BY NEIL WIJERATNE
It was in the third standard class in the late 1950s that I had the opportunity of developing a friendship with Hector Perera. And we were sharing the same desk and the bench, separated by the space for two ink-wells on the desk. Even though we sat on the same bench, I thought he was superior for numerous reasons: he carried a beautiful brown colour school bag with different sized compartments which I hadn’t seen anywhere and I was carrying an old fashioned suitcase; he was a boarder and I a day-scholar; he was cheerful and friendly with everyone; without any hesitation he spoke not only with Sarpeenu and Marcelinu – our primary school office assistants and our ‘tucky’ but also with our Principal Rev. Fr. Noel Perera, Rev. Fr. Alphonse Margesz and the rest as if they were from his home town Kuliyapitiya; I was scared even to a have look at the Principal’s room; he was the only son of a cricketing celebrity, who led the College cricket team; even at that tender age he knew how to clear a fence and showed us his six-hitting ability; he was a store house of sporting stories and I only a listener; he was fluent in English and for me spoken English looked so hot like “Lunumiris”. Yet, there was some consolation for me: we both recited the poem “Grasshopper green is a comical chap” and P.B. Alwis Perera’s Sinhala poem “Leelai Kamalai Champai Rekai” in equal terms.
This is the remotest memory I have on Hector Solomon Peter Perera, one of the most colourful personalities I have encountered during my school days at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo 10. His father Hector S. A. Perera (Snr.) was a highly admired cricketer who captained St. Joseph’s College in 1939 and went on to become the best fielder in the country during his cricketing days.
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Hector Perera (Snr.) first played for SJC in 1937 under the captaincy of legendary cricketer Fred Perera, whose team also had Edward Markus, Gerry Gooneratne and Ben Leonidas. When he led the Josephian team in 1939 in the “Battle of the Saints” encounter, his opposing skipper was Joe Misso. He scored 49 runs in the first innings in which only another two batsmen were able to enter double figures.
In my collection of Josephian sports history I found a couple of interesting notes about Hector Perera (Snr.). When St. Joseph’s College “for the first time in her history entered two teams for the Rockmount Competition for teams of footballers under sixteen years of age” in 1935, the SJC “A” team went on to defeat the Rest 3-nil playing “better than some from some of the teams in adult soccer”. This junior football team which played under the captaincy of Collin Direksze also had Hector Perera in the team. According to another piece of information, Hector Perera (Snr.) was the Hony. Secretary of the Alter Servers’ Association in 1936 with Frederick Perera as its President. Leaving school, Hector (Snr.) joined S.S.C. and made his debut appearance in a first class match against the N.C.C. As per a newspaper account “a splendid ninth wicket partnership between two old Josephian captains, Hector Perera and Claude Wijesinghe, of 63 runs helped the S.S.C. to a brilliant victory over the N.C.C. in the final inter club tournament match by seven runs”.
When the Josephian cricket history reached 50 years in 1948, a famous sports scribe who wrote under the pen-name “Onlooker” had this to say about him: “Hector Perera, if he has not yet played for All Ceylon, is worthy of being placed among the best eleven Joasephian cricketers of all time, for his fielding alone.”
I am in possession of an old publication titled “Pen Pictures of Our Cricketers” authored by T.B. Marambe and priced at Rs.1.25. This invaluable 48-page booklet was published at a time when Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) had a population of only six million! Among those eminent cricketers portrayed in the booklet is Hector Perera. Here the author clearly points out: “Hector Perera’s brilliant fielding has made him an exceedingly popular cricketer. If the choosing of the Ceylon team is done by vote of cricket fans, the sarong clad soft ball experts of our playgrounds, schoolboys, men of the Government and Mercantile services and retired veterans, Hector Perera will surely be in it. A colourful personality with his short sturdy figure —– his sheer youthful exuberance as he chases the ball, epitomizes the joy of living. —– And whenever his side is up against it his bat cleaves his object as fearlessly as the sword of Robin Hood.”
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Following the footsteps of his illustrious father, Hector Perera (Jnr.), initially played inter class soft ball matches at the College middle grounds and Beira grounds before moving on to the main grounds and red cherry cricket. And then he was picked for the under 14 team, later for the under 16 team and then tor the first eleven in 1966.
Apart from the skipper Anil Peiris, vice-captain Lalit De S. Wijeyeratne and Kanthi Johnpillai, the other members of the 1966-67 Josephian cricket team were all ‘freshers’. Amongst them were Desmond Jordan, Errol Jordan, Vernon Davidson, Ananda Silva, Joe Selvaratnam, Shanthilal Waas, Kevin Pereira and our class mates, Brian Obeysekere and Hector Perera (Jnr.). The team was coached by Mr. Fairlie Dalpathado, one of the finest cricketing products of St. Joseph’s with Mr. Angelo Rayer as the Master-in-Charge.
Hector Perera (Jnr.) made his first term debut for the College on 24th January 1967, against the St. Benedict’s College team led by Tony Appadurai. SJC batted first, but there were no major scorers except for Lalit De S. Wijeyeratne’s elegant innings of 43 and Shanthilal Waas’ 35. Hector Perera came at No. 8 and had a breezy innings of 19 runs before being bowled by medium pacer Malsiri Perera. His stay at the middle was brief yet entertaining. Interestingly, that innings of 19 runs turned out to be his highest score for the whole season!
Just like his father, Hector (Jnr.) was also a brilliant fielder. His unbelievable direct throw from the cover point position in the second innings to run-out Nihal Marambe for a duck was the turning point of the Trinity match. Incidentally, that victory over Trinity by an innings and 27 runs ended the drought of 5 drawn matches during 1967 season. I have often heard most of the old boys at the time chanting’ “Fielding worthy of Hector!”. I often wondered whether they were referring to Hector (Senior) or Hector (junior)! Frankly, by then Hector (junior) too had proved that he was an efficient and quick-thinking fielder.
By the time the 1967 Josephian-Peterite Big Match ended in a controversial manner, Hector (Jnr.) had his name inserted in the “match souvenir” involving two unique records. Under “Fathers and Sons in the Big Match” column there appears ‘Hector Perera, 1937-39 and Hector Perera (Junior) 1967 for St. Joseph’s’ and in the “Pair of Specs” column his name appears as the ninth Josephian out for a duck in both innings of the big match!
Hector (Snr.) has his name in another record: “Three or more brothers in the Series” – Perera: Hector (1937-39), Victor (1941) and Oliver (1946).
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During the next couple of seasons, Hector Perera (Jnr.) played for SJC under the captaincies of Lalit De S. Wijeyeratne (1968) and Brian Obeysekera (1969). Commenting on individual performances of the 1967-68 team, the “Blue & White” magazine (Volume 60) had this to say about Hector Perera; “An excellent fieldsman in the covers and an unorthodox batsman who made two very useful contributions when the side was in a bad way”. He was at his best during 1968-69 third term matches, stroking career best 92 against St. Anne’s Kurunegala and a match bag of 6 wickets in the same match, 47 against Prince of Wales and an unbeaten 36 against St. Sebastian’s, Moratuwa.
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When Hector Perera (Jnr.) was chosen to captain St. Joseph’s cricket team for the 1969-70 season, I was personally aware that it came as a surprise for him. He had doubts because if the school relies purely on statistical terms for the captaincy his name might be omitted. It never happened. And the outcome is now history.
At that time both of us were in the Advanced Level class. Our classroom was situated behind the chapel, facing middle grounds. It was not a crowded class as only a few Josephians opted to follow higher studies in the Arts stream. Instead we were joined by several students from the Borella seminary.
Our cricket captain gave a firm assurance to us, his classmates, that he would anyhow pull off the big match in our favour. No one took it seriously but Hector kept repeating his dream victory. It looked mere a dream as it hadn’t happened during previous 14 years! SJC’s last victory was in 1956 when Keerti Caldera led the team for a 5-wicket victory.
Even at the A level class we were sharing the same desk as it was in the third standard class of Miss Moreira. But now no more space for ink wells on our desk, now it is the era of ball point pens.
During the cricket season I noticed that Hector had other ideas whilst in the classroom. He maintained a couple of exercise books for cricket. Not for book cricket, not at all. While others penned down the notes, he was quietly occupied in a cricketing mission with his pen. He draws a line in the centre of the page and marked two dots at the top and bottom of that line. According to him, it meant the pitch, wicket-keeper and the bowler. Thereafter, period after period he was marking, adjusting and changing the field placements for his bowlers. After watching the performance of his bowlers during the previous practice session. The following day he starts changing the original field placement drawn on the exercise book. I cannot recollect the reaction of staff members who taught us, Messrs Joe Perera, D.C. Jayasinghe, Ranjith Amarasinghe and Mrs. Welgampola towards this behavior but our friend Hector Solomon Peter Perera went on with his copy book field setting practice for one whole term!
Hector had to lead an inexperienced team. Except for Manik De S. Wijeyeratne, another class mate of ours from the primary school level, and Wendell Kelaart, both of whom were accomplished cricketers and were members of the Ceylon Schools’ cricket team (Assistant Manager cum Coach was Mr. Angelo Rayer of St. Joseph’s) that toured India under the captaincy of Mithra Wettimuny of Ananda College, the others mostly freshers who didn’t possess any notable performances behind their names. The youngest member of the team was 14-year old Garry Melder!
Even though the team was not a star studded outfit, we were well aware of the exceptional leadership qualities of our skipper. And his gentle and good-mannered yet competitive approach to the game.
It was the time when third term matches were treated as ‘friendly practice matches’ and the SJC team passed through the preliminary period of the season fairly well notching up a couple of victories. They drew with Isipathana, Prince of Wales and Mahinda and were victorious against Richmond and St. Aloysius College Galle.
I was there at the Galle Esplanade to watch the second day’s play of the St. Joseph’s vs Richmond College match. It was the 31st day of October 1969. Previously, the Josephians had routed the home team for a paltry 63 (Rajeeve Benedict 6 for 28) and scored 132 in their first innings with skipper Hector Perera top scoring with 24 and Srilal Samarasekera contributing 20 useful runs. The second innings of Richmond College commenced at 12.30 p.m. on day two and amazingly it was all over by 2 p.m. Broad shouldered lanky medium pacer P. Sivasubramaniam, more famous for his athletic prowess, enjoyed a sensational bowling spell – 6.3 overs 2 maidens 5 runs 4 wickets. In both innings, only three Richmond batsmen were able to enter double figures!
The Josephians marched on to the 1970 big match with an unbeaten record highlighted with an innings and 53 run-victory over St. Anthony’s, Kandy. Hector Perera played a match winning knock of 63 (ct. C.P.P. Raj, bld. Merril Guneratne). In fact, he was the highest scorer for the Josephians against Wesley (54) and St. Thomas’s (41).
Anyhow, by the time St. Joseph’s confronted Rory Inman’s Peterite team on a sunny March morning, no one would have thought of a possible Josephian victory.
For almost 45 minutes of play, the Peterite openers Chrysantha and Shanthi De Alwis negotiated the Josephian attack steadily and had scored over 40 runs in the process. And then Hector Perera made the all-important decision by recalling Rajeev Benedict to the attack from the tennis court end instead of the score board end from which end the bowler had a poor first spell. “—–As he (Benedict) was not getting any assistance from the wicket, he was judiciously changed to the tennis court end from where he gave a skillful display of left arm swing bowling” commented the “Ceylon Daily News”.
The result of that bowling change is now history.
Eventually, Hector Perera’s team recorded a grand ten wicket victory to break the 14-year old jinx in the big match. Rajeev Benedict with his match bag of 10 wickets became the third Josephian after Douglas Muller (1940) and Ranjit Malawana (1957) to claim ten wickets in a Joe-Pete match.
When Hector Perera (Jnr.) led the Josephian team in the 36th Joe-Pete encounter, it also marked another record. Along with his father Hector Perera (Snr.) they became the first father and son to lead St. Joseph’s College in the prestigious “Battle of the Saints” annual encounter.
The victorious Josephian team comprised Hector Perera (Jnr.), Manik De S. Wijeyeratne, Wendell Kelaart, Srilal Samarasekera, Rohan Fernando, Gehan Dalpathado, Anton Jayawardena, Nimal Ranchigoda, Garry Melder, Rohan De S. Wijeyeratne and Rajeev Benedict.
At the end of the season, former Josephian cricket stalwart Kenneth de Silva commented: “I would like to say this of the skipper and all members of the Josephian team of 1970, they were all gentlemen and sportsmen of the highest class and as a doddering old Joe, I am proud of them”.
Brief Scores of the 1970 big match: SPC 105 and 164 lost to SJC 252 for 7 dec. and 18 for no loss, by 10 wickets.
Based on my Friday sports column in the “Daily Mirror” I published a book in 2011 titled “Batting on a Matting Wicket”. And I dedicated the book to Hector Perera. It read:
For being a dear friend for over a period of five decades. And also in remembrance of our schooldays.