By R.B. Wijesinha
My association, connections and memory of the Royal – Thomian ‘Classic’ goes back to 1928, when N. Kandiah captained Royal and Roy Hermon led S. Thomas’. The match was drawn, but had a sensational finish, with STC eight wickets down and still needing 111 runs to win; the debacle caused by Royal’s S. S. Jayawickrema with a brilliant spell of five wickets for 24!
That sensation was sufficient to thrill me and create in me a new interest for the game and inspired me to begin a new career, as it were; a determination to emulate those heroes of the game who had thus inspired in me a determination to become a part of cricket.
Some members of those teams, to mention them by name, were Harry Roberts, R C. De Saram, S. S. Jayawickrema and S. G. (Sydney) de Zoysa (brother of Lucien), for Royal. S. Thomas’ had Roy Hermon, C. R Abeywardena, Dudley Senanayake, A. J. D. N. Selvadurai and Robert Senanayake who all had some part to play in the future of Sri Lankan cricket.
Many a match did I see thereafter until, as fortune would have it, the Royal – Thomian match became a personal affair! In 1933, my brother Alex was in the team as opening batsman and leg-spin bowler. He created a record for a ‘fresher’ by taking 10 wickets in that match!
Sad to say, when he and Douglas Bartholomeusz were winning the match for S. Thomas’ with an opening stand in the 2nd innings of some 60 odd with but 97 to get, behold! a mysterious message was sent out into the field. It said “HIT OUT OR GET OUT!” and those who followed did exactly that. They ‘Hit Out and Got Out!’ until the last over of the day with 6 runs the difference. Shelton Anthonisz, a left-arm bowler who had no pretensions to batsmanship was left to face the entire over bowled by Billy Porritt.
Shelton Anthonisz stood firm and unmoved, defending stoutly. He saved the day!
BUT who sent that message? There were vague suspicions, and so, the mystery remains!
1934 had a special and personal thrill for me. My brother Alex scored an
unbeaten century (115). The thrill was somewhat diluted when the match itself was ‘left’ drawn under somewhat unexplained circumstances: with S. Thomas’ needing only 15 runs to win and six wickets standing. The match was halted due to “bad light”! Who appealed for it, or did the umpires call TIME’?
The following year, 1935 was M. 0. (Mervyn) Gooneratne’s year and match as he well-nigh single-handedly won the match for S. Thomas’, scoring the fastest hundred in living memory and taking 7 wickets with his fast-ish leg-breaks and googlies.
During the halcyon years ofS. Thomas’, they were blessed and inspired by the presence of John Halangoda as mentor and coach. S. Thomas’ was blessed with great success during the years he took over and produced some brilliant cricketers – batsmen and bowlers – and fieldsmen! “Uncle John”, as he was* affectionately called, had in years gone by made champions of Trinity College, Kandy in partnership with the renowned S. R. Titu’s.
Upto that time S. Thomas’ were also blessed by the presence on the staff of Percy (V. R) Cooke who inspired many cricketers and students of S. Thomas’ both in the class room (Latin and English) and on the playing field. He went out of his way as he took squads of.-his pupils into the playing field teaching them the fundamentals of the game.
Many a Thomian cricketer owed their later success to Percy Cooke, of lasting memory. He was a born teacher who extended his influence to the playing fields. S. Thomas’ owes him a deep debt for his dedicated sway before the arrival of John Halangoda; both were from Trinity College, Kandy.
for several individual performances. Norman Siebel, that elegant left handed batsman scored 151 not out in a total of 286 for S. Thomas’ after they had lost six wickets for only 65. S. Pathmanathan in his maiden appearance took 5 wickets for 27! Royal declared at 289 for 8 wickets, and then Willie Jayatilleke and Norman Scheffer put up an unbeaten partnership in the Thomian second innings of 136 which stands as a record to this day. Pat McCarthy was out with his score at 98!
Pat McCarthy’s scores in the matches were 54 & 3 in 1935, 98 in 1936, 0 & 9 in 1937, and 81 in 1938. He was such a natural attacking player, so highly-gifted that it was a great pity there were no international matches in those days as war broke out in 1939. But he did play in an international game for Sri Lanka against the 1938 Australians on their way to a Test series in England.
I am not certain whether he did get a chance to bat, but he performed brilliantly in the field where, as always, he had been outstanding.
Recently, Pat had been in poor health in Australia where he had taken domicile soon after the War was over, in Perth. He did turn out for Western Australia in Sheffield Shield Games.
It was saddening to hear that he had passed away recently – at the age of 90.
In 1939, S. Thomas’ came out to the Big Match with a “Secret Weapon” which proved the undoing of Royal. Bill Taylor was reported in the newspapers as a bowler of “Donkey Drops”; a term used to describe his high-flighted left arm ‘lobs’, one of which, at least, was the match-winner! He trapped Royal’s chief run-getter, having him caught at deep extra cover.
But the wicket was not the bowler’s, in this instance – it was the fielder’s. George Ekanayake had been loitering in the deep field, almost unnoticed, standing deep on the boundary. When C. I. Gunasekera came into bat,
he had ‘sneaked’ in some yards, and when Gunasekera saw a juicy lob, he drove at it. The ball flew low to extra cover, and there was George Ekanayake to catch it!
“Catches win matches!” oft have we heard it told. Here then was proof!
George, on leaving school, enlisted in the Sri Lanka Navy. He later transferred to the Merchant Navy. On retirement, he went to see members of his family in Germany, fell ill and died on the operating table! A great sportsman who won six or seven colours in College – a record?
I can go on in this reminiscent mood, but enough is enough – for the present!
Editors’ comment – R.B. Wijesinha was the cricket captain in the years 1938 and 1939 scored two half centuries in the same match, in which the Thomian team emerged victorious. He has the distinction of being the oldest living Thomian cricketer, and is held in the utmost respect among the cricketing community in Sri Lanka, including the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara.