They made Bens unofficial cricket champs in 1957 – Elmo Rodrigopulle

I would like to introduce the first unofficial inter-school champion team of St. Benedict’s College.

It was 1957 – 57 years ago – when a transition took place in the game at the Kotahena school. After the previous year’s 1956- inter-school cricket season, the Sri Lanka Cricket Schools Association introduced an age limit to be followed by all schools. It was made under-20 because a few schools were known to play cricketers even above the age of 21.

Before going on to describe the exploits of that unofficial champion team that brought honour to the green, white and green school, I would like to name the squad for posterity.

Lovellyn Rayen (captain), Neville Casiechetty, (Vice Captain), Cecil Waidyaratne, Ranjith Jayewardene, Anslem Ludowyeke, Lasantha Fernando, Benjamin Silva, Elmo Rodrigopulle, Lionel Fernando, Neville Wickremasinghe, Anton Abeysekera, Allan Gunesekera, Douglas Faux and Fritzroy Ponniah.

The writer was the baby of the team aged 15. With that team it was a reawakening of cricket which had a rich tradition in the school. Along with the brilliant leadership of Rayen, the foursome who helped build that champion team was Rev. Bro. Alban Patrick, Director, A. Gnanapragasam, Prefect of Games, Edward Kelaart, coach and Rogus Perera the curator. Bro. Alban was a Director of Directors that the school was lucky to get and have although his reign was short, he did wonders for the school in both studies and extra-curricular activities. He was sports loving and used to play a good game of tennis at the tennis court that was on the left side of the quadrangular. In Gnanapragasam he had a man for all seasons. Bro. Alban with ‘Gnana’ as he was popularly known and coach former Ceylon cricketer Edward Kelaart formed a strike force and kept an eye on the cricketers and how they performed.

The squad of cricketers and Director, POG, coach and curator formed one happy family. It is said that a family that prays together stays together and this was one such family. Regular prayers were a part of that team.

Before the cricket season began, Gnanapragasam circulated that famous poem by Rudyardd Kipling ‘IF’ to every member of that champion team and after each day’s practice ‘Gnana’ would read a verse and explain it to the cricketers who listened intently and digested it. It went a long way to help the team achieve success.

That was also the era when the school played just seven first term matches and two third term games. Today schools play more than 10 third term and 15 first term games. That was also the era when crowds flocked and jam packed every ground to catch a glimpse of their heroes. That 1957 epoch making team led by batting all rounder Lovellyn Rayen won the two third term games against St. Anthony’s College Wattala and St. Anne’s College Kurunegala and beat St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia outright at Mount Lavinia and got the better of Royal, St. Joseph’s, St. Peter’s, St. Anthony’s Katugastota, Nalanda and Sister Schools on the first innings to be adjudged un-official inter-school cricket champions.

Captain Rayen had a fine cricketing brain. He was an all rounder. He batted right hand and was strong on the off side. He was a brilliant close in fielder. He bowled tantalizing off breaks. Neville Casiechetty (Vice Captain) – He was a stylish right hand batsman and had strokes all round the wicket. He had a stinging off drive and executed it with great style. When he captained the school in 1958 he went to make a double century (265) against the Sister Colleges.

Cecil Waidyaratne was a right arm new ball bowler. He was quite pacey and moved the ball both ways. He and Neville Wickremasinghe formed a pair of devastating fast bowlers who terrorized batsmen that year. He was a hard hitting right hand bat. Waidyaratne went on to become the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army. Ranjit Jayewardene was a consistent right hand opening batsman and scored heavily and was a hawk-eyed slip and cover fielder. Anslem Ludowyeke was Jayewardene’s opening partner and together they gave the side sound openings for the batsmen following to build on. Ludowyeke too batted right hand. Neville Wickremasinghe was a powerfully built right arm new ball bowler who could move the ball both ways. He was the sixer hitter of the side. Lionel Fernando was a right hand batsman of class. He batted Caribbean style like a Vivian Richards and scored a lot of runs with a century against Royal which was eye catching. He later went on to play for Ceylon.

Lasantha Fernando in addition to his prowess as an al rounder was also a fantastic tennis player and went on to win the national tennis singles title and play tennis for the country. He was a hard hitting batsman and bowled two way cutters and was a brilliant close in fielder. Benjamin Silva was a dogged batman. He bowled left arm spin and was a brilliant gully fielder. Elmo Rodrigopulle was a leg spin googly bowler, a right hand bat and a keen slip fielder. Anton Abeysekera was a hard hitting middle order batsman, bowled off spin and was an excellent fielder. Fritzroy Ponniah could hold his end up for hours with his correct right hand batting. Bowled leg spin and fielded in the slips. Douglas Faux was a left hand big hitting batsman and left arm spin bowler. Allan Gunesekera was a punishing right hand batsman and the reserve wicket keeper of the champion outfit. The squad was a blend of youth and experience and jelled beautifully to make the school the first unofficial inter-school cricket champions. Sadly Rayen, Casiechetty, Waidyaratne, Jayewardene, Lasantha Fernando, Wickremasinghe, Ponniah along with Bro. Alban Patrick, A. Gnanapragasam, Edward Kelarrt and Rogus Perera have the prefix Late before their illustrious names.

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