Iron resolve took Premalal
far in sporting and professional career
A cricketer, a sound leader and a man with an exemplary career who rose to fame with his simple life and uncompromised loyalty, Premalal de Silva talks to us about his life at the Quadrangle school at Katugastota and his exceptional career at Singer.
Premalal started off his story from where it all began: “I joined St Anthony’s College, Katugastota, in 1962 at the fourth grade from St Anne’s College, Kurunegala, where I began my schooling. I had the privilege of being boarded at the college hostel, though it was not a luxury, life was fun-filled and exciting.
“Shanthilal de Silva, Jayavee and Priyalal Fernando are some of my buddies from those days. I remember we had a ‘Boarder’s Day’, where no rule applied for the entire day for the hostellers. We could play from morning till evening and even ring the college bell if we wanted. My younger brother Asoka de Silva joined me at college later. Since we were boarded, we spent most of our time on the grounds. Playing cricket after school was the main thing on our agenda.
“Naturally we took to sports. One day Fr Macky spotted me playing softball cricket at the grounds and asked me to come for cricket practices for the under 12s. So I did and went on to represent and become the captain of the college cricket teams in all age groups. I was a good fast bowler, as I had the physique and also was a hard-hitting middle-order batsman. I remember taking 15 wickets at Darley Road against St Joseph’s when I was a 12 years old.”
Premalal de Silva’s cricketing talent was spotted early and he made his 1st XI debut for SACK in 1969 at the age of 15. Antonian cricketers were making headlines during the 1950s and 60s. The likes of Lafir, Ranjit Doranegama, Ranjith Samarasekera, and Charlie Joseph come to mind and it was not an easy task to get into the 1st XI. Premalal shares his entry into big league: “I was in the company of some top cricketers. Christopher Sims was my first captain and also we had Mahes Goonatilleke, Randy Sims, Laskhman Denipitiya, Wasantha Seneviratne, Ralston Buultjens and Bal Raj. Jack Robertson joined us from S. Thomas’ Matale and he was a stylish opening bowler and a batsman. In 1970/71 Randy Sims captained and in ‘72 it was Jayantha Monnekulame who captained and I was the vice-captain.
That year was a memorable one as we beat Trinity College in the big match and that was their centenary celebration year. I took over the captaincy in 1973.
“We had a fine season in 1973. We had Charlie Paul, a left-arm spinner, Mohamed Rizvie a right-arm spinner, Nimal Malagamuwa a very good fielder and another spin bowler, Bede Perera another right-arm off spinner and
Bernard Perera a medium-pacer, Hiran Jayasundera, Bernard Ranasinghe, M.
Haariz, Suresh Gunatilleke, Sarath Fernando, Kevin and Shane Balthazar and Kevin was our wicket-keeper and the opening batsman. Merryl Dunuwille was our star batsman and vice-captain. He kept wickets too and was among the runs, not only in that season but also in ‘71 and ‘72. We were coached by Walter Perera and T.M.A. Cooray. I managed to score a couple of half centuries and also was among the wicket-takers for the Antonians. “I remember scoring 73 against the
Josephians and as the season progressed I became a batting all-rounder. I was, in fact, nicknamed ‘Yakadaya’ by the Antonians purely because of my hard hitting. My best inning came at the ‘73 Big Match against Trinity College at Asgiriya. Trinity was captained by Dissanayake, and Janaka Weerasinghe their opening bowler had an outstanding season and was their main bowler. We had to leave out our star batsman Merryl Dunuwille as he was deemed over age by the time the Big Match was played, due to a ruling introduced by the Education Ministry back then. We lost Kevin Balthazar in the first over, clean bowled by Weerasinghe and I came in to bat. I just went and played my strokes and quickly scored 50 and before I realised it, I had made it into the 90s. When I was on 96 I pulled Rohan Perera (I think), over long-on for a six. The ball travelled all the way to the stands and I had scored a century “Throughout my innings I was not troubled but I think gave a couple of chances which the Trinitians grassed. Then, when I was on 148 again I wanted to score a six to cross the 150 but this time I was caught at the boundary line. Once I returned to the dressing room, I was told that I missed the ground record (at Asgiriya) at that time by 16 runs. If I knew it before, I could have gone for it.” Premalal’s innings of 148 runs came in 176 minutes.
“Skipper de Silva was in sparkling form to dispatch the bowling to all parts of the field in an exhibition of spectacular stroke play in an inning of 148 which took him 176 minutes to compile. The knock was studded with three soaring sixes, a couple landed on the adjoining paddy field and twenty boundaries.”
Premalal was associated in two big partnerships. First it was with N. Malagamuwa for the second wicket as they shared 112 runs. Then again with Suresh Gunatilleke he added 114 for the third wicket for St Anthony’s to declare at 230 for 3. Trinity though started off well with R.C. Ranasinghe and N. Schoorman, closing the day at 49 for no loss. However, they found it tough on the second day and were bowled out for 148. The Antonians scored a quick 96 runs for loss of 6 wickets on Saturday afternoon setting a target of 178 for victory. Trinity chased this and interestingly when stumps were drawn they were 130 for 6 wickets and the match ended in an exciting draw. Talking about the matches during that season, Permalal shared this: “We had a close game against Royal captained by Asitha Jayaweera. Chasing 161 for victory, we were 137 for 4 wickets at the end of play at Katugastota. We managed to beat St Benedict’s
captained by Lalith Perera and won on first innings against St Peter’s led by Bernard Wijetunge. We also won on first inning against Ananda, led by Mithra Wettimuny. One of the memorable games was the quarter-final match against S. Thomas’ in the first-ever Milo Trophy schools 50 over tournament. S. Thomas’, captained by Ravi Sathasivam was a good side and the match was played at NCC. We were in control of the game and then there were a few dubious umpiring decisions, which went against us.
“The crowd too got restless and they started jeering. Then our Prefect of Games, the late Fr Aelred Samarakoon who was behind our success that season walked on to the field. Play was halted and he spoke to the umpires and then we all walked off from the field. This was in protest against poor umpiring and he didn’t want us to continue playing so we conceded the match. He was a man with principles and a great teacher.”
Premalal, after leaving St Anthony’s College, on the invitation of another great Antonian Ranjit Samarasekera, joined the Colts Cricket Club (Colombo) and played two seasons of club cricket. From there he joined NCC and played under Michael Tissera with Ranjit Fernando also in the side. In 1976, Premalal joined Ceylon Tobacco Company.
Premalal reminisces: “I was attached to CTC wharf section and at the same time I was doing my CIMA which I completed in three and a half years. I started playing cricket for CTC in the mercantile tournament. The team comprised Jayantha Kudahetty, Anura Tennakoon, Flavian Aponso, Anura Ranasinghe, Joe Savarimuthupulle, Amaresh Rajaratnam, Amitha De Costa, Mervin Fernando and Ranjan Goonetilleke. We performed well in the mercantile tournament and had the opportunity of touring India with the team. This was a carefree time for me. I had a girlfriend and had a motorbike too.
“I was spending money and realised I needed some stability in life. Then, one of my close family friends, another Antonian, Franklyn Amerasinghe offered me an opportunity at Singer. I joined Singer as a District Manager – Nuwara Eliya & Badulla in 1980. The company gave a loan so I bought a Volkswagen Beetle which was ‘The Car’ during those days. However, I was dead scared of driving on upcountry roads. I had a time learning and travelling but it was fun too.”
Premalal, after settling down in his new job, married a distant relative of his, Nilanthi Dabare in 1981. Soon after, he was transferred to Colombo and then gained a promotion as an area manager of the southern region in 1982. He excelled in his new area and the then management of Singer noticed his talent and assigned him the task of developing the dealer network and the new sales channel for Singer. Since then he rose and went on to become a member of the board of directors at Singer. His last appointment being Director – Commercial, and after an excellent 35-year service at Singer Sri Lanka PLC Premalal retired recently.
Talking about his career at Singer he said: “I managed to complete 35 years which is a great achievement. I was part of the growth period of the company under the stewardship of Mr Hemaka Amarasuriya. That was the best period of Singer as he managed to take the company to great heights and prepare the company and us to meet future challenges. We stepped up our production capabilities and capacities and opened our manufacturing bases in Sri Lanka. We were recognised locally and regionally and we expanded our businesses.
“Asoka Pieris took over from Hemaka and now he is steering the company further. I can boldly say Singer is the number one consumer durable company in Sri Lanka. You asked why I stayed at Singer for 35 long years. My desire was to work with people and experience different lifestyles. I realised this dream while working at Singer. I travelled around, meeting and dealing with different types of people. The company not only recognised my talent and contribution but they also trained me, guided me and assisted me. When I saw the company is putting this effort behind me, not only me but all its employees, I did not have any reason to look outside or leave. Job satisfaction, loyalty and appreciation of my contribution made me to stay at Singer for 35 years.
“Now I’m leaving with many fond memories and grateful to all those who helped me and worked with me at Singer.”
Premalal paid a glowing tribute to his wife and family and also to Singer.
“My wife managed the family while I was away, stationed out of Colombo or when I was travelling. She was determined to provide a good education for our son and daughter. My son Thivanka, who studied at St Joseph’s College, is now an aeronautical engineer at RMIT University in Melbourne. Our daughter Radhika studied at Holy Family Convent and now she has completed her CIMA and works for MAS Group. I’m now a proud grandfather too as my daughter got married and has a son. I thank them and also God for his blessings. I’m also indebted to Singer for the teaching, training and confidence placed in me. I have learned a lot and now am looking forward to sharing my knowledge and expertise to help the society at large.”
Talking about his success in life, Premalal said:
“I’m a calm person with lot of tolerance and patience. When things go wrong, I stay calm without panicking. I’m also a people-oriented person. The leadership qualities I developed at St Anthony’s College helped me in my work place to deal with people and manage businesses. If you work hard and deliver to your potential, nothing is impossible. Always there’s one above who will guide you. You need to be patient without questioning or looking for shortcuts.”
Proud and unbeaten in ‘73
Shane Balthazaar shares his memories of Premalal and his 1973 team of which he also was a member.
Premalal de Silva, a fourth-year coloursman led St Anthony’ s College, Kandy, successfully in the 1973 cricket season, winning two matches outright and winning six on the first innings, and almost winning the big match versus Trinity at Asgiriya.
The Antonian bid for victory in the “Big ‘Un” was set up by skipper Premalal De Silva who contributed a swashbuckling 148 runs. The other Antonians who contributed well were Suresh Gunatilleke (34 not out) and Nimal Malagamuwa (35 not out) – both in the first innings. Then, in the second essay, when the Antonians were reeling at 35 for 6, Bernard Ranasinghe scored 40 runs and I contributed an unbeaten 25 to steady the innings, and this enabled us to declare at 94 for 7. Trinity was left to chase 177 in 135 minutes and at the close were 130 for 6.
The Antonians dropped six catches and Mohamed Rizvi in particular dropped four of these and that deprived the Antonians of victory. Antonian bowler Hiran Jayasundara was virtually unplayable and had an excellent match bag of 9 for 86. Wicket-keeper Kevin Balthazaar accounted for three dismissals behind the stumps.
The batsman who did very well in the 1973 season was Merryl Dunuwille – the vice-captain who represented Sri Lanka Schools. Merryl scored a century against St Benedict’s and the Antonians won that match by 0 wickets. Merryl could not play in the big match against Trinity as he was over age. The batsmen who were consistent and who made valuable and useful contributions during the season were Merryl Dunuwille, Suresh Gunatilleke, skipper Premalal De Silva, Nimal Malagamuwa, Bede Perera, Kevin Balthazaar, Bernard Perera and I.
In the bowling department Mohammed Rizwi was the best bowler with other major contributions by Bede Perera, Hiran Jayasundara, Premalal de Silva, Charley Paul and Bernard Ranasinghe. In fact, in the Bens match M. Rizvi and Bede Perera shared 19 wickets between them which sealed a great victory for the Antonians. Rizvi claimed 10 wickets and Bede captured nine to send the Bens reeling to defeat.
The master-in-charge was Rev. Fr Aelred Samarakoon, OSB – a dynamic inspirer. The coach was the well-known Mr. P. W. Perera (Walter), the Prisons Commissioner at that time. Walter had earlier coached Ananda College. The principal of St Anthony’s College, Kandy, was Rev. Fr. Dom Aidan De Silva OSB.
The 1973 unbeaten cricket season was one of the best in the history of St Anthony’s. This team beat St Benedict’s and Vidyartha outright, and claimed first innings wins over Ananda and Nalanda, both at Campbell Park , Trinity, St Peter’s, Prince of Wales and S. Sylvester’s. In the games against St Joseph’s and Royal and Dharmaraja, though conceding first innings, the Antonians amassed good second innings totals that helped end the games in tame draws. All in all, the season consisted of 11 matches.
It is only fair to name this really well-balanced 1973 Antonian side. The team reads: Premalal De Silva (Captain), Merryl Dunuwille (Vice-captain), Suresh Gunatilleke, Bernard Ranasinghe, Mohammed Rizvi, Shane Balthazaar Bede Perera, Nimal Malagamuwa, Charley Paul, Kevin Balthazaar (wicket-keeper), Hiran Jayasundara, Bernard Perera, M. Hariz and Sarath Fernando .