The schools cricket season of 1954 was a memorable one for St Anthony’s College, Katugastota.
That was the year Antonians became the Unofficial Schools Cricket Champions” and also two of their favourite sons carved their names in the cricketing annals. I went in search of that invincible season and a batting record that was established 50 years ago in a picturesque field in the misty hills. The cricket grounds of St Anthony’s, facing the Hunnasgiriya mountain range on one side and Hantane range in the opposite direction, and Mahaweli Ganga graciously flowing down by the side with buzzing Katugastota town across the bridge, became the field for legendary Antonian cricketer A.C.M. Lafir and Ronnie Stephens to set the record for the highest opening partnership in schools cricket back in 1954.
At a pre-arranged meeting, I met both Lafir and Ronnie at the Antonian quadrangle. Before that, the Antonian Cricket Wing and the senior members of SACKOBA, along with its president Senaka Rajapakse and Principal Rev. Fr Henry Wijerathne, warmly welcomed both to their alma mater as it had been a long time since the pair last visited Katugastota together.
After a morning tea, we sat down under a tree and both started reminiscing about their past heroics.
Lafir opened the innings: “I began my career at St Anthony’s in late 1940s. I used to play softball cricket at the college grounds. Fr Mackay spotted me and invited me to join the practices in the under-14 cricket team. We used to play against Trinity and Kingswood, and there were no tournaments unlike present days. Since I played well at junior level, I was drafted in for the First XI squad in 1950 – the side was led by Stanley Jayasinghe. Trinitian John Halangoda was our coach. I played under Bernard Weerakoon in 1951 and 1952, Edmond Cooray in 1953 and then I went on to captain the College in ’54 and ’55.
Ronnie chipped in: “I was much younger and I also started at under-14. I remember Maurice Perera was our assistant coach at that time. I made my First XI debut at the age of 14, I think it was in 1951. I remember scoring 135 against St. Benedict’s at Kotahena.”
Lafir took up the tale: “We used to play against St Benedict’s, St Joseph’s, St Peter’s, Trinity, Ananda and one day matches against Kingswood and Dharmaraja. All of us at college were fortunate to have John Halangoda as our coach. He was a strict disciplinarian and a sound teacher and thanks to Mr Halangoda’s valuable service we achieved great heights”.
“I remember quite well the 1952 St Anthony’s versus St Joseph’s game at Darley Road. Ken Serpanchy led the Josephians and they scored more than 400 runs on the first day (452 in 250 minutes). We got out cheaply on the second day morning (143). Ronnie Stephens (48) and Tom Deen (35) batted well. Then we were given innings. Ronnie got out early and soon wickets started to tumble. Bernard Weerakoon and I fought back and held on until the last session. Then, Bernard was run out (53) and I got out for 99. We could’ve drawn the match if not for some silly mistakes during the dying stages. We were all out for 219 and lost the match.”
Lafir continued on: “My first year as captain was 1954. During this season, we played Wesley College and S Thomas’ college during the third term fixtures. I scored a century against Wesley”. Wesley was captained by Ansar Fuard and they had a fine team which also included Abu Fuard, Samsudeen, Lou Adihetty.
St. Anthony’s College Vs Wesley College, at Katugastota
St. Anthony’s College – 1st inning 201 (A.C.M Lafir 100, R. Stephen 20, S. Doranegama24, Samsudeen 5/61)
Wesley College – 1st inning 208/6 at close of play (A. Fuard 93, L. Adihetty 45)
Then, St Anthony’s played against S. Thomas’ at Mt Lavinia in another third term two-day game. It ended in a draw, with the Antonians winning on the first innings and grabbing major honours.
St. Anthony’s College Vs S. Thomas’ College at Mt. Lavinia
St. Thomas’ College – 1st inning 140 (A. Witham 45, T. Gauder 36, M. Berenger 3/15 and Abdeen 3/33) and 196/6 at close of play in the 2nd Inning
St. Anthony’s College – 1st innings 226 all out
The Antonians started their first-term fixtures, against Dharmaraja. Lafir recalls: “I remember the match against the Rajans; it was a one-day game (there were some matches played as single-day fixtures and these were not like the modern day 50-overs game). The match was played at Katugastota. I won the toss and decided to bat. I declared when I was on 91 (St. Anthony’s 182/3 with Ronnie Stephens scoring 43) as time was running out with couple of rain interruptions. They had Alwis who was a fine left-arm fast bowler and T. B. Munasinghe a good batsman. However, we managed to bowl them out twice within the day and won the match.”
St Anthony’s then played against St Peter’s College at Katugastota (5th & 6th February 1954). Ronnie Stephens led the side as Lafir stayed out of the game as he was not well. Both Ronnie and Lafir spoke about the game.
“St Peter’s was captained by their prolific batsman Clive Inman, who was in the prime of his form. We knew if we were to control him, we needed to curtail his batting strokes. So we set him a trap. The plan was to get Sivanathan, who was a leg spinner, to bowl at him with two slips in place. For Clive, a left-hander this will be like facing an off-spinner. The plan worked, Clive was out in both innings cheaply to Sivanathan. We kept on attacking with bowling changes without giving room for the Peterite batsmen to settle down and had close-in fielders.
“We restricted them in both innings (St. Peter’s scored 189 in the first inning) and came so close to winning it but couldn’t finish the job as bad light forced a draw.”
The Peterite last pair batted on to save the game (Peterites were at 141/9 in the second innings when play ended) Ronnie scored 89 in the Antonians’ first inning of 243. The Antonians declared at 193/3 in the second inning, with Ronnie scoring 79 runs.
Lafir said: “We travelled to Colombo in the train, to play against St Benedict’s College at Kotahena. The Benedictines were captained by M. Paul and had Saverimuttu, young L.P. Rayen, Neville Casie Chetty and a very good leg-spin bowler named Ponniah. During the team meeting on the match day, it was suggested if we win the toss to field first but I said, we should bat first and make use of the pitch. However, St Benedict’s were invited to take the first lease of the wicket. They went on to score around 250 runs. I felt our plan backfired and we were worried. I opened the batting with Ronnie in our first innings. Ronnie had a fine record against St Benedict’s since 1950 where he scored two centuries and couple of fifties. However he got out very early and we lost another wicket or two. Then Wijepala Premaratne joined and we both put on a good partnership before he got out during the last overs of the first day’s play.
“On the second day, I came out to bat and wanted to go for quick runs. I ended up scoring 184 runs and we put on 380 runs. In the second inning, the Benedictines struggled but L.P Rayen was stubborn and held the innings together from one end while wickets were falling. I called up Saliya Doranegama to come in from one end and broke the partnership. Under fading lights we managed to get the Bens all out and won the match by an innings.”
‘St. Anthony’s beat Bens by innings’
‘Lafir’s 184: an object lesson’ (The Ceylon Observer, 14th February 1954)
Skipper Lafir played a great inning of 184, which included two sixes and 23 fours. Till he obtained the coveted century he played very steadily and correct cricket. Indeed his innings was an object lesson to other school boy cricketers.
St. Anthony’s College Vs St. Benedict’s College, at Kotahena (12th & 13th February 1954)
St. Benedict’s College
1st inning 248 (N. Fernando 43, N. Ponniah 42, A. Sivanathan 3/40)
2nd inning 104 (M. Lord 17, K. Nathan 21, T. Deen 5/31)
St. Anthony’s College – 1st inning 382/8 (A.C.M Lafir 184, W. Premaratne 80, R. Doranegama 40, K. Nathan 4/62)
Lafir continued his recollection of the exploits in the 1954 season: “Our next game was against Ananda College at Katugastota (26th & 27th February). They had hard-hitting batsman Dhanasiri Weerasinghe and Molligoda.” That year Ananda College was captained by Pathmasiri Silva and the side comprised some experienced players such as Noel Perera, U.D. Warryapperuma, Mahinda Jayasinghe, Parakrama Molligoda, Ranjan Lecamwasam, Dhammika Ratnayake, R. de S. Weerasuriya and Dhanasiri Weerasinghe.
Lafir reminisces: “I scored well in the first inning but got out for 89 by trying to hit Dhanasiri Weerasinghe out of the grounds. Premaratne scored a century and we ended up with 267 runs. Tom Deen (5/41) and Saliya Doranegama bowled well and we restricted Ananda to 178. In the second innings, I scored 100 runs in 60 minutes and declared the inning but we couldn’t go for a win.” ((Antonians scored 164 for 3, with A.C.M Lafir not out 122, and Ananda College was 57/4 at close of play. The match ended in a draw).
The Antonians travelled down to Colombo once again on the following weekend, this time to face St Joseph’s College at Darley Rd on 4th and 5th March. They were two formidable sides; the Josephians, led by Chrishantha Fernando, had the likes of Mahendra de Silva, Michael Berenger, T. Buhar, Yasas Ratnayake and T. Ismail. However, the Antonians had the advantage going in to this game with a couple victories under their belt. This was the pick of the week – the Peterites were taking on Benedictines at Bambalapitiya and Trinitians were hosting Royal at Asgiriya.
Newspapers predicted a close game and crowd thronged to Darley Rd. The game lived up to its expectations whilst becoming one of the epic encounters to be played at Maradana and well-remembered to date among those who witnessed it for the mighty sixes hit by Antonian Tom Deen.
Lafir recalls: “We were the clear favourites as we managed to beat St Benedict’s couple of weeks ago and came so close to beating the Peterites too. The Josephians batted first and soon they were troubled by the bowling of Saliya and Deen. Chrishantha batted well for Josephians. We managed to bowl them out less than 200 runs. When we batted, Buhar and Berenger troubled us but we scored some quick runs, with Tom Deen hitting sixes all around the ground. A couple of them went to the farm (behind the pavilion), one over Bonjean Hall, one hit the top of the chapel.
“We had a lead of about 20 runs and then St Joseph’s struggled again in their second inning. We managed to bowl them out once again for about 150 runs, this time Mahendra Silva held the innings from one side. We had to score about 130 to win in one session. We were coasting well, and Tom Deen again started dominating the attack. I asked Deen to cut down his risky shots and stay at the wicket. But, knowing him, he couldn’t curtail his shots and got out trying too many big hits. Soon we were in trouble, Berenger and Buhar were unplayable. We started losing wickets, one after the other. We were struggling to save the game, leave alone winning it. However our last pair, Cuthbert Pereira and A. Sivanathan, somehow batted out the last ten to fifteen minutes and saved the game. That was one memorable encounter.”
St. Anthony’s College Vs St. Joseph’s College, at Darley Road (4th and 5th March 1954)
St. Joseph’s College
1st inning – 199 (C. Fernando 77, R. Brohier 26, M. de Silva 22, T. M. Deen 4/47, A. Sivanathan 2/40, A.C.M Lafir 2/7)
2nd inning – 155 (M. de Silva 70, L. Caspersz 23, R. Rudolph 31, T.M. Deen 4/60, S. Doranegama 4/28)
St. Anthony’s College
1st inning – 221 (T.M.Deen 60, S. Doranegama 45, W. Premaratne 36, A.C.M Lafir 32, T. Buhar 3/60, M. Berenger 3/42, R. Rudolph 2/35)
2nd inning -119/ 9 at close (T. M. Deen 33, A.C.M Lafir 18, T. Buhar 4/34, M. Berenger 4/42)
1954 Trinity College Vs St. Anthony’s College Big Match
The final match of the season was against Trinity College on 19th and 20th March, played at Katugastota.
Trinity College: A. Hulangamuwa (Captain), L. Vitharana, H. Ratwatte, M. Ganesar, I. Geddes, H. Scharenguivel, G. Samarasinghe, R. Aluwihare, M. Ratwatte, M. Wanduragala, S. Ettipola
St. Anthony’s College: A.C.M Lafir (Captain), R. Stephens, T. M. Deen, S. Doranegama, C. Pereira, W. Premaratne, J. Abdeen, J. Fernando, N. Fernando, R. Doranegama, M. Sivanathan, A. Berenger, C. Pamunuwa, C. Rodrigo
This was the defining game for both A.C.M Lafir and Ronnie Stephens in their school cricket careers. Though by then they have carved a name for themselves, the 1954 Trinity-St Anthony’s Big Match became one of the historic encounters, elevating the opening pair to the Great Antonian Hall of Fame for Sportsmen and engraving their names in gold in the annals of Ceylon schools cricket.
Lafir reflects on that memorable encounter: “Right through that week it was raining. We were praying for a perfect weekend. We wanted to end the season on a high with a win against Trinity. Come Thursday, the rain stopped and the sun came out. The ground dried up and pitch was in perfect condition on Friday.
“I went out to the toss with Trinity captain Hulangamuwa. Trinity had a very good side, with Hulangamuwa, their best batsman Lucky Vitharana, an all-rounder Ivor Geddes, Aluwihare a fine batsman, left-arm bowler Sene B. Hettipola. I won the toss and decided to bat first. The plan was to bat till about 4.30pm and put up at least 250 runs on the board. I opened with Ronnie. Trinity used a tactic to bowl on the leg side, with the spinners using the new ball and trap me. Ivor Geddes and Sene Hettipola opened the bowling attack. Sene was bowling slow leg breaks. I went for a cut shot and the ball flew off the bat to the slips where Ganesha dropped it. That was early in the inning and after that let off, I concentrated and played myself in; we were not troubled by their bowlers either.
“We kept on batting and runs started to flow. We were at ease, we crossed 200 runs. We increased the pace and into the late afternoon wanted to reach our target by 4pm. I was constantly looking at the pavilion to see if it was time to declare. I looked at the coach Mr Maurice Perera, the staff and the old boys. Then I got a message sent by Maurice Perera – it was written by Master Deen Low, Mr Robert Wright, Mr Mackay, Mr Barnabas, M. Kanniah and Bro. Macky our Prefect of Games.
‘at no circumstances should you declare. We are seeing one of the finest batting displays and we will not see this for another 100 years.’
I didn’t show this to Ronnie as he was eyeing for the century and I had scored mine already. Ronnie was batting a bit slow, so I told him ‘You better score your century before I declare.’ Then I got out, I was 176 and Ronnie was in his 80s. We had scored 266.
“I told our batsmen to go for 400. But by stumps we reached 399/8. Ronnie scored his century. Next day I declared the innings. We got to know only when we were reading the Saturday newspapers that we had set a new Ceylon record for the opening partnership.
‘We managed bowl out Trinity for less than 250 in their first inning. Aluwihare and Samarasinghe batted well. Deen was among the wickets. We enforced the follow-on and Trinity lost two to three quick wickets in their second inning. They never recovered. Lucky and Ganesar held the innings for a while and then Aluwihare was batting staunchly with the last man. Time is running out and light too started to fade. It was becoming tense; among the players and spectators. We were frustrated. During the dying stages of the game, I brought in Sivanathan to bowl his slow leg breaks. Aluwihare was tempted for a big hit and he couldn’t resist. He miscued a slog and ball and it went up in the air. I was placed at the suicidal position near the batsman, and I jumped grabbed the catch.
“The Trinitians were all out just before the close of play. What a relief that was. It was the centenary year, we had been doing well throughout the season and much was expected from us. We were really thrilled with that victory.”
Trinity College Vs St. Anthony’s College, 19th and 20th March at Katugastota
St. Anthony’s College
1st inning -399/8 (A.C.M Lafir 176, R. Stephens 103, W. Premaratne 43, S. Doranegama 36, M. Wanduragala 3/75, M. Ratwatte 2/75)
1st inning – 220 (R. Aluwihare 52, G. Samarasinghe 47, H. Ratwatte 35, A. Hulangamuwa 27, T. M. Deen 4/52, A. Sivanathan 2/33, A.C.M Lafir 2/37)
2nd inning – 104 (R. Aluwihare 33, L, Vitharana 26, M. Ganesar 19, A. Sivanathan 6/25, S. Doranegama 2/14)
As Lafir said, one reason for their success in ’54 was the perfect combination of the side. The Antonians had the best opening batting pair, best opening bowling attack among schools – Deen and Saliya – the best wicket-keeper Cuthbert Pereira, best all-rounders and a strong batting line-up with Wijepala Premaratne and Doranegama brothers and all were a fine set of fielders.
That memorable 1954 season ended with a victory, and with the tag of “Unofficial Schools Cricket Champions”. That was not all. In order to celebrate the centenary year, St Anthony’s College hosted a two-day match between Combined Colombo Schools and Combined Kandy Schools – a fixture of this nature for very first time. Seven Antonians represented the Kandy side with A.C.M Lafir as their captain.
The Colombo Schools team was captained by Ansar M Fuard (Wesley) and included Clive Inman (St Peter’s), T. Nirmalingam (Royal), U de Silva (Royal), M.N. Samsudeen (Wesley), M. Berenger (St Joseph’s), Y. Ratnayake (St Joseph’s), M. Hoffman (St Peter’s), M. Lord (S. Benedict’s), N. Fernando (St Benedict’s), M. Sharhawadie (Zahira) and V. Narendra (Zahira).
Kandy Schools team comprised A.C.M Lafir (St Anthony’s), Ronnie Stephens (St. Anthony’s), T.M.Deen (St. Anthony’s), W. Premaratne (St. Anthony’s) , C. Pereira (St Anthony’s), S. Doranegama (St Anthony’s), M. Sivanathan (St Anthony’s), A. Hulangamuwa (Trinity), M Ratwatte (Trinity), R. Gunasekera (Dharmaraja), K. Kelaart (Kingswood). Reserves: J. Abdeen, G. Fernando and R. Doranegama.
Kandy Schools won the two-day encounter with Lafir notching up another century, 151 not out in the second inning for Kandy. There was high praise from press for the excellent sportsmanship shown by both teams and the players and also for the good cricket they displayed at Katugastota.
Kandy Schools: 200 and 215/1 (A.C.M Lafir 151 not out and S. Doranegama 37 not out)
Colombo Schools: 160/6 dec (Shaharwadie 50, U de Silva 48, S. Doranegama 2/31, Alwis 2/27) and 204 (Hoffman 49, Y. Ratnayake 34, Narendra 33, Nirmalingam 27, M. Ratwatte 4/40, A. Sivanathan 4/47)
A.C.M Lafir piled up 1000 runs in 13 innings during the 1954 season, with five centuries at an average of 108.6 runs per innings eclipsing the record of 92.6 set in 1918 by the legendary Antonian Jack Anderson. Lafir won the Sri Lanka schools Best Batsman Award in 1954 while his teammate Cuthbert Pereira won the Best Wicket-keeper Award. Lafir went on to captain the Antonians in the following year and become one of the greatest cricketers produced by St Anthony’s College, Katugastota.
He was picked in for All Ceylon cricket team as a schoolboy in ’54’ to face the touring MCC team led by Sir Len Hutton. The MCC team made a whistle-stop visit to Colombo en route to Australia and played a match at Colombo Oval. Lafir also represented the combined schools team and later Kandy United and Saracens in the Sara Trophy where he made headlines with his bat. He was a regular member of the Ceylon teams until the early 60s, and there’s so much more to write about his performances at national level both here and abroad.
Since space does not permit, we park those heroics to be shared on a later cover of Quadrangle. It was truly an experience and a pleasure to meet and spend some time with Lafir and Stephens at their alma mater, revisiting the 1950s and reliving their stories – 1954 certainly would have been enjoyable and an epic season.
We said goodbye to each other, whilst hoping to meet soon again, and retelling their memories here at Quadrangle for the better enjoyment of all our readers. Let us remember those greats of yesteryear, the champion Antonians and all cricketers who made that 1954 schools cricket season a memorable one.
Lafir and his boys left a legacy behind, their craftsmanship and skills will no doubt inspire many generations to come.