Ananda makes his mark at Zahira

By M Naushad Amit
Pradeep Ananda the young lad from Ruwanwella, a town situated on the Ratnapura-Kandy highway proved, last week that anything is possible with a little hard work. Ananda, a young cricketer at the age of 18 who strived to the top, performed an astonishing feat when he claimed 6 scalps for 83 runs on his Division I school cricket debut for Zahira, Colombo against Sri Jayewardenepura MV. The young lad who is trying to master the art of leg-spin bowled a marathon spell of 33.1 overs to achieve this rare feat which he said is a memorable milestone in his budding career.

“To end up with six wickets in your debut Division I match is a great achievement. I will never forget that day. It is a great boost for a youngster like me who came from a rural town to fight neck to neck with talented cricketers from Colombo,” an emotional Ananda told The Nation.
Ananda began his cricket at Ruwanwella Central, where only junior teams played in the Division III tournaments. He had the knack to bat aggressively and was a fast medium bowler. He was just 11 when he tried his luck at the country’s most loved sport. His hometown did not have the facilities of private cricket academies which are freely available in Colombo and other main towns.
His village school was the first to take up cricket in that area and were the trendsetters. Young cricketers from the area lacked the very basic needs to engage in the sport and depended much on the advice of the only coach available to develop their skills. During the five years Ananda played at Ruwanwella Central, the school had to discontinue cricket for two years due to financial difficulties. But these obstacles did not drag him back as he had a cricket-mad family that loved sports.

“My father, Jayalath Ananda is a keen sports enthusiast as well as my uncles. During free time he helped me with my batting and bowling in our backyard. My mother, Sunethra Peiris was as interested as my father, on my sports activities and my studies. This kept me going during the two years we lost cricket,” Ananda added.
After the school reintroduced cricket Ananda met his new coach Viraj Priyankara who urged him to take up spinning. “He did not know I was a fast bowler. He wanted me to try leg-spin, I did and enjoyed every moment learning new things,” he explained.
It was during an under-15 match that Ananda showed potential by claiming a match bag of 12/28 in a Division III match and, during the same season, stroked his best score of 80.
“I think spin bowling suited me best and I began to claim wickets at every match. But simultaneously I lost my form with the bat.”

Last season Ananda got the opportunity, through his coach Priyankara, to join St. Thomas’ Kotte where he played some matches with the under-17 and a few first XI games in Division II. There too he proved to be more productive as a leg-spinner.
“I claimed a match bag of 11 wickets for 114 runs against St. John’s, Nugegoda. I think hard work was the main reason behind all my achievements,” he recalled.
Ananda, who had the hunger to learn more about the sport he loved, joined a Division III club to improve his talent during the off season for school cricket. It was during this period that Ananda met the renowned cricket coach Mahesh Weerasinghe, who recently took up the Zahira team. With Weerasinghe’s help he joined Zahira, a school that is hoping to revive their past sporting glory.

“I knew that I’m joining a Muslim school but I never felt uncomfortable at any moment. To honestly say, the principal, teachers, games masters, coach and fellow students were more than cooperative. They were more than friends and I never felt I was away from home. Their encouragement on and off the field made me do the extra bit. As a result I was able to play my game freely and achieve what I never expected,” the young rookie said in praise of his new home.

Ananda who was thrilled with the media exposure on his six wickets felt that he should have played Division I cricket a bit earlier. “It is not about reading a nice write up and seeing a picture of you in the newspapers. It’s about how my family and neighbours in the village are proud about me playing at the top level. And for me it’s all about learning new things. I could have done a lot more had I got this opportunity earlier,” Ananda who hopes continue cricket at the top level said.

The young leg-spinner who loves to watch and learn from his cricketing idols further said that, with the help of his coach Weerasinghe, he is trying to master a couple of new deliveries. Presently Ananda is armed with a flight that helps him get wickets but he also explained about the new tricks that he was going to try out.
“Normally I find the right-handed batsmen more comfortable to bowl to. These days I’m practising this new ball that spins the other way which will be ideal against the left-handers. I’m not changing my arm action but doing a slight adjustment from the wrist, so the batsmen will not identify the delivery. In addition I’m practising on a faster delivery. With the help of my coach I think I will be able to try them out in the coming weeks and get better results,” the leggie who hopes to capture 100 wickets during his first season said.