ROHAN WEERAKKODY; A TRUE LEGEND OF JOSEPHIAN CRICKET

BY NEIL WIJERATNE

Then came the most exciting phase of the awards ceremony.

 

The entertainment items, music, dancing and speeches came to an abrupt end. There was a pin drop silence amongst the packed house at the main hall of the BMICH, Colombo 07. The event was the Schoolboy Cricketer Awards presentation of 1988, honouring those extra ordinarily talented young cricketers who excelled during 1987 school cricket season. By then most of the awards were already presented to the recipients. And it left only the last few awards of the main category to be announced.

 

 

The presenter declared:

All-Island Best Team for the Year 1987: (Runner-up) St. Joseph’s College, Colombo 10.

Led by Rohan Weerakkody, the Josephian team wearing College blazers stepped on to the stage to receive their respective awards.

 

This was followed by another Josephian achievement. Best Batsman – 1987: (Runner-Up) Ajit Allirajah of St. Joseph’s College.

 

From then onwards the Josephian skipper dominated the whole show in an unprecedented manner. It was something that never happened before in Josephian cricket.

 

The presenter once again declared:

Best Bowler – 1987:  Winner – Rohan Weerakkody of St. Joseph’s College.

Best Captain – 1987:  Winner – Rohan Weerakkody of St. Joseph’s College.

Best All-Rounder – 1987:  Winner – Rohan Weerakkody of St. Joseph’s College.

 

And then came the most exciting yet emotional moment of the evening. The audience was filled with deep silence. The presenter paused for few seconds and announced:

All Island Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 1987:  Winner – Rohan Weerakkody of St. Joseph’s College.

 

The Josephian skipper once again – for the fifth time stepped on to the stage amidst a thunderous cheer. Actually there were only a few Josephians in attendance at the ceremony apart from the parents and well-wishers of the team members. Yet they made their presence felt. They all chanted in one voice: S-T-J-O-S-E-P-H-S, St. Joseph’s, St. Joseph’s, St. Joseph’s.

It turned out to be one of the most memorable moments in Josephian cricket history; a moment that brought tears to the eyes of all Josephians who were in attendance; tears of joy and pride.

 

*    *    *   *

 

Here is a young Josephian who burst on to the school cricket arena with a bang. A rare feat in Josephian cricket.

 

Rohan Nishantha Weerakkody was on the reserve list when St. Joseph’s opened its 1984 first term cricket season with a drawn match against St. Benedict’s at Kotahena. Versatile cricketer Jivaka Candappa, one of the finest cricket captains St. Joseph’s has produced was the skipper of the Josephian team of 1983-1984.

Following weekend, being the first weekend in February 1984, Rohan made his debut against the age-old rival Royal College. Batting first at the Darley Road matting wicket, SJC totaled 255 for 6 before declaring at tea with Gihan Mallawarchchi stroking an elegant 131 and stylish batsman Jonathan Alles remaining unbeaten with one run short of his well-deserved half a century.

 

Being 32 for 2 at close of play, the formidable Royal batting line-up was unexpectedly routed for 118 runs just after lunch on day two. Called by the skipper as the first change of the three-pronged pace attack, lanky Rohan Weerakkody bowled magnificently to produce sensational figures of 15.8-8-32-5. His victims were Dinesh Wijewardena (ct. J. Alles), Heshan de Silva (LBW), Roshan Jurangpathy (ct.Rajkumar Sabanayagam), Nalinda Premachandra (LBW) and H. Amarasekera (bld.). The other wicket takers were opening bowling pair Rukshan Soza (1) and Suresh Mirando (3) with skipper Jivaka Candappa capturing the remaining wicket.

 

The Josephians enforced the follow on which resulted in another explosive bowling performance by the debutante Weerakkody, 19-8-41-4. As the Royalists were all out for 165 in the second innings, it left St. Joseph’s to get 29 runs in 11 mandatory overs. And at the end they recorded a historic 9 wicket victory with 5 overs to spare, being the first Josephian victory against Royal College since 1952. In 1952, St. Joseph’s led by Kenneth Serpanchy recorded a massive victory over Royal College by an innings and 314 runs at Darley Road. (R.C.: 74 & 79. SJC: 467 for 9 dec. M. Brohier 174).

 

“The Island” newspaper in its match report under the title “It’s Joes – after 32 years” stated: “The architect of the Josephian victory was paceman Rohan Weerakkody who caused havoc among the Royal batsmen and who ended up with a match bag of 9 wickets for 73. Incidentally he was playing his first match for St. Joseph’s”.

 

And it signaled the emergence of a new Super Star in school cricket arena.

Rohan Weerakkody was at his brilliant best in the following weekend too. This time it was against Wesley College at the Darley Road matting wicket. His majestic figures of 12.3-8-6-8 enabled SJC to bundle out Wesley College team for a paltry 48 runs. SJC replied with 154 for 4 dec. (Jonathan Alles 53, Gihan Mallawarachchi 28) before dismissing the opponents for 42 runs to register an innings and 64 runs victory. No. 8 batsman Roshan Rasool was the only Wesley batsman to enter double figures in the second innings. And they were 28 for 7 at one stage. Weerakkody’s second innings bowling figures read: 8-5-12-2.  A match bag of 10 wickets at the expense of 18 runs! The match ended half an hour before tea.

 

Renowned sports scribe Trevine Rodrigo of “Weekend” newspaper wrote: “Rohan (Weerakkody) has so far gathered 19 (wickets) for 91 in only his first two games for the first eleven team. A remarkable achievement. With this second successive crushing win the Josephians have now built up their morale before their more challenging games including the Big Match”.

 

The year 1984 was a land mark in Josephian – Peterite cricket history, being the 50th encounter of the “Battle of the Saints” series.

 

*    *    *   *

 

Having represented the College cricket team in 1985 under the captaincy of Jonathan Alles and 1986 under Rohitha Tillekeratne, Rohan Weerakkody was bestowed the captaincy for the 1986-87 season. By then he was a fourth year coloursman.

 

Keeping with the long standing Josephian match tradition, the first term season opener was against St. Benedict’s College. What a match it turned out to be with Rohan Weerakkody controlling the fate of the match almost single handedly.

Enthralled with that rousing Josephian victory I wrote an article to “The Island” newspaper which appeared on its 27th January 1987 issue. To quote a few lines therefrom: “St. Benedict’s College taking the first lease of the Darley Road turf was still occupying the crease even after forty five minutes of the second day’s play. Just consider the situation of the match, on the morning of day two. Three more innings to be played. Less than five hours of play remaining. Only a shrewd tactician in one of the teams could think of a possible result. The Josephian skipper Rohan Weerakkody came out as the man of the hour to guide his team to a great victory. Firstly, he added life into somewhat a dying game with a power packed unbeaten knock of 60 runs scored in only 29 deliveries and declared the innings with a slender lead of 89 runs. His brilliant innings was studded with five hits to the ropes and three over it. This was followed by a fine spell of bowling making the Bens uncomfortable and claiming 5 for 14 and a match bag of 9 for 58. I was there at the Darley Road grounds to see Rohan Weerakkody at his brilliant best. His batting, bowling and captaincy were reminiscent of some great Josephians of the near past; slam-bang hitting of Polycarp Wijesekera, the pace of Brian Perumal and the calm leadership of Hector Perera (Jnr.)”.

 

Brief scores: St. Benedict’s: 117 (Rohan Weerakkody 4 for 44) and 59 (Rohan Weerakkkody 5 for 14) lost to Joseph’s: 206 for 6 dec. (Nishantha Samarasinghe 73, Rohan Weerakkody 60, Asoka Jayamanna 27) by an innings and 30 runs.

At the commencement of the 1987 season, Rohan Weerakkody was selected to lead the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association President’s eleven in a two-day match against the visiting England Youth Cricket team. It was the first time that a Josephian was selected to lead a schools XI against a foreign team since 1974 when Gary Melder led a schools team against Tamil Nadu CA.

 

For the “Test” series against the same opponent – the England Youth Cricket team, Rohan was made vice-captain of the Sri Lanka Youth XI which included another Josephian Ajit Allirajah.  Denham Madena of Trinity College led the Sri Lanka Youth team. Rohan was involved in a match saving partnership of 92 runs for the 6th wicket in one of the Youth “Tests”.  He was “solely responsible” for Sri Lanka’s  victory over England Youth team in the first limited overs match when he bowled economically to claim  2 for 14 in 9 overs and scored 27 n.o. which earned him the man of the match award.

 

During 1986-87 season St. Joseph’s recorded five outright victories, four of those by an innings and importantly remained unbeaten throughout the season.

 

St Joseph’s beat Carey College by an innings and 133 runs. Carey: 45 (Rohitha Tillekeratne 5 for 19) and 53 (Trishane Nonis 4 for 1); SJC: 231 for 4 dec. (Ajit Allirajah 114 n.o.).

 

St Joseph’s beat Mahinda College by an innings and 7 runs. Mahinda: 102 (Rohitha Tillekeratne 4 for 28) and 125 (Rohan Weerakkody 6 for 30); SJC: 234 (Ajit Allirajah 101).

 

St Joseph’s beat Prince of Wales College by an innings and 41runs. Prince of Wales: 117 (Rohan Weerakkody 4 for 25) and 131 (Rohan Weerakkody 5 for 31); SJC: 269 for 6 dec. (Ajit Allirajah 105).

 

St Joseph’s beat St. Benedict’s College by an innings and 30 runs.

 

St Joseph’s beat Isipathana by 6 wickets. Isipathana: 116 (Manoj Dabare 5 for 6) and 33 (Rohan Weerakkody 5 for 13); SJC: 127 and 23 for 4.

 

A feature of the drawn match against Zahira College was the classic innings of Ajit Allirajah who top scored with an unbeaten 152 runs.

The “Blue & White” magazine noted: “Our team had to play without Rohan and Ajit for four important matches. During the absence of Rohan, Nishantha Samarasinghe deputized as captain. It is a great pleasure to record Rohan Weerakkody’s 50 wicket mark and Ajit Allirajah’s 1000 runs during the season. Undoubtedly we were the best team. No other school had so many wins. But we were given only the 2nd best school team trophy”.

 

Although the traditional “Battle of the Saints” match ended in a boring note – a tame draw, the Josephians emerged triumphantly in the traditional limited overs encounter to regain the Fr. Peter Pillai Memorial Trophy. SJC 177 for 8 (45 overs) defeated St. Peter’s 103 by 74 runs with 7 overs to spare. Skipper Rohan Weerakkody won the man of the match award for his match winning performance of 40 n.o. and 2 for 5.  Interestingly, Weerakkody brothers, Rohan and Ajith opened the bowling attack for the Josephians for the first time. New comer Ajith Weerakkody’s bowling figures of 10-4-10-3 earned him the best bowler’s award.

 

Another landmark was made in Josephian cricket history during the 1986-87 season when St. Joseph’s were declared as joint champs of the Schools’ Limited Overs tournament with D.S. Senanayake College. The grand finale was abruptly ended due to adverse weather conditions and the finalists were declared joint champions.

Cruising to the finals of the Schools’ limited over tournament St. Joseph’s had to experience a tense situation in the semis. It was against St. Thomas’ College led by S.K. Jayasinghe. The match which was commenced after a two and a half hour delay, was reduced to 35 overs per team. Batting first at the Vihara Maha Devi Park matting wicket, STC scored 129 for 8. After an early collapse, captain and the vice-captain combination of St. Joseph’s carried the team almost up to the required target. Once again deputy skipper Ajit Allirajah entertained the crowd with his exciting stroke play before he was splendidly caught by L. Egalahewa for 65. Skipper Weerakkody was out at 128 as the 7th Josephian wicket, just a couple of runs away from victory. Immediately thereafter tail ender Amal Jayasinghe got run out and No. 9 Dhammika Perera who added a single to the tally was stumped to read the score board 129 for 9. Then came the last over of the match with SJC last pair Manoj Dabare and Ajith Weerakkody at the crease. Dabare faced first three deliveries of the last over but could not offer the required run scoring stroke. Came the fourth delivery of the last over where Dabare just got the ball to his bat and raced to the other end as if he was taking part in a short distance running event as Ajith Weerakkody with his long strides has already covered his ground.  And that was the much awaited single that paved SJC a passage to the final.

 

The 1986-87 Josephian cricket squad comprised Rohan Weerakkody (Capt.), Ajit Allirajah (V. Capt.), Rohitha Tillekeratne, Nishantha Samarasinghe, Asoka Jayamanne, Oril de Mel, Mario Perumal, Rohan Amarasekera, Shamendra Amerasinghe, Amal Jayasinghe, Trishane Nonis, Manoj Dabare, Dhammika Perera, Niranjan Basnayake, Prashan Leanage, Hamesh Gunewardena, Saman Peiris, L.S.A. Milroy and Ajith Weerakkody among others. Fairlie Dalpathado (Coach), Ranjith Amarasinghe (Master-in-Charge).

 

*    *    *   *

 

When Sri Lanka named its team for the first ever Youth World Cup cricket competition in 1988 Rohan Weerakkody was an automatic choice for the captaincy. The tourney which was held in Australia included all Test playing countries and a Combined ICC Associates team.

 

The other members of the tour party were:  Chandika Hathurusinghe and Sanjeeva Ranatunga (Ananda), Ajit Allirajah (St. Joseph’s),  Romesh Kaluwitharne (St. Sebastian’s),  Sanath Jayasuriya (St. Servatius, Matara), Chaminda Fernando (Royal), R.C. Amunugama (Maliyadeva), Chaminda Mendis (Prince of Wales), K.G. Priyantha and Sanjeewa Weerasinghe (Isipathana), Dilhan Perera (St. Peter’s), Johanne Samarasekera (St. Thomas’) and Chaminda Unantenne (Trinity).

 

At the end, Sri Lanka was placed fifth thus failing to qualify for the semi-final stage. They won over India, England and ICC Associates and lost to Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia and the West Indies. Amongst the top performers in this inaugural Youth championship were Brian Lara and Jimmy Adams (West Indies), Inzamamul Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed (Pakistan), Chris Cairns (New Zealand), S. Law (Australia) and N. Hussain (England).

 

*    *    *   *

During his primary school days, Rohan established a new record at the college sports meet (Primary Section) in the “throwing the cricket ball” event. His record remained unbroken for years until the event was dropped from the itinerary.

 

Rohan’s parents whom were prominent Volleyball players were once attached to the Police department.  His father Nelson, who later represented Negombo was a popular figure among the local volleyball fraternity. He was rated as a specialist in “dash” shots.

 

His sister Anne went on to represent Sri Lanka in Basketball and was the deputy skipper of the national team some time back. She was also a leading Netball player, once called for the national pool.

 

His younger brother Ajith had his name in the record books as a big hitter in Josephian cricket. In 1988 at Kotahena, he stroked a quick fire innings of 54 runs in just 27 balls with 3 sixes and 7 fours. When talking about the fastest 50s of Josephian batsmen against St. Benedict’s it is of interest to note a couple of big hitting knocks – Neil Weerasinghe’s (73) fifty in 20 minutes of batting in 1947 and Hiran Cooray’s (73) fifty in 30 minutes in 1981. Unbelievably, in that power-packed  innings Hiran Cooray reached his 50 only in 14 balls!

 

Then again in the Josephian – Peterite “Big Match” in 1988 Ajith Weerakkody produced another hurricane innings, 51 chanceless runs in 30 minutes including 3 massive sixes and 3 fours.

 

Later Ajith has made it into international cricket when he was chosen to tour Sharjah with the national team in 1994. His debut appearance in international cricket was against the West Indies in the Austral-Asia Cup limited overs tournament.

 

 

*    *    *   *

Rohan Weerakkody entered the big league representing Nondescripts CC in the domestic division one tournament and a couple of years later joined the Air Force.

 

“There was this craze to become an officer in the forces among my friends. The lure of a uniform and adventure prompted me to join the Air Force” said Rohan years later in an interview with a Middle-East tabloid.

 

By then he was employed in Abu Dhabi. He continued his cricket even in Abu Dhabi and represented his firm in the Capital League tournament. Later he toured England with his employer on a brief tour and was picked man of the match in the tour opener against British Airways Heathrow.

 

At the conclusion of his interview with a Middle-East tabloid, as it was reported, Rohan has said: “I feel like going back and starting it all over again”. But sadly it never happened. If his expectation had become a reality Sri Lanka cricket would have been much richer. But sadly it never happened.

 

Much water had flown under the bridge since then and more and more new records have emerged in the annals of Josephian cricket from time to time thereafter. But those sensational cricketing deeds of Rohan Nishantha Weerakkody remain undiminished to date. He is a true legend of Josephian cricket.

 

Post Script: A few months back Rohan Weerakkody was in Sri Lanka with his wife Estelita on a short holiday and before leaving back to Philippines has visited his friend former Josephian cricketer Susilough de S. Wijeyeratne. Later, Susilough has let a photograph posing with Rohan to the social media and aptly captioned it stating: “With a true legend of Josephian cricket”.  

  

 

 

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