I had the opportunity to interview two stalwarts of Ananda cricket in the early fifties namely Sarath Wimalaratne and T.D. Rajapakse.
Wimalaratne was the first to open up the interview still showing his strong personality traits although T.D. Rajapakse remained strong and silent in the background.
The famous coach late P.W.Perera spotted his talent whilst Sarath was having a net at under 16 practices, and decided that Sarath should play in the forthcoming 1st eleven match against S Thomas'. Sarath was dumbstruck, since he did not even have a pair of longs, and he had to pay a belated visit to a shop at Paranavadiya to get two pairs of white longs stitched for his big occasion. Sarath recalls that Denis Ferdinands, a Thomian pace bowler of no mean repute was the one he had to face first up when he went to bat at no 9. Ferdinands had one look at Sarath and must have felt sorry for the little guy who was barely taller than the bat he was holding, the result was a donkey drop which Sarath dispatched to the square leg fence with consummate ease. The rest of the deliveries were directed at him at red hot pace and he ducked and weaved to survive the over. This was his baptism in first eleven cricket and the guts he possessed was there for all to see. From there on Sarath blended into the team nicely and shone for four years.
It is interesting to note how Sarath became a tear away fast bowler after bowling gentle off spin. Sarath recalls that during a match between Colombo South and North, late Yatagama Amaradasa the Colombo North captain wanted to change ends of his fast bowlers, namely L.R. Gunatilake and L.C.R. Wijesinghe, (the Wesley pace duo) and Sarath was given the ball to change ends and he took two wickets bowling at brisk medium in the first over itself and from then on he bowled unchanged to bag 8 for 23.
Sarath began to open bowling and batting for Ananda and his batting partner was none other than Dharmasiri (Tikka) de Silva who was an excellent gully fielder and a quick runner between the wickets. Those days we used to call him ‘roller skates Silva’. Sarath himself was the 100 yards champion at Ananda and this combination was so quick that they hatched a plan against a Dharmaraja pace bowler, who was quick as lightning and the keeper used to stand a few yards in front of the boundary line. What they decided was to take a single before it reached the keeper and two for a fumble.I was a witness to this too watching this match at Campbell Place and it was quite hilarious.
Sarath was crowned as the Schoolboy Cricketer in 1962. He joined Medical College in 1965 and played till 1969, captaining the last two years, which according to Sarath is a record.
In a Gopalan Trophy match, Wimalaratne bagged 10 wickets and was awarded “The Man of The Match.” It is a pity that I have to curtail more of Wimalaratne’s cricketing feats due to space confinements.
Changing lanes, and shifting my focus to our other hero, T.D. Rajapakse, who was built like a rock. His baritone voice at times was hardly audible.
T.D., after school played for Bloomfield in 1963, and they won the Sara Trophy, he subsequently joined the Army and captained for 4 years. Rajapakse and W.W. Fernando had the highest partnership in first class cricket of 478 runs, at the time. This was at a Gopalan Trophy match, which was recorded in Wisden of 1977. T.D. scored 245 and W.W. Fernando 222. This record was broken by Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama later at Kettarama.
In 1961 West Indians of the caliber of Sir Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Conrad Hunte and Wesley Hall represented the ‘Mirror” eleven and three Anandians namely Amaradasa, late Sonny Yatawara and T.D. Rajapakse had the honour of playing with those greats.
When inquired about the message they could give to young cricketers, they unanimously agreed that the weakest links in our present cricketers were fielding and running between the wickets. They mentioned that they used to practice running between the wickets, and knew in their heads where all the ten fielders and what their capabilities were. Lapses in concentration in the slips were also highlighted.
I also personally feel that our cricketers have a problem; they just cannot concentrate for long periods, and they lack agility in running between the wickets and in fielding. This I feel is essential in cricket and should be drilled onto the youngsters at a young age like they do in countries who are” ruling the roost” at present in cricket.