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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 July, 2004, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Sri Lanka keep eye on the future

By Ayanjit Sen
BBC, Colombo

A middle-aged cricket coach in stylish sunglasses and whites is putting a group of young boys through their paces.

Schoolboy cricketers in the nets
Sri Lanka's schools have traditionally been very strong
"Play a square drive," says the coach and throws the ball towards him. The boy responds in copybook style.

If this boy at the age of eight can play a square drive, imagine what he will do at 18, the coach says.

This saying is followed by the Sri Lankan cricket authorities to the core but some practical problems are hampering the growth of cricketing talent among the school kids in the country.

Sri Lanka boasts, perhaps, the highest standard of school cricket in the world, with many of its international stars donning the national colours while in school.

B S Perera
The schools nurture competitiveness, basic skills and fair play
B S Perera
SL School CA secretary
The secretary of the Sri Lankan School Cricket Association, BS Perera, says lack of grounds is proving to be detrimental for the development of young cricketers in the country.

"There were just more than 100 schools participating in school tournaments a decade ago but the number has swelled up to more than 350 now," he explains.

"All schools do not have grounds where the boys can practice and hone their skills."

Junior cricket in Sri Lanka is divided into age categories where players below the age of 14, 16 and 19 slog it out in different tournaments.

Perera believes school cricket in the country is the breeding ground for international cricketers.

"The schools nurture competitiveness, basic skills and fair play and many of the talented players in school later play in the national league and the newly launched provincial tournament," he says.

Aravinda de Silva
School cricket in Sri Lanka had a very high standard which has gone down
Aravinda de Silva
The interest among children to play cricket has increased after Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996, according to a Sri Lankan cricket board official.

Ashok Fernando is a current student, whose favourite batsman is opening batsman Sanath Jayasuriya - a star of the 1996 win.

"I want to practice hard and represent my country in this game," he says.

Former Sri Lanka players believe that the country probably has the best pool of players anywhere in the world.

"Sri Lanka has got the best nursery in school cricket but they have to work hard on their fitness and need to know the different physical and mental aspects of the game," says a former player.

Ashok Fernando
Young Ashok Fernando wants to represent Sri Lanka one day
But Sri Lankan cricket authorities say it is not just paucity of grounds but also inadequate coaching which is proving to be a major block in the improvement of standards of the game in this country.

"Many coaches are concerned with producing results in matches rather than properly honing up the skills of individual players," says Perera.

Even former Test player Aravinda de Silva, now chief of selectors, echoes a similar viewpoint.

"School cricket in Sri Lanka had a very high standard which has gone down," he says.

"The reason may be to do with lack of facilities and good coaching for the increasing number of schools participating in tournaments."

But veteran coach Lionel Mendis, who has coached Mahela Jayawardene among others, believes the standard has gone down because of excessive stress on one-day tournaments.

"As this structure of school cricket is being changed, quality of cricket will improve," says Mendis.

Meanwhile, the school cricketers are busy in the nest, trying to iron out the faults that prevent a player from reaching the grade they always aspire to.


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