Rex Clementine, in The Island, 5 June 2022, where the title runs “From Beach Boy to recordbreaker” …. while emphasis via highlighting here is an intervention from The Editor, Thuppahi
Arjuna Ranatunga’s mantra for turning the fortunes of a cricket team was backing outstation talents. Colombo ceased to own the exclusive rights for cricket and as a result, the game thrived. Three decades on the outstations are still producing match winners. There are still unearthed and untapped talents in far-off areas. One such created history last week by bowling Sri Lanka to a series win in Dhaka. From a beach boy of far off Katuneriya, Asitha Fernando went on to become the first Sri Lankan right-arm quick to claim a match bag of ten wickets.
A fishing village on the northwest coast, Katuneriya is situated between the towns of Chilaw and Negobmo. Asitha is the youngest in a family of three. His father is a fisherman and life as a child had many challenges for young Asitha with his parents unable to make ends meet.
We know that for Australian all-rounder Keith Miller pressure in cricket was child’s play compared to the Japanese enemies whom he was fighting in World War II. Similarly, plenty of trips to rough seas with his dad had toughened up Asitha. The Bangladeshi batsmen trying to unsettle him by being aggressive weren’t scaring him up as he had seen scarier things.
Asitha was into football initially. Anton Costa, the cricket coach of St. Sebastian’s College, Katuneriya saw him playing softball cricket one day and called him up for training. What impressed him was Asitha’s smooth action.
The school was not playing in the top division but yet, when Sri Lanka Under-17, under the captaincy of Chamika Karunaratne toured England, Asitha was picked in the squad. He could bowl fast and he was a skidy type of bowler.
Soon, other schools were coming up with scholarships. S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia offered him a full scholarship whereby Asitha didn’t even have to pay for the lodging at the hostel. But he politely denied the offer as he loved his beach life. Moving to the city would be good for his cricket but would certainly put an end to fun-filled evenings and fishing trips to the sea.
Continuing his cricket in the rural Katuneriya without accepting the scholarship was a tough choice, but thankfully the school’s principal Mohan Wickremesinghe was also a cricket umpire and he found ways to support Asitha.
Asitha was part of the Sri Lanka Under-19 squad that played the Youth World Cup under the captaincy of Charith Asalanka and finished as the team’s highest wicket-taker. Former captain Sanath Jayasuriya was Chairman of Selectors at that point and soon brought him to the senior side and he was part of the squad as Sri Lanka whitewashed Australia 3-0.
One of Asitha’s specialties is his ability to bowl with the older ball and pick up wickets. Why he is able to do this cleverly is because, at school, new cricket balls were a luxury. All training sessions and practice games were played with older balls and Asitha has learned the art of bowling with old balls. He has mastered the art and now he’s lethal.
In the second Test when play stopped for lunch, Litton Das and Shakib Al Hasan had been involved in a 100-run partnership for the sixth wicket and the game heading for a draw. Then Asitha came up with a couple of quick wickets. Liton was brilliantly caught off his own bowling while Shakib gloved a short ball as Asitha exhibited his skill set in a session where Sri Lanka won the game.
The departure of Suranga Lakmal had caused some concern but Asitha with that performance where he created history has ensured that the future of Sri Lankan fast bowling is in safe hands. It’s been a remarkable journey from beach boy to history maker.