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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

My impression of School Cricket in the 1950’s - a spectator’s view

By Dr. Nihal D. Amerasekera

In those days without television, mobile phones and video games, cricket provided the entertainment and pumped up the adrenaline. We played softball cricket before school started, during the intervals, after school and at weekends. When there were no proper wickets- tree trunks, suitcases or black lines scribbled on a wall became perfect substitutes. Any space became our "oval". Occasionally, we got reckless with a sudden rush of blood, hit a six and broke the neighbours window. When we were not playing cricket, we talked and dreamed about it. Such was the strength of feeling for the game.

I joined Wesley College in 1950. At school, everyone played cricket. Watching the school matches at Campbell Park was a ritual never to be missed. Although 60 years have passed, I have vivid memories of some of those matches and the stresses and strains that accompanied them. 

Campbell Park is named after Sir GWR Campbell who was responsible for starting a "modern" Police Force in Ceylon in 1844. He retired in 1891 to become the Governor of Penang. This was later the grounds of the Tamil Union Sports Club until 1943 when it was acquired  for Wesley College.
Campbell Park is divided into 4 quadrants by 2 gravel cycle paths. Wesley lay claim to the northern quadrant. The southern quadrant became the grounds of the popular Bloomfield Cricket Club. Campbell Park was our amphitheatre. The Wesleyites, old boys and well-wishers line up on the Campbell Place side and the visitors were on the opposite side. We then had the old pavilion with the metal railings. The entire pavilion had the unmistakable smell of linseed oil. That was Wilbert the groundsman’s domain and us little boys were promptly and ruthlessly escorted out of the building.
We had a matting wicket then and a small score board maintained by enthusiastic students. The tall Andara hedge that separated Campbell Place from the park had a well heeled passage to creep through. On a visit to the Park in 2000, I saw the changes to the scenery since my time. I will always remember it as it was when I was at school.

To watch the games, we assembled in large numbers under the massive “Mara” trees that surrounded the grounds. Singing and chanting waving the school flag was part of the fun. The school song broke out spontaneously. We gathered in our hundreds and it had a carnival atmosphere. Often we sang:

Hurrah for the merry,
Hurrah for the land,
Hurrah for the Wesley Boys,
Who do not care a damn,
Everywhere the merry goes,
The land is sure to go.
Down with the battle cry of freedom

Little did I know the real meaning of this poem of Freedom by James Joyce when I sang it then. When the going was good, drums beat the more rhythmic tunes like the bailas. Often, as the afternoon wore on, the concentration was intense and the stress levels increased . To take a break, we sometimes walked back to school on Karlshrue Gardens for some refreshments. I can still remember the tall, dark, slim figure of Mr. Eric Gunasekera (a former Headmaster) then in the evening of his life and partially blind, waiting at his gate for news of the matches. We always stopped to greet and relay the events at Campbell Park. Alerics and Piccadilly Ice cream vans, with their engines humming, did roaring business on match days, as well as the achcharu ladies and gram sellers (a paper cone of roasted peanuts cost 5 cents).

To be a first eleven cricketer at Wesley was a great honour. They were placed on a pedestal and were much respected by all. Despite their teenage years, they received this adulation with poise and dignity. Much can be said about the discipline and training at Wesley which helped to produce such men of modesty and valour.

Cricket in those days was played by gentleman. Umpires word was law. School cricket was played in the best spirit of the game. We congratulated the opponents' achievements in the field. We walked away when we felt it was out, although the umpires did not see . The spectators dissent and applause was confined to areas beyond the boundary. No streakers, foul language or efforts to intimidate the batsman at the crease. When we lost, although crest fallen and frustrated, clapped the opponents back to the pavilion. Those injured in the heat of the battle were comforted by the captain of the opposite side. My generation grew up with peace. This gentlemanly behaviour on the pitch merely reflected the peaceful and chivalrous times of our youth.

St. Thomas was established in 1862 and had the most impressive buildings with large tall grey Greco-Roman columns. They had beautifully laid out gardens. I couldnt say the same of their breezy turf wicket by the sea which was a cemetery for visiting teams. They have always had good strong teams. The school has produced many outstanding cricketers. The names that come easily to mind are Bertie Wijesinha, Michael Tissera, P. I. Peiris, Neil Chanmugam, Dan Piachaud, Buddy Reid and Lareef Idroos who shone in the 50s. Their names are carved in my memory. Lareef and Buddy were at Medical School with me and helped University win the coveted Sara Trophy in 1962.

Royal College came into being in January 1835 as a private school christened "The Colombo Academy" and was situated at Hill Street, Wolfendhal. They moved to the present site next door to the University in 1923. It was a shorter journey to the Reid Avenue turf which was the Royal College grounds. On many occasions, I had preferred to watch from beyond Reid Avenue fence which gave a panoramic view of the red brick school, the pavilion and the action in the middle. They were always formidable opponents and had fine cricketers. Brendon Gooneratne, Ubhaya De Silva, EL and EB Pereira, Sarath Samarasinghe, Michael Dias, Darrell Lieversz and Nirmalingam are some of the names I recall with ease. Our very own Harsha Samarajiwa was a fine quickie who later played for the University to win the Sara Trophy. Royalists always fought their games hard and fair.

St. Peters grounds at Bambalapitiya was again a turf pitch. They had an elegant pavilion built on a hill overlooking the turf. The "Bambalawatte boys" gathered in their hundreds with their Brylcreemed Elvis Presley hair, speaking their own brand of pidgin English. The Wellawatte canal wasnt far away and the smell of stagnant water was ever present. We could see in the distance, the tall chimney of the Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills bellowing thick black smoke. Clive Inman, a product of St. Peters College, Bambalapitiya, is rated as one of the best left handed batsmen produced by the country. Clive came into prominence when he scored an unbeaten 204 against St. Josephs - which is still a record for schools big matches. Anton Perera was their lively fast bowler and HIK Fernando a fine wicket keeper for the school and country.

St. Josephs College was started in 1896. Their matting at Darley Road has been the site of many battles between our two schools. I recall the swimming pool end and the pavilion end. The school had impressive large buildings built around the grounds. The high dome of their chapel is breathtakingly beautiful. Travis and Carlyle Perera played for the school and later for the University. Whenever we won at Darley Road, we had to evade the hostile Maradana crowd for whom it was more than a game of cricket.

Ananda have always been formidable opponents. This match was resumed in 1956 and was played at the Nalanda grounds just next door to us. This made the contest rather fierce both for the cricketers and spectators. It was the personal pride at stake and we didnt want to lose to our neighbours. Our hostelers just crossed the small park and jumped the fence running down the steep hill to the Nalanda grounds. Yatagama Amaradasa, Mohanlal Fernando, Kumar De Silva and the Polonowita brothers are the names I can recall. 

The match against Kingswood was played at Randles Hill, Trinity at Asgiriya and Richmond at the Galle Esplanade.

Wesley College too had some fine cricketers during my years at school. Ansar Fuard was an astute captain and was ably assisted by his brother Abu’s fine off spin bowling to complete a very successful year. Abu later went on to play for Ceylon and also became an influential member of the Selection Committee. Radley and Bryan Claessen were fine cricketers who captained school.  1955-56 were the Lou Adhihetty years. He was a great all rounder who brought honour to himself and the school. Lous name appeared in the national papers regularly for his fine performances with the bat and ball.

The cricket coverage in the daily papers were full of cliches. "Rain stops play", "Benedictines skitled for 65 runs", "Tame Draw at Darley Road". "Royal routed for 89 runs". Any Tournament was called a Tourney!! Even now it is wonderful to see the cricket analyses of Elmo Rodrigopulle who was such a fine player for St. Benedicts in the 50s. It was wonderful to have Cyril Ernest in our batch who played for St Benedict’s and the University.

School Cricket in Sri Lanka is played in the dry season January to April being so dependent on good weather. I recall the many times watching the game in the blistering heat of the mid day sun with perspiration dripping from every pore. There have been times when the whole game has got washed off by a sudden burst of bad weather. This was indeed a great disappointment for us all. I remember the times when I have prayed for rain when our team was losing!! There is nothing more heart breaking than to see a winning team robbed of victory by a quirk of nature. To have the better team isnt enough to win matches but good fortune must shine on them too.

The big matches, Royal-Thomian, Josephian-Peterite, Ananda-Nalanda and several others were great spectacles on and off the field. Cars, lorries and vans were commandeered for merry making and some of the excesses went beyond the acceptable. The cricket was of the highest standard and  many of the games being played at the Colombo Oval. As a schoolboy, I never missed the opportunity to watch the cricket and was never disappointed.

The enchantment of the cricket matches of my childhood still haunts me. At school, cricket was not only a game but a way of life. My lasting memory of cricket at Campbell Park is the sight of the setting sun behind All Saints Church and its lengthening shadows. As the bails were lifted, we all departed discussing the ups and downs of the days play. Losing a match in those days was like the end of the world, but we always bounced back. It was certainly a good training to face the peaks and troughs of our own lives. The songs we sang and the friends I made are etched deeply in my memory.
After leaving school in April 1962 - I went for some matches in the following year. The magic and the aura of this extraordinary spectacle seem to have vanished, not being an integral part of the school anymore. Thereafter, life got too complicated building my career. I never saw any matches at Wesley again. Ah! Those were the days.

I dedicate these notes to the many schoolboy cricketers from all the schools who entertained us in the 1950s. They have done us proud. Our heartfelt thanks to the Groundsmen, Cricket Coaches and the Masters in Charge of cricket who made it all happen in the background, while we sang and beat the drums.


30 comments:

  1. ND, that was wonderful to read! Took me back to those innocent times when obedience and discipline was accepted as normal behaviour without question. I know we may sound like old farts playing our violins but I do feel that there were many aspects of behaviour in our days to be admired and emulated. Controlled and managed Freedom, I call it.

    You have covered the subject very comprehensively and I can add little. I can recall a few special people apart from those mentioned by ND. One is Bonnie (D>B>) Wijesinghe who captained Ananda at the Battle of the Maroons in 1951. He was the opening bowler and very handy with the bat too. He later played for Bloomfield and was my hero because he was a cousin of mine and I was always in awe of his sporting ability and his good looks. He was impeccably dressed and every single hair on his head was held firmly in place by Brylcreem. Sadly, he is no more.

    Various forms of “Instant snacks” were mentioned and I like to add the famous “one cent toffee” or more correctly the “one sen toppee”. I was amazed to find that this diminutive sweet wrapped in a white paper went on for many years since my school days and in order to hold the price, the size had to be compromised till eventually, only a piece of paper was sold with a sweet so small that it was not visible to the naked eye!

    The other aspect of Cricket which is worth mentioning is French Cricket. I am not sure of the origins of this game and why it is called French cricket. One theory is that it was the traditional mockery of the French by the English who knew that the French did not play “real cricket” and this feeble imitation with one batsman, a bowler and a few fielders was thus named. French cricket was very popular in my time as it required just a bat and a ball and a few players, and not much space. ideally a minimum of six. My Indian friends tell me that they too played this game but I have no idea whether it was played it in England or Australia.

    Then there is “Book cricket”. Very useful when the teacher was boring and you could sit at the back! I am sure readers will remember how to play it. You randomly open the book and read the page number on the right. If it ends with 0, you are out. If 2.4.6, you get the denoted number as runs and 8 would be an extra. I have played many a game, and I hasten to add that this was NOT during lessons!

    Thanks again ND for that very nostalgic report which certainly brought back many fond memories.

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  2. Correct a small error. Page read on book cricket is the left page.

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  3. Whenever ND the ardent cricket fan writes about cricket at Wesley, he brings back nostalgic memories of the period 1975 -1977 (for me) when I lived at Karlshrue Gardens. The rented apartment was opposite the backyard of Wesley. The balcony at the back was overlooking the Nalanda grounds where Ananda cricket matches were played in that era.

    I was a cricket fan too, but may be not up to ND's level. To add to Speedy's comment above: When I entered Ananda College in 1952, I remember very well that the cricket captain was DB (Bonnie) Wijesinghe. He captained the 1952 team, but had been captain in 1951 as well. KDS Wimalasekara was the captain in 1950. Another matter of interest is that the opening batsman in 1952 was the former Minister and LSSP leader Tissa Vitarana whose uncle the late Dr. NM Perera had also captained Ananda some years before.

    Years later, Ananda was in the forefront of school cricket having produced cricketers of the calibre of Anu Polonowita, Sarath Wimalaratne, Thilan Wijesinghe (former BOI Chief who gave up cricket prematurely when he left for the US for higher studies), Yatagama Amaradasa, Arjuna Ranatunga, Dinesh Chandimal et al.

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  4. Thanks Lucky and Mahen. It is the comments as much as the articles that make our Blog so special. I remember Lucky was an avid cricket fan while at Medical College never missing the Sara Trophy games when the University had such a strong team.
    While at Wesley I recall studying the Daily news on a Saturday morning to see the best cricket match and going for it. Sometimes it is Royal V St Benedicts at Reid Avenue and I was there with a few sandwiches and a Lanka Lime. The older folk always pushed me to the front so that the little kid could see better. Those are wonderful memories that come to mind even now as I watch the games at Lords. It is the Champagne that eases the pain of those lost years.

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  5. ND,your extensive coverage of cricket in the 50s was most interesting and picturesque.It conjured up even in my mind those fun days of the Royal-Thomian matches!
    Having witnessed the initial OZ reaction to the NZ win in the last of the ODI series in Auckland 2days ago, your account was very comforting to read- specially the 3rd para after the "Freedom cry" was most heartwarming-
    I want to say not just "whither 'the gentleman's game'?",but
    "whither civilization?"-
    You've brought to the fore how "the gentleman's game" should have continued to be played-thanks Nihal
    By the way- Mahen,thanks for giving the form of cricket I played in my youth with all my cousins-(boys and girls)in our garden(!) a formal name-french cricket!!!

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  6. Rohini, Thank you and welcome back. Your well thought out comments liven up our Blog.
    I take your point on the direction the game has taken. Betting syndicates, verbal abuse and just bad behaviour on and off the field has made the game of cricket a war on the pitch. It is the vast sums of money that swirl around in the game that has spoilt cricket from a game of gentlemen to what it is today.
    Thankfully we had it good when we were young !!

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  7. yes Nihal-I agree with all you've said-
    Unfortunately money does speak and at the same time corrupts.
    Sir Richard Branson said some necessary evils are"more evil than necessary"-Iam sorry this is not an accurate quote as I don't seem to be able to find the original quote! RAna

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  8. Rohini. You got it nearly right. He said “Most "necessary evils" are far more evil than necessary.”

    ― Richard Branson, Losing My Virginity: How I've Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way

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    1. Thankyou Mahen-appreciate your help-cheers-Rohini

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  9. Thank you ND for that wonderful article which evoked a lot of nostalgia in me. From 1954 onwards, (the year I entered Royal College) I have not missed a Royal Thomian cricket match except in 1972,1973 1974 and 1998 when I was abroad. In 1997 I was in the UK and came down for the match. I used to witness most matches that RC played even after leaving school . When Darrel Lieversz (my class mate) captained the team .he ran through most of the opposing sides. A news paper headline before the match against Wesley read "Lieversz vs. Wesley" However Wesley beat us and their team was captained by Darrel Maye. Darrel Lieversz was an excellent athlete as well . He broke the longest standing track record at that time for the 440 yards in 1960, which was held by HMP Perera (Paediatrician) since 1948. Darrel represented Ceylon in cricket and athletics. He ran through the touring Pakistan side captained by Javed Burki. Wesley produced an excellent fast bowler. LR Goonethilaka
    ND , you had forgotten to mention Kithsiri (Kitta) Wimalaratna who played for Royal and the University. Sarath W. was his younger brother.
    Sanath

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  10. Sanath
    I am astounded by your fine memory for detail from way back. Darrell Maye and LR Goonetilleke are still in contact with me. We should remember Kithsiri Wimalaratne. Thank you for your interesting comment that brought back such wonderful memories.

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  11. Talking of Royal Cricket, I recall two great fast bowlers (I know there were more, but these two stuck in my mind). One is our own Harsha and the other was Brendon Gooneratne. They started their run quite close to the sight screen and it was an awesome sight to see them thundering down and deliver the ball with the Keeper standing well behind (Sarath Samarasinghe comes to mind). I also remember Lareef as one of the best leg spinners we produced. Lareef also brought me memories of Gamini Goonesena, a cricketing great I was privileged to see playing for a Ceylon team against the West Indies at the Oval.

    I also remember the chant of "ara okata ara, boundary ekata ara!" and "He's no batsman, bowl him out, he's no batsman, bowl him out".

    On another aspect, going off at a tangent, ND mentioned "Hurrah for the merry (which I always sang as 'Mary'). I also recall another popular one, may not be at Cricket, but it did come to my mind, and it is about some observations on testicles of notable war time Germans, which goes as I am sure you will recall,-

    "Hitler, he had only one big ball
    Goering had two but very small
    Himmler, was somewhat sim'lar
    And Goebbels had no balls at all!

    What is the relevance to cricket you may well ask. Well, none really!

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  12. Mahen
    You are right about : "Everywhere the Mary went the lamb was sure to go". James Joyce must have turned in his grave.
    It sounded good at the time!!
    Royal had a fine leg spinner: Sarath Vidanagama/Vidanage?? He was mesmerisingly good!!
    Lalith and Nanda Senanayake were fine cricketers for Royal. I still remember watching cricket from Reid Avenue with the sun beating down on us.

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  13. It was Sarath Vidanage. He was a really good spinner. The Senanayake brothers were good too and like most sportsmen, they were good at so many sports. Nanda was good at Cricket, Hockey and Tennis. Lalith was good but not as talented as Nanda. I am trying to remember the name of a Benedictine keeper/batsman who was very good and quite a character but the name escapes me. Talking of cricket, who in our batch can ever forget the Law-Medical pitch invasion where Lubber explained his foray to the pitch as a just a way of asking the umpire for the score!

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  14. Is Speedy referring to Ranjith Fernando who later became a cricket commentator? His wife Ramani runs the chain of beauty salons.

    I heard recently at Nalin Nana's place that Sarath Vidanage is very ill right now. I knew his younger brother Kusum when I was in the US.

    When writing about Royal College cricket, we have to mention Gamini Goonesena, CI Gunasekara, FC de Saram of an earlier era and Ranjan Madugalle, Vijaya Malalasekara of more recent vintage. There are many more, and the list goes on and on.

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  15. Lucky, it was not a Benedictine I was thinking of, it was a Josephian, Kirthi Cadera. He was one on the list of rival captains in 1957, who were, Lasantha Rodrigo (Prince of Wales), Michael Tissera (St. Thomas’), Ranjit Doranegama (St. Anthony’s), M. Joonos (Zahira), Anurudha Polonnovita (Ananda), Michael Willie (Royal), L.P.Rayen (St. Benedict’s), Harold Juriansz (Wesley), Chandrasiri Weerasinghe (Nalanda) and Kirthi Caldera (St. Joseph’s).

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    1. I may have been thinking of Zacky Mohamed who I think was a wicket keeper and a bit rotund. Not sure, a bit misty in my mind.

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    2. Keerthi Caldera joined the SLAF and became a Wing Commander. While training in England he died at the age of 42.

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  16. I was a regular at the games at Campbell Place at the Nalanda grounds as it was just behind our school. Nalanda had some fine cricketers. Chandrasiri Weerasinghe, Sarath Silva , Nihal Amaradasa are some I remember. Ananda too used that grounds and who can forget Sonny Yatawara the demon fast bowler. Yatagama Amaradasa was one of the finest school cricket captains for his fine batting, bowling and guile as a captain. I do recall Kirthi Caldera and also Priya Perera at St Josephs. The famous cricket writer Premasara Epasinghe has written a great deal about payers of our era in the Island Newspaper.

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  17. St Benedicts too had match winning teams. Neville Casiechetty, LP Rayen, Elmo Rodrigopulle, Cecil Waidyaratne. When I look at school cricket in SL in the newspapers there are many which were not in the premiere in our days but have become good now. That is real progress. Even the well known Colombo school get well and truly beaten by outstation schools.

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  18. It was a great pleasure to watch cricket at Asgiriya in the picturesque grounds. Trinity College too had some good years with Nimal Maralande, SB Ettipola, Jayantissa Ratwatte, Malsiri Kurukulasuriya. In their Big Match with St Anthony's they had ACM Lafir, Ranjit and Saliya Doranegama and Charlie Joseph.

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  19. The "Lingam" brothers who played for Royal - Parathalingham, Jothilingmam and Nirmalingham were formidable cricketers. I can remember Nirmalingham open the bowling and wickets cartwheeling to the delight of Royal Supporters. For those wonderful memories I feel immensely proud of my "misspent youth" in the blistering sun.

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  20. Nihal,thank you for a wonderful and informative article. Your memory for names and events in cricket is phenomenal. And it is great to see you all commenting and sharing your experiences. I can understand the discipline and good behaviour at that time for which cricket etiquette must have contributed greatly. No wonder the term 'it's not cricket' has arisen, when we want to signify unfair behaviour. I enjoying reading your account very much. Zita

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  21. Thank you Zita. Good to have you back on the Blog. Your encouraging comments keeps it alive

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  22. Nanda Senanayake (younger brother of Lalith) captained the cricket ,tennis and hockey teams. No one else did so when we were in school.Even Lorensz Perira could not match it. Royal College Union celebrated it's 125th anniversary with a grand dinner at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel,few weeks ago. Lorensz Pereira was the chief guest. When Ken Balendra introduced Lorensz, he called him the greatest all-rounder Royal has produced.(cricket captain, college colours in rugby, tennis and athletics, head prefect, winner of Donhorst prize, school boy cricketer of the year etc) He represented Ceylon at rugby. Lorensz in turn gave a hilariously wonderful speech . Lorensz's and Brian's father was Prof. EOE Pereira who was the Dean of the Engineering Faculty and later the Vice Chancellor of the Peradeniya University. When Lorensz sat for the University Entrance examination he had been short of a few marks and at the interview the rest of the panel had wanted to push him because of his exceptional extra curricular activities.(That was the very purpose of the interview.) Prof EOE had got very annoyed and refused to do so point blank. It was a case of reverse discrimination because any other student would have been pushed through. Later Prof EOE spent for his son and sent him to Cambridge. That was the quality of the administrators at that time. Vijaya Malalasekera's century was the best I have seen at a Royal-Thomian match .Jothilingam and Michael Wille also scored centuries before that. Sarath Samarasinghe played in the Royal-Thomian for 5 successive years and captained in his 4th year. He played under Michael Dias in his 5th year.Lareef Idroos was the opposing captain. Kithsiri Wimalaratne and Harsha Samarajeeva were also in the same team. Sarath's elder brother, Daya was a lecturer in Anatomy and later a medical administrator.
    Sanath

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  23. Sanath
    Thank you for those memories and the updates to more recent events. These are wonderful recollections of achievements. Their names and photos appeared in the daily newspapers and became household names. I met Sarath Samarasinghe and Michael Dias in 2012 at the 80 Club i Colombo at a dinner given by the Wesley Cricket Captain of 1960 - Senthil Sinniah.

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  24. With apologies to Non-Royalists, this is Lorenz's speech.
    The speech is fanatastic but too long to publish here.

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  25. Nihal,
    I am not sure if you will see my comment at all because I am commenting so late. (I'll send you an email and prompt you!) This was fun to read! You do take a lot of care in getting all the historical facts correctly. I enjoyed cricket immensely when I was growing up in Sri Lanka, joining my brothers and cousins in playing in our wide driveway and lawn. My mother's collection of clay flower pots were often in pieces at the end of one of our games. I also attended many Royal-Thomian matches over the years. Sadly, I am cricket deprived now because I live in the US. I saw this article with the 27 comments several weeks ago, and decided to postpone reading it. I finally got around to it. I am so impressed at everyone who posted comments for remembering names of our schoolboy stars, and all the cricket trivia. I remember some of them too. Thank you for taking us back to the "Good Old Days!"

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  26. Srianee
    Thank you for the comment. Test Cricket remains the great spectacle with the T20 and One dayers adding some spice to the game. I am sure you and your grandson will enjoy watching some test cricket in SL which is a good day out in the sun with the bands playing those perennial favourites.

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  27. Srianee
    Thank you for the comment. Test Cricket remains the great spectacle with the T20 and One dayers adding some spice to the game. I am sure you and your grandson will enjoy watching some test cricket in SL which is a good day out in the sun with the bands playing those perennial favourites.

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