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Globetrotting sportsman, a journey from Negombo to California

Versatile Dr.Cyril Ernest

By Sujith Silva

Dr. Cyril Ernest former Benedictine sportsman, a brilliant all-round cricketer a right hand opening batsman and a right arm off spinner back in 50s and 60s was in town last year as the Chief Guest for the Annual Prize Giving at St. Benedict’s College. Quadrangle had the opportunity of meeting him along with his wife Dr.Indranie and his two daughters Cheryl and Melanie. Dr. Cyril represented St. Benedict’s College 1st XI from 1959 to 1961 and also represented the school in Hockey, Tennis and Track & Field. After he entered the University, he was on the championship-winning Sara Trophy cricket team of 1962/63 under the captaincy of Carlyle Perera. This team included a star-studded line up of Schoolboy Cricketers, many of whom eventually represented Ceylon in International cricket. He went onto captain the side in 1967 and after his stint with the University, he played for the NCC, Adastrians, and represented Ceylon in few International games; against MCC, Gopalan trophy game, Pakistan and also Govt. Services team against Joe Lister’s International team. He played under Michael Tissera in the game against MCC which Ceylon won at the Oval in 1969 and he claimed the wicket of Collin Cowdrey and Basil D’Oliviera. Ceylon lost another talented sportsman as he migrated to the USA in 1972 where he became a Consultant Physician and Cardiologist.

Here Dr. Cyril reminisces his early years.

I had my early education at St. Mary’s College, Negombo where I played for the school cricket team and also played for ‘Negombo United Cricket Club’ in the Daily News Trophy tournament as a 15 and 16 year old. In 1958, I was selected to play on the ‘Rest’ team under Kingsley Fernando (St. Sebastian’s) in the National Inter-Schools cricket championship. It was a quadrangular Cricket tournament between Colombo North Schools, Colombo South Schools, Kandy Schools and the Rest of the Ceylon.  We beat highly favoured Colombo North Schools in our first game and went on to meet Colombo South Schools team in the finals which I believe was captained by Michael Tissera. We lost to them in the finals. I top scored with 66 runs in the game against Colombo North and the first innings and also batted well against Colombo South team.

After this cricket encounter, my Dad took me to St. Joseph’s College Colombo 10 to enter this school to pursue my studies and cricket. My Dad knew the then Rector of St. Joseph’s College Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai very well. However, when we went to meet him he was away in England. Then he took me to St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena and we ended up there as I was accepted as a student by Rev. Br. Alban Patrick.

I was boarded at the College hostel which enabled me to participate in sports as well as pursue my studies. I represented St. Benedict’s in Cricket, Hockey, Tennis and Track & Field at the highest level in inter-schools competitions. My first encounter in school cricket at St. Benedict’s was against S.Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia in 1959. They were a formidable side. I went in to bat at the fall of the 7th wicket, and I put on a partnership with Anton Abeysekere of over 50 runs to take our score to some state of respectability. Anton was not out at 45 runs. We did lose this game.

My first captain was Lionel Fernando, and I remember the game against St. Anne’s College, Kurunegala played in Kotahena when Lionel scored 204 runs not out and took all 10 wickets in the first innings and 07 wickets in the second inning; considered a world record at that time. I fielded at leg slip and took 3 or 4 catches off his bowling. I scored several half centuries during my career at St. Benedict’s as an opening batsman, with a highest score of 71 against St. Joseph’s. My best bowling figures was against Royal College when I grabbed 05 wickets in the first inning in the 1960 encounter. In our match against Royal College in 1959, Lorenz Pereira scored a dashing century. I was out to two brilliant catches by Michael Dias in each innings. The Benedictine-Josephian encounter of 1959 is well-remembered. St. Benedict’s had not beaten St. Joseph’s for a very long time (by then the last being in 1917) and we were on the verge of winning this encounter, but we dropped two vital catches. Josephians’ Cedric Direckze and Nihal Samarawickrema somehow survived, and not only did they save the game but went on to win it as well.

In Hockey, at St. Benedict’s I played as a Right-Half. We were coached by the famous Brian Assey, and we had a very good side. He was our Chemistry teacher, and he also played for Ceylon. From the 1959-1960 sides, there were six to seven Benedictines who later represented Ceylon in Hockey. The names that comes to my mind are Rex Sebastian, Batcho Selvaraj, W. Charles, Anthony Macintyre, the Fernando brothers (Stanley, Homer and Subash), and Nattar Assissi. During those days our main rivals were S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia as they used to give us a good fight in hockey. We were National Champs in 1959 and 960.

In tennis, I played in the Public Schools tournament and in doubles my partner was Shiran Peiris. We lost to the eventual Champions, Navin Gunaratne and Lal Senaratne, in the quarter finals in 1959. In athletics, I represented college at the public schools championships, having qualified by coming second to Warma Fernando in the Western Province North Group meet. I can recall those whom I competed against as Ranjit Samarasekere (Antonian), Anton Perera (Peterite), R U Liyanage (St. Thomas’, Matale), Lorensz Da’Silva (S.Thomas’ Mt. Lavinia) and Warma Fernando (Ananda).

In cricket, Mr. Bertie Wijesinghe was our coach and Mr. Felix Fernando was our Master in Charge. We were really fortunate to be coached and trained under them. I remember how Mr. Wijesinghe went about his coaching, all about basics; we had to do batting drills with concentration ball after ball. It was the same with bowling, I was trained as an Off-Spin bowler by him. The art of flight, the accuracy and planning before each ball was bowled, studying the batsman and how to outsmart him, were all part of the drills. We had to repeat these steps with sheer concentration and focus on what was delivered.

In 1960, St. Benedict’s 1st XI was captained by Elmo Rodrigopulle and Ranjith Fernando was my opening batting partner. The team comprised of Allan Gunesekera, Sanath Jayawardena, Winston Dissanayake, Ranjit Perumal, Quintus Perera, Gordon Dissanayake, Cecil Saverimuttu, Nihal Fernandopulle, Nihal Zoysa, Nihal Amerasinghe, Percy Perera, Fredrick Silva and Chandra Ramanathan. Bede Puvimansinghe was our Prefect of Games and Bertie Wijesinha remained as our coach. In that year, we recorded a famous win against St. Peter’s where Elmo got a hat-trick and I also got a few wickets. St. Peter’s were led by Adiel Anghie. St. Peter’s also had a very good side, St. Anthony’s under Charlie Joseph was also another good side. St. Joseph’s too was a formidable side. They had Brian Perumal and I remember scoring consecutive boundaries off him on a matting wicket, that didn’t please him much. Then S. Thomas’ under my good friend Dr. Larif Idroos, we lost once again to the Thomians that year. If not mistaken I scored 34 runs in the 1st inning and 64 in the 2nd inning. I would like to mention the support we got from the Benedictine supporters led by Kenneth Dabrera at Kotahena. 1961 was my last season at St. Benedict’s.

In 1961, I entered the University. I need to make mention about some of the great teachers who taught me at St. Benedict’s; Rev. Brother Theodoret, Mr. R. H. Philip (Physics), Mr. Brian Assey (Chemistry), Mr. Peter Fernando (Zoology) and Mr. Thillainathan (Botany)

I entered Medical College in 1962 and my Dad, Christopher Ernest died when I was in the 3rd MBBS class. In the University, combining sports with the studies was not easy. However, I pursued my sports career representing the University in cricket and hockey. In the 1962/63 season, we won the Sara Trophy in cricket; the one and only time the University had won this National Championship. Our cricket team had an array of schoolboy stars and we blended well together under the leadership of Carlyle Perera. The team comprised of Buddy Reid, Nihal Gurusinghe, Mohanlal Fernando, Lareef Idroos, Harsha Samarajeewa, Mano Ponniah, U.R.P. Goonetilleke, V. Sivanandan, Nanda Senanayake, N. J. S. de Mel, Kittha Wimalaratne, Merril Guneratne and myself. Kingsley Fernando played few games. Our fielding was superb. We were rewarded with a tour to Singapore and Malaysia for winning the Sara Trophy and we did extremely well on this tour. Our hockey team also won the Andriesz shield in the premier hockey tournament in Ceylon during our time. I captained the University team in 1967 my final year. I also captained the Ceylon University team to India for the inter University tournament in 1966.

While I was in University, I was selected to play in the Upcountry XI against touring Pakistan Cricket team in Kandy. The Pakistan team was captained by Imthiaz Ahamed and had the likes of Inthikhab Alam, Javed Burki, Asif Iqbal. I was also on the Ceylon side in 1969 under the captaincy of Michael Tissera when we beat Collin Cowdrey’s MCC team. I also played against Madras in the Gopalan Trophy representing Ceylon and scored 45 runs not out to help Ceylon win that match.

I also toured India with the Ceylon Government Services team under D.H. De Silva in 1969 and also played against Joe Lister’s international side. After leaving the University, I played for the NCC and subsequently joined the Airforce on the Adastrians team. I captained the Adastrians and also the Combined Services team in the Robert Senanayake tournament. Prior to joining the Airforce I was a regular member of the Govt. Services side and we won the Robert Senanayake championships on two consecutive years. In the Airforce, I captained the side which won the Inter Services cricket tournament and also playing on the Hockey team, we won the Inter Services Hockey championship too. I was selected to play on the Ceylon side in cricket against the visiting Pakistan team in 1971, however the Pakistan team did not come to Ceylon when war broke out against India over the Bangladesh issue.

I left Ceylon in February 1972, and landed in New York where my buddy Lareef Idroos came to pick me up from the JFK Airport. I was in New York for five years where I qualified in Internal Medicine and got my sub speciality in Cardiology. The five years in New York were very tough years and I did not have any time to take up sports. After finishing my training in Internal Medicine and Cardiology, I moved to California with my family. I have since remained in California. Once in California, I resumed playing Cricket in the local tournament and I was a member of a Sri Lankan Club – Colts. In 1979 I was selected to play on the USA National team against Canada along with Lareef Idroos and C. Balakrishnan. This match was played in Vancouver. We lost to Canada by a bare margin. Subsequently, I was selected to play on the USA National team in 1982 in Birmingham, England for the ICC trophy. Zimbabwe won this tournament and they were able to advance to playing test cricket later. Lareef, Bala and myself have had the rare distinction of playing international cricket for two countries, Ceylon and USA.

Even with a very busy private practice in Cardiology, I still pursued some of my other sports exploits; long distance running and martial arts. I have run four marathons which is two in Honolulu and one each in Los Angeles and in Beijing, China. I am also a 2nd degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. I was involved on the administrative side of USA Cricket and at one time I was the Manager of the USA team and also Chairman of selectors.

Reunion of Sara Trophy Champion University Cricket Team of 1963

My wife, Indranie is also a doctor and she still works full time. My daughters Cheryl and Melanie are also in California and they are pursuing careers in Psychiatry. We love travelling and do travel quite extensively and at the last count we have travelled to over 95 countries. Hoping to make a century on that too.

Looking back, the times I spent at St. Benedict’s College have been the most wonderful years. The discipline, education and the environment we grew up under the tutelage of the Christian Brothers ‘La Salian Brothers’ has indeed helped us immensely in our lives. We are truly indebted to them for affording us this privilege.

About Sujith Silva

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One comment

  1. Dear Dr. Cyril Ernest,

    I was very proud and happy to have read all about you and your sports carrier at St.Benedict’s College, Colombo 13. And at Colombo University, sports carrier together with your Higher Education as well. You are a SON OF A GUN. To my mind. Dear Dr.Ernest. If you visit, SRI LANKA In the near future we Collage and the Old Borders would love to felicitate you any time.
    Meantime let me wish you all the very best to you and your family.
    Best Regards.
    Neil De Silva

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