Richmond College First XI cricket captain (1974) Ranjan Dias-Jayasinghe reminisces about the good times and that record-breaking Lovers’ Quarrel of 1972.
Cricket was started in Richmond College Galle in 1887 and Richmondites played their first inter-school cricket match against Galle Central School (later named All Saints’ College, Galle) on May 1, 1888. In 1901, Richmond College played against Wesley College, Colombo, for the first time and this encounter now being played for the E R De Silva Memorial Trophy.
In 1905, the Richmond- Mahinda big match named the “Lovers’ Quarrel” was first played on the Galle esplanade. Except for a few interruptions due to the First and Second World War, the big match has been played continuously for the past 110 years. It was interesting to note that the principals of the two schools stood as on-field umpires on several occasions. They were Rev. James Horne Darrel of Richmond College and Mr Frank Lee Woodward of Mahinda College
Richmond College won the inaugural match and followed it up with wins in 1906 and 1907. Mahinda College registered their first victory in 1908. Having broken a 30-year-long deadlock of draws, Mahindians under Rajith Priyan registered an emphatic 10-wicket win over Richmondites in 2008, which remains their last win. After a 45-year-long winless streak, the Richmondites also registered a win by an innings over the Mahindians in the 2014 encounter and continued to a second consecutive win by an innings in 2015 under A.K. Tyrone.
So far these two schools have played against each other in 111 matches, including this year’s encounter. However, ironically or fittingly because of the Lovers’ Quarrel, both schools are yet to agree on the tally of wins and losses during this period. According to Richmond College its 24 wins to Richmond with 23 wins to Mahinda and 64 matches ending as drawn. According to Mahinda College records, the tally is 23 wins to each and 65 matches ending as drawn.
In 1953, Mahindian Somasiri Ambawatte captured all ten wickets in an inning (10 for 44 runs) and became the holder of the best bowling record of the series and in the same match he managed to score a century. This is the finest all-round achievement to date in this encounter. Previous best bowling figures was held by R. M. M de Silva for Richmond when he captured 8 for 19 in 1922. Incidentally, R. M. M de Silva also registered the best all-round performance when he scored 97 and captured 15 wickets in the same match (8 for 19 and 7 for 6).
In the ‘Lovers’ Quarrel in 1972, Richmondite Prasad Kariyawasam erased a 33-year-old big match record, the highest individual score of 155 runs held by Mahindian Sirisena Hettige (1939), with an unbeaten 156 runs in the first inning of Richmond College on the first day’s play. However, his record was short lived as on the very next day Mahindian top order batsman P. H. K. H. Ranasinghe eclipsed this by scoring 162 runs and setting a record, which stands to date. Back of this inning Mahinda College also piled up the highest score by a team, when they amassed 359 runs. Jayantha Dias of Richmond College holds the record for most centuries in the big match, scoring consecutive centuries in 1968 and 1969
My early days of cricket goes back to 1971/72, when I played for college under-17. I remember a match played in Guruthalawa against St. Thomas’ College. I took 7-7 runs, but we ended up losing the match.
Then when it comes to Lovers’ Quarrels, memories take me back to the 1969 encounter. Richmond College won that match, after a nine-year wait and that remained as the only victory we Richmondites witnessed until we won again in 2014.
The 1969 encounter was played on the Galle esplanade, like all our Big matches were played, and my father MD (Marcus Dias) Jayasinghe, who was a Mahindian and the first to score 50 runs (58 runs not out in 1929) in the series for Mahinda College, was our coach at that time. He also took a match bag of 10 for 37 in 1927. My father’s two other brothers (my uncles) all played for Mahinda College, Galle. My father couldn’t captain the college due to a misunderstanding he had with then master-in-charge where he refused to take up the position but his brothers, Felix Dias Jayasinghe (1929 and 1930) and DD Jayasinghe (1934-1936) – the first southerner to represent All Ceylon and later becoming a national cricket selector, serving for more than a decade – led Mahinda College First XI.
The ’69 encounter was an interesting one. Earlier, former Richmond cricketer Nihal Samaraweera crossed over to play cricket for Mahinda College in ‘68. He was a good batsman. In this encounter, I cannot recall the scores but remember Jayantha Dias scoring a century (117 runs). Jayantha had the distinction of scoring back to back centuries in ’68 and ’69. The only batsman to do so in the series.
We set a target for Mahinda to chase in the second inning after lunch. Not an easy target but they took up the challenge. DL Sirisena was the Mahinda captain. Nihal Samaraweera came out to bat and started hammering the Richmond bowlers all over the park. By tea, he had scored 70-plus runs. My father, who was the coach usually did not interfere with the captain when a match was on. He let the captain make all decisions. At the tea break, he walked into the dressing room and spoke to Richmond skipper Rohan Jayawardena. He inquired what was going on in the middle. Rohan replied: “‘Sir I used the best bowlers I have but can’t get him (Nihal) out.”
The Richmond bowling was a decent attack, with NYC Perera and Kantha Lamahewa who were good fast bowlers backed by Prasad Kariyawasam, former Ambassador to USA, as a left-arm off-spinner. Then my father replied: “All this while I have not interfered but from now on let me captain the side. Don’t touch the best bowlers but instead use your freshers like Jayantha (Dias) to bowl at Nihal. Ask Jayantha to drop it short and put your fieldsmen right around the ground.”
The post-tea game began and, as instructed, Rohan brought on the freshers to bowl. Jayantha Dias who was bowling spinners just dropped few balls in front inviting Nihal to hit them. Nihal was tempted to go for big shots and after a few strikes he mishit one and the ball sailed high to be caught in the deep by Dudley Dias. Soon, the Mahinda College team was bowled out and Richmond won the game.
I think in the previous year in 1968, it rained heavily during the match. We didn’t have turf wickets those days, only matting wickets. The matting was soggy and teams were wondering what to do. At the pavilion a senior Mahindian walked up to my father and asked “Marcus what do we do? We somehow need to play the game. Shall we put a new matting once the pitch dries up?” My father initially refused the idea saying it was against the rules but since there was no choice he had agreed. He came to the dressing room and gathered the team and told everyone it would be a new matting wicket. He said the ball would swing but told the batsmen just play their natural game. Jayantha went on to score a century in that game (111 runs), and the match ended in a draw.
My first year in the big match was in ’72. I was picked as a bowler, slow right-arm spinner and I was the last man to bat. Later I went to open the innings. It was a very dry season, no rain and the outfield was lightning fast. Richmond won the toss and batted first. The captain was Prasad Kariyawasam who went on to break the big match batting record, scoring an unbeaten 156, which was held by Mahinda Cricketer Sirisena Hettige many years back. Sirisena was there at the match witnessing his record being broken, and then bettered too. Prasad was dropped before even he could score 10 runs by Mahindian K. G. Wanigaratne. He went on to compile a solid inning. However, on the second day Mahindian P. H. K. H. Ranasinghe broke the record and went on to score 162 runs. I had a hand in this feat as I dropped a simple catch given by him at 142. In those we used to take catches at chest level, at that time we didn’t take catches over the head. I approached the ball too fast and suddenly realised I couldn’t take it at chest level. I got into a tangle and dropped it but then I made amends. I was at midwicket and Ranasinghe gave a half chance. I thought I must give it a try somehow and took few steps dived while catching the ball in one hand. He was out at 162 but by then Prasad’s record was erased. The match also ended in a draw as the Mahindians put on a mammoth score. In 1973 we were led by Hema Dissanayake and the big match was drawn.
I captained college in 1974. We had a good season, winning against Dharmasoka, St. Thomas’ Matara and Rahula College and lost only to Nalanda College and drew the rest including the match against Wesley College. Mahinda was captained by N. V. Gamini and they too had a decent season.
I opened the batting as the captain. It was another hot and humid day in Galle. We were fielding and I was forced to leave the ground due to cramps towards the latter part of the innings. The coach and the doctor came down and told me to take a Disprin and salt water. I was feeling dizzy and by the time I came out the Mahindians had been bowled out. I stepped out to bat with my opening partner Sri Lal Kandurakala. I faced the first ball bowled by D. L. S. De Silva, one of the best in the southern region. The ball just outside the stumps and was heading away, or that’s what I thought. I left it but alas it swung in late and knocked down the bails. I was out first ball, and I couldn’t believe what happened.
In the second inning, we were forced to save the game. Our Coach DD Ranaweera walked up to me and said, “Ranjan drop down the order if you are not fit or ready to open.” I didn’t want to give up, and went on to open once again. This time I stayed at the wicket for a long period of time and saved the game. Credit should also go to the last pair Sumith Guruge and Lalith Gunawardena who hung on till the end of play which made sure the game was drawn.
I really cherish those memories, some fading with time but one thing I must say, the friendships we built with each other last forever – such as the one I built with Mahindian P. H. K. H. Ranasinghe. To date we are good friends, though I gave him a lifeline and in the process my friend Prasad lost his record, all immaterial as friendship and sportsmanship are what matters at the end of the day.