30 January 2014

Royal vs St John’s, Jaffna: A note from 34 years ago, belatedly

Royal College, Colombo beat St John’s College, Jaffna by an innings and 131 runs recently in a match played in Jaffna.  It was one-sided, yes.  That’s the least important thing here.  What will be remembered is the significance of the game. 

This is the first two-day match between the schools in 48 years.  In that time there was a one-off one-day encounter played in Jaffna as part of a tour where Royal played some other schools in the peninsula as well.  Royal won that encounter but not without suffering some anxiety.  This was in 1980 and this writer has recollection because he was there as a member of the Royal College chess team, again playing a one-off match against the same school.

The chess match was played in the morning.  It was over in a couple of hours. Royal won 7.5-0.5. Players of both teams made their way to the school grounds to watch the cricket.  Ajith Devasurendra, a member of that Royal team, doesn’t remember the exact scores but certain things appear to have been etched in memory.  We’ll get back to that later.

Royal was led by Sudat Pasqual. He had the services of ‘Deva’ and Sumithra (Charlie) Warnakulasuriya, both of whom went on to lead Royal, as well as some ‘known names’ in cricketing circles of the time.  This was after the end of the regular season and Deva remembers that some players who hadn’t played too many games were given an opportunity to represent the school.  Devendra Chelliah was one of them.  Deva remembers that Chelliah made of solid contribution.  Royal put up a formidable total.  St John’s in reply kept losing wickets at regular intervals. Deva remembers that the late Yasantha Peiris took 6 wickets.    

The result was not in question for anyone watching the match. A young boy from the Jaffna school had other ideas. Vasanthan couldn’t hold the batting together but probably realizing he would have to do it all alone, tried to do just that.  He just hit and hit and hit.  He rattled the Royal bowlers and probably caused a lot of anxiety in the Royal camp.  He was a delight to watch.  The spectators came alive.  He was cheered on.  Let Deva take up the narrative from here.

‘Haroon Musaffer came on to bowl.  He had his cap on as he ran in. He stopped, handed the cap to the umpire and walked back to his mark.  As he ran in again, he stopped to tie his shoelaces.  Then he changed the field.  Vasanthan must have been livid and frustrated.  He probably wanted to hit Musaffer out of the park.  He was caught on the boundary line for 97.’

Deva remembers other and more important things.  The hospitality, for example. 

‘We were warmly welcomed.  Everyone was so hospitable wherever we went.’

That’s true.  The chess team was met at the Jaffna Railway Station by the Principal of St John’s, Mr Chelliah Edwin Anandarajah.  He had made excellent arrangements for the chess team (and of course for the cricketers who were in the adjacent dormitory).  He was friendly, kind and full of enthusiasm. Sadly, this was also his downfall.  He was gunned down by the LTTE a few years later for the ‘crime’ of organizing a cricket match with the Army.  At no point did we feel we were strangers.  

A lot happened in the 30 plus years that passed since that match.  This writer remembers Vasanthan’s knock as the defining element of that match.  Those who watched this year’s encounter, if they look back 34 years on, regardless of which team they supported, might likewise remember Randev Pathirana’s amazing spell of bowling (5 for 1) to skittle St John’s for 45 or Thiran Dhanapala’s unbeaten century.  They’ll probably find that other things stick better in memory.  Things that are more important.  Like youthful sameness, cheering good performances, hospitality and the common love for the game of cricket.    

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The Nation' and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

it was 99 Mr.Malinda to be precise not 97! I was 10 years when I watched that match..
My father was the Coach for ‘Haroon Musaffer at Zahira Coillege and started teaching at SJC. He was 21 and not in Royal at all!

Malinda Seneviratne said...

I too thought it was 99. Deva said 97 so I went with it. Who was 21?

Anonymous said...

There you go, You like hearsay I think, it was not even boundry line, it was caught and bowled the catch was high though slightly away from the pitch..

Malinda Seneviratne said...

This happened 34 years ago. I couldn't remember the name of the batsman and i couldn't remember the way he got out. Naturally, I thought someone who was on the field at the time would remember better. What's this about Musaffer from Zahira?

Anonymous said...

Yes when Vasanthan ( #3 or one down batsman and V.Capt.) got out for 99 the non striker was the Captain Jebaratnam who sadly passed away just last week in Jaffna. Yes the bowler played the mind game which we were not used to those days. We lost by less than 20 runs I think. Also just to make a point here that Vasanthan Navaratnam was an accomplished batsman and an excellent fielder who would have played for any school in SL.

Anonymous said...

Jebaratnam was serving as a priest in the Anglican church. Vasanthan is currently in Norway. Opening Batsman DM Ratnarajah is a Dr in USA. DM Ravindra in UK. WKeeper ED Thanjaratnam now retired last served as a Brigadier I think in the SL Army.

Anonymous said...

Score was RC around 220 and SJC around 205

Anonymous said...

I thought E T Thanjarathnam was still in service with the SLA ,didnt he play in the 1981 Central St Johns match?