Turning Back the SSC Pages of Cricketing Times

Turning Back the SSC Pages of Cricketing Times

Article by Mahinda Wijesinghe
SSC CRICKETERS’ DAY - Sunday June 5th 2005

Some historians claim that the first probable reference to the game of Cricket could be traced to the Wardrobe accounts maintained during the regime of 13th century English monarch, Edward I, published in 1787 by the London Society of Antiquaries. Still others claim the first occasion that Cricket was spoken of was contained in a document, dated December 1478, discovered in St.Omer in what is now north-eastern France. So, the French do have some achievements other than what they are most famed for! Not to be outdone, as much as the Sri Lankans have their own Jamis Banda who can outsmart Ian Fleming’s suave James Bond, our historians have their own theories of how this wonderful game of ours began in this once-blessed isle.

Rumour hath it that Ceylon’s famed archaeologist, Dr.Senarath Paranavitane, no relation to ‘Popsy’ , though the latter claims a ‘connection’ based on a spurious belief that Dr.P’s great-great-grandfather had had a nocturnal tryst with his (not sure whether it is Dr.P’s or Popsy's) thrice divorced not-so-great-aunt. In the limited edition of ‘The Secret Memoirs of an Archaeologist’, Dr.P states that he discovered the fossilized remains of primitive bats and stumps around the periphery of Sigiriya during excavations, and concluded that Cricket began in the island during the reign of the 5th century Prince Kassapa (477-495). Strangely, no balls were found in the vicinity, weight to the theory, heartily endorsed by Muralitharan, that during this time an ancestor of Darrel Hair, a woodcutter by the name of ‘Dara’ Kondaya, was bowling maidens over with his flipper. In other words, Cricket was first played in Ceylon seven centuries before any reference to the game was made in England, the so-called home of cricket, and 500 years before the Monsieurs and Mesdames of France played Cricket once they concluded their dalliance in the privacy of their boudoirs. The scholarly Dr.Paranavitane also deduced that Prince Kassapa must have been a right-arm leg-spinner (left-handers were not in existence until Oscar Wilde came on the scene) since he was a bounder. Shades of Shane Warne, Mohan de Silva and ‘Popsy’ Paranavitane?

Then how did the game of Cricket in Ceylon disappear and disintegrate until the arrival of the British in the 19th century? Here again, Dr.P’s secret memoirs help solve the riddle. Reports the good doctor: “……after the demise of Prince Kassapa, officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sigiriya and Dambulla were at each other’s throats, jockeying for positions. The reason was obviously the tempting kahavanus in the Cricket Board.There was more money in the Cricket Board than in the King’s treasury. Yes, money was, as usual, the cause of all the troubles. Kassapa’s brother, Prince Moggallana, who was now in charge, then appointed an Interim Committee to, hopefully, put the game on even keel. But this resulted in the affected parties going to court and it became a case of coming in and out of courts. Prince Moggallana was so incensed with the situation caused by the legal delays and inability for the game to carry on without any hiccups that he called for a conference of all the parties concerned, atop Sigiriya. That done, he ordered the soldiers to push the whole bloody lot down the Rock." So Rienzie Wijetilleke was not the first Chairman to head an Interim Committee in the island, and then as now, legal wrangles are nothing new; though thankfully, Interim Committee meetings were/are held in the safety of Maitland Place. This, naturally, resulted in a vacuum for Cricket in the island until the arrival of the British in the 19th century. As expected they first planted the Union Jack and then the Cricket stumps before dividing and ruling whatever country they captured.

No doubt, the game has prospered since then to a great extent in the island and the crowning moment was when we won the World Cup in 1996, led by SSC stalwart Arjuna Ranatunga. Yet, the advent of mega monies has obviously dented the true spirit of this summer game; a spirit that stood for sportsmanship and camaraderie amongst players, opposition and importantly the umpires, when anything but a ‘straight bat’ was considered ‘not Cricket’. Speaking the other day with former stalwarts such as ‘C.I.’ & Bertie W re-kindled the spirit in which this wonderful game stood for. The game was played previously, as Sir Henry Newbolt penned in this immortal poem, ‘Vitae Lampada’, which in part, goes as:

“And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
Play up! Play up! And play the game!”

So, when ‘Leonell’, alias Lionel G., was all excited about compiling the amusing anecdotes of past cricketers and sent numerous e-mails with shocking spelling /grammatical errors (admittedly, his schooling was limited) who represented the SSC there was an universal feeling to co-operate and have a day of fellowship amongst the old cronies.

Most cricketing stories are not strictly accurate and muc spice; ‘lunudehi’ as most endearingly call it, has been added over the years. But who cares? Interestingly, it is in Cricket that so many stories abound whether it be about players or even umpires. If there is a solitary amusing anecdote about a scorer/rugby/boxing referee or a tennis/table-tennis/squash umpire it will indeed be surprising, but there are tonnes and tonnes of amusing stories about Cricket umpires. That is the beauty and they joy of Cricket that most of us enjoyed during our playing days.

The following anecdotes have been complied for you to have a laugh, and in this regard tribute must be paid to Leonell G., and Chula J., the former for having ignited the interest for this entire operation and the latter for having kindly consented to do the printing job. Some of the incidents, such as the happenings during the famous ‘Daily News’ trip to Kurunegala, cannot be printed and will remain memories in the minds of those such as Fat Silva and Kari who went on the memorable trip! There must be similar incidents involving the likes of the legendary Derrick de Saram that will, and can be, discussed only over a pint. Most of these stories may mean very little to those who do not know the characters involved but it means a lot to those who knew them.

So, here goes with malice nor apologies to none:

A Matter of an Appeal

1.There was the irrepressible humorist, dramatist, raconteur, cricketer and goodness knows what else, Lucian de Zoysa, at the non-striker’s end with garrulous umpire by the name of Perera (Lucian swears that was the correct name) chattering away non-stop with Lucian. Mind you, this was related by Lucian during a sit-down dinner in a posh 5-star hotel when he had to propose the vote of thanks.
“Mr.Zoysa” says the umpire to Lucian (while the bowler is on his way) “Sathasivamge late-cut eka hari jathi neda?” Bowler yells an appeal for lbw which Perera dismisses with disdain. As the next delivery was on its way, Perera chortles yet again: “Mr.Zoysa......," and a louder appeal, with the same negative response from Perera. Now comes the last ball of the over. Perera:
“Mr.Zoysage leg-breaks okkoma yanne kelin neda?": This time the bowler makes a concerted appeal yelling to high heaven and pleads in supplication for justice. Perera again has the same answer: “Not out” and calls “over” and begins walking towards square-leg. Says Lucian: “You know, that the last appeal should have been upheld. It was plumb." Feeling a little guilty that his conversation with me must have cost the poor bowler his prize, I walked across to Perera and told him: "Mr.Perera that was out,wasn’t it?” “Of course it was out Mr.Zoysa” replies Perera, “but without shouting and waving his arms and yelling ‘blue murder’ like a mad bugger, nikang ahuwannag 'How is that?' kiyala, muma eka denawa, Mr.Zoysa." Exit a bemused Lucian!

Lucian on the run

2. Channa G.,a serious cricketer if ever there was one, recounts an incident when Lucian ran a good thirty yards to take a steepler. On the run, he reached out to take the catch with his right hand out but the ball miraculously landed safely on his left-hand! “It does not matter in which hand you take it so long as you don’t miss the bloody thing” was Lucian’s repartee.

About Mevan’s socks, boots and his passion

3. Mevan the Holman was:or doesn’t he still play? – a passionate cricketer. Legend has it however, that he never washed his Cricket socks during the entire season. His solution to the problem was to shake off the caked up toe-jam cum grime on them by giving them a good whack against the nearest wall. But the best story about him was how he used to go to a cobbler when his boots were broken. Says Mevan to the cobbler: “Eiy, meka rupial dekata mahapang bung!” But his passion for the game was unquestionable as evidenced by the following incident: During the first Maharaja tournament in 1976 Mevan was bowling to Anura Tennekoon and he warned Mahinda Pethiyagoda (ex-Dharmaraja college) who was at first slip to expect a catch. Sure enough Anura snicked Mevan’s next ball (a beautiful away swinger) right into Pethiyagoda’s hands & he put it down.In the middle of the pitch, the annoyed bowler yelled: “Yako,umba biju allanawa kiyala hithuwada bung?”.

Run out in green socks

4. Reference to socks brings the victory of Myna W’s green socks which served to remind the onlooker even a long distance away of MW’s presence on the field. Story goes that he was also always offering his autograph (fancied himself as the 4th ‘W' after Weeks, Worrell and Walcott) with no takers. But the story about MW that takes the cake was when he was batting in a Daily news game, Having played, what he believed was a stroke to the covers (Michael de Z. swears that it was an intended hook!) MW stood outside the crease and dared the fielder to throw the ball back to the ‘keeper' with MW’s bat invitingly held high. The fielder threw, but resulted in 4 overthrows. The same stroke was played two balls later (Michael again swears it was a hook that ended in the covers) and MW, buoyed by the previous incident and hoping to collect another 4 cheap runs, shouted: “Throw you bugger!” This time the fielder made a direct hit, and MW was run out and returned to the pavilion – amidst much hoots and laughter- sadder but wiser!!

Attempted assault and battery on a Cricket field

5.Chula Jayasuriya, a gentle medium pacemen who had hallucinations that he was on par with the best, was bowling in a Daily News match for the first time in his ‘new steel rimmed’ specs having discarded the one with the thick black frame. The batsman was the late Wasantha Meegoda. Chula bowled a ball just short of a length which Meegoda misjudged in trying to drive it on the half volley but adjusted his shot in a flash. Letting the ball come on to him, he hit it on the up between point (Lionel G.) and extra cover (Fat Silva) for six! The ball landed on the terraces whilst Jayasuriya was vainly shouting “catch it”. Most of us tried hard to look serious but Fat Silva was hooting with laughter. This was too much for Chula who walked up to Silva and said: “I will break your teeth if you laugh like that”.

Raja Pieris and Watty

6. Raja Pieris (Mevan's Uncle, and probably how Mevan got his nickname of Holman!) was indeed a rare character- hardly spoke a word to anyone – and used to drive into the Club in his distinctive orange Austin Mini. He was quite deaf and only wanted to bat using one glove for the bottom[left] hand. Played occasionally even into his late sixties. Bowled crafty 'donkey drops’. It was an ordeal trying to persuade Raja to end his batting turn at the nets. It had to be Mevan, Dennis Chanmugam, or the late Wathma Wickramasekera (who also loved to bat in the nets because he hardly had an extended knock in the middle during a match) who had to go up to Raja and shout in his ear and ask him to leave the net. When this did not work the bowlers had to either stop bowling or the next man into the net had to bat in front of him! When Raja was forced out of the net, he would then take off his coat and arrange with Perumal to bowl at him for a rupee an hour!! Wathma Wickramasekera or Watty as he was endearingly called by most, was not too different where his passion for the game was concerned. Just like Pieris' his unbridled enthusiasm far outshone his talent for the game. As captain, Watty used to invariably put himself down to bat at No.4 and would adjust his position accordingly (downward of course) if wickets fell at regular intervals and chain smoke away the tense moments. He would always avoid a “skier” and would run parallel to the line of flight and ensure that the ball would fall “just short” of his outstretched arm. Wathma at the nets was a world beater and, in addition, was always ready to give advice on technical matters to anyone who had the misfortune of listening. Once Myna W. got him! Very innocently Myna went across to Watty with a bat in hand and told him: “Watty, you know, I am having a problem with my batting and wish you can help”. Myna being a practical joker, Watty was careful whether this was another leg-pull but the temptation to display his so-called technical knowledge got the better of him. So Watty inquired: “What is the problem?” And, Myna with a dead-pan expression, replies: “You see Watty, every time I bring the bat down so(demonstrating with the bat)the ball always goes to the boundary in a flash. I just can’t help it".With that, Myna flies off shortly pursued by an enraged Watty!

Derrick strikes on the 5th run

7. F.C.(Derrick)de Saram, one of the most colourful personalities about whom much has been said and continue to be said, was effectively non-playing captain (aged 64 or 66 at the time) of the Donovan Andree Team. In one match, among the few he played that season, he was fielding at point when the batsman dabbed one past FC. The legs being weary (not old according to the old soldier), FC went after it not too briskly, shall we say. CI too backed FC by running almost alongside. The young batsmen said “api pahak duwamu, nakiyata duwanna ba”. CI told FC to throw the ball back to him and this done, CI sent a bullet return and ran the batsman out on the 5th run!

Michael de Z threatens

8. Michael De Z, the ever-busy servant of SSC Cricket, had reached a point of utter frustration over the number of balls being lost at practices and had charged Perumal with the task of reconciling the number issued before practice with the number returned after practice. Balls were lost with regularity, thanks to the big hitting of the likes of Duleep Mendis and others at practice.One day, Perumal reported a shortage of more than the usual number of balls and an absolutely livid Michael, not known for his fluency in the vernacular, bellowed to Perumal: “Yako, Perumal ,Meka Koranna ba,thawa nathiwunoth padiyeng bola kapanawa!”

How Bada Silva failed

9. The long awaited Division 3 Final Round game at Kurunegala with Daya W. at the helm is history with a difference. That type of trip will never be repeated! To begin with, SSC team left the Club at 5.30 p.m. and reached Kurunegala only in the wee hours of the morning due to various stoppages for ‘fuelling’. Fat/Black (you can take your pick) Silva had, in the meantime, left his kit at the Club and only timely intervention of Michael de Z resolved the problem and the kit was delivered safely and on time for the game. Perhaps a guilty conscience after the kit incident:hardly likely, but let us give him the benefit of the doubt,made him now do something extra for the Club; he tried to exert ‘pressure’ on the umpires. Fat Silva timed his visit to the toilet when one of the umpires was also there. This particular umpire was suspected of having been “bought over”. So,”Bada” using his marketing skills says: “Mune(short for Munasinghe), I want you to know that if we win this game, the Club will sponsor a trip to Dubai, and we will be taking with us an umpire with all expenses paid.” Alas! The umpire gave Priya P. out L.B.W. when the ball would have missed even another set of stumps, and judging by the umpire’s conduct it was plainly clear that our negotiator’s skills were not cared for as much as a tinker’s curse. That was not all where Bada (and Kari!) failed. Naturally, before an important nocturnal ‘assignment’, if one holds a newspaper upside down, whilst pretending to read, how can one succeed thereafter?

Barry’s travails

10. “Barry” (B.W.) Herath was a scream. Whilst batting his first movement was forward and he would even cut for six from that position. His opening partner was John Bowles:“Bawles” to him and Mike Snell was even better, he was Mike “Nails”, and it was hilarious to hear what had once gone on during a mid-pitch conference. John was a compulsive theoretician and would summon "Barry” between overs. After a fairly productive opening stand, John said to us at the break: “I say, this Barry is a damn good listener”. Then we asked “Barry” what those mid-pitch discussions were all about, and he replies: “Mona bambuwak wath mata therenne na. Mama nikang oluwa wanala, yes, yes, kiyannawa witharai.” On another occasion(Derrick captained this match leading us to the glorious final against Catamarans) and during the water break Barry committed the cardinal sin of taking a breather by sitting on a boundary peg. FC quick to spot this, bellowed: “Yakko,oka putuwak nemei, lakunak bung.”

How Myna flighted in his trousers

11. Then there was MW who had taken 5 wickets bowling from the SSC pavilion end and Fat Silva said “Adey Myna, we want a treat machang” and kept on at MW at the end of each over. Try as he might, MW could not get another breakthrough from the pavilion end and MW was indicating to Skipper Sarath Samarasinghe to bring him on from the scoreboard end. Fat Silva persisted about the treat. MW like a peacock said "Anith wicket pahath gaththoth, puka unath dennang” and turning to Lionel G said: “When I bowl from the other end I will flight the ball and get the other 5 wkts."However, Sarath did not bring on MW. Whilst crossing each other (Myna dared not to look me in the eye) Lionel said: “Myna, now you can flight in your bloody trousers”.

What a sleeping skipper can inspire

12. It was the Donovan Andree Semi final game vs Moratuwa in 1976. Lionel G.(Leonel) was donning his pads to open with John Bowles when Jayantha Kudahetty sarcastically says: “I must pad up quickly as I have to go in soon.”. But it was one of those off-days for Leonel! Kuda had to wait in pads for a very long times since Leonel just could not get out and had fruitful partnerships with John and then with Thush Wijesinghe. Finally after our hero completed a century and returned, Kuda went in and was dismissed first ball! After winning on the first innings, skipper Priya(the one who claimed relationship to the archaeologist) did not enforce the follow-on although he could have. Daya W. Told Leonel to get ready quickly as he had overheard JK tell Priya that someone other than Leonel should open since he had a long knock in the first innings. However, Leonel quickly got ready and strode to the middle this time with Thush W. As a last resort JK now asked Priya to declare before Leonel reached his fifty but Priya being the alert captain – or was it the batting of Leonel? – fell asleep, and Leonel manged to reach his second hundred of the game. The moral of the story: A sleeping captain inspires even a mediocrity like Leonel to great heights.

The farting batsman

13. SSC were playing at home against a side captained by Gerry Woutersz. The bowlers did their job and SSC had to make a little over a hundred to win the game. We lost 2 wickets cheaply and Leonel G. Was in his normal cracking form – just could not get the ball past square. Finally, the target was reached but after 40 overs were utilised by the strokeless Leonel,on his return to the Pavilion, Michael de Z gave a summing up speech in his own inimitable style:"..... helped by a fine all-round bowling performance SSC restricted the opposition to a modest score and though we won eventually, there was one batsman who farted and farted his way to 35 runs in 40 overs”. All had a hearty laugh. That was the spirit in which the game was played.