Revisiting 1972 when Antonians gatecrash Trinity’s Centenary Celebrations
As shared with Alston Mahadevan by Jayantha Monnekulame
The 1972 Trinity Antonian big match was played in Katugastota on the 24th & 25th March 1972. It was a historic period as Trinity who were celebrating its centenary year and I captained the Antonian team whilst Athula Unantenne was the captain of Trinity College. We knew each other for quite some time having played with each other from our childhood days. Just as much as the game was important to them it was equally vital to us from our perspective to beat Trinity in their centenary year and be part of history forever. The Antonian squad, led by me, was a well-knitted team coached by T M A Cooray, an old boy of the college who represented the first eleven team in the 1940’s. We played 10 games in that year, won 3, lost 2 and drew 5. We would have beaten Dharmaraja if not for rain on the first day. St Benedicts would have been another game that we could have won in that year but time was a factor. All in all it was a good season. My best score was against Ananda College where I went on to score 102 runs which included 14 fours. Our last game before the big match was with St Peters College. The Peterites comprised of a brilliant outfit of players like Roy Dias, Raj & Lalith Obeysekara, B Wijethunga, E. Thevarayan, and N Wirathunga. Even though the match ended in a draw it was a good result for us with the openers Merril and Suresh putting on 117 runs for the first wicket and both batsmen been run out for 49 and 65 correspondingly while the middle order performed splendidly well ahead of the big game.
Philomen, Premalal and Shane each scored 43, 47 and 36 respectively facilitating a mammoth score of 284 in the first innings. Premalal was at his brilliant best with a chanceless 47 in 50 minutes. He was a player who could bat at any position and on his day he could take any bowler apart with the bat though he did not perform with the bat to his full potential.
Going in to the big match we were very happy with our batting as we had adequate strength in this department and it hardly required any changes to the existing lineup. We had an accomplished opening pair featuring a left & right hand combination of Merril Dunuwila and Suresh Gunatilaka who figured in many commendable opening partnerships during the season. They were regarded as one of the best opening pairs in school cricket that year. Both were technically correct and skillful batsmen in their own way. Merril was the wicket keeper of the team as well. Anton Perera opened at the start of the season and was confined to the permanent significant role of batting at number 3, myself at 4, C P P Raj (Philomen) at 5, Shane Balthazar no 6, Premalal De Silva (Vice Captain) no 7, Mohamed Rizvie at 8 followed by Bernard Ranasinghe, Bede Perera and Charlie Paul were a formidable band of cricketers that that gave enormous strength to the batting line up.
Just as much as the game was important to them it was equally vital to us from our perspective to beat Trinity in their centenary year and be part of history forever
In the bowling department Premalal and Rizvie spearheaded the attack with left arm spinner Charlie Paul who bowled consistently well throughout the season was a force to reckoned with in his first year. Philomen Raj was a useful medium pace stop gap bowler who had the knack to pick a wicket whenever it warranted. He was also an outstanding batsman and terrific fielder. Right arm off spin bowler Bede Perera came in to the team almost toward the end of the season following the departure of Benedict (Ben) Wikramanayake mid-season after his 19th Birthday. Incidentally Ben was a good all round cricketer who had played with me from the age of 12 along with Premalal and Philomen until 1972. Hiran Jayasundera was unlucky not to make it into the 11 though he was a promising cricketer and so was S R De Alwis a good leg spin bowler. I was prepared for the big match with specific strategies about our bowlers. Bede Perera was identified as a potential match winner for us and I wanted to give him long spells while confining myself to bowl in patches of short spells.
The Trinity team too consisted of some potentially good cricketers. Kurukulasuriya, Assauw, Unantenne, Joshua, Dissanayake, Obeysekera, Schoorman, Abeysekera, Niyangoda, Hamzi and Wasalathanthri were all good players who represented their school in that all important year for them.
Our plan was to put Trinity to bat first had we won the toss. It made things easier for us when Athula Unantenne won the toss and elected to take first lease of the wicket. Our aim was to dislodge them for a score around 150 to 170 which we successfully achieved. Trinity openers scored 17 runs after two overs before Assauw was caught by Raj off Rizvie. Captain Unantenne joined opener Kurukulasuriya and added 53 runs for the second wicket before Raj dismissed Kurukulasuriya. Trinity reached 103 for the loss of three wickets before Bede Perera was introduced. Bede Perera clean bowled Dissanayake in his first over and had Obeysekera leg before wicket in his next over to complete his second over with the figures of 2-2-0-2 and Trinity after a good start was 107 for the loss of 5 wickets. Unantenne reached his half century and provided resistance by adding 25 runs for the sixth wicket before Bede Perera took a return catch off Unantenne and Trinity lost their sixth wicket for 142 runs.
Charlie Paul and I took two quick wickets and when Bede Perera bowled Wasalathanthri to take his fourth wicket, Trinity after winning the toss and batting first managed only 168 runs off 67.2 overs in 165 minutes. Bede Perera finished with impressive figures of 15.2 overs 10 maidens 10 runs for 4 wickets. Philomen Raj took 2 for 47 and I finished with 1 for 25 off 11 overs.
The strategy through the afternoon session when we resumed our innings was to pile up a decent score keeping our wickets intact. The two openers did just what the doctor had ordered.
Merril Dunuwila and Suresh Gunatilaka opened the innings for St Anthony’s and added a brilliant 119 for the first wicket. Suresh scored 59 before he was bowled by Obeysekera. Anton Perera joined Merril and took the score past Trinity first innings score of 168 before Merril virtually sacrificed his wicket for the sake of the team in search of quick runs as we had planned the previous day and was caught by Schoorman off Wasalathanthri for a well compiled 80 runs including 12 fours.
The batting lineup was adjusted after the first day’s play to suit the situation aimed to accelerate the run rate when we were 119 for 1 wicket at close of play with Merril and Anton at the crease. We were in a strong position then and I wanted the team to score quickly and declare at lunch with a good lead. I promoted Raj to bat at 4 and dropped down to number 5, I also promoted Premalal De Silva (Vice Captain) at 6 ahead of Shane Balthazar at 7, followed by Mohammed Rizwie at 8, Bernard Ranasinghe, Bede Perera and Charlie Paul. In hindsight, I should have sent Premalal in front of me being the man in form coming in to that game. We lost 5 quick wickets in the process in our quest for runs for the addition of only 21 runs and when Bede Perera joined Premalal de Silva with a score at 193 for 8 wickets, a lead of only 25 runs. The pair put together a useful unbroken partnership of 45 runs in 27 minutes and when I declared the innings at 238 for 8 wickets, Premalal was not out 33 with 4 fours and Bede Perera was 20 not out with 3 fours. S Niyangoda was the most successful bowler with 3 for 63. Though some thought we should have gone for quick runs on the first day, the plan, however, was to step up the run rate from the next morning and amass a score of 260 plus by lunch and declare. We fell short of the target by 22 runs and Merril missing out on a second hundred in a big match!
Trinity started their second innings at 1.30 pm with a deficit of 70 runs. Openers Kurukulasuriya and Assauw added 50 runs for the first wicket. Philomen Raj took the first wicket when Charlie Paul took the catch off Assauw and with the score at 50, Charlie Paul took another catch off Bede Perera to dismiss Kurukulasuriya. Bede Perera took two quick wickets and when Trinity was 4 for 72, I had both Obeysekara and Schoorman trapped LBW in successive overs and they collapsed to 81 for 6 wickets shifting the atmosphere of the jubilant Antonian supporters sensing victory. We went through a phase of frustration creeping in to me when an apparent partnership was building between Joshua and Abeysekara. Going in to tea they were 114 for 6, a partnership of 33 runs between them looking ominously dangerous at that stage giving confidence to their camp and Trinity supporters likewise some hope of a draw.
The persistent of Bede Perera paid dividends soon after tea giving us the opening we required for a breakthrough. He had Joshua stumped by Dunuwila for a well compiled 32 off the first ball after tea! The fall of Joshua’s wicket by Bede Perera off the first ball after tea revived and galvanized the Antonian fans once more to a deafening uproar amid a multitude of people cheering the team. Soon Bede Perera bowled Abeysekere and Trinity were 119 for 8 when Hamzy joined Niyangoda who added a further frustrating 25 runs before I held on to a catch to dismiss Niyangoda to give Bede Perera his sixth wicket of the innings and the tenth wicket of the match. When I had Hamzy caught by Balthazar to dismiss Trinity for 144 in their second innings, we had a target of 74 runs in 85 minutes.
Merril Dunuwila opened with Suresh Gunatilaka and the partnership reached 21 in 15 minutes before Suresh was out leg before wicket to Wasalathanthri for 5. Merril Dunuwila scored 32 runs in 25 minutes and took the score to 39 before Obeysekera bowled him. Premalal de Silva joined Philomen Raj and they took the score to 68 before Premalal was run out for 5. I joined with 7 runs to win and was there till the end when Philomen Raj scored the winning off Trinity captain Unantenne to record a historic victory. Philomen was a stylish outstanding batsman capable of batting at any slot. He was a brilliant all round player produced by St Anthony’s in that era. Philomen Raj scored 33 runs in 30 minutes and it gave me great pleasure to be there at the end to ensure victory and celebrate and savor the moment of success against our arch rival and remain in the annals of the antiquity of cricket between two great institutions in the hill country of the nation!
The celebrations went in to the night with friends and team mates relishing the ecstasy of this great win in what was a memorable year to the opponent. We also spent a short time in the old boys club house to show our goodwill and appreciation to their support to the team throughout the season and fulfill their benevolent entreaty to a pinch of the native swill and thereafter going to the centenary fair of the vanquished are cherished moments of that exciting day.
It is ironic that few months after leaving school Athula and I joined the tea trade as trainee tea tasters of two leading tea export companies and sharing a room at the YMCA in Fort is another twist in the fairy tale.
Premalal joined Ceylon Tobacco and later Singer Sri Lanka. Merril and Benedict are currently residing in the USA. Philomen is back in Sri Lanka following a stint in Oman. Shane served in the Army and has retired. Charlie Paul lives in Melbourne.
In conclusion, I wish to add that Bede Perera having previously played only in three games performed commendably well in bowling, batting and fielding that paved the way for this amazing win. He was unafraid and held the pressure well when things were getting tough with skill and courage in his debutant year and remained an important figure to the team. A simple boy from a simple family who brought credit to his Alma Mater! Well done Bede.
Finally a word of praise to the statistician and scorer, the affable Frederik Martin, who played a significant role in compiling the score sheets of the first eleven team for two seasons and going to the extent of gifting the “ready reckoner” to me soon after the big match. If not for him and a close associate from school days, the amiable Alston Mahadevan, a senior prefect of the college who was in command of the pavilion, policing the area sacred to the two teams, whose persuasion, influence and resolve drilled on me to contribute for this article, the evidence of a journey down memory lane perhaps would not have been possible.