Now in its seventh year, Red Bull Campus Cricket just gets better and better. So say Red Bull athletes Niroshan Dickwella, Lahiru Thirimanne and Sri Lanka rugby captain Sudarshana Muthuthanthri.
This year’s Campus Cricket World Final, in which six top university teams from around the world compete for the trophy, will be held in Colombo between September 23 and 29 this month.
“I joined Red Bull in 2012, and every year the tournament’s quality has increased, and you can tell that now it’s a very, very competitive event,” says Thirimanne, who was a part of Sri Lanka’s 2014 World T20 victory in Bangladesh. “It’s especially important for us in Sri Lanka because it’s an Under-23 tournament, and players of that age don’t have a lot of opportunities to play. Campus Cricket not only gives them that opportunity, but it also helps develop their skills. It’s a good testing ground, because the atmosphere and the team environment is basically the same as when you play for your national team.”
Over the years, the Campus Cricket World Final has been graced with plenty of international talent, with the likes of Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva and Dasun Shanaka all taking part at some point. Dickwella remembers the 2016 tournament with special fondness. That year, he was not a regular in the Sri Lanka squad, and used the Campus Cricket tournament to build form en route to reclaiming a place in the national side.
“In 2016 I was able to captain the Business Management School (BMS) side to victory in the local Campus Cricket tournament and then we went on to win the world championship as well,” Dickwella says. “I can say it was a good springboard for me, because it helped me develop my skills and get a lot of confidence. Not long after that, I was able to get back into the national team.”
Foreign international stars have also been successful in honing their cricket at the tournament, en route to the national team. India batsman KL Rahul had played in the 2013 event, while as recently as 2016, Lungi Ngidi - the strapping South Africa fast bowler - was in Sri Lanka to compete in that year’s World Final.
“Other nations send their best teams to this tournament, so to win or get to the final in a tournament like this is tough,” says Thirimanne. “If you take an example, someone like Ngidi was playing in the Campus Cricket tournament just a few years back. Now he is one of the best in the world. They came through tournaments like this.”
For Muthuthanthri, the Campus Cricket tournament represents the kind of high-quality age-group tournament that is sorely missing from his sport: rugby. Last year, Muthuthanthri became the first Sri Lankan rugby start to play provincial rugby in New Zealand, where he turned out for the Auckland Sevens team. Muthuthanthri says that journey would not have been possible without Red Bull, but also hopes that the Campus Cricket concept will eventually grow beyond cricket.
“I was talking to some friends recently, actually, how great it would be if we had a tournament like this for rugby players in university,” Muthuthanthri said. “It’s a great opportunity for young people who are studying to keep developing their skills in sports while juggling their other commitments. Sri Lankan rugby could benefit a lot from an event like this.”