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HOWZAT!

Sumithra (Charlie) Warnakulasooriya the  finest batsmen never to play for Sri Lanka. & Ken de Alwis’ 1982 team was one of the best performing STC outfits
Sumithra (Charlie) Warnakulasooriya the finest batsmen never to play for Sri Lanka. & Ken de Alwis’ 1982 team was one of the best performing STC outfits

The legacy passed down through the generations to the blessed few who grow up experiencing the Royal-Thomian lifestyle and culture is unparalleled. It was imbedded in me from childhood that playing cricket was crucial for building one’s character and becoming a complete personality. Although several generations of Seneviratne’s were stalwarts of Royal College, my mother preferred to keep me closer to home and enrolled me at St. Thomas’ Prep. A schoolboy entering the hallowed gates of either institution has one dream and one dream alone...playing in the Big Match.

Growing up in Colombo in the 70’s and 80’s forced you to develop self-reliance. Probably the worst period in our country’s history, socialism and land reform had wreaked havoc and the country was replete with political turmoil, insurgencies and civil war. Nearly the entire civil service which were dominated by the Burghers migrated. Parenting was also quite different then, with children left to make their own social networks and rarely, if ever, did a parent set foot in to college to discuss their children’s education or future. They did however, faithfully turned up for every single sports event, carrying short eats and soft drinks with the occasional treat of a feed at Green Cabin or Elephant House.

Iconic bands & movies saved the day. ABBA, the Bee Gees, Boney M, Queen, Dire Straits, Deaf Leopard & Pink Floyd rocked the radio. Grease & Saturday Night Fever set the fashion trends & moves on the dance floor. The Godfather & The Sting made us all want to be bad boys, no one went swimming after Jaws and we were torn between role-modeling Rocky, Rambo & Terminator. Sports, the military or IT specialist! A Star is Born, Flash Dance, Blue Lagoon & Top Gun gave us hope that there really might be a gorgeous girl out there willing to spend time with the romantic heroes we thought we were!

The Cricket of that era was world class. 90% of Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning team were competing in schools competitions between 1975-84, the period I was part of STC cricket. Although Royal and S. Thomas’ produced champion outfits and many legendary players during this period, none made the National Team that day. The “Final Solution“ - the elimination of Royalists & Thomians from the National side - had begun in earnest.

The ’82 (SSC), ‘83 & ‘84 encounters were played in war time at the finest cricketing ground in our country, the Colombo Oval. The atmosphere was electric and the capacity crowd was so close to the action that it really intimidates both players and officials. Invasions of the pitch were numerous and cost STC the match in ‘84. Still, players of the opposing teams built enduring friendships and our comradeship and admiration of one another was genuine.

I had an equal number of close friends from the Royal camp as I did from STC and we shared some great times during those years. There was never any animosity or bad blood between us, just total respect and honour on and off the field. It was cool to be decent and gentlemanly to be sporting! Back in the day when decency and behaving honourably were valued!

Ken de Alwis’s ‘82 team was one of the best performing STC outfits. His declaration was something that only a Thomian would have the guts to do! 179 runs to make in 2 hours and 20 overs (45-50 overs). Royal were tottering at 147/ 8 and had abandoned the chase when play was halted in the 43rd over. This was an exceptional match with some true legends on show. Sumithra (Charlie) Warnakulasooriya, (my team mate at CCC & the finest batsmen never to play for Sri Lanka), Chulaka Amerasinghe, Rochana Jayawardena, Sandesh Algama, Sarinda Unamboowe, Malik Samarasinghe and Chanaka Perera for Royal. Ken de Alwis, Ranil Peiris, Steffan Anthonisz, Shantha Jayasekera, Richie de Silva, Royce Perera and Kapila Wijegunawardena for STC were all established top class players in the country. Ranil captained the team for a few games at the start of the season and gave Kaushik Amalean, Dammika Bulankulame and myself a chance to play but we were soon packed off to the 2nd XI! I thought of giving rugby a go and we duly thrashed Royal that year!

1982 was a Vintage Season, overseen by our coach the legendary Royalist F.C de Saram, a man who scored a 140 against Bradman’s Invincible’s at Lords (where his portrait is displayed) for Combined Universities in the 1940’s. Mahinda Halangoda had refused to declare in a similar position the year before (1981) but Ken knew no fear. In Ranil, Steffan and the rest (8 coloursmen), he had the confidence and support to go for it. This was a champion outfit.

F.C de Saram was the greatest influence in our sporting lives and we owe Royal College a debt of gratitude for producing such an outstanding character and gentlemen. He had an amazing way of connecting with players and taught us never to fear, giving us unbelievable confidence and responsibility in the process. When I hear coaches today shout orders and try to control proceedings I cringe... this is so wrong in every sense and was never the case with F.C. or any of our coaches. He picked players who showed confidence and character and shared his knowledge freely, laced with a good dose of his wicked sense of humour. He made us believe and trust our instincts. From chasing 160 odd runs in 14 overs to setting opponents 150-175 at 3-4 runs an over was all fair game and he was way ahead of his time. Not having FC with us in ‘84 cost us a win.

1983 saw Chulaka Amerasinghe, easily one of the finest attacking opening batsmen of our era, lead Royal. At a time SL cricket struggled for a solid test opening pair how Chulaka and Charlie were left out is a proof of the bias against them and their school and is a real shame. The ‘83 Royal team is one of the all-time great sides and in Vijaya Malalasekera they had a master tactician who had molded them into a formidable outfit. Solid batting and excellent close in-fielding, 4 top-class spin bowlers and a wicket taking left-arm pace bowler with genuine pace. Unbeaten with some solid wins, they knew this was a real chance to break the deadlock. STC had 9 freshers and had miscalculated the under 19 rule which kicked in that year. This deprived Stefan Anthonisz of his captaincy and Shantha Jayasekera from playing, leaving a severe gap in the batting line up. Other than for the first session, Royal dominated play and everything went perfectly for them. Rochan Jayawardena scored a blistering century. He was dropped 3 times and was stranded together with Sarinda at the same end while going for a quick single at 99 but we somehow managed to throw the ball well over the keeper’s head and allow them to walk a single. After being 25/1 our batting collapsed on the 2nd day and we were all out for 81. Nerves had got the better of us. This was only 19 runs short of avoiding the follow on. Spinners Rochana, Malik, Kapila Dandeniya and Roshan Jurangpathy were on-song with Chanaka Perera getting crucial wickets when needed. If we had avoided the follow-on Chulaka would have set us 220-240 to chase and who knows what would have happened. In the end, we made 188 and Royal made the 21 runs needed easily. This was easily the worst day of my life. Being strong was our only choice. Our skipper Kapila Wijegunawardena stopped cricket for 2 years but came back strong to play for Sri Lanka and be part of CCC’s champion sides. The greatest test of “Courage” on earth is to bear defeat!

1984 was going to be our year. Royal had 5 coloursmen, STC had 9 and dominated the season with 4 outright victories and 10 first innings wins. Tragedy struck us even before a ball was bowled when out of the 3 Thomians picked in the under 19 squad of 18 to tour Australia, Jerome Jayaratne, our top all-rounder and opening bowler, was picked in the final 15 and would now miss the Big Match. This really was a disaster since Jerome was a strike bowler and number 4 bat and was in towering form. We won the toss and batted for 79 overs and scored 236/8 with Dammika Bulankulame making a fine 108. Kaushik Amalean removed Viraj Perera for a first ball duck in the one over we bowled before stumps. The next day the Royalists dug in and made 212 in 96 overs. On the 3rd day we made 172/5 and Royal held on at 135/8.The 3rd day was marred by pitch invasions and physical violence against our prefects and supporters. The match was called off in the 19th mandatory over and we were give a police escort back to college. The one day Mustangs Trophy was called off and the 1985 Big Match was nearly cancelled and finally played over 2 days. The venue I believe was also changed to SSC permanently with heavy security and fences in place to avoid another ‘84 disaster. Tactically we scored too slowly on the first day and we were a wicket-taking bowler short and that cost us a win.

The ‘82, ‘83 & ‘84 Roy-Tho sides produced 4 test cricketers and 7 others who represented the Junior National teams (under 19-23), and A teams, and were members of the National pools over the years. Over a dozen others from these teams were also first class cricketers who dominated our local cricket seasons for many years. Two others Kapila Wijegunawardena and Sarinda Unamboowe were top class athletes and dominated National competitions for many years. To the chosen few who make it on to the field this year, hold close to your heart the responsibility to play the game in the spirit it was intended. Let this encounter be remembered for all the right reasons. You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours. “Herb Rooks”

 


 

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