-ever school cricket awards show for almost four decades, Jayasuriya said every schoolboy who wins the prestigious Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award stands a good chance of representing the country, if they continue the game with dedication. "If you win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award, you stand a big chance of playing for Sri Lanka in near future. It is not easy to win that award, score over 1,000 runs or capture over 100 wickets is no easy task. When you see the star schoolboy cricketers who had won this prestigious award in the past, it is evident that most of them have ended up with the national team and underlined their supremacy in the international arena. Once you win the title, you only need commitment and dedication to find a place in the Sri Lanka team," Jayasuriya said.

Jayasuriya, who has aggregated 13,430 runs including 28 centuries and 68 fifties and captured 323 wickets in 445 ODIs, said the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title is something unique and a cherished moment that any schoolboy cricketer could dream of. "It was the dream of all schoolboy cricketers during my time and even now. Everybody knows that this award would put you one step ahead and inspire you to do well when you step into club cricket from school level and to the national team thereafter," said the explosive opening batsman who had made an immense contribution to Sri Lanka cricket.

The 46-year-old dashing opener who took on the art of pinch hitting during the 1996 World Cup tournament and underlined his supremacy as one of the best batsman in world cricket, has proved his class in Test matches as well. Apart from his grand triple of 13,430 runs, 323 wickets and 123 catches to become probably the best ODI all-rounder ever in world cricket, Jayasuriya had also been a classy batsman in the established game with a career best 340 against India. He has aggregated 6,973 runs in 110 Tests, cracking 14 centuries and 31 half tons.

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