By Elmo Rodrigopulle
I deem it a privilege and an honour to be asked to pen a piece on MAHADEVAN SATHASIVAM, by my Editor Sujith Silva for the ‘QUADRANGLE’. Sathasivam, without doubt was the greatest batsman produced by Sri Lanka in the pre-Test era and even the post era could have been the greatest.
Having played with him after a successful career at St. Benedict’s College, in the twilight of his career, I can vouch for the fact that even then he carried himself like a Maharaja and showed that he was twinkle toed as he carried all his God given strokes and displayed them. I hope I have done justice to this great cricketing son of Sri Lanka.
When after watching the ‘SATHA’ magic with the bat, Sir Garfield Sobers, the West Indian marvel, called ’SATHA’ ‘the greatest batsman ever on earth’. Sir Frank Worrell the gentleman West Indian captain and allrounder tagged ‘SATHA’ ‘the best batsman he had ever seen’.
SATHASIVAM captained All Ceylon and had the honour of making the toss with the greatest batsman ever born, SIR DONALD BRADMAN whose star-studded team in 1948 was on their way to England (March 27, 1948 at P. Sara Oval also known as Colombo Oval). The Australians came to be named the ‘INVINCIBLES’ for winning the Test series and remaining unbeaten on tour.
Ghulam Ahmed, the unplayable left arm Indian captain and spinner when asked about SATHASIVAM had this to say. ‘I have bowled at Bradman, Harvey, Hutton, Dennis Compton, Keith Miller, the terrible Ws – Weekes, Worrell and Walcott. If you ask me who is the most difficult batsman that I have ever bowled, to I will mention a name that you may not know adding ‘He is M. Sathasivam of Ceylon in Chennai.
That was when in the game between Southern India and Ceylon Cricket Association at Chepauk in February 1947. In that game SATHASIVAM made an elegant and exquisite 215 in 248 minutes with 24 fours. He eclipsed England’s Joe Hardstaff’s ground record of 214.
SATHASIVAM was born on October 18, 1915 in Ceylon. A stylish right hander played in only 11 first-class games scoring 753 runs from 18 innings. He had 3 centuries and 3 fifties. He started his career at St. Joseph’s College before switching on to Wesley College where his career began to blossom.
‘Don’t bounce on me son, I am an old man’. This is what that batting genius MAHADEVAN SATHASIVAM told Burgher Recreation Club pacemam Dennis Ferdinands when Ferdinands bounced on ‘SATHA’ on the fiery matting wicket at Havelock Park in a ‘Donovan Andree Trophy’ game.
But Ferdinands a young buck just out of S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia was the fastest paceman in the schools in the late 1950s. He came dashing in and let fly another bouncer on SATHASIVAM.
What one saw the next moment was the ball landing on the trees at Havelock Park with the umpire raising his hands signalling six. Twinkle toed ‘SATHA’ even at the twilight of his career moved in line with the bouncer and played the hook shot, textbook style and Ferdinands stood flummoxed.
Such was SATHASIVAM’S mastery and the batting arrogance of his illustrious career. I played in that Tamil Union team of 1962. I mentioned this incident to Professor Ravindra Fernando when he was writing the book- ‘SATHASIVAM OF CEYLON, the batting legend’. But it was inexplicable why Professor Fernando failed to quote me and acknowledge me on this incident in his book.
Back to that incident and in the return game at the Colombo Oval turf Ferdinands got even when he bounced and stuck SATHASIVAM a glancing blow on his brow. SATHA’ took the strike in his stride.
These incidents took place after the great man returned from retirement from Malaya where, in addition to sporting Sri Lanka colours as a batsman and captain, he also showed his prowess playing for Malaya and later Singapore. The stories told about the debonair SATHASIVAM are legion and they are all well documented in Fernando’s books for posterity which are collector’s items.
I did not have the opportunity of watching the maestro dazzling with the bat in his heyday using it like a magic wand to scatter bowlers all over the field or over it, excelling especially with the square cut that even had the blades of grass rising in honour and paying pooja to this great batsman.
But it was a great pride and honour for me to have played with and under him when he was in the twilight of his glittering and epoch making career. What a pleasure it was in later life to keep his exalted company when I was Sports Editor of the ‘Times of Ceylon’ and ’Daily Mirror’. Gamini Perera my journalistic colleague and I would enjoy a drink with at the Taprobane or Otters his water holes while listening to his humour and relishing the many anecdotes he could unwind and keeping his exalted company.
During his reign as the king of the willow, he was exciting to watch. His twinkle toed footwork to get to the pitch of the ball and sending it screeching to the boundary piercing the tight set field or over it with exquisite timing was the hall mark of his batting excellence. When a bowler pitched short, he square cut or would dance back and execute his brilliant square cut that sped to the boundary like a shot from a gun.
SATHASIVAM was amazing with his drives, pulls, hooks, square cuts and in fact all the shots were from the book with strokes all round the wicket and his improvisation was pure magic.
During his reign as batting king, he made his bat do the talking, and it was a great honour to him and the country when he was compared with terrible ‘WS’ of West Indies cricket – Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes and Frank Worrell.
And of the many scintillating knocks he played – fifties, centuries he is best remembered for the magnificent double hundred – 215 – he made in Chepauk, India in 1947 for the Ceylon Cricket Association.
In addition to his prowess with the willow he was a graceful ball room dancer and the fair sex who danced with him would always tap him on the shoulder acknowledging his skills in dancing too.
It is said that he brought out the best in his batting the next morning after partying till the wee hours of morning. He would rush down to the ground, take a shower and then don pads and to the amazement of his team mates and the opposing bowlers he would craft out a terrific hundred as it was his usual routine showcasing his array of stroke with arrogance, disdain and brilliance.
One of ‘SATHA’S’ contemporaries was another former Sri Lanka cricketer who like good wine needs no bush. He was GERRY GOONERATNE the former Josephian, Saracens and Sri Lanka cricketer. Getting SATHASIVAM out was no easy task. In a game between Tamil Union and Saracens, Gooneratne planned the strategy days ahead to lure SATHASIVAM to his demise.
Came match day and to quote former Nalanda, University and Saracens opening batsman and wicket Premasara Epasinghe. ‘Once I had the good fortune of playing for Saracens against Tamil Union. Nalanda’s coach, former ever green, Gooneratne captained the Saracens. Gooneratne as a successful captain had ‘foxed’ SATHASIVAM many a time. His ploy was simple. In that particular match Gooneratne used his crafty off spinner former Nalandian Mahinda Athulathmudali when SATHASIVAM arrived at the crease. Gooneratne laid a trap. He got the lanky off spinner to bowl three deliveries outside the off stump.
Gooneratne instructed the bowler to allow ‘SATHA’ to play his famous square cut. The fourth ball spun from middle to leg. SATHASIVAM moved and cut it. Gooneratne applauded ‘SATHA’S’ beautiful square cuts. ’Nice shot SATHA’, ‘beauty SATHA’ and encouraged him to go for his pet shot freely. The fourth ball, he misjudged and cut through gully uppishly. Goonerate diving to his left held a brilliant catch to dismiss ‘Satha’.
One personal note – as one just out of school from St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena after five years of successful cricket with a hat trick to boot and as captain and then at Tamil Union, when I got to know that I was going to play under the great man, I got the jitters.
SATHASIVAM had got to know of me as a leg spin, googly bowler and even before the shine had gone off the ball, he tossed the ball to me and asked me to have a bowl. This was in a game at the Oval against Negombo CC which team had the hard hitting Josephian Ben Fernando and he had scored heavily in the previous games.
When Fernando took strike, SATHA shouted ‘get him out son’. I bowled a googly which pitched right and crept along the turf to bowl a bewildered Fernando. SATHA who was fielding at mid-off walked up to me and said – ‘son if you play for Ceylon, say I predicted it’. These same sentiments were also expressed by former Trinity captain, and All Ceylon cricketer Bobby Schoorman when I switched clubs and played for BRC after watching me bowl at the nets. These sentiments by two ‘greats’ are still vivid in my memory.
It was a God given opportunity to play alongside the greatest batsman of all MAHADEVAN SATHASIVAM and as legends go SATHASIVAM was it.
Regarded as one of the best if not the best Batsman ever produced by Wesley College and Ceylon. ‘Satha’ was a colourful Cricketer, a master stroke player and a prolific run scorer. Only player known to have captained three nations in Cricket; Ceylon (against Australia in 1948), Singapore and Malaysia (against Australia & Hong Kong in 1959-1960). Satha’s life inning which was flamboyant on field and off-field and later embroiled in controversies surrounding his wife’s murder where he was acquitted after trial and spending time in judicial custody came to end on July 9th 1977 when he passed away from a heart attack in Colombo.
Represented Wesley College 1st XI (1934-36) and his 142 runs against a start studded S. Thomas’ College side led by Donald Fairweather in 1936 stands out.
1934 – Played for Wesley College 1st XI under the captaincy of A. R. Musafer
1935 – Played for Wesley College 1st XI under the captaincy of Henry Van Buuren coached by John Halangoda. Sathasivam who is known as a batsmen ended the season as the best bowler for Wesley College. Wesley College remained unbeaten having beaten Royal College and Trinity College. Also played against S.Thomas’ College, St.Joseph’s College and Richmond College. Mahadevan Sathasivam took 2 for 16 against Royal, scored 80 runs and 73 and captured 5 for 81 against St.Joseph’s College, scored 30 against S.Thomas’ College, 4 for 47 and 5 for 30 and 31 not out Vs Trinity College
1936 – Played for Wesley College 1st XI under the captaincy of Henry Duckworth. Best performance 142 against S. Thomas’ College. Wesley College managed to secure a win against St. Joseph’s College.
Represented All-Ceylon against visiting English, Australia and West Indies teams or Ceylon Cricket Association on tours to India. In 11 matches scored 753 runs in 18 innings with 3 centuries and 3 fifties.
Represented Tamil Union C & A, at club level and his best have been against S.S.C 167 in 1945 and 163 in 1947. Satha also played for Rest in the Bombay Pentangular and scored 101 against Bombay Muslims, which included a big partnership with Vijay Hazare. Across all levels he has scored 44 centuries with 4 double centuries.
Three of Satha’s best
1947 – 215 at the M A Chidambaram Stadium (also known as Chepauk Stadium), India against South India breaking the then ground record of 213 runs (Joe Hardstaff, 1939)
1945 – 111 at Colombo Oval against visiting Indian team led by Vijay Merchant included bowlers like Lala Amarnath, Shute Banerjee, Vinoo Mankad, CS Nayudu, Vijay Hazare and Rusi Modi.
1950 – 96 out of a total of 153 on a sticky wicket at Colombo Oval against the visiting Commonwealth team which included West Indians Frank Worrell, Geo Tribe, Fred Freer and Geo Pope who were considered invincible then.