It is heartening to see two former Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award winners – Dinesh Chandimal and Kusal Mendis making Sri Lanka proud with two blistering centuries in the back to back Tests in the current home series against Bangladesh.
First it was former Cambrian cricketer Mendis, the winner of the prestigious Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title in 2013 who anchored Sri Lanka batting when Sri Lanka won the first Test against Bangladesh by 256 runs in Galle. Mendis had a marathon knock of 194 but narrowly missed a double century when he unsuccessfully attempted to signal it with a six.
Then we saw yet another former Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award winner shining in the second Test in Saravanamuttu Stadium. He is none other than former T20 captain and current Test vice captain Chandimal, who had won the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year ‘crown’ in 2009.
Coming to bat at a disastrous time for the Lankan team, Chandimal kept his cool and faced 300 balls in a brave effort to give Sri Lanka a respectable total. Rangana Herath’s decision to take the first lease of Sara Stadium wicket caused doubts as Sri Lanka was reduced to 136 for 5 at one stage.
Chandimal walked into the middle when Sri Lanka was reeling at 24 for 2 after electing to bat first. His team was in further trouble losing veteran opener Upul Tharanga as the third wicket with only 35 runs on the board. Sri Lanka slumped to 70 for 4 after losing the wicket of in-from bat Asela Gunaratne.
Although the wickets tumbled at the other end, Chandimal kept his cool and batted intelligently, picking only the bad deliveries to go for his strokes..He had one huge six and ten boundaries in a responsible innings that helped Sri Lanka to recover partially.
He played one of his slowest innings in Tests with a strike rate of only 46.00 but rated the best out of his eight Test centuries. He was the ninth batsman in the home team’s first innings but by then, Sri Lanka had managed to total over 300 runs.
Most importantly, Chandimal’s return to form came when it mattered most. After a lean run with the bat, Chandimal’s willow started talking again when his team desperately needed a lavish contribution from him. He did just that with a majestic knock of 138 runs scored through four sessions. Prior to that, 27-year-old middle order batsman had aggregated 2,397 runs in his previous 35 Tests with an average of 41.32. Chandimal has made an equal contribution to the Lankan team in ODIs, aggregating 3,095 runs in 122 matches with four centuries and 20 fifties.
Chandimal is one of the several Sri Lanka star cricketers produced by Ananda College, Colombo which has been a breeding shade for outstanding young cricketers. The galaxy of the Sri Lanka national players produced by Ananda is headed by Sri Lanka’s world cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga.
Incidentally, Ranatunga is also a proud recipient of the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award, having won the title twice in 1980 and 1982. Beside Ranatunga and Chandimal, among the other notable Anandians who had won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title are former Sri Lanka captain Marvan Atapattu (1990), Sanjeewa Ranatunga (1988), former Sri Lanka cricketers Thilan Samaraweera (1994 and 1995) and Muthumudalige Pushpakumara (1999).
Interestingly, two former Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year main title winners are playing key roles as officials in the respective sides during the current Sri Lanka-Bangladesh series. Apart from the 1985 winner Asanga Gurusinha joining the Lankan team as cricket manager from early this month, another Lankan is engaged as the batting coach of the visiting Bangladesh team. Thilan Samaraweera, who had the rare honour of winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title twice, has sharpen the skills of the Bangladesh batsmen who gave a torrid time to the Lankan bowlers last Friday.
After making only 312 and 197 all out in the respective innings of the first Test, the Bangladesh batsmen came out with a vastly improved performance in the second Test to make 467 all out. Full credit should go to former Observer Schoolboy Cricketer turned coach Samaraweera who has done a wonderful job.
It is evident that winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title is an ‘open visa’ to go places in world cricket, be it as a player, coach, umpire, match referee or chief selector.
The ‘Mother of all Shows’ has not only produced great cricketers who had conquered Mount Everest in world cricket but also engraved their names as great officials.
The first recipient of the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award Ranjan Madugalle continues to play his key role as the Chief ICC Match Referee while another award winner Kumar Dharmasena went on to join the ICC’s elite panel of umpires.
Sri Lanka’s 1996 world cup star Roshan Mahanama, who had joined the select band of cricketers who had won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title twice (1983 and 1984) too had served as an ICC Match Referee.
Incidentally, current chairman of selectors Sanath Jayasuriya too had won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year (Outstation) title in 1988 during his school career at St. Servetus College, Matara. That is precisely why thousands of schoolboy cricketers continue to dream of winning an award at the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year awards ceremony because that is an early indication of a greater role in international cricket.