Asitha Jayaweera – a born leader
Bernie Wijesekra reporting from London
It was an era when Sri Lanka had not yet being invited to show their skills in the ‘big league’ of cricket and the schools cricket drew in a lot of spectator interest and the game at that level it self could hold their cards with any other cricket playing nations in the world.

In the tail-end of Sri Lanka’s stay in the cricketing wilderness – in the early seventies, Royal College Colombo came up with a product by the name of Asitha Jayaweera. Jayaweera a wily off spinner and a very dependable middle-order batsman, soon was reckoned with the capabilities of an astute leader. He took over the Royal reins in 1970 and held on to the leash till 1972 when he was also chosen captain a Sri Lanka team that included two players who graduated to become the first and the second Sri Lanka Test captains – Bandula Warnapura and Duleep Mendis. It was ten years before Sri Lanka gained Test status and Jayaweera who also was an academic took wings to England on pursuit of a different career.

On a quiet afternoon at the Shenley Ground on August 2, I bumped into soft-spoken Asitha Jayaweera while he was watching the first test between Sri Lanka – England (Under-19) match. Knowing him from his schooldays I soon renewed my acquaintance with him. Unassuming Asitha has not forgotten his past or the ones who helped him to go places in life. He was coached by late F.C. de Saram at Royal where he has left an indelible mark as a schoolboy. Now a Chartered Surveyor, Head of Building Control, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Asitha invited me to share dinner with him in a cozy Indian restaurant and recap some of those old memories we shared.. By the way, Asitha is the first coloured person to hold this position in the Local authority Building Control of the United Kingdom.

Q: What’s your unforgettable moment as a schoolboy?
A: Saving the game against Australia Under-19 schoolboy team in 1972. Batting throughout the final day of the last day at the Oval.

Q: Has cricket helped you to get on in life?
A: Most certainly. Having had the good fortune of being given the opportunity to captain sides throughout my school career it gave me an early grounding, in all the leadership qualities that one needs these days, to be successful in any walk of life, organizational skills, planning, motivation and people skills. Most importantly it is working as a team and getting the best out of your team learning their weakness and also learning how to achieve goals.

Q: What are your impressions of schoolboy cricket at the present day?
A: Sadly, from what I have seen of this current under 19 side, I fear that the skill levels have not improved since my time. Given that we now have to compete with the likes of Australia, England who have in the meantime have improved their game at youth level. The fact that Sri Lanka, still draws on its school cricketers to make up our National side. The skills gap does not bode well for the future. We must put together a development plan to improve our schools cricket. This means that we need a root and branch reassessment of our domestic school cricket structure, with the main objective of producing young cricketers equipped with all the skills are necessary to survive at the higher levels.

Q: What do you think about Sri Lanka test being held in May next year?
A: Although we play in England, we really need to be professional about it. Plan how we are going to cope with the cold English conditions, try and aim to win our first ever series in England. We need to work out a strategy how our batsmen are going to deal with the barrage of short-pitching that we are bound to receive from the awesome trio-Harmison, Flintoff and Simon Jones in ideal conditions. Unfortunately, we have only got one of our top-order bats (Sanath Jayasuriya), who have any experience playing gin these conditions. I am, however optimistic, in spite of these drawbacks Tom Moody and Marvan will prepare a Sri Lankan side that will compete well against England.


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