Sa’adi Thawfeeq, in Daily News. 12 April 2017
Sri Lankan-born Rahul Wijeratne will be creating history when he leads Harrow this year in their traditional cricket match against Eton at the home of cricket – Lord’s Cricket Ground on June 24, a 55-overs-a-side contest. Rahul, son of Sri Lanka business tycoon Ravi Wijeratne has been appointed captain of Harrow School for the current English school cricket season.
Seldom has a Sri Lankan had the honour of leading such a prestigious institute which is over 400 years old and in the oldest of all cricket fixtures – Eton v Harrow which will be the 177th contest between the two schools this year. The Eton v Harrow cricket match is an annual fixture between Eton College and Harrow School and is one of the longest-running annual sporting fixtures in the world and, the only annual school cricket match still to be played at Lord’s.
In 1957 one of the finest all-round cricketers produced by Sri Lanka, Gamini Goonesena became the first Asian player to captain Cambridge University in their traditional match against Oxford University at Lord’s. Rahul doesn’t think that he is the first Sri Lankan to captain Harrow at cricket. “To my knowledge there has been one before me but there have been multiple Sri Lankans who have walked to play on the hallowed turf of Lord’s. My brother and I played in my first big match three years ago,” said Rahul.
Recounting his appointment of leading such a prestigious institution Rahul said, “It’s a great feeling. I have played in the big match twice already and have thoroughly enjoyed both occasions. To be made captain just makes the day even more special especially as the game is played at the Home of Cricket – Lord’s.”
Although a resident of England since the age of six, Rahul said that even though he had spent the major part of his life in Old Blighty he was still a proud Sri Lankan.
“Although I have been in England for my school life – I will always be a proud Sri Lankan. To be made captain of a school that is quintessentially British such as Harrow makes me more proud as I lived in Sri Lanka until I was 6,” said Rahul.
“I entered Harrow as my brother was already at the school and I got a cricket scholarship too. I wanted to go to boarding school and this has helped me focus on both my academic and sporting needs. I want to read Politics at Leeds University in the UK next year,” he said.
Rahul had his primary education at the Overseas School of Colombo before he moved to the UK where he started at St Martin’s Northwood and then moved to Harrow at the age of 13.“I played cricket really early since I could pick up a bat and just played in the back garden. I joined my first club at the age of seven and haven’t looked back since,” said Rahul.
“I was very young so I never played while I lived in Colombo, but for a few years I came back and played for the Mercantile Cricket Association and also in the Nelson Mendis tournament for three years. Growing up in Sri Lanka it’s hard not to gain an immediate love for the game. “The energy that the game brings to the country is immense and I can clearly see it growing every time I come back. My brothers also played cricket and we all played together,” he said.
Not surprisingly one of Rahul’s cricketing heroes is the great Kumar Sangakkara, the former Sri Lanka captain currently playing with English county Surrey. “Two big names pop up when I think of cricket. Kumar Sangakkara, the way he leads the country in tough times is what stands out and what I look up to,” said Rahul. “The way he behaves on and off the pitch is something I would also like to copy in the future. Secondly, is Alistair Cook (the former England captain) who has scored vast amounts of runs for England and his modesty is admirable.”
Talking of Harrow’s chances of winning their traditional encounter against Eton, Rahul said, “I have always felt the game is based upon how the pressure is dealt with. I have been an underdog one year and won the game but I feel this year will be a great chance for Harrow to win again. It’s a rather young side so a lot of them will have nothing to lose and will hopefully be able to perform well on the day.”
The match was traditionally a two-day, two-innings affair, but in 1982 it was reduced to one day and one innings a side. It moved to a limited overs format in 1999. Of the 176 matches played so far Eton leads with 56 wins to Harrow’s 52 with 68 drawn. Last year’s contest was abandoned as a draw due to rain with Harrow scoring 163 off 45.5 overs and Eton replying with 113-8 in 45.4 overs. Wijeratne batting at no. 4 was dismissed for 19 and opening the bowling took one wicket for 24.
“I would say I am a batting all-rounder and at school level I will be used as the main spinner in the side. I bat at number 4 usually but will bat at 3 for the school this year,” said Rahul.
“Getting appointed captain of Harrow has been a huge moment in my cricket career and something I am extremely proud of. I also have captained the Middlesex under 17 sides and hopefully will continue to do so. I was very pleased to be involved in the England Cricket Development tournament at the end of last summer and my most memorable game was against Essex County Cricket Club where I hit 165 in a three-day match,” he said.
Talking of the individuals who have shaped his career so far Rahul said, “I have had multiple coaches in my life but I lot of my success boils down to Middlesex County Cricket Club who I have represent proudly since I was 11. Also, the coaches at Harrow such as Steven Jones, Graham Furber and Robin Martin-Jenkins (son of late cricket writer and commentator Christopher Martin-Jenkins) who have helped greatly.”
Apart from cricket Rahul has also excelled in two other sports. “I play two rather unique games called Racket and Fives which are played by a handful of schools in the UK. I have won the Fives National Championships twice and have reached the semi-final in Rackets Championships twice too.”
Rahul who lives with his mother and three brothers in the UK (his father is based in Sri Lanka) said he will look to gain a professional contract at Middlesex and work hard to become a first-class cricketer.
“I will also continue to work on my academic side by studying politics at university and eventually I want to move back to Sri Lanka. My brothers, all share a love for the game and my parents just sit back and watch us,” said Rahul.