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Muditha Wijekoon - opening batsman par excellence

by Rohan L. Jayetilleke

The English poet Thomas Gray writing his elegy in a country churchyard in England lamented over the unhonoured and the unsung heroes.

"Full many a gem of purest ray serene, Dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear, Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, To lose its sweetness in the desert air," This lamentation metamorphises the inevitable destiny faced by cricketers and other sportsmen nurtured by the leading National School in the last Sinhala kingdom's (Senkadagalapura or Srivardhanapura of old) Dharmaraja College, who on the completion of their school career, having reached national standards wither away unemployed. This is the undeniable destiny of Dharmaraja cricketers.

Dharmaraja College of Kandy commenced her long career in the field of education in the year 1887, with twelve students in an improvised shed, in the Kandy Natha Devale premises, pioneered by the national leaders Wadugodapitiye Rala, Dullewe Adikaram, T. B. Panabokke (later knighted and D. J. Wijayagoonewardena on 1887 June 30th. Today the number of students on roll is approximately 4500 with a tutorial staff of around 175. The cricket legacy of Dharmaraja College is as old and tall as the Dharmaraja Hill of panoramic beauty on which the college and the college cricket ground Lake View stands.

The first principal of Dharmaraja, orientalist and later to be knighted in recognition of his services in the field of education, scholarship and in the Legislative Council, Sir D. B. Jayatilleke, introduced the game of cricket to Dharmaraja, to consolidate the discipline of the students and their dedication to socio-economic development of Ceylon, then a British colony.

In the formative years of cricket at the college, as students were few in number to select a team Sir D. B. Jayatilleke for a few years led the college team with a few masters and students making up the First Eleven. With the passage of time as the students picked up the technicalities of cricket Sir D.B., umpired the inter-collegiate matches. It was the tradition then for principals of colleges to umpire college matches.

In those far off days cricketers of Dharmaraja having completed their education found lucrative employment in the private banks, tea plantations and also in the Police Force. Of the many, those who come to my mind (being not a native of Kandy or an old Rajan, but picked up from the newspapers) were T.B. Talwatte the first centurion of the Dharmaraja - Kingswood Big match, who after a highly impressive career in the Police, and retired as a Senior Superintendent of Police.

Another cricketing great was Arthur Alwis, 'Doyen of Kandy Cricket' and for many years cricket coach of Dharmaraja. T. B. Kehelgamuwa, the 'hurricane bowler who is now a Senior Superintendent of Police and a cricket administrator at national level. Late 'Sonny' Yatawara, was a 'Speed Merchant' who was the most feared bowler by any side.

In this present age of value-added cricket there is a traditionally stabilized dichotomy of government schools and the so-called 'prestigious' feel-levying schools. In the matter of employment of school-leaving cricketers, the latter category spurred by the old-school tie, the very day they leave school are drafted for employment in leading corporate bodies. In this scenario, Dharmaraja crickets as well as those from outstation schools (other than Colombo) become Cindrellas. Even a fairy helped Cindrella and no such fairies help the Rajans.

Today Sri Lanka's national cricket is at its lowest ever ebb. We have been ruminating on the euphoria of 1996 World Cup victory never mindful of the fact Sri Lanka has so far not produced an opening pair of the calibre of Desmond Hayness and Gordon Greenidge of the West Indies Test squads of the past or of the present openers of Australia Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist. Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu, have been just inconsistent as openers and only flashes in the pan. They are both ageing and the slot has to be filled with Avishka Gunewardena and Michael Van Dort. To them there need to be another string of openers, to rotate the openers' slot.

Dharmaraja College skipper Muditha Tharanga Wijekoon, now aged nineteen plus and G.C.E. (Advanced Level) qualified (born on December 10, 1983), on the strength of his achievements as an opening bat for Dharmaraja College since 1997 todate is the ideal acorn, if well nurtured at first class cricket would blossom into a top class opening batsman of the calibre of Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greendige, Matthew Hayden or Adam Gilchrist.

He cut his teeth at cricket as an opening bat for his college scoring 160 runs in 3 matches in the under-13 matches, 275 runs in 7 matches in the under-15 and 531 in 8 matches in the under-17. With this stupendous batting prowess as an opener he was tasked to open the college first-eleven in the years 1999-2000, 2000-2001, 2001-2002 and 2002-2003, he notched up 625, 923 and 824 runs respectively.

He captained the Under-19 Central Province team too. He reached the zenith of his five-year-long cricketing career at Dharmaraja College, leading the side to win the Lemonade Trophy beating the more fancied Ananda College side by one run in the last over of the day.

It is sincerely hoped, that by writing would not be another lighted candle in the violent winds that either the Hatton National Bank or the Hongkong Shanhai Bank will be pleased to offer this up and coming opening bat very early employment under them as these two banks give a helping hand to potential cricketers, who would one day bring honour and fame to Sri Lanka. Muditha Tharanga Wijekoon could be contacted at: - No. 22, Uplands Road, Kandy. (08-237817).

As one who has been a cricket freelance writer for the last five decades and a retired senior official of the government service, I await with fingers crossed for a helping hand to this young man, a fine cricketer with a bright future.

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