Remembering that historic Benedictine triumph in 1964
BY NEIL WIJERATNE
The warning sign was very clear: The Josephians were about to face the toughest challenge in the history of Josephian-Benedictine inter-collegiate cricket. True, the Benedictines couldn’t record a win against the Josephians since 1917. But it’s history. Now things looked different. The Josephians were about to begin the 1964 season, but by then their opponent St. Benedict’s had already notched a couple of great victories – against S. Thomas’ and Royal.
Newspaper previews generated a lot of public interest about the match. “Bens to roast that Jinx” was the headline of the match preview in the Ceylon Daily Mirror. It added: “Rumour has it that the Bens are ready to devil and barbecue the jinx at Kotahena. For 47 long, long years, the Benedictines have not beaten their arch rivals from Darley Road.”
“Can Benedictines break this jinx?” questioned The Ceylon Observer. “It has not happened for 47 years. Will it happen this weekend? It should, but cricket is notorious for its glorious uncertainties. The odds are in favour of the Benedictines.”
I was then 13 years old. I was there at the Darley Road grounds
when SJC registered victory over St. Benedict’s in 1961 (SJC won by five wickets. Brian “Bumper” Perumal’s five-wicket haul and my hero Raja de Silva’s classic knock of 80 in the second innings are still etched in my memory as if it has happened only yesterday) and in 1963 (Victor Wickremasinghe and Earle Peiris were at the crease when SJC reached the target with two wickets in hand). Anyhow those two matches were played on our home ground matting wicket at Darley Road. Now the 1964 match is scheduled to play at the Kotahena turf wicket. Until then I haven’t been to the SBC grounds.
Talk of our classmates, friends, staff members, and old boys during the third week of January 1964 was centered round the forthcoming SJC-SBC match. But I was in a dilemma. Busloads of questions circled in my mind. How could the pressman predict a Benedictine victory? Our season is yet to commence. How could they compare the ability of both teams? Our skipper, left-arm spinner Berchman de Alwis, single-handedly routed the Benedictines in the previous year. His bowling figures in the second innings in the 1963 match read: 20-04-49-6. Except for the wicket of Sunil Fernando (ct. Brian Perumal) all the other five scalps – wickets of K. Balendran, skipper Quintus Perera, Percy Perera, Felix Dias, Mervyn Fernando and Neville Pereira – were stamped “Stumped: Placidus Leanage, bowled: Berchman de Alwis”. Above all, what has the “devil and barbecue” stuff have to do with this match?
With a little bit of extra effort – doing homework punctually, attending daily mass at school, no more reading of comic books, and also because of my constant pleas, I got permission to watch the match on both days. The first afternoon with my school friends from our village; second day with my Benedictine friends, and neighbours, the Peiris Tavarayan brothers.
Leaving school mid-day on the match day, we had a sumptuous dosai sappadu
at a Bhavan café down Armour Street, instead of our customary college canteen
lunch, seeni sambol bread and lime juice. And by the time we arrived at Kotahena – my first visit to St. Benedict’s grounds – the Josephian openers Anil Peiris (00) and powerful hitter Polycarp Wijesekera (19) along with Senani Peiris (09) were back in the pavilion. The score 73 for 3. Just then Christopher Moreira (44) too got out, offering a catch to Harold Sirisena off the bowling of Selva Perumal. For me, Christopher Moreira is best remembered apart from being a stroke maker, for his elegant and well-groomed appearance on the field – wearing an immaculate white trouser, long-sleeved shirt and blue cap with SJC crest. Whenever he strode to the middle majestically, holding the bat in one hand, it reminded me of those English cricketers whose photographs I had often
seen in the Sports and Pastime magazine. This Indian publication was the only
source of information on cricket we had at the time apart from the sports pages in local English dailies.
The Josephian innings concluded shortly before tea, 166 all-out. Alan de Costa (35), skipper Berchman de Alwis (23) and Victor Wimalasinham (13) were the other batsmen who entered double figures. The pick of the bowlers were Selva Perumal – 6 wickets for 50, pacemen Jayakumar Perera (6 – 4 – 5 – 0) and Anura
Withanachchi (14 – 9 – 17 -1). St. Benedict’s ended the day on 104 for 8. (Mervyn Fernando 41, Joy de Alwis 5 for 31).
The match was poised for an exciting finish, so the newspapers said. But for me
ours were well placed. Already eight Benedictine batsmen were back in the dressing room.
On the second day I was with my neighbourhood Benedictine friends, Maurice, Claude and Edgar. We arrived well in advance for the match. The general feeling was that something extraordinary, something unique, might happen.
The Benedictine tail enders really frustrated the visitors, and carried the score to 130 (S. Perumal 33). And then came the most unbelievable happening of the match. Jayakumar Perera and Anura Withanachchi who opened the bowling for
SBC sent back four of the best Josephian batsmen, inside half an hour. The magical scoreboard at the Kotahena grounds (really magic for me, because it was a completely modern scoreboard like the one I have seen at the Colombo Oval. The Darley Road scoreboard at the time was old fashioned – scores were changed only after every 10 runs!) read: 3 for 1, 3 for 2, 14 for 3 and 18 for 4. Polycarp Wijesekera lbw b. J.O.J. Perera 03, Anil Peiris bld. Withanachchi 00, Christopher Moreira bld. J.O.J. Perera 09, Senani Peiris run out 06.
My friends took me to a relative’s residence for tea. They were all relaxed and importantly, were sure of the outcome of the match. I thought: “It has not
happened for 47 years. Will it happen today?” For me it turned out to be a
The umpires were at the middle again and play resumed. Sunil Fernando led the
Benedictines to the accompaniment of thunderous applause.
At no stage thereafter did the Josephian batting look comfortable. The Benedictine bowlers “bowled with much hostility” in their second attempt to dismiss the opponents for a meagre 63 runs. Bespectacled Alan de Costa tried his best to rescue the Josephian innings but was out for a laboured 16 (st. Ranjit Fernando b. Perumal). He was the only batsman to enter double figures. Thereafter a wicket fell, then another and another. Joy de Alwis ct. Sirisena b. Perumal 07, Berchman de Alwis bld. M. Anandappa 05, Victor Wimalasingham ct. Anandappa b. Perumal 01, Sunil Athukorale lbw. B. Anandappa 00. Peter Samarasinghe (04 n.o.) and Trevor Mitchell (run out 08).
Tension and excitement ran high when the Benedictines in their run chase lost
the wicket of opener Anandappa (bld. Joy de Alwis 00) early in the innings.
Thereafter Ranjit Fernando and Sunil Fernando (bld. Joy de Alwis 18) added 32
runs for the second wicket whilst Ranjit Fernando (ct. Moreira b. Trevor Mitchell
42) and Mervyn Fernando (ct. Sunil Athukorale b. Trevor Mitchell 34) carried
the total to 87, just 13 runs away from the victory. The Ceylon Schools player Ranjit Fernando batted with absolute authority. He was patient yet aggressive; defensive yet always ready to attack.
Suddenly the clouds darkened and heavy rain was in sight.
While the Benedictine batsmen made a strong effort to accelerate the run rate,
not only to break the 47-year-old jinx, but also to beat the rain, the Josephian
bowlers staged a stunning comeback by claiming a few more wickets in quick
succession. The scoreboard which read 87 for 3 at one time hurriedly changed to
96 for 7. Felix Dias run out 02, S. Perumal ct. Athukorale b. Joy de Alwis 00, M. Fernandopulle b. Mitchell 00.
So close yet so far to the victory, the eighth wicket pair in Harold Sirisena and
Nihal Gunatunga batted cautiously to notch the required four runs and to guide
their team to a dramatic, yet historic victory.