Former captain and legendary batsman Mahela Jayawardene, during a crisis management meeting at Temple Trees with country’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 21, said that the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) has not done anything in developing school cricket in last 15 years. The meeting took place after government’s announcement to build an international cricket stadium at Homagama, with an approximate budget of $40 million. Obviously, Mahela’s claim has started a new debate in Sri Lanka cricket fraternity. Many have backed Mahela’s claim, many other have opined against it.
Past SLC Interim Committee administrator Kushil Gunasekera is among those, who echoed Mahela’s sentiments about the sorry status of school cricket in the country!
A renowned philanthropist, Kushil has served Sri Lanka Cricket as Secretary, Vice President and Chairman of tour organizing committee and was part of 4 Interim Committee’s out of 8 so far!
Manager of world’s greatest bowler Muttiah Muralidaran for last 20 years, Kushil has particularly been credited for organizing the only successful U19 world cup in Sri Lanka history, in 2000. Notably, during his multiple tenures at Maitland Place, he saved millions for SLC, particularity during inbound tours!
In it’s series of publishing former SLC administrators views on Mahela’s claim on School cricket, Kushil exclusively spoke to Cricket Age and perfectly analyzed the situation.
“I endorse fully the sentiments expressed by the panel of cricket stars Mahela, Kumar, Roshan, Sanath and Lasith that what the need of the hour certainly aren’t more international stadiums, rather upgrading the, domestic schools cricket infrastructure” Kushil said to set the record straight.
During his tenure at previous Interim Committee in 2015, as a representative of SLC, he worked closely with Sri Lanka School Cricket Association (SLSCA) and is aware of the existing issues very well.
“I can remember, our committee had allocated 100 millions for school cricket in that year. In addition, we had plenty of frequent meetings with SLSCA. The real problem is the lack of a cohesive national schools cricket development plan to be facilitated, just not only a face lift considered from time to time, that again for whose who, where we need to go beyond with a proper systematic, well laid out, qualitative plan across the country. The another problem is that even if one committee constructs a good plan, the next committee aims to get rid of that plan, to stamp their own identity, which results in little progress at the end” he opined.
“I have seen action taken arbitrarily not proactively, preventing the kind of progressive, efficient development that we need to address, in harnessing the enormous talent in abundance that we see, in every district, island wide.”
Like majority of others, Kushil also is proud that Sri Lanka has the best school structure in the world, but also feels that now it is trailing behind other cricket playing nations, in a much advanced world now.
“We boast proudly of the best schools structure in the world and that can be justified in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, probably rated the best in school Cricket globally. But with modern day and age when everything is advanced to another level, our nation has failed to win a U-19 Cricket World Cup and mind you, Bangladesh won it last year beating the mighty Indian team” he added.
In this scenario, he feels that the best way to move forward, also the need of the hour, is to develop the school cricket infrastructure.
“It is imperative that Sri Lanka need to develop the school cricket infrastructure in a sustainable method, which has remained the same for decades. If we are to produce the cream of talent, like in the years gone by to compete with the best worldwide, the construction of at least one venue each, in all 25 districts with the best facilities, is absolutely critical rather than invest a staggering USD $ 40 MN in yet another international cricket stadium, so insane” he added.
Kushil is himself unearthing dozens of rural talents through his NGO Foundation of Goodness (FOG). A founder trustee of FOG along with Murali, he has established the NGO as a game changer in rural Sri Lanka, by uplifting the life standard of underprivileged, poor people.
“Since the FOG works in the rural sector on sports development, but hugely focused on the cricket aspect, we encounter the struggles and hardships of the rural schools, where we annually distribute at least 50 to 100 bags of cricket gear to schools that are in much need, not able to afford” he added further.
More importantly, unlike others, Kushil doesn’t talk only but his action speak louder than his words. And, it was only because of Kushil’s commitment for the game of cricket, that Surrey and MCC were agreed to handed over two cricket grounds to FOG. Fourteen years later, those two grounds have been maintained in the same way, which attracts 60 international school teams annually on these venues, giving much needed exposure to the rural school cricketers.
“I recall Murali along with the sponsorship of Tokyo Cement, negotiated with the then SLC Secretary Nishantha Ranatunga, through the FOG to build 30 outdoor cricket nets in the North and East, which Murali felt is the need of the hour, where they lacked opportunity to practice and develop the game of cricket” he added further.
He is still optimistic about the change of the fortune of Sri Lanka Cricket and belives that the tiny Island has enough cricket talent to conquer the world.
“That said, if we all pool our resources collectively and infuse the much needed efforts, I can only hope that cricket will continue to flourish, in our nation and further enhance the cricket image that Sri Lanka is renowned for” he concluded.