A Century of Cricket in Galle

EM Karunaratne,** an article abridged from Sport Down South … and made available by Oliver Guruge, another Gallilean and a keen member of the ‘Richmond Collective’ of today

Facing the Fort circa 1880s or 1890s before the Esplanade emerged –– Pix courtesy of the Australian National Gallery

At the very outset, it must be mentioned that the Galle Municipal Council, almost from its very beginning, willingly and enthusiastically rendered every possible help and assistance to sport, not only in Galle. but throughout the Southern Province. The co-operation. ex-tended by the Council and its stalwarts, was magnificent. The Council maintained, from the very beginning, the beautiful Esplanade, at great expense, and always kept it in excellent condition. This playground is the centre of all the sports activities of the Southern Capital. Cricket, Soccer, Hockey, Rugger and Volleyball are played here. Last, but by no means least, all Athletic Meets of importance, including those open to the whole Province, are held on the famous Galle Esplanade. In Tennis too, the support of the Council was equally conspicuous. The Galle Gymkhana Club was permitted, on nominal terms, to construct a fine Tennis Pavilion on grounds belonging to the Municipality. An Island-wide open Tennis Tournament for which the best players from Colombo and elsewhere enter, is annually a regular feature of the Race and Sports program of the Galle Gymkhana Club., from about the year 1920.

Cricket was undoubtedly played for the first time, in the Southern Province, and probably in Ceylon, at Galle. Of all the various clubs that exist in the South today, Galle Cricket Club admittedly holds the premier place. It is the oldest club, and has, from about the sixties, [i.e the 1860s] maintained this proud position up-to-date. This Club was organized in or about the year 1868. The Colombo Cricket Club is generally regarded as the oldest cricket club in Ceylon, having been founded in 1863 by the metropolitan merchant sportsmen. This place of honour cannot be denied to the C.C.C., as regularly kept records of its doings are available from that year. There are many, however, who believe, not without reason, that the Galle C.c. is the oldest Cricket Club in the island. There is no doubt whatever that cricket was played regularly in Galle, prior to the year 1863; but there is unfortunately no record of the founding of a Cricket Club in the Southern Capital prior to that date (1863).

The object of the Club is to provide clean, healthy sport, and to improve the cricket of the Galle District in particular, and of the Southern Province in general. The Galle C.c. was, in the seventies and eighties of the last century, a First-class Cricket Club, second in point of cricketing prowess, only to the Colombo Colts. George Vanderspar’s name will always be associated with its success in those days. He is rightly known as the G.O.M. of Ceylon Cricket. He was a veritable tower of strength to the Club in every way, and cheerfully carried her on his broad shoulders, both in and off the field. Playing for the Club at Galle in 1879 Vs. Col. Cleland’s Eleven, Vanderspar (120), in partnership with G.S. Saxton (123), established a record for the 1st wicket in First Class Cricket by amassing 250 runs!

One cannot desist from alluding to some giants of the past in an article like this. And there were giants in those days!

The Club originally consisted largely of military men and European Merchants, while there was a fair sprinkling of naval men, too. There was then no Club House or Pavilion, a tent or two accommodating the players and their guests on the days when matches were played. Owing to the absence of facilities for travelling, as we now possess, between Colombo and Galle, it was very seldom that encounters were arranged between the two great Cities. It is on record that George Vanderspar led the Galle C C. Team against the C.C.C. in 1882, the match being played on the Galle Face grounds, now the Colombo Sports Club ground. One of the Government Agents, P. A. Templar, after whom Templar’s Road has been named, was a very enthusiastic member of the Club.

In 1893, Colts again visited Galle, and this match is said to have aroused keen enthusiasm. A Banquet was given in the Oriental Hotel (now N.O.H.) at which R. W. levers, the G.A., presided. Galle collapsed for 29 and 49 on a bowler’s wicket on which the two champion trundlers of the Colts, Dr. Allan Raffel, and Tommy Kelaart, simply revelled! The visitors fared just a bit better, registering only 57 and 22 for 5 wickets and yet, winning by 5 wickets!

George Vanderspar has a claim to be mentioned as one of the greatest cricketers that Ceylon possessed during the past century. He belonged latterly to the Colombo Cricket Club, and was afterwards instrumental in organizing the Colombo Sports Club in 1895. It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that he has done more for the improvement of the game in Ceylon, both among the Europeans and the Ceylonese, than any other person.

When Vanderspar’s XI met some of the MCC Amateurs led by AO Jones assisted by shoe-ins from the British garrison at Galle Face Green in March 1908

Percy Mack’s name was one to conjure with. He was the idol of the crowd, and his advent to the wickets was always hailed with delight, and rounds of applause greeted him from every part of the grounds. He disappointed his admirers very seldom. He treated the bowlers, whether good ones or bad, with scant courtesy, and all were provided with exhilarating cricket that appeared to be something like a pyrotechnic display! Whatever the length of the ball, he could send it skimming over the ropes. As a hitter, pure and simple, Ceylon had seldom seen his equal. He is credited with having made the biggest hit on the Galle C.C. grounds when he hit the ball from the Clock-Tower end, over the road to the lawn opposite the Police Inspector’s Quarters. It must have been a remarkable long-off shot, and worth going a long way to see! Then there was J. W. Erskine, at one time golf champion of Ceylon, who was a batsman of repute, and a keen supporter of the Club, till he left the Island for his home in England in or about the year 1920. I have heard many ‘old cricket-enthusiasts of Galle swear that they saw Jack Erskine hit the ball from the Pavilion end over the sight screen on to the ramparts! It must have been a mighty hit, perhaps one of the biggest ever made by any cricketer in the world! I remember, as a schoolboy, hurrying to the Galle Club nets to see E. B. Alexander at practice. His was then a slim, athletic, elastic figure, and his footwork and the rhythmic movements of his body, both when batting and fielding, were to us a revelation!

Among others who deserve special mention are J. E. Ludowyk, a first-class bat and brilliant wicket-keeper, who was as good a stumper in his prime, as W. De Rozairo at his best; Dan Robertson, the great bowler who was selected to play for the Ceylonese Vs. Lord Hawke’s Team in 1892; H. L. Crawford (C.C.S.), a keen enthusiast, and a tricky lob and under-arm bowler; and B. W. Leefe, who was noted for his hurricane-like hitting of any kind of ball to deep long-on.

I cannot omit to mention a few others of the olden days whose names are still cherished by their successors and the Galle public. There was Inspector Perkins of the Police Department, a thoroughly sound bat; A. S. Eliatamby, one of the best all-round cricketers among the Ceylonese; Paddy Thomasz of the C.G.R., who was greatly admired for his beautiful wrist-work and breezy cutting.

C. Edwards deserves a fuller and more adequate description. He was acknowledged to  be the safest and soundest bat of the Galle C.C. between the year 1886 and 1904. We can never forget his remarkably broad bat, his unperturbed and leisurely walk to the wickets, and his unconcerned return to the Pavilion after gathering at least a half-century on every occasion! He was the terror of Richmond, my alma mater, and its supporters in the great annual encounter between that College and All Saints’ which fixture used to arouse tremendous enthusiasm on the part of everybody in Galle, up to about 1906.

The late G. R. A. Fernando, who succeeded me as Prefect of Games at Richmond in 1912 was, at his best, one of the best all-round cricketers in the Island. He was, between 1908 and 1915, a really classy bowler and a graceful and prolific batsman with a repertoire of scoring strokes, and, from the fairly wide knowledge I have of the metropolitan cricketers, I make bold to say that his claims for inclusion in the Ceylonese Team between the aforesaid years were overlooked by the Colombo Selection Committee, merely because he happened to be an outstation man! In’ those days, outstation men had not a dog’s chance for inclusion, however efficient they happened to be. Henry Mant, too, fully deserved to play in representative cricket, but suffered the same fate as Fernando owing to similar reasons. P. E. Austin of All Saints’ College brought distinction, both to the Galle C.C. and to himself, by batting and bowling very creditably for the Ceylonese Vs. the Europeans in 1927. Austin was then, in my humble opinion, one of the best all-rounders in the cricket world of Ceylon, and it was a pity that, in spite of excellent performances, both with bat and ball, in the half dozen first-class fixtures immediately preceding the Test Match in 1928, he was not thought worthy of inclusion in the Team!

I have devoted so much space to the past and present history of the Galle C.C. of set design because, to my mind, the story of the beginning, the spread, and the development of cricket in the South was, for very many years, synonymous with the activities of this pioneer institution.

Although the Galle Esplanade is a fairly large expanse of ground, and is, I should say, one of the best playing fields in the world, it is distressing to note that only the Esplanade is available in the whole of Galle to play a decent match. This drawback militates against the formation of new Clubs, and even against the general improvement of cricket in the City of Galle. This is a problem that deserves to be solved, as soon as possible, by our City Fathers in whose ranks there are not a few thorough-bred sportsmen.

The Big Inter-Collegiate Match in the South

The history of inter-collegiate cricket in the Southern Province, is practically the story of the games between Richmond, All Saints’, Mahinda, and St. Aloysius’. The most important inter-collegiate fixture in South Ceylon, from the early eighties up to about the year 1908, was undoubtedly the annual encounter between Richmond College and AIl Saints’ School (later College), and now, Galu Madya Maha Vidyalaya. There was tremendous enthusiasm displayed by the supporters of both schools, and hundreds used to flock to the Esplanade from all parts of the City, and even from distant villages in the District, to see this keen contest. Up to. the year 1898, All Saints’ was always on top, but from 1899 onwards, on all occasions but three, up to 1930, Richmond triumphed.

The Richmond-Mahinda Match dates from about 1894 and has, but for two or three interruptions, been continued up-to-date. It was, during the principalships of Messrs. J. H. Darrel and F. L. Woodward at these two institutions that this fixture was better organized, and gained in importance and popularity. Unfortunately, in those early days, feelings used to run so very high during the progress of the match that even after the game was won and lost, another battle commenced, this time with brick-bats and stones between the ‘hoi-polloi’ partisans of the two colleges, Mahinda’s self-constituted supporters invariably casting the first stone. With the rapid rise that Mahinda gained in the education world, and the large addition to its attendance register, the Richmond-Mahinda encounter assumed greater importance, and gradually began to be looked upon by the Galle public as the most important inter-school fixture, from about the year 1910

Cricket at St. Aloysius’ College did not appear to be taken seriously till about 1910. As a matter of fact, soccer used to be the vogue and the rage there, and the introduction of Association Football to the sporting activities of the other local Colleges was mainly due to the good example set by St. Aloysius’, and the high standard of efficiency attained by her in this department of sport. Aloysius’ devoted so much time to soccer, in which game she held a pre-eminent position among the local schools, that very little attention was paid to cricket. About 1910, however, she came out of her shell and fell into line with her three Sister Colleges, cheerfully participating in the annual cricket competition, though she invariably turned out to be the wooden-spoonist of the year.

The reference made in this article to inter-collegiate cricket in Galle will by no means be complete without a word or two in appreciation of the great services rendered to local inter-collegiate cricket by the late Muhandiram F. A. Wickremasinghe. The generous offer by the Muhandiram in 1915 of a very valuable and pretty shield, specially ordered out from England, for annual competition among the Galle Colleges not only supplied a long-felt want, but also proved a great incentive, to the cricketers of all the Colleges, and the improvement in the game from the time of this offer was clearly noticeable.

Test Matches in Galle

Before terminating this article, I think reference should be made to Test cricket played at Galle between 1900 and 1930. As a matter of fact, there is no record of any Test cricket having been played in Galle before 1909. As already stated, the Colts had visited Galle in 1882, and again in 1893, but after the latter year, neither the Colts nor any other First-class Metropolitan Club had come down South. This lull in the local cricket world was partly due to the Galle Club’s decadence in cricket, and partly to the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Galle cricketers.

In 1908, there was a revival of interest in cricket at Galle. The Galle C.C. was re-organized, and the Richmond College Masters C.C. was formed, and was bidding fair to be the champion club of South Ceylon. This renaissance in the Gallilean world of cricket was indeed a healthy sign, and it was thought by many that it would be a good thing if a Test cricket match was played between a strong picked Team from Galle, and the then Colombo champions, namely, the Colts C.C. This suggestion was given practical shape by me in 1909, when I invited the Colts to Galle to meet a Team composed of the Old Boys of Richmond College. The match was looked forward to with great eagerness by the Galle public, and by all the cricketers of South Ceylon. The game was keenly contested, and the Galle Team won a most memorable and exciting victory by 10 runs, almost on the stroke of time!

Australians in Galle

The second Test Match was played on the Galle Esplanade on the 5th January 1914, between Rev. E. F. Waddy’s Team from Australia. and a Team of XVlII representing the Southern Province, captained by M. S. Gunaratne. This was the first time that an Australian Team had come to play a series of matches in Ceylon. To come to the match at Galle, the Australians won by 146 runs on the first innings. As a result of the visit of the Australian Team to Galle, there was undoubtedly a much-needed revival of enthusiasm in our local cricket world.

E.M.K’s Team Vs. Dr. John Rockwood’s Team

This general desire was given practical expression by the writer who invited Dr. John Rockwood, whose name is a household word in the cricket world of Ceylon, to bring down the Ceylonese Team for a battle royal on the Galle Esplanade with a Southern Province Team raised and led by him. The visitors, who were quite a First-class side, were dismissed for 14 in their first innings, Gurusinghe and Fernando playing havoc with the batsmen! This match was won by Galle by in innings and 21 runs. The grounds were enclosed for the first time in the history of Galle cricket, and hundreds cheerfully paid the entrance fee. The result was an eye-opener to the Metropolitan cracks, and the majority of the First-class Clubs in Colombo gladly offered fixtures to the Galle C.C. There is no doubt that this Test Match marked another epoch in the history of cricket in the South.

a rare pix from the 1930s taken by Lincoln Pereira that shows the flourishing hedge round The Esplanade and the Pavilion in the background

One will not find it difficult to discern, from these few pages, that the writer has been actuated by the redeeming virtues of a sincere love for the great game, and a genuine desire to promote her true interests throughout our Island in general and South-Ceylon in particular. May the true spirit of cricket prevail in all our encounters, both in and off the field! We do not often realize the important bearing cricket, played in the proper spirit, has on the formation of character. A certain English writer said once that Cricket has become an Imperial asset. I would go further and say that it is a rational asset and even a family asset.

*** A NOTE about Mr. E: M. Karunaratne, OBE, JP, presented THEN: “the leading criminal lawyer is recognized as one of the best-known sportsmen in the South. He captained the Galle Cricket Club for several years and made valuable contribution for the progress of sports activities in Galle. He later became the President of the Ceylon Cricket Association (presently the Board of Control). Mr. Karunaratne, who is 80 years of age, was also a Member of the Galle Municipal Council from 1933 to 1939.”

A REQUEST from The Editor, Thuppahi: my fading memory recalls a picture of the Ceylon Cricket Association in the 1940s with EM Karunaratne among the crew, but I have not located it. I welcome  photographs of Vanderspar, Rockwood, DL de Saram and others of the pre-1920 era that star in the account above…. send to mrober137@gmail.com.


Filed under architects & architecture, British colonialism, centre-periphery relations, cricket for amity, cultural transmission, education, ethnicity, heritage, historical interpretation, island economy, landscape wondrous, life stories, performance, Sri Lankan cricket, sri lankan society, world events & processes

4 responses to “A Century of Cricket in Galle

  1. Ivan Amarasinghe

    Absolutely fascinating facts about my place of birth, my schools and another era when the locals were expected to be ball collectors than ball players! The physical environment, the institutions and the players are so very different these days!

  2. Gary Ellis


  3. Chandra Wickramasinghe

    Thank you Mike. I remember the three W’s along with other famous cricketers like Ramadhin and Valentine playing in Galle in the mid 1940’s and the 1950’s. You will be surprised to learn that apart from the Galle Fort and Unawatuna, the rest of Galle has hardly changed- with the same narrow roads the same old buildings etc.! Cheers. Chandra.

  4. Eardley Gomes

    The late J. E. Ludowyk was my mum’s father. Eardley Gomes.

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