THE HISTORY OF MURALI-VAAS TROPHY AND BEYOND

THE HISTORY OF MURALI-VAAS TROPHY AND BEYOND

by AFZAL LAPHIR

When St Anthony’s College Kandy (SACK) host St Joseph’s College (SJC) Colombo next week (30th April & 1st May 2021), the two Saints schools will meet for the 109th occasion, spreading across three centuries. From the time the first game was played in 1899 when St Joseph’s came out victorious by 90 runs, this encounter has continued to maintain its rich traditions of fair play and great sportsmanship.  Gihan Ebert (SACK) and Dunith Wellalage (SJC) will be the respective captains.

The two schools have produced cricketers of the highest class with several going on to represent Sri Lanka. The most legendary of them all, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas are proud products of SACK and SJC respectively. They had the distinction of ‘carrying’ the Sri Lankan attack in over 100 tests and 300 ODIs, with a combined wicket tally of 1155 in Tests and 934 in ODIs. It was only fitting, when brothers Theo and Pradeep Fernando (both from SACK) came forward in 2007 to donate an impressive trophy named after the two Lankan legends in memory of their father, Bede Fernando, who was an old Josephian. To ensure the two schools received an equal share from the Fernando family, Pradeep’s son Viresh was educated at St Joseph’s College.

The inaugural Murali-Vaas trophy coincided with the 95th encounter between the two schools on 23rd and 24th February 2007 at Katugastota, under the captaincy of Selwyn Jamion (SACK) and Rajeeva Weerasinghe(SJC). The game ended in an entertaining fashion thanks to a quick century (110 in 81 balls with 21 fours, 1 six) by Antonian Gimhan Dissanayake, helping his side to a fighting draw. In the Josephian innings, Angelo Mathews scored a polished 110. (SACK 122 and 340/8, SJC 242/4d). It is noteworthy to mention that four ‘future internationals” represented St Joseph’s in this game, namely Mathews, the current Test skipper Dimuth Karunaratne, Thisara Perera and Roshen Silva. For the record, both Dimuth and Roshen scored centuries in the 2006 encounter at Darley Rd.

Interestingly, the introduction of the Murali-Vaas trophy not only injected added fame to the contest but also brought about results. It took only a year for the hoodoo of 18 consecutive draws to be broken when the Joes registered a win in 2008.

The inaugural Murali-Vass Trophy flyer
The inaugural Murali-Vass Trophy flyer

The Joes have had the better of the exchanges in the 14 games since, winning six that included four in a row between 2013 and 2016. During this time, the Antonian batting was somewhat in disarray as they went down tamely on more than one occasion. The ignominy of being shot for 35 in 2013, their lowest total in the series, was the worst of all, followed by totals of 76 and 96 in 2014. Preceding this period, the prolific Hiran Wickremasekera was indeed a shining light for the Antonians with his consistent performances. He scored 60 in 2009, 83 in 2010 and 110 in 2011, on his way to scoring 1000 runs in each of these three years.

The Josephians, on the other hand, enjoyed several outstanding performances, notably Sameera Weerasinghe (11/109 and 118 n.o in 2009), Chathuranga Kumara (133 in 2010) and Vimukthi Pieris (141 in 146 balls in 2015),

The solitary Antonian win since the inauguration of the Murali-Vaas trophy came in 2019 under Theeksha Gunasinghe. Two years prior, they got within two wickets of defeating the Josephians under Mohammed Alfar.

Across 120 years of history and after several thrilling games, St Joseph’s have come out on top more frequently than the Kandy school. The record stands at 44 wins for SJC, 9 wins for SACK with 55 draws. The last Josephian win was achieved only last year at Darley Rd under Johanne de Zilva, who scored a powerful century in the second innings to set up the win. Johanne and his opening partner Sheran Fonseka scored an unbeaten 188 runs for the first wicket in just 21 overs. This year’s skipper Dunith Wellalage captured a match-bag of 11/72, with 7/53 in the second innings to bundle the visitors out late on the second day. (SJC 209 and 188-0, SACK 144 and 169). The most recent Antonian win was in 2019 when the Josephians last travelled to Katugastota. Their first win in 28 years was built around centuries from skipper Theeksha (142) and Kalhara Senaratne (106) and a 12-wicket bag from Nimnaka Jayathilake (5/66 and 7/43). (SJC 218 and 119, SACK 354).

Six of the nine Antonians wins were registered between 1913 and 1930, against formidable Josephian outfits. Around this period, the Colombo school’s strength was exemplified when they secured 14 wins in 19 games (1910 to 1929) and continued to win consistently until 1974 as illustrated in the curve below.

The Curve on Cumulative Wins illustrates the Josephian dominance from 1910 to 1970 decades

Since then, and up until the Murali-Vaas trophy was inaugurated, Joes went through a barren run by winning only two games in 34 years, a far cry from their previous domination.

DOWN MEMORY LANE

Now let us trace back the history of Anto-Joes games and reminisce on the memorable moments from the time they started in earnest in 1910, although history has recorded a solitary game previously in 1899.

The names Jack Anderson (SACK) and Oswin Wright (SJC) are very much entrenched in the history of the respective schools. They had the distinction of scoring the first century for each school, with Oswin reaching the mark first in 1914 when he scored 132 out of 172/1 declared in a “whole-day” game against SACK at Darley Rd. The game started at 8.30 in the morning and ended with the Antonians tottering at 32/8 in their second innings. Jack top scored for the Kandy school with 50 in the first innings. (SJC 132 and 172/1d, SACK 124 and 32/8). In the same year, Oswin also registered St Joseph’s maiden centuries against Royal College and Wesley College. Antonians won the encounter in 1915 by 8 wickets with Jack (58) and Stephens (59) being unbeaten at the end. Earlier J.Carter (6/22) and V.Rosayro (4/23) routed the Joes for 49 in the first innings (SJC 49 & 195, SACK 122 & 127/2). In 1916, Bertie Hillman hit an unbeaten 167 to take his team to a win, an innings that is yet to be emulated by a Josephian,.

Jack Anderson’s turn came in 1917 when he blasted a stunning 184 at Bogambara, which remains to date as the highest individual innings between the two sides. His innings carried the Antonians, led by James Ferguson, to an easy win by an innings and 162 runs. This was their first win in a 2-day encounter. Much was expected from Jack in the following year, when he broke numerous batting records that included 1000 runs in a single month, five consecutive centuries and a monumental innings of 291 against S Thomas ML. Unfortunately, in a close 49-run defeat, Jack was dismissed for just five and 22 against the Joes, which were the only failures during this memorable year of 1918,

An innings of 122 by Abeyasekera helped the Josephians to a comfortable win in 1924 and then in 1926, an Antonian side led by GRS Baie thrashed the Josephians by an innings and 53 runs at Bogambara and in the process routing the visitors for 23 all out in the second innings, which remains as the lowest total by either side in the series. Skipper Baie had an excellent all-round game, scoring a useful innings of 29 and capturing 7/30 in the match (3/20 and 4/10).(SJC 60 and 23, SACK 136)

Antonians under D.H Weerasinghe played with grit and resilience to defeat a strong Josephian outfit by one run at Bogambara in 1930. In a low scoring affair, K.C Visvanathan (7/30) and Gautamadasa (6/28) bowled brilliantly for St Joseph’s and SACK respectively, in the second innings. Chasing 96, Joes collapsed to 46/6 after being 32/1 and then recovered to 91/7 before losing their last three wickets for 3 runs to lose by a solitary run. (SACK 59 and 108, SJC 72 and 94). During the early thirties, it often became a battle for supremacy between the two outstanding Jayasunderas, Harry from SACK and the speed merchant, DS from SJC.

The two teams played out another thrilling game in 1938 where the outcome was decided off the last ball of the day when the Antonian batting collapsed in a heap. Josephian D Ranasinghe bowled outstandingly well to capture 13/100 (6/77 and 7/23) to take his team home. In 1941, under Hugh Muller, the Josephians amassed the series highest total of 504/8, to comfortably defeat the Antonians. It was a case of another year and another exciting encounter when the two teams locked horns in 1948 at Darley Rd. When stumps were drawn, the Josephians were a mere 3 runs from their victory target of 123, finishing at 120/7

1950 – 1970

The visiting Antonians were saved by rain in 1950 after the home side, captained by Billy Balthazaar, rattled up 310 in even time. Having failed to avert the follow-on, the Antonians went in but the rain soaked the matting wicket and restricted play. (SJC 310, SACK 204 & 31/4). As an interesting fact, Billy’s sons, Shane and Kevin Balthazaar, represented St Anthony’s in the 1970s.

The 1951 encounter was played on a make-shift turf wicket at Katugastota and Josephian paceman Ken Serpanchy took an immediate liking with an outstanding 8/18, returning the best individual bowling performance of the 108-game series between the two schools. Joes went on to win the game by an innings. (SACK 48 and 198, SJC 297). The Antonians tasted the same medicine in the following year, going down by an innings at Darley Rd.

Two years later, in 1954, the same grounds earned an entry into cricketing folklore thanks to Tom Deen’s colossal sixes, including one on the Bonjean Tower. The game itself had its thrills and spills with the Antonian last-wicket pair batting out over 20 minutes to stave off defeat. (SJC 199 & 155, SACK 221 & 110/9). The following year showcased another thrilling spectacle with the Joes taking on the challenge of chasing 247 runs in 150 mins, only to fall short by 13 runs. (SACK 181 and 255/9, SJC 189 and 234/6).

After a lapse of 26 years, the Antonians led by Wijepala Premaratne experienced a rare win in 1956 at Darley Rd. Paceman Adrian Berenger was the architect of this win capturing 11/94 (5/28 and 6/66) for the match. After being skittled for 51 in the first innings, the home side fought back strongly but some resilient batting by the visitors took them home. (SJC 51 & 221, SACK 149 & 124/7).

Skipper Ranjith Dorenagama scored an elusive century (113 n.o) in 1957, the first Antonian century against SJC since the famous 184 by Jack Anderson in 1917.  Antonians escaped defeat narrowly in 1958 when the Joes fell short by a mere 3 runs, chasing 48 in 20 mins. (SACK 212 and 176, SJC 250/7 and 45/2).

The 1960 game at Darley Rd was not without its excitement and when stumps were drawn, the Antonians needed just one wicket and the Josephians 7 runs. Chasing 88 to win, the Joes were sitting pretty at 50/1 before they lost 8/30. In a low scoring game, Antonian skipper, Charlie Joseph’s innings of 74 shone like a beacon (SACK 134 and 88, SJC 135 and 80/9)

The trend of nail-biting finishes continued in 1967 at Katugastota. When time was called, both sides had an opportunity to win with the Josephian last-wicket pair at the wickets needing 15 further runs for victory. (SACK 164 and 69, SJC 132 and 86/9).

In the following year, the best spirits of sportsmanship was on display when Antonian skipper Randy Simms was given a resounding ovation by the Josephian team under Lalith de S Wijeratne and the spectators at Darley Rd for the dour battle he staged to save his side. Unfortunately, Randy’s innings of 36 out of a total of 74 couldn’t prevent the Josephians from registering an easy 9 wicket win. (SACK 169 and 74, SJC 223/8 and 22/1)

The 1969 game between the two sides at Katugastota was marked by a brilliant unbeaten innings of 134 by Meri Guneratne which helped the home side to force a draw after being asked to follow-on. This was only the third century scored by an Antonian against SJC in over 60 years. Josephian paceman Hakel captured 8 wickets for the match. (SJC 319/7 dec, SACK 171 and 245/4)

1970 and beyond

The Antonians were shot out for a meagre 40 at Darley Rd in 1970, to hand the Josephians an easy innings win and two years later, the visitors suffered another defeat, by 7 wickets, orchestrated by an opening partnership of 164 by Josephian pair, skipper Rohan Fernando (76) and R Martin (111). Antonians skipper Jayantha Monnekulame (7/74) bowled his heart-out in a losing cause. Another thrilling game was played at Darley Rd in 1974 and on this occasion, the hosts defeated a fighting Antonian unit by 3 wickets off the last over of the game. This game was marred by a rare dismissal of ‘hitting the ball twice’ meted out to Bernard Perera of SACK. (SACK 123 and 109, SJC 122 and 111/7).

In 1976, Antonian Zareen Hameed claimed a match-bag of 10-123 to take the honours in the drawn game. It was later reported that the Josephian vice-captain Trevor Croner had sacrificed his wicket in the last over of the game to allow Zareen claim his tenth wicket. This gesture by Trevor paid further testament to the friendly rivalry the two schools had demonstrated over their longstanding history.

The Josephians won the 1980 encounter by 7 wickets under Rohan Wijesinghe Jnr, following two sensational batting collapses by SACK. After being 136/1 at one stage, the Antonians lost 9 for 46 in the first innings and were shot out 70 in the second innings, losing their last 19 wickets for 116 runs.

In 1981, Pradeep Fernando (7 for 47 in the second innings) almost carried SACK to an outright win, but for a defiant 37 run-last wicket stand that occupied the crease for 52 crucial minutes. Chasing 164 to win in 40 mins plus 20 overs, SACK finished at 110 for 2. In the following year, Ashley de Silva’s 134 took Joes to the brink of victory with the Antonians holding on with two wickets to spare. A 15-year-old Rienzie Perera stunned the Joes with outstanding figures of 6 for 26 (17 overs) at Katugastota in 1983 after skipper Marlon Von Hagt (81 and 99) dominated Antonians modest totals of 106 and 200, scoring almost 60% of the team’s collective total in the match. After three consecutive years of nail-biting games, Jeevaka Candappa’s Josephians registered a comfortable innings win in 1984 at Darley Rd after the Antonians were shot out for 80.

In 1991 under the captaincy of Nuwan Kalpage, the Antonians registered their first win since 1956, after a lapse of 35 years. Both Murali and Vaas played in this game, but it was the spin wizard who came out trumps with a match-bag of 12 for 97 (6/33 and 6/64) to help SACK win easily by 10 wickets at Katugastota. This game finished in an enterprising manner with the hosts reaching the 62-run target in just 5.5 overs. Opener Sapumal Herathge going berserk with an unbeaten innings of 47 in 14 balls, taking the Joes opening attack of Vaas and Harsha de Silva to the cleaners.

Nilantha Sirisena (135 for SACK) and Previn Fernando (133 for SJC) scored centuries in a high-scoring draw in 1993. Five years later, skipper Mahesh Palihakkara (112) notched up the first and to-date the only Antonian century at Darley Rd. An unbroken partnership of 142 between Prasad Ranawake and Samson Burke saved the Antonians from a certain defeat in 2000. Being asked to follow on with a deficit of 136, the pair came together at 98/4 and remained unbeaten till the end. In the following year, the two sides played out an exciting draw with the Antonians finishing on 151/8 chasing a victory target of 189 in 43 overs. The 2003 game registered the highest Antonian total in this series when a rollicking innings of 116 from Tyrone de Silva helped his side amass 468 in only 112 overs. This is still a ground record for Katugastota against all comers.

This year’s Murali-Vaas encounter is expected to be a keenly contested affair, with both teams comprising of some outstanding players. Dunith Wellalage, Sheran Fonseka, Shevon Daniel (St Joseph’s), Gihan Ebert, Chamidu Wickremasinghe and Nimnaka Jayathilake (St Anthony’s), to name a few.

Whether the game is won or lost, rest assured it will be played in the right spirits!

The two teams that played in the inaugural Murali-Vass Trophy (courtesy– Selwyn Jamion)

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