By Michael Wille
I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Selvi Perinpanayagam in Ontario, Canada (in
He and I played for Royal for three years (1954-1956). Of those three years we opened the batting for two years. Opening partners often develop a close friendship having been bonded by having to go out and “face the music “at the start of an innings.
I have noted that when a person dies they often acquire virtues that they never displayed while alive.
This is not the case with Selvi. He was a true gentleman, the real deal. He was a compassionate and caring human being and in the lines that follow I will try to give you examples as to how he demonstrated these qualities.
Although he was two years older than I we bonded strongly in 1954 being two ‘freshers’ trying hard to break into a very strong team. In addition, he was just a very nice guy.
Selvi opened the batting with the mercurial Nirmalalingam in 1954 and when Nirma left College I was conscripted to open with Selvi in 55.
In ’55, under Ranjith de Silva, with the retirement of players like Nirmalalingam, Ubhaya de Silva, ‘Frecko’ Kreltszheim and Rabindran we were a team of average strength.
Wesley were always tough competitors. We had thrashed them in ’54 and they were determined on revenge in ’55. Selvi and I battled against Lou Adihetty and Samsudeen, arguably the best opening bowlers in school cricket in ’55. I called Selvi for a non-existent single and ran him out. He departed staring daggers at me. I was out soon afterwards and our Cricket Master, Harold Samaraweera, gave me the bollocking that I richly deserved. Selvi was sitting quietly in the Dressing Room and I walked up to him and apologised. He stared at me for a minute, then took my outstretched hand, smiled and laughingly said “apology accepted but don’t make a habit of running me out” or words to that effect.
As ‘openers’ we were moderately successful in 1955 and we both ‘lived’ for cricket.
One Sunday morning, following a match the previous day, he rode his bike from Kollupitiya to my home in Bambalapitiya.
I was surprised to see him. He said that he wanted to talk to me because he was concerned that he was not scoring fast enough and was putting all the pressure on me to keep the scoreboard moving. I assured him that I was playing my normal game, didn’t feel any pressure and since Barney (our revered Coach) had not said anything we should carry on with ‘business as usual’. This satisfied him and we then got around to talking about other aspects of how we approached our cricket.
He told me that he was superstitious and always wore his ‘lucky’ socks because he had scored a half century when playing against Wesley at Under 14 level while wearing them
I said “Come on Selvi, the socks must be five years old and how did they last so long?”
“Well” he said, it goes like this, “After every match I wash the socks in expensive soap, they have got no heel or toes but they are still my lucky socks and I would not dream of walking out to bat without them”
Anyway, he must have still been wearing his ‘lucky’ socks on that Friday morning in 56 when we played St Joseph’s at Darley Road. We won the toss and when we walked out to bat nothing was different.
From the first ball he launched a ferocious attack against the Josephian bowlers. He cut and hooked like there was no tomorrow. I just stood at the other end, watched in amazement, and gave him as much of the strike as possible. The Josephian bowlers had no counter to this onslaught and he went on to make a brilliant 99. This was the most aggressive knock that I witnessed in my four years of playing College cricket.
We played Nalanda the next week and this time we batted second. We went into bat late on that day, made a fifty partnership, but I lost my wicket just before ‘stumps’. That night my Dad fell seriously ill, I didn’t play on the Saturday, and I did not see Selvi complete his first century for Royal.
Royal then played St Peters and I did not play as my Dad had died the previous weekend.
I was not missed because Fitzroy Crozier, our Captain, and Selvi had a record partnership with both making centuries with Selvi unbeaten. Fitz tells me that he still remembers a shot Selvi played during that innings. Selvi was not a big boy and he hit a six over extra cover on the big ground at Reid Avenue that took Fitz’s breath away.
We were then scheduled to play Trinity at Asgiriya. I didn’t want to play but succumbed to severe emotional blackmail from my Mum and elder brother.
We caught the afternoon train to Kandy and Selvi sat next to me. Selvi took it upon himself to play Mother Hen. He talked not stop all the way to keep my mind off my problems. When we got to Kandy we were met by the Captain and some senior members of the Trinity team, which was a very nice gesture. Amongst the Trinitians was Senna Ettipola, a left arm spin bowler. Senna was an unusual spin bowler because he came in off a fairly long run, had the fast arm action of a pace bowler, but bowled slowly. He confused batsmen and had been quite successful the previous season. In ’56 the batsmen knew what to expect and he was not so successful. Even after we got off the train Selvi would not leave my side and we got into a discussion with Senna on the bus taking us to Trinity. Senna said he was conscious that he had not been doing well but had made some changes and had some surprises for us the next day. When Senna left us Selvi said to me, “Mike, I’ll fix him tomorrow”
The next day we won the toss and successfully survived the new ball. The Trinity Skipper tossed the ball to Senna and Selvi was on strike. Off the first ball Selvi danced down the wicket and hit him for six over mid-wicket. Selvi kept a poker face and looked at me and winked. I could not take the smile off my face and thought to myself, “You said you would ‘fix him’ and you certainly did”.
Selvi and I had a century partnership of which I made about forty and Selvi went onto complete his third consecutive century.
This was a phenomenal performance. To put it in perspective in the ’54 season there were no Royal centurions, in ’55 just one. Centuries in Schoolboy Cricket were like hen’s teeth.
1956 was the inaugural year of the award of the “Schoolboy Cricketer of The Year “which was initiated by one of the Newspapers, the winner to be decided by the votes of the readers. Selvi should have won by a mile but didn’t because he was a Tamil.
The Newspaper was so embarrassed by the blatantly biased result that they changed the system the next year and the winner was decided by a Panel. They offered Selvi a bat which he politely refused.
In those days we did not play to win awards. We played to win every game and to beat the Thomians. Selvi was bitterly disappointed, not because he didn’t win the Award, but because he was being discriminated against in the land of his birth, and he shared this disappointment with me.
Before I commenced writing this essay I contacted our Captain in ’56, Fitzroy Crozier, to check some facts. Fitz reminded me that, besides being a brilliant batsman, he was a great team man.
I left Sri Lanka for Australia in April 1957 and in those days going to Australia was like going to another planet. The only practical method of communication was by the writing of letters and I lost contact with all my Sri Lankan friends for many years.
A few years ago I got Selvi’s e-mail address and we made contact again. It was a pleasant experience to reconnect with my batting partner once again and take a trip down our memory lane. The partnership is not broken, we’ve taken a break. Until we start again, at the other side…….