Rohan Weerakkody, only cricketer to win five titles at Mega Show | Daily News
42nd Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year

Rohan Weerakkody, only cricketer to win five titles at Mega Show

Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 1987 Rohan Weerakkody, who is now residing in the Philippines, with his wife Ethel Liberato.
Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 1987 Rohan Weerakkody, who is now residing in the Philippines, with his wife Ethel Liberato.

The only schoolboy cricketer to win five titles in a single Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year event was Rohan Weerakkody, an outstanding product of St. Joseph’s College in the 80s.

But his 1987 glory was only confined to school cricket and failed to go beyond Sri Lanka youth level.

Yet, Weerakkody said he has no regrets and was honoured to win those awards. “It was an honour to win five titles including the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in a single event. I think no schoolboy has ever achieved that milestone,” he said in an exclusive interview from Laguna, Lusiana in the Philippines.

He said there is no point in talking about the past and what has been missed. “But if I had held on to some more time playing cricket, things would have been different,” said Weerakkody, who played for NCC under Ranjan Madugalle. In fact, he said Madugalle regretted when he was leaving NCC.

The Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year, ever since its inception in 1979, has always been producing top Sri Lanka and international cricketers beginning with two great Sri Lanka captains Madugalle and Arjuna Ranatunga.

Madugalle who was the first-ever Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year in its inaugural year, went on to captain Sri Lanka and currently serves as the ICC’s Chief Match Referee. Ranatunga who won the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year twice in 1980 and 1982, became Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning captain in 1996.

Former ICC Match Referee Roshan Mahanama, the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year twice in 1983 and 1984, too went only to play for Sri Lanka and also lead the country in ODIs.

Asanka Gurusinha became the next cricketing celebrity to win the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year in 1985.

While the majority of past winners went on to represent Sri Lanka with distinction, there were a few top schoolboy cricketers who lost the grip after their teenage life.

Last two weeks, we talked about two outstanding former Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year winners Rohan Buultjens and Roshan Jurangpathy who won the top awards in 1981 and 1986.

One of the few Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year award winners who was not fortunate to play for Sri Lanka was Rohan Weerakkody who won the top award in 1987, after Royalist Jarangpathy.

Despite playing for Sri Lanka Youth teams, Weerakkody could not match into either Test or ODI team after his brilliant school career at St. Joseph’s.

Born on April 30, 1968 in Colombo, he represented NCC and Air Force SC as a right-hand batsman and right-arm fast medium bowler. Prior to that, he led St. Joseph’s College with distinction. But he could play only ten first class matches during the 1988/89 to 1994/95 seasons capturing 26 wickets with innings analysis of five wickets and above twice.

Making his debut for the Sri Lankan Young Cricketers side, he went on to captain the side on seven occasions during the 1987/88 Youth World Cup, winning three matches. But his Sri Lanka Youth side failed to go beyond the qualifying round after losing four matches.

The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1987 brought the climax of Weerakkody’s school career, being called for the honours on five occasions, including the top most one. He brought tremendous honour for the Darley Road school winning awards for the Best Bowler, Best All-rounder and Best Captain. After winning the runner up award for the Best Batsman, he was ultimately adjudged the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year for 1987.

But his fight for a place in the Joes team was an easy one. In his first season for the school in 1984, he was on the reserve list for the big match, only playing a single match against St. Benedict’s. But within two years, he rose to lead his school, winning five awards at the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year awards ceremony in 1987, including the most important one.

Making his debut for St. Joseph’s in February 1984, Weerakkody taught an unforgettable lesson for Royal batsmen, finishing with a match bag of nine wickets, the architect of a superb nine wicket win.

In reply to Joes 255 for 6 declared, Royal were bowled out for 118 runs after lunch on day two. He finished with figures of 15.8-8-32-5 with his victims being Dinesh Wijewardena, Heshan de Silva, Roshan Jurangpathy, Nalinda Premachandra and H. Amarasekera.

Royal could make 165 in the second essay after the Joes enforced the follow-on. Once again, it was Weerakkody who troubled the Royal batsmen the most, with his vicious second innings spell being 19-8-41-4. It was his match bag of 9 for 73 that gave the Joes a well deserved win after 32 years. Prior to the 1984 win, their last win against Royal was in 1952 under Kenneth Serpanchy.

Even in the very next outing played in mid-February, Weerakkody’s magic worked again, this time against Wesley. He produced a penetrative spell of 12.3-8-6-8 as Wesley were shot out for 48. St. Joseph’s made 154 for 4 declared and restricted Wesley for 42 in the second innings to register a runaway innings and 64 runs victory. Weerakkody had figures of 8-5-12-2, thus completing a match bag of 10 wickets for only 18 runs. In his first two matches, he had 19 wickets for 91 runs.

Having represented St. Joseph’s in 1985 under Jonathan Alles, 1986 under Rohitha Tillekeratne, Weerakkody was given the captaincy for the 1986-87 season as a fourth-year Coloursman.

He became the first ever Josephian player to win the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year. It took another 27 years to see another cricketer from St. Joseph’s win this glory - Sadheera Samarawickrema in 2014.

Weerakkody was picked to lead the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association President’s X1 in a two-day match against the visiting England Youth Cricket team. It was the first time that a Joe was selected to lead a school’s XI against a foreign team since 1974.

Weerakoddy was also made vice captain of the Sri Lanka Youth team against the England Youth Cricket team. He was an architect of Sri Lanka’s victory over England in the first youth ODI, with a highly economical spell of 2 for 14 in 9 overs and scored 27 not out which earned him the man of the match award.

Under Weerakkody’s captaincy in 1987, St. Joseph’s remained unbeaten, enjoying a rich harvest with five outright wins - four of those by an innings. St. Joseph’s beat Carey by an innings and 133 runs, beat Mahinda College by an innings and seven runs (Weerakkody 6 for 30 in second innings), beat Prince of Wales College by an innings and 41runs (Weerakkody 4 for 25 and 5 for 31), beat St. Benedict’s College by an innings and 30 runs and beat Isipathana by six wickets (Weerakkody 5 for 13 in the second innings).

In the 1987 Coca-Cola trophy limited over knockout, St. Joseph’s College were declared as joint champs with DS Senanayake College after the final was washed out due to rain.

The Sunday Observer School Cricketer contest has gone from strength to strength since 1979 when Madugalle won the top award. Senior officials of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) and the Umpires Association met for the 2020 selections held under the patronage of a senior national selector of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) which is extending its fullest support. Principal of Nalanda Thilak Waththuhewa led the SLSCA delegation.

Sri Lanka’s flagship English newspaper - the Sunday Observer, understood the need to recognize the raw talent of the country’s schoolboy cricketers at a time when there had been no organized inter-school cricket tournaments, apart from the traditional First XI matches of the so-called leading schools.

Under the directions of the Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom and SLT Mobitel Rohan Fernando has made a lavish contribution towards the success of the event.

Nevertheless, the sponsor of the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year show – SLT Mobitel played a straight bat with the Sunday Observer to maintain the uninterrupted run of the event for the 42nd year. Thus, the 42nd Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year will be the only formal school cricket awards show for the year 2020.