Master spinner to master storyteller
Elmo Rodrigopulle: cricketer and veteran journalist
Being a loyal old Ben, keen sports fan, former Public Schools athlete, cheer leader and Ceylon University’s “shortest goalkeeper”, Kenneth Dabrera writes about his cricketing idol, friend and journalist ELMO RODRIGOPULLE, who played for and captained St Benedict’s College in its heyday of the late 1950s and ’60s.
It is said a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country and among his own kindred. And this saying aptly illustrates Elmo Michael Rodrigopulle, the fantastic Benedictine leg-spinning all-rounder, captain and cricket journalist who is acclaimed in the cricket world for his informative, clever and descriptive, and credible writing.
Like the famous Big Ben in London, Elmo can be described in that style as the Big Ben amongst Bens. Not only that, he has been the best journalist produced by the school. He has served two prestigious newspapers, starting his career in the now defunct Times of Ceylon and Daily Mirror, and finally the Daily News. He served as sports editor-in-chief of the first two named newspapers and ended his illustrious journalistic career as sports editor and consultant of the Daily News.
Elmo was in the newspaper world for 52 years – an achievement that will not be equalled or surpassed, I presume. He served under 28 editors, outstanding among them being Felix Goonewardene, Tori de Souza, H.E.R. Abeysekera, Subbiah Muttiah, Victor Gunewardene, Reggie Michael, Fred Silva, Mervyn de Silva, Felician Fernando, Manik de Silva and Dinesh Weerawansa. This distinguished achievement certainly deserves inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records.
Elmo also is the holder of a Diploma in Journalism from the Institute for Journalism, West Berlin, attained in 1976. For his excellence in creative and innovative writing he was honoured with a Doctorate in Philosophy by Medicina Alternativa, attached to the Open University, by Professor Anton Jayasuriya. He was the first journalist to tour with the Sri Lanka cricket team in Pakistan for three Test matches after gaining Test status in 1982.
With that opening he toured all countries – Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies, India, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh – with the Sri Lanka teams, covering tours for the Times, Sunday Times, Daily Mirror, Daily News and Sunday Observer. He had the record of being the most toured sports journalist in the country. He also covered the Asian Soccer Championships in Japan. He visited West Germany for the Olympic Games in 1972, and it was there that the terrorist group, Black September, attacked and killed Israeli athletes. Elmo says that was his most frightening experience in his career. He also toured Russia, inspecting the venues built to hold the 1980 Olympic Games and authored a book on that Games.
It was indeed an unbelievable and amazing experience speaking to the unassuming, God-fearing, and record breaking cricketer and journalist who did not want to “toot his own horn”, but did so after much coaxing when I explained to him that I would be proud to write about him for posterity for Quadrangle. He has walked and talked with high and mighty in world cricket but has not lost the common touch.
His writing on sport was simple, credible, understood and acclaimed by everyone reading him for 52 years. When asked how that was possible he attributed it to the Almighty and his loving mother, who he says he would give anything to have her back in the land of the living. He lost his dear father when he was just one year old and it was a hard grind for his mother thereafter. As for the attributes of his mother, with her cherubic smile and ever-willing ability to help, I can vouch for it because I was close to this great lady whose smile it is said would have up lit up Kotahena.
I had been his neighbour and although being a little older than him and having followed his cricketing career from under-12 to him making it to the First XI team an the age of 15, thus being the youngest to represent the college, I have all the credentials to write about this irrepressible, excellent and loving personality who the college and the country must be proud of.
Playing in the under-12 team as a leg-spinner, he served notice of his prowess and what was to be expected of him as his career began to unwind by bagging a hat-trick against St Anne’s College, Kurunegala, at the quadrangular in 1953 and helping SBC win. That hat-trick was the launching pad for his tremendous success and phenomenal rise to stardom as his career progressed. He captained the under-14 and under-16 teams, and after a blazing knock of 62 against De Mazenod College, Kandana, watched by the coach Francis Casie Chetty and the Prefect of Games, A Gnanapragasam, who were so impressed by that innings they promoted him to the First XI under coach Edward Kelaart, the former Burgher Recreation Club and All-Ceylon all-rounder.
Elmo Rodrigopulle played in the team led by Lovellyn Rayen that brought honour to St Benedict’s by being the first team to emerge unbeaten inter-school unofficial cricket champions in 1957. From there onwards there was no stopping him as he climbed the cricketing mountain with telling batting, bowling and fielding performances. He bowled the school to many a victory and also saved the team from certain defeat against Nalanda and Ananda with determined half centuries. In 1958, against St Joseph’s, he baffled the opposing batting with figures of 5 for 34 on the Kotahena turf. Rain spoilt that game that was poised in Benedictine’s favour.
Also in 1958, against St Anthony’s College, Kandy, Elmo showed the sting and spin in his bowling by claiming a match bag of 11 for 62 as St Benedict’s beat a strong Antonian team, led by “Sando” Seneviratne by an innings at Kotahena. On that great effort, as cheer leader I and other Bens carried him and paraded him around the ground; a similar scene was enacted at Bambalapitiya when he led the school to beat St Peter’s for the first time in the two schools’ cricketing history. He continued to be among the wickets that season and he easily won the Best Bowler’s prize.
His school career that blossomed in 1952 ended in 1961 in a blaze of glory when he bagged a hat-trick against St Peter’s College, at Kotahena. I was present on that balmy evening, shouting myself hoarse, cheering and urging him as I watched that bit of history in the making. I vividly remember running on to the field and lifting him up for that brilliant effort. Elmo thus became the first Benedictine leg-spin/googly bowler to bag two hat-tricks in college.
After a blazing school career, Elmo continued the good work playing for the Tamil Union, the home of cricket at that time at Wanathamulla, where many international cricket stars performed. He helped the team win the Daily News Trophy in 1961, and bagged the bowling prize. He also played in the. P. Sara Trophy Tournament, and he says his proudest and memorable moment was when he played alongside Mahadevan Sathasivam, the greatest batsman Wesley College, Tamil Union and Ceylon ever produced. Later on, Sathasivam was one of Elmo’s closest pals when he was sports editor at the Times and Daily Mirror. He treasures this exciting company.
Destiny had it that Rodrigopulle would play for three other clubs after leaving TU – Burgher Recreation Club, Colts Cricket Club and finally Saracens Sports Club. With his venomous spin and batting of class he helped BRC win the Daily News Trophy and the Donovan Andree Trophy in 1963/’64. He was the best bowler and reeled off two centuries in the Andree Trophy against Saracens and Adastrians.
But it was at Saracens CC that his all-round talent really blossomed. He slammed a century in Sara Trophy cricket against Colombo Cricket Club but he says it was indeed memorable, enjoyable and unforgettable the century he made for the Saracens against Tamil Union, which was a record because he was the first in Sri Lanka to score the first century in limited-over cricket when it was first played and contested for the Browns Trophy in 1972.
That year in Sara Trophy cricket he blasted two half centuries against Nondescripts Cricket Club and Nomads CC and won his spurs when he was chosen to play for the Ceylon Board President’s XI led by one of Sri Lanka’s finest captains, Michael Tissera, against Hong Kong in 1972. He later played for the Press XI, captained by his school coach Bertie Wijesinha, against the State Bank of India that had celebrated Indian cricketers in Vijay Mehra, Hanumant Singh, Budhi Kunderam, Ajit Wadekar and Ramesh Saxena.
In that game, with the Press XI in a bad way at 5 for 40 in reply to the visitors’ score of 260 for 4 declared, he joined his skipper Wijesinha and put on a stand of 58 for the sixth wicket that saved the blushes of his team. Wijesinha made 60 and Rodrigopulle 24.
Ill-health forced him to quit the game when he was at his peak at 31 and thus ended a school and club cricketing career that was ecstasy while it lasted. He says he enjoyed every moment of the game and thanks the Lord Almighty for making him what he was in his cricket and journalistic career.
In writing this piece on one of the finest gentleman, cricketer and journalist I do not think I have done him enough justice because there is a lot more to be written. He showed me his scrap book and I was amazed reading his exploits. In conclusion, I must thank the brilliant Editor Sujith Silva for so very kindly allowing me space to sing the praises of my dear friend Elmo Michael Rodrigopulle in the Quadrangle that is fast gaining in popularity, locally and internationally.1957 Schools Cricket in Sri Lanka, 1st XI Cricket, Cricket, Elmo Rodrigopulle, Old Benedictine, Sri Lanka Schools Cricket, St. Benedict's College