By Afzal Laphir (Melbourne)
The schoolboy cricketer of the year award is the most prestigious title a cricketer aspires to during his school career. It brings recognition and often a place in the national side.
It is no coincidence that six cricketers in the 1996 World Cup-winning side were recipients of this award – Arjuna Ranatunga (1980 and 1982), Roshan Mahanama (1983 and 1984), Asanka Gurusinghe (1985), Kumar Dharmasena (1989), Marvan Atapattu (1990) and Muttiah Muralitharan (1991).
An Antonian has won this prize on seven occasions in the 63 years of its existence and let us have a brief look at these special cricketers.
WIJEPALA PREMARATNE (1956) – In the annals of this coveted award, Wijepala Premaratne’s name will be written in indelible ink as the first recipient, way back in 1956. That particular year, Premaratne was in good form with the bat – his scores being 76 against St Peter’s, 56 against St Benedict’s, 99 against Dharmaraja and 114 against Ananda. He was one of the best fieldsmen that season, and also led his side admirably.
Whilst at college, Premaratne also played football with distinction and he excelled in athletics as well. He finished second to the famous Rafer Johnson, the decathlon world champion in the 120 yards hurdles at the Ceylon Athletic meet. In cricket, he represented the Rest XI as a schoolboy, winning the best fielder’s award.
A graduate of the University of Ceylon, Premaratne represented the campus team and subsequently captained the Colombo Colts cricket team in the P Sara trophy tournament. Prema, as he was affectionately known, was a good thinker and a writer, and he edited a youth magazine in collaboration with his mentor TOM Deen. He was later employed as the Human Resources/ Public Relations Officer in the Ceylon Port Cargo Corporation.
No doubt influenced by his sporting prowess, Premaratne’s youngest daughter Vajira, achieved remarkable sporting success, becoming the national champion at both tennis and table tennis before she turned 18, and represented her nation in the process. She also played cricket for Sri Lanka with success. Wijepala passed away in July 2004 at the age of 68.
CHARLIE JOSEPH (1959 and 1960) – The strength of Antonian cricket in that decade was further exemplified in no uncertain terms, when Charlie Joseph was crowned the best schoolboy cricketer in the nation for two consecutive years, 1959 and 1960. He was the first to win this award twice and also captained the college team in those two years.
He was a technically correct batsman who strode the local cricket scene like a colossus and often reeled off big scores off any school attack. His achievements in the 1959 season include 123 vs St Benedict’s, 101 vs Kingswood, 101 vs Dharmaraja, 115 vs St Peter’s, 80 vs Ananda and 95 n.o vs Trinity. In the following year, the run machine continued with scores of 115 vs St Benedict’s, 50 vs Kingswood, 74 vs St Joseph’s, 70 vs Dharmaraja, 55 vs Ananda, 123 vs Nalanda and 127 vs Trinity.
In 1961, Charlie was on track for another stellar season, reeling off centuries against St Benedict’s and Dharmaraja, before the season was curtailed to only three matches due to the prevailing situation arising out of the schools take over.
Charlie’s amazing success with the bat more or less dwarfed his stature as an all-round sportsman. He was a good off spinner, in fact he started his school career as a bowler at the age of 14 under Premaratne in 1956. He also excelled in athletics, played soccer and then switched to rugby when the game was introduced to college.
Charlie would have been an automatic choice for the national team but a planting career took him away to the distant Uva where he played Daily News trophy cricket for Badulla CC before migrating to Australia in the 1960s. Charlie answered the call of his creator in the prime of life, at the age of 55, in Sydney, Australia, in August 1998.
FRANKLYN BURKE (1962) – Before a mammoth gathering at Bogambara, Franklyn Burke brought honour to college when he was adjudged the schoolboy cricketer of the year in 1962. It was the fourth occasion within the first seven years of its existence that an Antonian won this coveted award. Burke’s outstanding all-round season culminated with a thumping century against Trinity to the tune of 133 in 119 minutes with 19 fours and four sixes. Some of his highlights of the year were 38 and 2/16 vs St Sylvester’s, 6/82 vs Royal, 26 n.o., 6/89 and 3/44 vs Kingswood, 3/100 vs Ananda, 57 and 65 n.o. and 4/57vs Nalanda, 25 vs St.Joseph’s and 133 and 5/42 vs Trinity. It is worthy to note that his success came during a modest season for St Anthony’s following a decade of dominance at school cricket.
Burke was an all-rounder of the highest class – a tireless bowler, a hard-hitting batsman with strokes all-round the wicket and a superb fieldsman in any position. He joined the police force and played many years of Sara Trophy cricket for his employer.
BERNARD PERERA (1976) – The Antonians had to wait for 14 years before Bernard Perera brought fame to college by winning this prestigious award in 1976. He was easily the best cricketer produced by St Anthony’s, if not Sri Lanka, in the 1970s. Apart from his batting prowess, he also was a useful medium pacer/off-spinner and dynamic in the field. In 1976, Bernard scored four centuries including a brilliant 155 n.o. against Trinity and also captured more than 40 wickets.
On leaving school he played for the CCC and Kandy CC. Bernard was unfortunate not to have played in the inaugural Test against England in 1982 in spite of making hundreds in the two trial games and a 60 in the three day warm-up game at Asgiriya. A brilliant fielder, Bernard was the 12th man against England and in the three-Test series in Pakistan that followed. The rebel tour to South Africa put paid to his chances of representing Sri Lanka.
He coached St Anthony’s, Trinity and the national women’s team. He also was a district coach of Kandy. Bernard was taken away from us in November 2012 at the age of 56.
MUTHIAH MURALITHARAN (1991) – Muralitharan won the coveted award in 1991 and as they say the rest is history. In bowling, Murali stood head and shoulders above all others that year. It was evident in the matches that there was class written all over. He may have taken more than 100 wickets for two consecutive seasons and held the all-time record haul of 127 wickets for a season but the manner in which he performed his task was really outstanding. Murali has brought distinction to college and to his country like no other, with so much being said and written about this great son of our nation. Let the record speak for itself – 800 wickets in 133 tests and 534 wickets in 350 ODIs.
SAJITH FERNANDO (1992) – became the sixth Antonian (seventh occasion) to hold the trophy in 1992. Apart from winning the best schoolboy of the year title, he also took the prizes for the Best All-rounder, Best Batsman (runner-up) behind Russell Arnold (St Peter’s) and also became the runner-up for the Best Bowler. It is very rare for a winner to dominate the award ceremony like how Sajith was able to do that year. He completed the unique double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in the 1991-92 season, including four centuries.
In the year before when Murali won the title, Sajith was chosen as the best batsman in the competition. He scored five centuries in 1991 and fully endorsed his batting status to win the best batsman’s award.
Like Bernard, Sajith should consider himself extremely unlucky not to wear the Sri Lanka cap. He has captained strong ‘A’ teams and Board XIs whenever a Test or representative team visited Sri Lanka or whenever a Sri Lanka ‘A’ or under-23 team toured any other country. Sajith’s dad Ian also played cricket for college, along with uncles Guy and Nihal Fernando. His son Shehan represented Sri Lanka at under 19 level a few years ago.
Over the years, players such as Thaiyar Mohamed (best- all-rounder in 1977), Damian Nadarajah (best batsman and runner-up schoolboy cricketer in 1987), Ruwan Kalpage (best bowler and runner-up best all-rounder in 1988 and the best all-rounder in 1989) and Tyronne de Silva (best all-rounder in 2003) came close to bagging the ultimate prize.
As we continue to bask in the glory of Prema, Charlie, Franko, Bernard, Murali and Sajith’s achievements, it is a little disheartening to realise that 28 years have gone by since our last success.
Winston Churchill once said “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” It is this enthusiasm showed by the school and the OBA that have kept Antonian cricket in good stead, help elevate the side to Division 1 with more success to come in the future.