by Reemus Fernando
When the Devapathiraja team visited Colombo for the knockout stage matches of the just concluded Under-19 Division I tournament Lumbini and Wesley generously provided free lodgings for the team. When they host teams, Richmond come to their rescue providing accommodation for the visiting teams. Foundation of Goodness has been providing them team kits. Except the umpire fees, all their other expenses on cricket are met by the cricketers’ not so well to do parents. Their coach had done a voluntary job for a better part of the last two decades. In return, Devapathiraja College, Ratgama boxing their way up in the country’s schools cricket rankings have not disappointed.
When schools with over 100 years of rich cricket history and substantial funds to nurture the sport struggle in lower divisions in the premier Under-19 cricket tournament, Devapathiraja, a little known entity at the start of the millennium, have improved by leaps and bounds during the last two decades. Their latest achievement was reaching the final of the just concluded Under-19 Division I Tier ‘B’ cricket tournament.
Devapathiraja were the babies of the Tier ‘B’ of the Division I tournament inclusive of power houses of cricket namely Ananda College, Thurstan College and St. Peter’s College from Colombo and strongholds of Southern Province, Mahinda, St. Servatius’, St. Aloysius’ and Dharmasoka. Against many odds Devapathiraja reached the final. After being bowled out for a low score they made Mahinda College, Galle toil hard for victory.
Devapathiraja started playing cricket when their current coach Ranjan Lasantha de Silva was a student at the school. Many schools started playing hard ball cricket following the 1996 World Cup win. Ranjan, like the rest of the youth of his era was craving to play cricket. Unfortunately there was no cricket team or facilities for the sport at the school. He requested in writing that cricket be started at his school. Fortunately the principal, late T.A.C.N. Gunasekara had come from a cricket playing school (Revata College) and facilitated the start. Like the majority of schools which started playing cricket after 1996, the sport started with a Big Match against Sri Sumangala College, Hikkaduwa in 1997. But the sport did not really kick off until the correct combination of coach, Master in Charge and the sports loving youth got together a couple of years later.
With no previous coaching experience Ranjan after leaving school started training the school’s teams. By 1999 the school had started training all four age groups.
“I was influenced and helped by the likes of Tedlal Silva and Viraj Chaminda to pursue qualifications in coaching. So I did the Level I coaching course conducted by Sri Lanka Cricket. Also followed whatever other courses available to be qualified for the job. I must also thank former District Coach Lasith Chaminda and officials like, Jayananda Warnaweera for their support,” said Ranjan in an interview with The Island.
When cricket Devapathiraja commenced playing cricket they did not have a proper ground and the teams took refuge at the Ratgama Public ground. The school received a boost when Nishantha Kumara, who had the experience in running cricket at Neluwa National School received a transfer to Devapathiraja in 2000. He did all the necessary correspondence for all age group teams to play in Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association conducted tournaments and worked hand in hand with Ranjan until they were promoted to Division I.
Devapathiraja achieved their first breakthrough when they reached the final of the Under 19 Division III tournament in the 2013/14 season. They were the runners up to Debarawewa National School that season and earned the all important promotion to Division II the following year. It did not take too long for them to graduate from Division II to Division I.
“You have to play in the Division I category for your players to get recognition. Players in the lower divisions too are called for selection trials but it is highly unlikely for them to get the selectors’ nod. That realization compelled us to strive for Division I qualification,” said Ranjan.
However by the time they had reached the top Division they had already produced several cricketers to club level and one of their products, Tharindu Kaushal had played several Tests for Sri Lanka.
They were the Division II champions in the 2017/2018 season and commenced their Division I campaign in the 2018/19 season where they struggled but managed to avoid relegation.
Devapathiraja have done well in the lower age category tournaments as well and has produced players who have represented the Sri Lanka Schools Under-15 teams and National Youth Teams. Dilshan Kanchana, Umesh Mayurakantha, Pathum Madusanka, Raveen Yasas and Thikshila de Silva are among them.
According to Ranjan, cricket at Devapathiraja survives thanks to the contributions made by the cricketers’ parents who are not from well to do families. “The Schools Development Society provides umpire fees. But all other expenses are taken care of by cricketers’ parents. But there are others who help like the Foundation of Goodness which provides several scholarships for students and playing kits. Principal of Richmond College and the Masters in Charge of Cricket of both Mahinda and Richmond support us when we host teams. When we went to Colombo for the knockout stage matches Wesley College and Lumbini College provided lodging” said Ranjan.
Ranjan also appreciated the support given by the school’s Principal Sam Silva and current Master In Charge of Cricket Ranjith Kumbalathara.
Ranjan said that cricket at Devapathiraja has not only helped the national team find raw material but has also helped youth of the area to engage in sports in a meaningful way.
Sudeera Weeraratne (Captain), Irushka Thimira, Dinitha Prabanka, Pawan Sandesh, Jeewaka Shasheen, Sasanka Nirmal, Tharindu Rukshan, Matheesha Saranga, Darshaka Sandeepa, Sandaru Theekshana, Chaminda Sandaruwan, Pathum Shaminda, Pradeep Rangana, Hiran Chamikara, Chanuka Sulakshana, Simash Dilunja.