Pavilion Parade by M V Muhsin
September 23rd, 2012 by Admin

the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year

The Asgiriya Cricket ground is known for its resplendent setting nestled in the Kandyan Hills, lush green with fresh air. Such is the tranquility that it exudes that it’s hardly the place for a fire to be lit. But for Niroshan Dickwella, the Trinity cricket captain and this year’s Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, March 10 was a veritable cauldron. As the fire of excitement was being kindled in the dying minutes of Kandy Schools’ Big Match between St. Anthony’s and Trinity, the pressure cooker was at its tempest, and an important call had to be made by Dickwella. Much was at stake: reputation, leadership, history and records and the renaissance of Trinity cricket.

It was in the dying minutes of the game on the second day as evening shadows lengthened. St. Anthony’s were put to ‘follow on’ against a Trinity first innings score of 302 for 8 wickets. The Antonian last pair was batting and Trinity had a lead of 110. The Antonians were 109- only a run away from avoiding an innings defeat and making Trinity to bat again. It was 4.45 pm and stumps had to be drawn at 5 pm, and so if Trinity were forced to bat again there would not have been sufficient time for them to come back and score the winning runs. It would have been a drawn game.

The Antonians were playing defensively, so much so that the last three overs were maidens. And in the last but one over of the innings, an appeal for LBW which seemed dead straight in front of the wicket was disallowed and there was a huff of controversy-was it bat or pad? was the catch taken at short leg really clean? But the Umpire’s word -‘not out’-was first reluctantly and then graciously accepted.

Exciting moment

Last over called: crowd on tenterhooks; nail-biting; pulse rising; adrenaline rushing; excitement palpable. Asgiriya is on fire! Dickwella had to decide whether to use a pace bowler Amrith Srimahan (who already had a match bag of 5 for 39) or spinner Janishka Premasinghe (who had until then taken 3 for 39).

These are times when those at the top rung of the ladder of leadership are put to the test.

It’s lonely up there at the wicket for a captain! Spin or pace? Who is best suited take the wicket in this last over? A major record was at stake and history can be made. The last two times Trinity won against the Antonians were 61 years ago under Eustace Rulach, who later became Sports Editor of this newspaper; and then again 26 years ago in 1986 under TP -Thushara-Weerasooriya.

Dickwella says a silent prayer. Tosses the ball to spinner Janishka. Will it work?

Yes, we can and yes it did ! In the fourth ball of the over: a catch is snicked off a tricky spinner from Janishka; wicketkeeper and captain Dickwella leaps and snatches the ball in a life saving act and is equal to the task. His prayer is answered. History is made.

Dickwella’s finest moment

That was Niroshan Dickwella’s finest and crowning moment as a leader, captain and a wicketkeeper. He had taken 5 catches, executed 2 stumps. And with so many demons gloved, he won the award for the Best Fielder of the Big Match.

The genesis of this schoolboy star can be traced to his Grade 2 schooling days when Papa Niranjan Dickwella identified the potential in his son, enrolled him at the Cricket Academy in Kandy under the guidance of coaches Bernard Perera and Harold Ranasinghe.

Yet it was the abiding influence of three females that made the young Dickwella pursues his cricket career in earnest: his Mom Sunethra, who hailed from the Navaratne clan that had deep connections to Trinity staff, and two teachers in the Junior School Sarojini Dias and Nimali Kiridena. They goaded Niroshan to keep the faith in his talents. Mom Sunethra decided that family came first and gave up a lucrative job at Lanka Porcelain to take care of her son Niroshan and daughter Sonali, who was in her own right, a Netball star at Kandy’s Good Shepherd Convent.

The Dickwellas reside in the splendor of Gelioya, a rural outpost in Kandy. Their house overlooks tracks of lush green paddy fields which provide them with the grounded reality that builds character in many a middle class family and injects simplicity to their lives. Niroshan travels by bus to school and waits by the ‘Junction Boutique’-affectionately referred to as the”thambi kade’ – for his ride. The Mudalalis of the boutique, Azwer and Thawfeeq, dote on this cricket star and provide him with unsolicited advice–‘be careful, these girls will be after you, don’t get fooled; be selective; focus on your cricket. You must become like Sanga!”

Charm No 11 lucky number

And indeed Kumar Sangakkara is Niroshan’s role model. As fate would have it, both are left hand batsmen, both captained Trinity, both use Number 11 as their charm number, both open batting and both are wicketkeepers!

It was in 2008, however, that Coach Sampath Perera spotted the talent of U 15 player Dickwella and included him in the first XI squad. There were three wicketkeepers eyeing for the spot but Sampath Perera who has coached many a Sri Lankan cap – who we shall feature next week- made bold by stating that he had picked Niroshan and he wanted him to lead the school to victory in 2012. It was a four year plan!

What seemed a dream became reality through a process of ‘tough as nails’ training and coaching. Niroshan recalls the days when he and his colleague had to be at the gym on Mondays and Wednesdays at 6 am prompt, and run and play football for fitness on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Assistant coaches Ruwan Chamara and Kavinda Jayasuriya and Masters in Charge Vinod Vishnuvadna, as were junior school coaches Kalugampitiya and Wasalathanthri, were in hot pursuit of the players.

Coach’s confidence vindicated

Coach Sampath’s confidence in Niroshan was vindicated in many ways during the season. Niroshan had developed a strike rate of 130. He made a career high against Mahinda College, Galle-212 in 184 balls; 24 boundaries and 3 sixes. He faces pace with absolute confidence, says Coach Sampath: he has a good eye, strong, elegant and hard driving shots within a 360 degree range all around the ground; he allows the ball to come up to him and with short steps plays it on the rise; he is a terrific wicketkeeper too, adept at reading the bowler and the swing of the ball, and moves with a rare promptness and mental skill; a captain who is a motivational leader who has benefited from a great alliance with the previous year’s captain Akila Jayasundera: and both of them are surely Sri Lanka Cricket prospects.

Deep down in Niroshan’s success is his Anglican upbringing and an unfailing routine, if not discipline, of prayer at night and in the mornings and a visit to the local church St. John’s to seek blessings. He often counts his blessings for benefiting from the guidance of Sampath Perera who he says is a ‘perfect coach’ who is there for us through thick and thin. Without him, Niroshan says, there is no way Trinity would have achieved being League Champs; 50 over champs and T-20 Champs.

We doff our cap to the Dickwella family and to Trinity Coach Sampath Perera for the making of the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of 2012.