Big matches forged many friendships off the field

Vijaya Malalasekera

By Sujith Silva


My first Royal-Thomian memory goes back to 1953 when Royal College was captained by Ubhaya de Silva; the Thomians were down I think 4 for 14 and then P.I. Peiris and Geoff Wijesinghe put on record partnership of 187 runs. The Thomians went on to win the match by an innings at the Oval.

Vijaya Malalasekera and Mano Ponniah opening batting for Cambridge University team 1967

P.I. Peiris was engaged in a fifth-wicket partnership of 187 runs with Geoff Wijesinghe while PI made a fine century of 123 runs, and Wijesinghe contributed with 64 in a total of 290.

In 1954, T. Nirmalingam was leading the Royalists and Ranjith (Bar) Weerasinghe led the Thomians. I remember Nirmalingam’s innings of 69 runs. When he was run out for 69, the Royal scoreboard read 70 for 1. He opened with Selvyn Perumanayagam who was yet to score. It was the finest short inning I have witnessed.

Then we had a series of draws from 1955 onwards when Ranjith de Silva captained Royal; in 1956 under Fitzroy Crozier; in 1957 under Michael Wille, and in 1958 under Lorenz Pereira

I remember in ’56, Royalist Jothilingam getting a brilliant 121 runs and in ’57 Michael Wille also scored 121 runs for Royal. Then Thomian Ronnie Reid scored 158 not out in 1956. Also, I still remember Michael Tissera in his very first Royal-Thomian as a 14-year-old in 1954 scoring 48 runs. In 1954, Tissera and Geoff Wijesinghe managed to put on a match-saving partnership for S. Thomas’.

In 1958, Royal was captained by Lorenz Pereira and S. Thomas’ by Michael Tissera. I remember how Michael Dias (62) and Lalith Senanayake (56) thrashed the daylight out of Thomian star bowler Larif Idroos. Larif came into the game with a big reputation and one wicket short of getting 50 wickets for the season. Dias and Senanayake batted brilliantly. It inspired young Royalists to take up cricket. I remember in that game Nanda Senanayake opened batting for Royal.

In 1959 under Sarath Samarasinghe we had another draw (Ferdinands captaining S. Thomas’). In 1960 under Michael Dias it was a draw but we could’ve won it if we held on to a vital catch offered by R.M. Fernando. In 1961, under Nanda Senanayake, it was another draw but interestingly Nanda who made it to the side as our opening batsman entered the record book as a bowler as he managed to grab five wickets in that game. He was a damn good bowler, an off-spinner.

My first year of Royal-Thomian was in 1962 under Darrel Lieversz and S. Thomas’ was captained by Keith Labrooy. Anura Tennakoon made his first Royal-Thomian debut in that match. He managed to pull the Thomians out of trouble with a good partnership with Selvadurai in the first inning (for the eighth wicket after being 86 for 7. Anura made 28 and Selvadurai an unbeaten 68, and the Thomians ended the inning at 197 runs). In Royal’s first inning, S.S. Kumar made a fighting 68 not out as Royal declared at 138/9. Royal had an opportunity to go for a win after the Thomians declared their second inning at 83/8 and had to chase 143 for victory the post-tea session on the second day.

Royal ended at 133 for 7 at the close, with Gowrishankaran scoring 61 runs not out and the game ended in a draw. I managed to score eight and a nought. I was just 16 years old and the youngest in the side. We came into the big match after beating a star-studded Peterite side under Richard Heyn.

Our wicket-keeper Siri Jayaratne set a record in the big match by claiming eight dismissals. We had a devastating combination of fast bowlers, (Darrel) Lieversz and (Chanaka) De Silva. They managed to bundle out the Peterites for 42 and 38 runs at Reid Avenue. Our side was an amazing side as we had only two recognised batsmen in S.S. Kumar and S.D. Jayaratne. Withane played as an all-rounder. All others were freshers. We had an amazing team spirit and we managed to win innumerable matches with low scores.

Funnily enough we were thrashed by Prince of Wales during a third-term game. We all rallied around Darrel and everyone was behind him. He was an outstanding sportsman, a brilliant athlete and a cricketer. I haven’t seen such a team spirit in any side to date. We managed to achieve unbelievable results. We beat Ananda, St Peter’s and St Benedict’s. Ananda, another start-studded side, and they had to get only 82 runs to win and we managed to bowl them out for 76 runs.

In 1963, under late S.S. Kumar we had a season with mixed fortunes. We had five coloursmen. I scored over 600 runs in that season. We lost to St Benedict’s under Quintus Perera at Kotahena with Ranjit Fernando scoring a brilliant century before the milk break, 110 runs. That’s one of the best I’ve seen. Then Neville Pereira ran through our batting line-up with his left-arm spin bowling. We did well against the Antonians at Katugastota where I managed to score 95 runs and Wilson got 110. Royal managed to put on 200 runs in one session on the second day. The match was drawn. We also drew with Trinity, Wesley and St Peter’s and I was within runs. Then came the big match, S. Thomas’ being led by Randy Morrel.

The Thomians put on 254 runs (254/9) on the board with Premalal Gunasekera and Anura Tennakoon and few others contributing with half centuries. When it was our turn to bat, we were 35 for 3 and I walked into the middle. Cedrick Fernando and I managed to put on a 165-run partnership, which is a record for Royal for the fourth wicket to date. We declared the inning at 207 for 4; I scored 112 Cedrick 47 not out.

It was an interesting inning. I remember hitting Thomian off-spinner L.S. Perera for 14 runs in one over, which included three fours. Then I hit Barny Reid for a six, into the commentators’ box at the Oval. I scored 86 runs in boundaries. I remember how I got to my century. I was at 89 runs and Roger D’Silva was bowling. He bowled a bouncer and I hit that over midwicket for a four and moved to 93. The next ball, he bowled another bouncer and this time I hit that square of the wicket and got another four. I moved to 97. I took a single and Cedrick too got a single. So, within the same over, I was back again facing Roger, on 98. Then Thomian captain Randy Morrel walked up to me and said “Malli not everyone gets an opportunity to score a hundred at the Royal-Thomian. Bat carefully.”

Now, that’s the spirit in which we played cricket. The next ball I hit Roger straight past mid-on; ball hit Gamini Panditharathne’s boot and his “Gal Thoppiya” (Hat) and passed the boundary. I reached my century with that. My entire inning contained 86 runs in boundaries (20 fours and one six) and scored within 130 minutes. It is one of the fastest centuries in the series, for Royal College. Cedrick and I scored 99 runs in 30 minutes after lunch. It was just one of those days – everything clicked.

The match ended in a draw as the Thomians declared their second innings at 115 for 9. Royal, chasing 163 to win, were at 120 for 6 at close. However, the Thomians broke the deadlock in 1964 as they beat the Royalists under Premalal Gunasekera’s captaincy to record the first win since 1953.

I left for England in 1964 for my higher studies and played cricket for Cambridge University. I returned later and had two coaching stints at Royal College. Firstly, I was assisting Derrick De Saram in 1971. At the Royal- Thomian, Jagath Fernando was captaining College and Ravi Sathasivam was captaining S. Thomas’. Jagath scored a stylish hundred (160 not out) along with 97 runs by Gajan Pathmanathan who later got double Blues, one at Cambridge and one at Oxford. Then Ravi got a beautiful 54 runs for S. Thomas’. I enjoyed watching their batting. These were some of the best and stylish batsmen of that era.

Then came Duleep Mendis and he scored back-to-back centuries in the series (103 runs in ’71 and 184 runs in ’72). I left in ’72 and returned as Second XI coach in 1982.

In 1983, I took over as First XI coach when Chulaka Amarasinghe was leading Royal. That year we beat S. Thomas’ College by 10 wickets and it was the first time I witnessed Royal winning the Battle of the Blues as I was not in the country when the school won last in 1969 under Eardley Lieversz.

I remember in that match Royal was in trouble after losing early wickets (52 for 3). Rochana Jayawardena before he stepped out to bat asked me, “Sir, what do I do?” I said “You know well how to hit the ball. Just go out there and hit the damn ball.”

Rochana just went out and started hitting all around while building partnerships with Malik Samarasinghe and Sarinda Unamboowa. In the process, he scored 145 not out and when we declared Royal had scored 249 for8. Then we managed to bowl out the Thomians in both innings (81 runs and 188) with Rochana grabbing nine wickets in the match (5 for 29 and 4 for 44). It was a wonderful side, Sarinda Unamboowa was the wicket-keeper, fast bowler Chanaka Perera, Chulaka, Sandesh Algama, Heshan de Silva. Kapila Dandeniya, Nalliah Devaraj, Roshan Jurangpathy, and Gihan Malalasekera

My nephew Gihan was already in the side, so I refused to coach the First XI squad when I was offered it earlier. I wrote to Royal College Principal Mr. C.J. Fernando stating my unwillingness to coach, as I didn’t want to compromise my principles. But he wrote back saying since he (Gihan) had already received College colours, my presence would not affect him or influence his selection. Therefore, he told me to take up the coaching role.

In 1984, we somehow managed to salvage a draw under Sandesh Algama. I gave up coaching in 1985. However, I continue to watch and follow Royal College cricket. The last year’s (2016) Royal-Thomian encounter was a testament on how beautiful and uncertain the game of Cricket is. For two days, a result was not predicted and not even thought of. But on the third day, things turned dramatically and Royal pulled off a fantastic win. For me cricket was the ultimate winner, and not that S. Thomas’ College lost the match.

After my retirement from coaching, I was involved with the Royal College Cricket advisory as the chariman. I stepped down some time ago giving opportunities to young ones to come forward and take up the responsibilities. I also made it a point to instil discipline and spirit of the game among players. In addition, giving them responsibilities, making them part of the decision-making process, especially the seniors so they could be groomed to be better leaders for the future.

I cherish those memories, to date, some are my best friends. Randy Morrell insists every time I tour Australia to make it a point to visit him or to meet up for a drink or a meal. We had some wonderful cricketers those days, and it was great to follow them or be in their company or even when they are in opposing teams. From Royal, the likes of Nirmalingam, Michael Dias, Michael Wille, Lorenz Pereira, Mahinda Wijesinghe, Daya Sahabandu, Sarath Samarasinghe, Nanda Senanayake, Lalith Samarasinghe, Harsha Samarajeewa. Then among the Thomians Michael Tissera, Larif Idroos, Roger D’Silva, Keith Labrooy, Sarath Seneviratne, Kumar Boralessa, Anura Tennakoon, Premalal Gunesekera. For Trinity Nimal Maralande, Malsiri Kurukulasooriya, Kanto Peiris, Sena de Silva, Raji, Errol Fernando; St Benedict’s had Ranjit Fernando, Sunil Fernando, Felix Dias, Nihal Soyza; St. Peter’s had Richard Heyn, David Heyn, Travis Fernando, Ravi Fernando, Tyrone Le Mercier, Adithya de Silva, and St. Joseph’s had Hillary Marceline, Brian Perumal, Rufus Buultjens, and Placy Leanage. Wesley had Darrel Mirando and Samsudeen.

These are some of the names that come to my mind of those great cricketers; brilliant sportsmen who played in the best spirit during their school days. It was a treat to watch them play or compete against them or with them. Some we played together later in our lives, like Thomian Mano Ponniah and I played for Cambridge and opened the batting. The cricket played by these guys are of different league and incomparable, especially to the modern age. I sincerely hope, the modern cricketers get this into their heads. It’s not what you win, it’s how you play and the friendships you build.

About Sujith Silva

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