By Mahinda Wijesinghe
Eustace Lorenz Pereira could quite easily be regarded as the most outstanding sportsman produced in the 180-year-old history of Royal College, Colombo, an academic institution that can trace its beginnings way back to 1835. As the college song goes “and thence did Lanka’s learning thrive.”
Lorenz (Lollo to some), as he is affectionately known, excelled – and that is merely putting it mildly –with five colours in major sports – cricket, rugby, tennis, athletics and, in addition, Public Schools athletics colours. He also captained the Royal cricket and tennis teams and captained rugby football at the national level. It was not just the five colours, but the quality and high standard achieved in each that stands out. Over and above all of that he was the epitome of a well-rounded sportsman and a role model for any youngster to follow.
As an attacking left-hand batsman, wily off-spinner, and a gulley fielder par excellence he was the best among equals of any era. I too had the privilege of playing alongside him in the college first XI in 1957 and was elated when the print media (no TV at that time!) referred to us as “the best spin combination in schools”. I am greatly indebted to him for picking catches from practically nowhere from his accustomed gulley position off my bowling. He often reminds me, with a twinkle in his eye that it was as a direct result of his intimidating, life-threatening close-in gulley positioning to my bowling that enabled me to get those four wickets of four successive balls against Ananda College.
Of course, in lighter vein, he still maintains he made a “bowler out of me” while my contention being that I helped him become a “competent catcher”! That was an added skill, along with his good looks, he developed with great success off the field as well. Flippancy apart, not only was he awarded cricket colours from 1956 to 59, he ended as captain of the college team in 1958 and led an unbeaten side under his leadership. Royal College remained unbeaten for three years ending in 1959. Naturally, he was picked as the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1959.
His record as an all-rounder at the Royal-Thomian matches places him at the pinnacle of such performances, in view of his comparatively (three matches and over) outstanding statistics – runs scored 174, average 58; wickets taken 14, average 20.
Needless to say he also captained the Combined Colleges XI against a visiting Western Australian schoolboy team. In 1957, Lorenz was the vice-captain to skipper Michael Wille. If ever there were two characters possessing diametrically different attitudes to the sport and life itself is difficult to imagine. Michael, was the staid, focused and serious thinker of the game – six decades later he still remains the same – as compared with the free-spirited Lorenz, and they are different as chalk is to cheese. The only common factor was both were left-hand batsmen. Still, the pair pulled us through unbeaten during the 1957 season and we notched three wins as well. Now, both are residing in Australia and keep needling each other (as the closest of friends) at every available opportunity via e-mails, in good faith of course, giving all of us endless laughs.
I remember an incident just before the 1957 Royal-Thomian encounter, which typifies Michael Wille’s character and his attitude towards the game. Of course, he was the captain who ran a well-disciplined ship. The Thomians, led my another Michael (Tissera) had a very strong team. To counter that situation, our Michael said: “I will get a hundred and I want each of you to try and score at least 20 runs which would make things difficult for the Thomians.” As promised, Michael scored a brilliant century, threw his wicket away when he knew we were safe, and saved us from possible defeat. I remember the Thomian paceman Denis Ferdinands obtaining Michael’s autograph on the ball to keep as a souvenir!
Two outstanding feats by Lorenz, amongst a multitude of them, that still linger in my memory are firstly the blazing century he made on the first day, before the tea interval against St Benedict’s at Kotahena in 1959 that greatly enabled Royal to cruise to a facile win before tea on Day 2. His sibling, Bryan assisted with a freak bowling performance by capturing 4 for 5 with his (very!) occasional off-spinners that hurtled the hosts to a humiliating loss.
The next memory I still cherish is Lorenz’s face-saving knock (65 not out) he belted, batting with the tail in the Royal-Thomian encounter some weeks later. It was his first innings back after dislocating his nose whilst attempting a hook in an earlier game, and helped Royal escape the ignominy of being asked follow on. Maybe the strain of batting in an uncharacteristic style was weighing on his mind for too long and when just four runs were required to breast the tape and prevent the follow-on, with No.11 batting at the other end – and best he remains nameless since his contribution to the partnership was nil – Lorenz blasted a six that hit slap-bang on to the scoreboard and Royal declared!
Today, one of his closest friends is Michael Tissera who captained S. Thomas’ when Lorenz captained Royal in 1958. In an amazing sequence of events, in that Royal-Thomian, Michael was out caught wicket-keeper Sarath Samarasinghe, bowled Lorenz; and Lorenz was out caught wicket-keeper Errol Lisk, bowled Michael.
Lorenz says that one of his most satisfying achievements as Royal college was to wake novice, the gangly, left-arm seamer Daya Sahabandu at the crack of dawn and run with him on the beach, then go to a “kadè” in Wellawatte for an egg flip, to make him into an opening bowler. Sahabandu went on to play with great distinction for Ceylon, though as a left-arm spinner.
Lorenz was the Head Prefect at Royal and was awarded the highly sought Dornhorst Memorial prize for the best All-round Student.
Younger brother Bryn too was an outstanding sportsman, winning colours in cricket, rugby and lawn tennis. During his tenure as the captain of the tennis team, Royal, for the first time, won the senior (De Saram) and junior (Laing) shields. In addition, Bryan toured India with the Combined Colleges team under the captaincy of Anandian Yatagama Amaradasa, and went on to win the batting prize at Royal in the 1960 and ’61 seasons – a chip of the elder Lorenz! Bryan later played for NCC along with Michael Tissera.
The feats of the brothers’ sporting achievements certainly cannot be considered common in the history of the sporting annals of the island. The youngest of the brothers, Alan who possessed other extra-curricular attributes, did not emulate the sporting feats of his elder brothers and has migrated to Australia, as has Lorenz.
In rugby football, Lorenz’s career would have put the antics of Shakespeare’s Puck and Scottish playwright James Barrie’s evergreen Peter Pan riding together on the Greek mythological horse Pegasus to shame. Such was his meteoric rise. Playing on the wing, the fleet-footed Lorenz became a “star” practically overnight, with his deceptive and skillful running skills. He was picked in the national XV while still in college, went on to captain Ceylon and played against a full international England rugby team.
Ken de Joodt, the Trinity rugby stalwart and an opposing contemporary of Lorenz, remembers an instance during a Bradby Shield encounter between the two schools: “Lorenz was playing on the right wing where he threw the ball in for a line-out. From the ensuing maul, the ball moved at great speed down the line, handled by six players, right across the ground to the far left wing, where Lorenz had sped in anticipation to collect the pass and score a sensational try.” The left winger, Lal Senaratne, who made the final pass still has nightmares of the ghost Lorenz that appeared from nowhere. The try is generally recognised as one of the finest ever scored in a rugby match worldwide.
His introduction to rugby is fairy-story stuff. Ratna Sivaratnam, later to become his brother-in-law (and Chairman of Aitken Spence & Co. Ltd.) was the skipper of the Royal First XV. Ratna was also the captain of his Boake House XV and was short of players for a house match one evening. He spotted Lorenz at tennis practice and literally kidnapped him, despite violent protests from Lorenz (“I have not even seen a rugby game nor do I do know the rules either.”). From personal experience it is not easy to thwart Ratna. To cut a long story short, Lorenz played for Royal that year and went on to captain Ceylon as well in rugby football.
Be it in any of the sport he excelled in, his approach and attitude was in his own words: “We played sport not for glory, but for the joy of mere participation. My greatest memories are the life-long friendships that evolved. Sport in my day was a pleasurable passport to an amazingly indulgent lifestyle.”
Now a sprightly 76 (or a tad more but looks much less!) he visits Sri Lanka quite regularly.
“When I catch up with my old teammates once or twice a year in Colombo, it’s like I’m a kid again. We all start telling stories (often repeats), joking and reminiscing about the old days,” he says.
Of course, Lorenz does not admit that he is the butt-end of most jokes! Yet, he laughs the loudest! That is our Lorenz. However his former captain, Michael Wille, at this juncture would love to quote Goldsmith’s “Village Schoolmaster”: The loud laughter that spoke the vacant mind. Am sure Lorenz would still be laughing!
Tennis was another sport that took his fancy – in the senior public schools singles final he ended up runner-up to P.S. Kumara who eventually represented Ceylon. Tennis is still a sport he indulges in though he has had some recent injuries that has now put a damper. On each of his visits to Sri Lanka one of his favourite pastimes is to play a few sets of tennis with Bryan and his captain at Royal in 1959, Sarath Samarasinghe, at the SLTA and socialise thereafter over a few arracks.
Athletics was not a sport that he did have time for with all his other sporting commitments, but the college athletics master-in-charge, Mr de Bruin, observed Lorenz when he ran the 100-yard dash in the usual “standard test” where all the students had to participate. What happened thereafter is history. Mr de Bruin included him in the 4 by 110 yards relay team in the Public Schools Athletics meet in 1957. The result? The Royal quartet won the event with a record-breaking time, and the entire team, naturally, were awarded Public Schools athletics colours as well! In fact, the Royal team (Captained by Dr J C Fernando) that year won the Tarbat Trophy for the champion athletics school team.
After leaving Royal, Lorenz played cricket for the SSC under Derek de Saram and rugby for the CR & FC before leaving to study at Cambridge Univerisity. He obtained an MA in Land Economics whilst playing a few county games for the University under Tony Lewis and Mike Brearley, who both went on to captain England. On his return to Sri Lanka, he joined the tea brokering firm of John Keells and indulged in numerous sporting activities, becoming the first non-white to captain the CCC and CH & FC, cricket and rugby clubs respectively. Lorenz says he feels extremely privileged in playing some little part in getting his rugby teammate and close friend at Royal, Ken Balendra, to take his position, vacated at John Keells, when he resigned to migrate to Australia. Ken’s subsequent achievements at John Keells and the commercial world outside has given Lorenz immense pride and elation.
From the above, one can see why to regard Lorenz as the most outstanding sportsman in the history of Royal College is not mere rhetoric.
His advice for a young Royalist: “Acquire a keen interest in something which becomes a driving passion in your life and get out there and innovate and never give up due to initial setbacks.”
After Lorenz migrated to Australia in October 1974 with his family he joined the Town and Country Planning Board in 1975. Next, he was seconded to the Victorian Tourism Commission, thus becoming an integral part of a special Government Task Force that prepared the first Tourism Strategy for Victoria. He is now a Senior City Planner with the Victorian Government Planning Department and Project Manager for quite a few residential development projects, with a value of more than Australian $3 billion!
His major achievement was the introduction of the retractable roof for the now internationally acclaimed National Tennis Centre in Victoria. In 2012, he was awarded the Urban Development Institute of Australia, Award for Excellence for his work on Urban Renewal. He was also responsible for establishing the Cambridge Society of Australia.
The list is endless and his capacity for work still continues with great zest. Referred to as Mr Fixit in the office, Lorenz is reputed to have the subtle knack of listening to an unhappy client and resolving various sticky issues. He also has a reputation for socialising with his colleagues (mostly less than half his age) over red wine. On October 1, 2015, Lorenz completed 40 years of service with the Department of Planning of Victoria. Lorenz is currently working on a program, hopefully to be funded by the Australian Government, to bring Australian City Planners to assist with major planning initiatives proposed by the new Sri Lankan Government.
Lorenz’s parents, Professor E.O.E. Pereira, Dean and Founder of the Faculty of Engineering and subsequent Vice-Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya, a renowned scholar from Royal and Cambridge University and respected humanitarian, and his mother Mavis, would indeed have been thrilled to know that their eldest son had reached such heights thereby not only bringing honour to their family and to Royal, but also to Sri Lanka.
Lorenz and his dad’s joint respective achievements could rightly place them as one of the most outstanding and distinguished father and son products of Royal College.
Lorenz is ever grateful for the wonderful legacy bestowed upon him by his dear father of Unconditional Love and Humility.
Well done Lorenz. All your old friends too are very proud that we broke bread with you.