Colombo: Ask any fan here to explain how the small island nation of Sri Lanka is one of the leading cricket nations in the world and almost everyone will attribute it to the contribution of schools’ cricket in the country. Every school takes pride in proclaiming its status in the school cricket league and some parents even enrol their children in a particular school based on its cricket team’s standards.
Some of the schools here are over 100 years old and they take pride in letting people know that some of the greats of the game exhibited their first signs of talent at their institution. It is not only the physical education teachers who take interest in promoting cricket among their students, but the principal and all the other teachers are also involved. Incidentally, most schools are called colleges here.
Perhaps cricket would have not seen a great cricketer like Kumar Sangakkara if it had not been for Leonard de Alwis, principal of the Trinity College, who advised Sangakkara’s mother to encourage her son to concentrate on cricket. Young Sangakkara was unsure about which game he needed to focus on since he was also good at badminton, tennis, swimming and table tennis.
Given the popularity of cricket in Sri Lanka, cricketing gear has become expensive, hence many schools seek donations from cricket lovers to procure the best equipment.
St Anne’s College in Kurunegala is one such school, which interestingly recently received help from the UAE. Hilary Wanduragala, who is in charge of the college cricket team, told me that UAE-based businessman and cricket enthusiast Shyam Bhatia had donated cricket kits to his institution. “Our school is 145 years old. It was established by the French missionaries in 1867. What started off with 19 students today has 2,500, making it one of the leading boys’ schools on the island. Since financing the game has been a major difficulty, we ask different old boys’ associations and wellwishers to help encourage our cricketers. And we are thankful to Bhatia’s generosity.”
UAE’s Desert Cubs Cricket Academy tours Sri Lanka regularly to play against top schools and also donates cricket equipment to schools.
Schools’ cricket here is divided into three divisions. Division one is made up of 36 schools, the second division comprises 32 schools, while division three has 150 schools, which are divided into groups of 24 teams.
Parents here take pride in their children representing schools with great cricketing traditions and in their being appointed the captain of certain schools. For them it is the equivalent of playing international cricket. Sri Lanka star Mahela Jayawardene captained Nalanda College, so the captain’s post there is considered very sacred.
Meanwhile, St Joseph’s College in Colombo is proud that it schooled star all-rounder Angelo Mathews and Chaminda Vaas. Lasith Malinga was discovered by former pacer Champaka Ramanayake while playing for Vidyaloka College, and he was invited by him to play for the Galle Cricket Club.
No wonder, then, Sri Lanka produces world-class cricketers despite not being a large country like most leading cricket nations.