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Coach Kuruppu lauds 'reluctant' schoolboy cricketer Gunaratne's growth

'It was not that he was not interested in cricket, he used to play in the paddy fields a lot, but he never pushed himself to attain goals' AFP

Sri Lanka batsman Asela Gunaratne has been described by his school-cricket coach Aubrey Kuruppu as a "confident" but "reluctant cricketer" in his youth. Kuruppu, a Sri Lanka cricketer of their pre-Test era, who coached Gunaratne in the basics of the game, said he had the batsman pinned as a long-format player but was glad to see him proving him wrong by performing in the shorter formats too.

"It was not that he was not interested in cricket, he used to play in the paddy fields a lot, but he never pushed himself to attain goals," Kuruppu said. "Initially I thought that his approach to cricket was only suited to the five-day game, but he has proved me wrong. He has shown that he is as good playing in all three formats. The first match he played against Trinity [College], I sent him at No. 9 and he made 12. In the next game against St Aloysius Ratnapura I was short of an opener and I promoted him up the order. He responded with a magnificent 158."

Gunaratne, 31, made his mark in international cricket on the tour to Zimbabwe last October where he scored a fifty on his Test debut and followed it up with a maiden hundred in the next Test. On the recent tour to South Africa, Gunaratne scored his maiden ODI hundred in the fifth match of the series, and in the recently-concluded T20 series in Australia, he played two eye-catching innings to give his team a 2-1 win - their third successive T20 series victory in Australia.

All this after he began to seriously play cricket only at the age of 16. He went on to become the first player from his school Rahula College, Kandy, to play at the international level. For Rahula, Gunaratne played for the first XI from 2003-04 to 2005-06, and captained in the final year. Solid though he was, he never made enough runs nor took enough wickets with his right-arm medium pace to draw the attention of the national selectors.

"Asela was a good player and the good thing about him was that he was confident about his ability," Kuruppu said. "He batted at No. 4 at school and bowled medium pace. From what I've seen of him lately, he has worked hard at his game to attain the level he has and he now bowls cutters."

Following his career at school, Kuruppu got Gunaratne to play for his former club Saracens CC in the division III tournament, and he scored a hundred in his first match. He went on to join the Sri Lanka Army and play for them. "I think the five years of cricket he spent playing for the Army in the company of Sri Lanka cricketers like Ajantha Mendis and Seekkuge Prasanna has improved his cricketing skills greatly," Kuruppu said.

"He has been a consistent run-scorer in domestic cricket for Army, getting 700-800 runs regularly each season, but he never got the opportunity to showcase his talent at a higher level until now. Once he gets going there is no stopping him."