In Australia it may be the states and in England it may be the counties. But in Sri Lanka there is no doubt that the main feeders to the national grid in cricket are the schools. From the days when the Colombo Academy played S. Thomas’ in the 1880s to the modern day ‘Royal Battle of Walawa’ played between Therapuththa National School in Ambalanthota and Vijayaba National School in Hungama, schools have produced cricketers in an unbroken chain.
This is the main reason that Sri Lanka, with an area of only 65,610 Sq. Km, of which cricket is mainly played in the South, West and the Central regions, has managed to maintain a mainstream cricketing culture since it gained full Test status in 1981.
So the importance of this is well protruded. Yet, sadly what is transpiring unabated in the sphere of school cricket is at times despicable and often detrimental.
To begin our narration, before we take the argument forward, we reproduce an excerpt from an article published in last week’s edition of our paper. The story reads: “According to the Manager of Schools Development at SLC, Carlton Bernadus, a schools representative side comprising under 13 and under 15 students has gone on an under 15 tour to Malaysia without subscribing to proper procedure.
“Initially the Sri Lanka School Cricket Association (SLSCA) had approached Education Ministry’s Director (Physical and Training) Rohana Karunaratne and asked for permission to go ahead with this tour. However Karunaratne had asked for a detailed report about this tour, but the SLSCA officials had failed to submit that report.
“Then when the report of this tour had reached the Minister of Education Bandula Gunawardena he had requested Mr. Karunaratne to inquire into the matter immediately. However Karunaratne had not acted promptly on the matter and had asked for the initial report.
“Then the SLSCA officials who were charging sums ranging from 78,000 to 85,000 rupees per child had approached the Deputy Minister of Education, gotten the approval for this tour and had gone ahead as planned, leaving for Malaysia with a team of schoolboys who could afford to pay the sum of money.”
This is a very dangerous state of affairs. In this major Test playing nation it is Sri Lanka Cricket which is the custodian of the game. Then how could a bunch of school teachers defy the right procedure and undertake a private tour under the national flag?
Bernadus explained matters further to the Sunday Times Musings. He said, “We were informed of an under 15 tour to Malaysia. A letter was sent to the Ministry of Education on March 15 and they took wing on March 29 or 30. In 15 days 250 boys were selected and trials, practices and further selections were held. But Sri Lanka Cricket was not aware of such a tour. The Sports Ministry was not aware of such a tour. Even the omnipresent media were not aware of a junior tour of this nature. Yet the teams were selected and the monies were collected. Where are we heading?”
The Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association is an affiliated member of Sri Lanka Cricket. According to Bernadus, M.T.A. Rauf, Assistant Principal of Royal College, was the Secretary at the time (The SLSCA had its Annual General Meeting recently and Rauf was voted out by the membership). Rauf, being the Secretary of the SLSCA, was appointed by the Association to be a member of the SLC Executive Committee ex-officio. He is well aware of the SLC mechanism, so why then did he fail to inform cricket’s main body of such a tournament?
Bernadus asked, “If he had forwarded the paper about the tour to us, we would have assisted them in many ways. We would have got them the grounds for practices, the funds that are needed for such a tour, facilities to use the nets at Khettarama and expertise for selections. If they were genuine in their cause they would have brought it to our notice. Ironically, they have made this same unofficial trip, charging a student 60,000/-, even last year.
“Why do they have to collect money for the tour? I was made to understand by the Schools Selection Committee, headed by Dilshan de Silva, that the final thirty names of schoolboys from about 250 were given to the SLSCA Secretary Rauf. From that, fourteen members were selected. How they went is a good guess. There is a Selection Committee at the SLSCA -- then who selected the team and was it sent to the Minister of Sports for ratification? All overseas sports tours of this nature have to be endorsed by the Sports Minister. Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena had requested the Ministry’s Physical and Training Director Rohana Karunaratne to look into this matter and have an inquiry, but they have gone with the blessings of the Deputy Minister who did not know a thing.”
Then it was pointed out that if monies were collected for such a tour, receipts had to be issued. The following question was also asked by the SLC Schools Development Manager. Was there an official letter with regard to this tour? There is only a letter loosely describing a tour and someone’s scribble at the bottom about how much the tour was going to cost.
Bernadus explained that the SLSCA in the recent past has not heeded any of SLC’s calls. He said, “We have requested them to curtail the number of first Xl fixtures. This is due to injury and wear and tear of the players. We have requested them to play their traditional matches and one or two extra games which would amount to about 15. Now most schools end up playing 18-22 matches per season. The matches also should be played only on weekends. In today’s school cricket do you get a proper fixture card? No. It is all haphazard. In the good old days schools had matches every weekend, now it is not so. I am sure the Education Ministry and the Sports Ministry should probe this issue and say that school cricket should be played either on Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday.”
It was then pointed out that according to the present setup a schoolboy does not have the time to prepare for his studies, or even have proper practice time as a result of them playing inter-school matches across the week.
The School Cricket Development Manager said the result of this was player burnout. He said that in the past a promising schoolboy used to play about 5-6 seasons of first Xl cricket. He said, “Players of the calibre of Arjuna Ranatunga, Roshan Mahanama, Asanka Gurusinha, Aravinda de Silva, Romesh Ratnayake, Ravi Ratnayake, Rohan Wijesinghe, Rohan Buultjens and the late Anura Ranasinghe played many seasons of first Xl cricket. But what happens now -- those cricketers who have been identified at a young age burn out on most occasions. The boys come down in their exams because they have been playing cricket right through. For example we had an up-and-coming young fast bowler -- Sanitha de Mel from St. Sebastian’s. Last year he won a SLC-CEAT award also. Today that lad is a spent force. I also heard that there is another brilliant young cricketer in the same school. He is thirteen-years-old and is already playing for the first Xl. I would like you to monitor this boy under the present setup and see where he will end-up. Cricket is played right through the year and they do not have the time to recuperate.”
This is the time to earnestly take proper stock of school cricket. What we need at this hour are fresh legs and not spent forces. Misusing school cricket is a very treacherous act. The perpetrators should be punished. Who is trying to fool whom?