Two-time winner of Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award speaks :
Authorities must pay more attention on school cricket - Arjuna Ranatunga
Sri Lanka’s world cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga cautioned on the poor
standard of school cricket and said that the country’s cricket authorities must
take immediate action to overcome the situation. Ranatunga, who has won the
prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award twice in 1980 and
1982, said the standard of local school cricket has dropped drastically, making
a negative impact on the national pool. “It is sad to see the deteriorating
standards of school cricket. Unfortunately, Cricket Board officials do not pay
much attention on school cricket as the Sri Lanka School Cricket Association has
only two votes at board elections. Instead, they spend millions of rupees on
clubs and billions on grounds to woo votes. School cricket gets step motherly
treatment because of the huge vote base enjoyed by the clubs,” said Ranatunga
who now serves as the Minister of Ports and Shipping. Ranatunga, who captained
Sri Lanka to 1996 World Cup triumph and made a lavish contribution to Sri Lanka
cricket, said the cricket authorities have forgotten that the foundation to
national pool is school cricket. “They seem to have a different agenda and are
doing a big damage to school cricket, which is the cradle to the national team.
Politically, the Government too must focus on sports and particularly on cricket
which has brought international glory to our country over the years,” he said..
Asked about the poor spectator interest in school cricket at present, compared
to his days as a schoolboy cricketer at Ananda College, the ‘Captain Cool” said
that the poor standard in school cricket discourages spectators. “Spectators
will always be there if the matches dish out high standards - be it cricket or
any other sport for that matter. For example, Bradby Shield (rugby encounter
between Royal and Trinity) remains a crowd-puller because of its high standard.
Similarly, school cricket could regain the spectators it has lost if we could
improve its standard,”he added.
He also said that his main target in contesting the last elections of Sri Lanka
Cricket (SLC) was to burden the responsibility in restricting school cricket. “I
specifically told Nishantha’s group that I would not focus on international
cricket but purely on school cricket and need a bigger budget to uplift it’s
standard,” he pointed out. “During our time, future Sri Lanka stars could be
identified from junior cricket level. Then when we played first X1 cricket, 10
to 15 out of the top 20 schoolboy cricketers were assured of their places in the
national pool,” he said. Ranatunga said it is altogether a different scenario
now due to poor standards. “Even if a player has performed well at school level
now, he will find it hard and is unable to absorb the pressure at club or
national level. That is why we don’t see schoolboy cricketers stepping straight
into the national team and cement their place as experienced during our era,”
Ranatunga, who has aggregated 5,105 runs including four centuries and 38 fifties
and captured 16 wickets in 93 Tests, said winning the Observer Schoolboy
Cricketer of the Year or any other major award at the mega event is a life-time
experience for any cricketer. “You may go places and win many other awards at
higher levels subsequently, but an award won at Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of
the Year event remains the most memorable in any cricketer’s life,” said
“Winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award twice remains the
most cherished moment in my life. That gave me tremendous inspiration and
confidence when I stepped into the big league. When a schoolboy is adjudged the
best batsman, best bowler, best all-rounder or the Schoolboy Cricketer of the
Year, that’s a tremendous boost for that youngster, who could then aim at club
level and international arena thereafter,” he added.
Ranatunga, one of the most successful Sri Lanka captains and a great left-handed
middle order batsman, said selection process of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer
awards could be strengthened further by obtaining the services of former stars.
“I always admire the event and the awards I have won there. That is why I always
try to make it to the event if I am in Sri Lanka when the show is being held.
You could also obtain the services of a top cricketer of yesteryear such as
Roshan Mahanama who does not have vested interests,” Ranatunga concluded.
Ranatunga, still as a schoolboy cricketer at Ananda, was lucky to represent Sri
Lanka at the country’s inaugural Test against England in 1982, only a year after
winning his first Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title.
He made it a memorable occasion by becoming the first Sri Lankan to score a half
century (54) in Test cricket. He has proved his class in limited over cricket
too, aggregating 7,456 runs in 269 ODIs, including four centuries and 49