ANURUDDHA Polonowita, the former Sri Lanka cricketer and administrator is dissociating himself from his alma mater Ananda College after a period of 62 years.
The 76th Battle of the Maroons cricket encounter between traditional rivals Ananda and Nalanda commencing today at the SSC grounds will mark his swan song as cricket coach of the school, a position which he has held for the past 38 years.
He joined the institution at the age of five in 1943 and has been serving Ananda since then. "There comes a time when you must quit. Although I am retiring I want the school to maintain the high coaching standards it has achieved over the years. I have trained two coaches Vipula Sittamge and Rohitha Perera to take over from me and continue the high traditions," said Polonowita.
"It is better for them to take over while I am still around. I will be available to the school in an advisory capacity." For 'Polons' as he has been affectionately referred to, the greatest happiness was to produce a number of cricketers who had gone onto gain national caps.
"Twenty-four players went through me and played for Sri Lanka and a further 25 more played at under 19, and 'A' team levels.
After gaining Test status Ananda has produced the highest number of cricketers to the national team. No other school can come near to bettering that figure. When you look back you feel really happy," said Polonowita.
It was while representing his country as an all-rounder (left-arm leg spinner and right-hand bat) that he was asked to take over the coaching of Ananda by the former principal Col G.W. Rajapakse.
"My intention since taking on the responsibilities as coach was to produce as many cricketers to play for the country." Polonowita not only produced such outstanding cricketers like the Wettimuny brothers Sunil, Mithra and Sidath, the Ranatunga brothers Dhammika, Arjuna and Sanjeewa, the Samaraweera brothers Dulip and Thilan, and Marvan Atapattu to name a few but also earned Ananda the highest echelons in school cricket where they won virtually every tournament.
Secret behind Ananda's success
"I always allowed the cricketers to play their natural game and then guided them in the right direction. What is happening today is that a lot of certified coaches are overemphasizing on technique where the natural ability of the child is lost. In my opinion technique should be the servant, not the master," said Polonowita.
"The other vital factor is footwork. You have to move to the ball and that is lacking in cricket today. Even at the highest level there are batsmen who hug the crease and try to play according to their technique without moving to the pitch of the ball," he said.
Polonowita was of the opinion that limited overs cricket at junior level has drastically brought down the bowling standards.
"During our time spinners used to bowl for hours. Today the best bowler in your side bowls a maximum of 10 overs and the part-time bowlers are also given the same quota of overs to bowl.
How can you raise the standard of bowling doing that? That is why you don't find any quality spinners around today. At the moment our pace bowling has come up to a certain level but not the spinners," Polonowita lamented.
Let alone the standards of batting and bowling, the level of school cricket has also dipped to very low levels in the past two decades or so. Polonowita who has been through the thick and thin of it gives reasons for the sad decline: "There are several aspects to it. The Education Department reducing the age limit to 19 years is preventing a senior schoolboy from developing his skills in school and then perhaps walking into a club or national side. There is a lack of commitment and dedication from today's students. They have lots of other things to do today.
"Another aspect is tuition. It is very difficult to get the boys to come for cricket practice sometimes even for two days although we have practice on all five days. During my time if somebody went for tuition people would laugh at us. It is really the weak student who went for tuition.
"If the students are taught properly at school I don't think they have to go for tuition classes. The other thing is the competition among parents to get their children educated and as a result ignore sports. In a way I don't blame them."
According to Polonowita the root cause of the problem lies with the parents who provide bogus addresses to admit their child to school.
"When they enter the child to school they give addresses close to the school but eventually the child comes from the outstation. By the time he goes home it is about 8 or 9 pm.
In the morning he has to get up early and come to school. There is not a single boy in my present Ananda team who lives around the two-mile radius. Those days every child lived close to the school within walking distance. This is another drawback," he said.
Another aspect in the changing face of school cricket (and also national cricket) is the dwindling number of spectator interest at matches.
"It is not that people have lost interest in the game but it is due to various factors. A person cooking in the kitchen sometimes knows more about the game than anybody else. They listen to cricket commentaries on the radio and watch television," said Polonowita.
"The high cost of living and as a result both parents going to work, transport and tuition takes a lot of the time. Children today don't have time even for their normal recreation. They have other interest and there is a lot of cricket also shown on television."
At the age of 67, it can be easily said that Polonowita has gone through the whole gamut in life connected with cricket.
"The only post I have not held is that of president of the Cricket Board which I have no intention at all of becoming. I have been associated virtually with all the committees because I wanted to do something for cricket," he said.
Apart from holding various positions in the Cricket Board Polonowita has been a national selectors for 15 years (five of them as chairman) and also managed senior and junior teams abroad. He is presently the director of cricket pitches to the Board.
"I have achieved in all aspects where cricket is concerned. I worked in the Colombo Municipality for 40 years where I was the director of sports. My main intention was to help the less privileged of the city. About 80 percent of the national football players came from my playground," said Polonowita.
In this competitive world you need an instinct for survival at the highest level.
"In my opinion you should be able to adapt to anybody. That has been the secret of my success. You must not demand others to adapt to you. Adopt the right things and ignore the wrongs. That's how I survived. You must be able to work with people rather than against them," he said.
Being involved in the Municipal Council taught him the art of survival. "When I was head of the council I always considered the weak people and gave them a big margin. It is easier to sack a person, but if you can get him to do something and get him into your confidence that's where you score," said Polonowita.
"I never sacked a single person in the Council. I've always got around them. I worked for 40 years without any problem. My advice to everyone is you can't go against the tide. When the tide comes you have to be calm and ride with it. Then come back and do what you think is right."
Source - Daily News ( 2005/03/05)
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