04 February 2018

And humility makes the world more tender

There was a day in the year 1979 that broke my heart.  It was a day on which the hearts of many Royalists, young and old, were broken.  It was on the third day of the Centenary Encounter between Royal and St Thomas’.  

Royal, led by Ranjan Madugalle, were clearly the strong team and by tea the match was all but over. St Thomas’ were struggling with two wickets left in hand and still six runs to get in order to avoid an innings defeat.  Mahinda Halangoda (70*) ably supported by Chandi Richards batted out the final session denying Royal.  

Cricket won, but that’s hardly consolation for a young schoolboy.  Consolation would come later with subsequent victories of course, but that denial in the Centenary lasted for more than thirty years.  It was finally laid to rest, ironically, by Mahinda Halangoda.  

It happened a few years ago.  I got a call from my schoolmate Sampath Agalawatte, better known in Rugby circles although he would have certainly played for Royal as a wicket-keeper had he continued to play cricket.  Sampath wanted me to talk to his business associate, Halangoda.  Halangoda wanted me to write something about the Royal-Thomian One Day Encounter (read 'A little something about the Mustangs Trophy').  

I told him that I would love to interview him and write about his heroics in the Centenary.  His response was epic: ‘People have written about that match and about how I played, but that’s not important.  There were other great performances.  Gamini Perera in 1992 for example and of course what Fahim Saleem and Nirushan Raveenthiraraja did in 2009.  This is about the One Day series.’

He was correct. 

I remembered the 1992 encounter.  At the end of the second day Royal were 53 for 4.  Incarcerated in an office that belonged to the security establishment of the time in Longdon Place, I expected to open the Sunday papers to bad news only to find that Gamini Perera had scored an epic 144, allowing Royal to score 351 and set the Thomians an improbable target of 168 in 14 overs.

I had watched how Saleem and Raveenthiraraja denied Royal in 2009.  After being bowled out for 99 in reply to Royal’s 313, these two gutty young boys batted for nine long hours. Saleem scored 165 runs while his skipper contributed an invaluable 104.  

In 2016, written off as underdogs and living up to that name at the SSC, Royal faced almost certain defeat.  However a 16 year old fresher, Pasindu Sooriyabandara cracked a century precipitating one of the greatest turnarounds in Royal-Thomian history.  Royal eventually ran out winners by four wickets.

I also remembered the game in 1976 when Ranjan Madugalle, then just 16, scored 70 odd runs to save the game after his team was tottering at 74/6 at Tea having to get 130 to avoid an innings defeat. 

That’s how it is.  Great efforts are eclipsed by other great efforts.  People remember Pasindu, but not Saleem and those who remember Saleem might not remember Gamini Perera. Some who were at the game when Perera saved the game for Royal might recall Halangoda’s heroics in 1979, but not all.  

Mahinda Halangoda didn’t play for Sri Lanka.  Neither did any of the batsmen mentioned above except Madugalle. Nevertheless they all gave something to the game and the spectators that was not just about cricket.  

‘It’s not about me,’ Halangoda said.  It was about the team, he would be the first to say.  It was not just that though.  It was about the game, of course.  And yet, there’s something more.  

Seeing Gamini Perera at a recent Royal-Thomian I told him how he made my day in ‘prison’ special way back in 1992, he just smiled.  

There’s something about great sportsmen and sportswomen.  Sure, they put up a show, but the bigger show is what they do.  Some do have fancy hairstyles and a certain swagger, yes, but that’s just dispensable frill.  Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena weren’t flashy but they entertained nevertheless.  Lasith Malinga played with his hair, yes, but that ‘flash’ is remembered because he worked tirelessly at his craft.  

Sachin Tendulkar was a poster boy not for looks or witty comment.  Virat Kohli talks in ways that Sachin never did, but he is heard more for what he does out there in the middle.  

Mahinda Halangoda erased a bad memory.  That was not his intention, but humility does things that the humble never intend or anticipate.  Maybe that’s how the world gets the tenderness that allows for the overcoming of setbacks, even tragedies.