When ‘BIG BEN’ struck a chord on Sir Don | Daily News

When ‘BIG BEN’ struck a chord on Sir Don

This is about that incomparable legend


Before Sri Lanka broke into the elite halls of the International Cricket Council where Test cricket was what the game was all about, it had cricketers of the caliber of Mahadevan Sathasivam, Derrick de Saram, Ivers Gunasekera, Bertie Wijesinha, Sargo Jayawickrema,Sathi Coomaraswamy and Michael Tissera to mention a few of the greats who could have held their own against the best in world cricket.

But it is on record that every time Sri Lanka made attempts to enter and play in the elite league, the snobs who ruled the ICC turned down all attempts citing frivolous excuses and we were asked to go back and grow.

Then came the cricketing Messiah in the form of Gamini Dissanayake who worked the oracle and got the cyclops living in their Ivory Towers to see reason. And they bowed to the wiles spun by Dissanayake’s wonderful presentation claims in 1982 and were lured and stumped. And Sri Lanka cricket reached cricket’s Mount Everest – into the world of Test cricket.

Talking of stumping brings to mind the brilliant wicket keepers (stumpers) that Sri Lanka produced during the pre Test era when knocking on the door for full ICC membership. Names that come to mind are that of BEN NAVARATNE, TELUS FERNANDOPULLE, MAHES RODRIGO, Dr. H.I.K. FERNANDO and RANJIT FERNANDO.

Stumpers of world class

The above named were stumpers of world class and would have held their own or bettered the excellence of world class stumpers such as Don Tallon, Gil Langley, Wally Grout and Rod Marsh and Ian Healy of Australia and Godfrey Evans of England. These Lankan wicket keepers had no big league cricket to showcase their extraordinary wares, but showed capabilities only when Test teams like England, Australia and West Indies played what was then called ‘whistle stop’ games. They could have been better than the best known.

BENEDICT ‘BEN’ NAVARATNE learnt his rudiments of glove work playing for Zahira College and St.Benedict’s College. He was a stumper in the manner born and his work behind was excellent and lo and behold any batsman who dared leave his crease or lift his legs, because in a flash NAVARATNE would whip the bails off to the consternation of the batter.

It is said when the great Donald Bradman’s played here in the way to England for an Ashe series, Bradman who watched NAVARATNE’s magic behind the wicket paid him the highest compliment when he said that he would like to have NAVARATNE in his team. That was in 1948 and which Australian team was tagged the ‘INVINCIBLES’ because they won the Ashes and never lost a single game on that tour.

NAVARATNE was born in 1916 and played only 16 matches in a career spanning eleven years. He played for the Government Services in the quadrangular tournament. The Gopalan Trophy match against Madras was the main match at that time and NAVARATNE was an automatic choice for the Ceylon Cricket Association. He had no equal at the Sinhalese Sports Club playing in the exalted company of Derrick de Saram, C.I. Gunasekera, Sargo Jayawickrema and Lucien de Zoysa to mention some of his team mates.

Similar compliment

Talking of Bradman wanting NAVARATNE in his team, reminds the writer of a similar compliment made by that great Australian captain Richie Benaud when he said he would love to have off spinning sensation Abu Fuard after Fuard had them in a flat spin capturing 5 wickets in a ‘whistle stop’ game at the Colombo Oval.

Be it sheer pace or viciously spinning deliveries, NAVARATNE had the daring to stand up to the stumps. This story was told to me by another wicket keeper, TELUS FERNANDOPULLE of St.Benedict’s and Tamil Union fame who would have won his country’s colours if not for the presence of NAVARATNE having to play second fiddle to him.

He said that the Commonwealth team played at the Oval in 1953, Keith Miller who formed a deadly pair with Ray Lindwall and Miller who opened bowling for the Commonwealth X1 seeing NAVARATNE who had the knack of standing up wanted him to move back.

According to Fernandopulle, NAVARATNE who thought he would show Miller his heroics had to back peddle and stand well back because the first three deliveries beat him and went past him. NAVARATNE acknowledged Miller’s extraordinary speed and stood yards back from that moment. Incidentally BEN’s son Lakshman followed in his father’s footsteps and kept wickets for SBC. Lakshman married Lal and Lasantha Wickrematunge’s sister Rukmani and they are now domiciled in Canada.

Fitness fanatic

NAVARATNE it is said was a fitness fanatic. He was very supple and would do his jerks and would be seen running round the SSC ground in an endeavor to stay fit after a game when all his team mates had left the ground. With today’s cricketers lacking fitness NAVARATNE would have been an example to them had he lived. He too lived down my road and was very pious man and would attain daily mass at St. Lucia’s Cathedral, Kothena and was a member of the Choir.

FERNANDOPULLE who had to be satisfied being understudy to NAVARATNE was another stumper who could be classed with the greats. FERNANDOPULLE and the writer were neighabours and I had the fortune of playing with him for the Tamil Union when the Wanathamulla Club won the ‘Daily News’ Trophy in 1961 and I was adjudged the Best Bowler thanks to FERNANDOPULLE’s advice and instructions from behind the stumps. He was the stumper when the Tamil Union won the 'Sara' Trophy in 1950 led by Mahadevan Sathasivam.

It would be of interest to reiterate that FERNANDOPULLE’s other eight brothers created a world record and which feat should have found mention in the cricketing Bible ‘WISDEN’ and GUINNESS BOOK OF RECORDS’ by keeping wickets for St.Benedict’s College. The brothers were Cyril, Bernard, Fuster, Quinton, Reginald, Anston, Camillus and Peter. Quinton’s son Marlon kept wickets for St. Benedict’s College and Camillus’s son Kitto did similarly for St. Peter’s College.

Three other wicket keeper / batsmen before the country’s entry into the Test portals will be featured next. They were Royalist Mahes Rodrigo a double international in cricket and rugby, Dr. H.I.K. Fernando St. Peter’s and Ranjit Fernando St. Benedict’s. The five mentioned wicket keeper batsmen were some of those who tarred the road for the country’s admission to Test cricket what the game is all about. Brilliant wicket keepers are not made, they are born.


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