Flashback: Before conquering the Mount Everest of international cricket, young Sanath Jayasuriya received the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Outstation award in 1988. He receives the trophy from Mrs. Malini Bodinagoda, wife of then ANCL Chairman Ranapala Bodinagoda, while compere Laddie Hettiarachchi looks on
The postponed 42nd Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year 2020 will in all probably be held next month. The local health authorities have tentatively given the green light to go ahead with the show next month provided all health guidelines are strictly observed.
At the same time, the 43rd Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year 2021 will commence after the new season, which has been held up due to Covid-19, begins.
Hence, the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year will continue to remain the only uninterrupted and the oldest school cricket awards ceremony.
The Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year contest is considered as the Mother of All Battles in Sri Lanka school cricket, commencing from the early days when even the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association ever thought of rewarding the outstanding school cricketers.
When Sanath Jayasuriya was playing his school cricket for St. Servatius’’ College, Matara, the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest was conducted under two sections for All-Island for Outstation schools.
Hence, he or his school did not qualify under the All-Island category. But he was deservingly picked as the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year Outstation in 1988.
Ex-Sri Lanka captain and former Chairman of Selectors Sanath Jayasuriya said the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title would take outstanding young players closer to playing for the national side.
Commending the Sunday Observer for conducting the event for 42 long years, the explosive former Sri Lanka batsman said the elusive title he won in 1988 as an emerging player from St. Servatius’’ College, was a great source of encouragement and inspiration to go places.
Recalling his teenage career as a schoolboy cricketer at St. Servatius’’, Jayasuriya said winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title has been the dream of every schoolboy cricketer from the good old days. “There was no exception in my case too, and the glorious title gave me new wings,” he said.
“Winning the title was a big boon for any schoolboy cricketer. When I won the 1988 Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year outstation title, I thought I should stand a greater chance of playing for Sri Lanka, if I continue to focus on the game with dedication and devotion. It definitely inspired me to go places,” Jayasuriya recalled.
“With this type of a title after a glorious school career, you only need commitment and dedication to find a place in the Sri Lanka team,” said Jayasuriya in an interview with the Sunday Observer.
He was of the view that the country’s school cricket structure, once considered to be the best in the world, needs a complete overhaul to meet present day challenges and professionalism.
The winner of the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year (Outstation) award in 1988, Jayasuriya said the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) with the support of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), should make a genuine effort to uplift the standard of local school cricket.
Jayasuriya said the new Under-19 tournament structure of the SLSCA should be reviewed to focus more on producing quality cricketers to the national pool.
“In our playing days, we only had 12 First X1 inter-school matches. However, some schools play as many as 20-plus inter-school matches in each season, including their third term matches. Isn’t that too much? Scoring 1,000 runs in 20 to 24 matches is not a big deal, compared to the 10 to 12 matches most school played in the past,” the master blaster who was adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the Series in Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup triumph said.
“I don’t feel the present 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, we have some concern about the competitiveness and standard of cricket that is dished out in some matches,” he said.
“We experience too much of school cricket now. We have too many matches for a team to play for a season. That does not sound good for the game. I think the school cricket authorities have been working on to overcome these problems. They have a big responsibility and a big role to play to further improve our school cricket standards,” the former chief selector said.
Jayasuriya, however, 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. We must pay attention to that,” he said.
“When Sri Lanka’s school cricket structure and the standard was considered to be the best in the world a couple of decades back, even India was far below us. But now, India has a good under-19 structure. A couple of other Test nations have made vast improvements in their youth teams. We need to change our strategies and restructure our tournament to meet the future challenges in cricket,” Jayasuriya explained.
Jayasuriya paid a glowing tribute to the Sunday Observer and Lake House for conducting Sri Lanka’s first-ever school cricket awards show for 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 the near future. It is not easy to win that award, score over 1,000 runs or capture over 100 wickets. 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. This title takes talented schoolboy cricketers a step towards a place in the Sri Lanka team,” Jayasuriya said.
Jayasuriya said the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title is something unique and a cherished moment that any schoolboy cricketer could ever dream of.
“It has remained the dream of every schoolboy cricketer then and now. Everybody knows that this award would make a schoolboy cricketer take a giant leap forward. It inspires you to do well when you step into club cricket from school level and to the national team thereafter,” said the star batsman who had made an immense contribution to Sri Lanka cricket.
The 51-year-old dashing opener, who introduced the art of pinch -hitting during the 1996 World Cup tournament and underlined his supremacy as one of the best batsmen in world cricket, has proved his class at Test cricket as well. He has a 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 knock of 340 against India, Jayasuriya has aggregated 6,973 runs in 110 Tests, scoring 14 centuries and 31 half tons.
Thanks to the longstanding association of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA), the Sri Lanka Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association and Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), headed by Shammi Silva, the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has gone from strength to strength.
The first-ever Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, sponsored by Warner-Hudnut Haliborange, was held in 1979 to felicitate the outstanding schoolboy cricketers of the 1978/79 season. Former Sri Lanka captain Ranjan Madugalle was the first ever recipient of the glittering Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award in 1979.
The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer contest was held in 1978 in Galle with Madugalle as the winner but it is not counted in the series. However, Madugalle was the back-to-back winner in schoolboy cricketer events held in 1978 and 1979.
From 1980, the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer event was sponsored by the Bata Shoe Company before SLT Mobitel took the baton 13 years ago.
This prestigious event, started way back in 1978/79 and is organized by the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL) and sponsored by the country’s national mobile service provider Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel.
Winning a title at the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer has been the cherished dream of every schoolboy cricketer for over four decades.
It eventually 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.
Sri Lanka’s flagship English newspaper – the Sunday Observer, understood the need to recognize the raw talent of the country’s schoolboy cricketers at a time when there had been no organized inter-school cricket tournaments, apart from the traditional First XI matches of the so-called leading schools.
But the introduction of the Show and its expansion to have a separate segment for outstation schoolboy cricketers went a long way in inspiring the talented players in far flung areas. Under the directions of the Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom and SLT Mobitel Rohan Fernando has made a rich contribution towards the success of the event.