Josephian grit kept Wesleyites at bay

The great escape of 1983





Who recalls that St Joseph’s versus Wesley cricket match played at Campbell Park in 1983? It wasn’t a thriller; it wasn’t a type of a match that kept you on the edge of your seat. Instead, it was a classic example of Josephian grit that was displayed by the sportsmen decade after decade; generation after generation.


Forget about the match result. Forget about the individual brilliance. Behind the scorecard of the match scripted the saga of how a single batting partnership thwarted the opponent’s victory hopes. And how they turned defeat into glory.


I was there at Campbell Park, Borella, among hundreds of spectators when Josephian skipper Hiran Cabraal and Brian Rajadurai performed a “marvellous rescue act” to save their team from an embarrassing position.


For the purpose of record, the Wesley-St Joseph’s inter-school cricket encounter began in 1904. Wesley entered the school cricket scene in 1892, and St Joseph’s played its inaugural First XI match in 1898. St Joseph’s first played against Royal and then against St Benedict’s (1898), followed by St Anthony’s, Katugastota, and Kingswood (1899) and Ananda (1900) before inaugurating a long-standing cricketing connection with Wesley College in 1904.

The Josephians won the inaugural match against Wesley College by an innings and 89 runs. Brief scores of the maiden WC vs SJC match in 1904: Wesley 136 and 82. St Joseph’s 307. Andrew de Silva was the captain of the Josephian team in that historic match. The first Wesley victory over SJC was in 1936.  SJC 92 and 126 lost to WC 98 and 122 for 8 by two wickets in 1936. H.N. Duckworth led the match-winning Wesley College team.


The 1983 edition of the traditional Wesley-St Joseph’s match was played at Campbell Park during the second weekend in February. St Joseph’s batted first and was all out for 136 (Gihan Mallawarachchi 30, Jonathan Alles 29, Mahendra Dissanayake 7 for 44). Wesley replied with 146 for 4 (Asgar Hamidon 39) at close of play on day one. “Wesley cruise into sound position” commented the “Sun” newspaper.


The following morning, Wesley extended the overnight score to 236 at the expense of four more wickets before inviting the visitors to take their second turn at the middle; according to newspaper reports, it was about 11.25am. With plenty of playing time remaining, undoubtedly the match had now turned in favour of the home team who had a lead of 100 runs; especially when considering the pathetic batting performance of the visitors in the first innings. Yet, they had a strong batting line-up with the likes of technically correct Jonathan Alles, stroke makers Jeevaka Candappa and Mohan Ratnayake and dependable Gihan Mallawarachchi. It is a pity that none of these four players were keen to move on to the next level after having such an impressive record in the school cricket arena.


A brief summary of Wesley 1st innings: 236 for 8 dec. (Sanjeev Wijesinghe 50 n.o., P. Selvarajah 29, M. Dissanayake 13, Dougal Jansz 07, Hiran Cabraal 2 for 64, Mohan Ratnayake 1 for 29, M. Shanmugapillai 1 for 44, Ranil de Silva 1 for 20. The other Josephian bowlers were Jeevaka Candappa, Brian Rajadurai and Rajkumar Sabanayagam.)


Even before the lunch interval, St. Joseph’s lost two wickets in quick succession for only a single run. The scoreboard read: Mohan Ratnayake run out 0, Jonathan Alles ct. Hamidon bld. Prakash Selvarajah 0. Total 1 run. Wickets 2. Then Sanka Marcelline joined the other opening batsman Mallawarachchi and carried the total to 31. When the score reached 69 runs, top five Josephian batsmen were back in the pavilion. (Gihan Mallawarachchi c Hamidon b M. Dissanayake 14, Sanka Marcelline c Hamidon  b M. Dissanayake 20, Jeevaka Candappa c C. de Mel  b Dougal Jansz 28).


Five wickets fell for 69 runs, still 31 runs away from an innings defeat. Almost the whole of the afternoon session of play was remaining. The batsmen at the crease were skipper Hiran Cabraal and Brian Rajadurai, who was better known for his spin bowling ability.


I was there at the match with a small pocket of Josephian supporters, who were now starting to leave the grounds one by one. Most of the others too had lost interest of the match and were talking about going for a 2.30 film show, popularly called matinee, a nearby cinema hall.


The few who were gathered there were unaware that they were to witness one of the all-time great match-saving batting displays in Josephian cricket.


Skipper Cabraal and his partner Rajadurai initially ate up time by showing the full face of the bat back to the bowler. It happened again and again. And again.  In between those eventless initial overs came a single or two. Occasionally a four. This attitude frustrated the bowlers, as well as the fielders. Accurate bowling and tight fielding gradually loosened. There were fielding lapses. And the Josephian batting pair grasped the advantage sensibly. They lifted the score to 100, then to 150, 200, 250, 300 and finally to 330, displaying excellent batsmanship.

Undoubtedly, it was vintage batting. While keeping the scoreboard moving, both batsmen reached their respective hundreds. The home team employed seven bowlers – Prakash Selvarajah, Dougal Jansz, Mahendra Dissanayake, Sanjeev Wijesinghe, R. Rasool, Asgar Hamidon and A.S. Ganarajah but for a period of over three and a half hours they were unable to break the Josephian rescue operation.


The partnership between Hiran Cabraal, 174 (c M. Dissanayake b Selvarajah) with one six, 20 fours and a five and Brian Rajadurai, 118 (c Hamidon b Selvarajah) with 17 fours, created a couple of records: the best sixth wicket partnership in the Wesley-St Joseph’s cricket series and also the best partnership for any wicket in the series.


St. Joseph’s were 345 for 7 at the close. (Ranil de Silva 03 n.o., Rajkumar Sabanayagam 03 n.o., P. Selvarajah 19-2-84-3).


On his match report in the “Weekend” newspaper, sports journalist Trevine Rodrigo commented: “… Things became even bleaker when more (Josephian) wickets tumbled to leave them at 69 for 5 wickets. Then came the salvage operation, skipper Hiran Cabraal joined by Brian Rajadurai decided that attack was the best form of defence. The game itself was one where the glorious uncertainties of cricket were vividly shown.”


(Neil Wijeratne is the author of several books on sports history including “Batting on a Matting Wicket”, “Sevens Saga – A history of seven-a-side Rugby in Sri Lanka”, “Rugby Across the Straits – Rugby Football links between India and Sri Lanka” and “Journey of a Hundred Years of Havelock Sports Club”.)

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