Cricketing Stars who stimulated Ceylon Cricket

A. C. de S., in Sunday Observer, 30 May 2004, where the tiltle is “Ceylon privileged to be coached by cricketing knights”

Sri Lanka has had the good fortune of witnessing six great cricketing knights play in the country and indulge in coaching for the Sri Lanka benefit of the younger generation. The six cricketers all knighted for their splendid deeds for their country of birth, had a liking to Sri Lanka (Ceylon as we were then known) and besides playing in matches, have also indulged in coaching in Colombo and in the outstation towns as well.

The cricketing knights – Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Learie Constantine, Sir Jack Hobbs, Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Len Hutton and Sir Garfield Sobers were a big draw for the young cricketers then and the enthusiasm to forge ahead in cricket seemed to be uppermost in the minds of the local cricketers and the administrators as well.


Sri Lanka got Test status in 1981 and played the First Test in 1982 against England and the high point of our cricket was when Arjuna Ranatunga led Sri Lanka to win the World Cup in 1996. One of the knighted cricketers – Sir Garfield Sobers was Sri Lanka’s coach for sometime and the impact that the great gentleman has had on the local cricket scene is terrific and Sri Lanka has now come up the ladder and is now a force to be reckoned within big time cricket.


Sir Donald Bradman – the batting machine

Sir Donald Bradman is a name that has been closely associated with the game of cricket for a long, long time. A ‘natural’ cricketer, he strode the narrow world like a Colossus. His passing away on February 25th, 2001 at the age of 93 years in Adelaide ended an unforgettable chapter in the game. Bradman and his wife Jessie were a happy couple and when his wife predeceased him in 1997, it was somewhat of a blow to the Don and life turned out to be really quiet for the great batsman until his own death.

‘A genius is a genius’ – that’s probably the most single way one can put it”, said a past Australian cricket captain Stephen Wayl.

Fifty miles up-country from Sydney, New South Wales, is the small town of Bowral. There in the years following the 1914-1918 war a small boy with a golf ball, a gumtree branch for a bat, a wall to bowl against, and a round paling for a wicket “trained” to become the world’s finest batsman. His name – Don Bradman.

Born in Cootramunda, N.S.W., young Don was little more than a child in arms when his parents moved to Bowral. From almost the time he first wanted to play with bat and ball be practised cricket alone. That was all the coaching he ever had in cricket. He was in fact “a natural”. In his early teens he hit such huge scores for the local Bowral team that any bowler who got him out for less than 50 received the freedom of his native town! He was just 19 when he made his State debut for New South Wales against Queensland. Bradman started as he meant to continue, with a century.

A year later at the age of 20 he played against the M.C.C. visiting side led by A. P. F. Chapman, and scored 219 runs for once out.

309 runs in a day

A tremendous reputation preceded him to England in 1930 with the Australian tourists – his first visit. He started the tour with a double century, completed 1,000 runs before the end of May with an average of 143, scored the highest-ever Test aggregate of 974 for an average of 139, and in the Leeds Test butchered the England bowling with a giant 334-309 of which came in one day. Only at Old Trafford, Manchester, did he fail to reach three figures in at least one innings.

In all, Bradman played in 52 Test matches, and in 80 innings was ten times not out for a total of 6,996 runs including 29 centuries for an average of 99.94.

He didn’t reserve his batting prowess only for use against England bowlers. In his first match against South Africa he hit 226, and against the West Indies 223. In inter-State matches he hit queensland for what was then the world’s highest first-class score of 452 not out in 415 minutes, a rate of 70 an hour.

His name appears in the record books for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th wicket partnerships. He ended his cricket as he started it – with a century. It was in a testimonial match that netted him A10,000 Sterling Pounds.

For his services to cricket he was awarded a knighthood. How the Don was value can be gauged by the fact that at the auction of his cricketing gear last year in June, the cap that he wore fetched an all-time record price of U.S. Dollars 285,235.

He’d had tremendous determination and concentration and he had all the shots. He was amazing. He was just the complete player who seemed to be able to bat long as he wanted. He would just go on – 100, 200, 300 and on and even to 400″, said Brown, an old Aussie Test cricketer of the vintage era.

– A.C. de S.

Sir Leonard Hutton – a gentleman cricketer

Sir Leonard Hutton can be described as a gentleman cricketer and he came to Sri Lanka in 1950 with the MCC team that played against All- Ceylon. He opened batting for MCC with Gilbert Parkhouse, but Hutton scored only 13 before being caught by Bertie Wijesinha off Lou Spittell. MCC made 279 for 6 wickets and All-Ceylon replied with 99 for 5 wickets.

He came again leading the MCC team to Sri Lanka en route to Australia four years later, but did not play and gave Peter May the chance of leading the team.

Hutton was born on June 23, 1916, at Pudsey, Yorkshire and died at the age of 74 on September 6th 1990. When he was twelve years old, he joined the St. Lawrence Cricket Club at Pudsey, where his skill and style as a batsman were recognized by that great cricketer, Herbert Sutcliffe. When he was 14, Hutton was given a trial by the Yorkshire County Club and taken in hand by the club trainers with the result that when he was 16 he appeared in Yorkshire’s second eleven.

In 1934, just before his 18th birthday, he made his debut for the first eleven against Cambridge University. The next honour to come his way was when he was awarded his County cap in 1936. To Hutton this has always been his greatest honour.

The following year he was selected for England against New Zealand, which was to be the first of more than 70 caps in his brilliant career. In his first innings however he was out for a duck, and in the second, he made one run. But the selectors had faith in him, and in the next Test, with a characteristic power of recovery, he made 196.

Things have not always gone well for Hutton. While he was serving in the Army he met with an injury which threatened to end his cricket career. It was while he was acting as physical training instructor that he broke a bone in his left forearm, and a series of operations failed at first to take effect.

But at last the injured arm healed, with the result that it was slightly shorter than the other. Despite this disadvantage Hutton fought back to the top of English cricket.

In 1951 Hutton was made skipper of the England team and so became the first professional player to captain his country. It was at this stage of his career that cricket followers all over the world labelled him the world’s greatest batsman. After being voted Sportsman of the Year for 1952, a rare honour for a cricketer, Hutton went on to lead and help England win back the Ashes at the Oval the following year.

Hutton played for England in 79 Tests, making 6, 971 runs with an average of 56.67. His highest score was 364 against Australia and that was the World Record Test score until Sir Garfield Sobers broke it and subsequently there were others who improved of it. Len Hutton had 19 centuries and 33 half centuries in his career for England.

– A.C. de S.

Sir Learie Constantine taught Lankan cricketers over 50 years ago!

There have been knights galore at various important dates of a calendar year and keeping a track of all those illustrious gentlemen is a difficult task, but on the sports field and cricket to be exact, two of the knights pick themselves out. They are West Indian great all-rounder Sir Learie Constantine and Australia’s Sir Donald Bradman who is the greatest batsman ever produced by that country. Constantine, a Barrister-at-law practising in London, found time to come to Sri Lanka (Ceylon then) in 1952 putting aside a lucrative practice to serve the cause of cricket in coaching the schoolboys and club cricketers and giving them the expert knowledge that he had gained from the international arena.

But before he came here, he stood tall in Trinidad and the West Indies. He was born on September 21st 1901 in Trinidad but died on July 1 in 1971 in Bronsdesbury in London where he was living the latter part of his life. But, by then Sir Learie Constantine had played his part well and served West Indies cricket well.

He was a right-hand batsman and a right-arm medium-fast bowler. It is sometimes a loosely used term ‘failures are the pillars of success’ and this is applicable to Constantine who in his first Test against England in 1928 at Lord’s was out for 13 in the first innings and for a ‘duck’ in the second, both times falling to England’s Freeman. He fared much better in bowling, taking 4 for 82.

Came Test number two, it was more or less the same story being out for 4 and 18 and did not fare well in bowling either, taking just one wicket. However, the only redeeming feature was the fact that he took the wicket of England stalwart Walter Hammond in both England innings.

The West Indian touring team of 1928 arrived at Lord’s with long faces. The tour was a financial flop and Mr. O’Dowd of British Guiana, who financed it, was losing money. To add to their worries Learie Constantine, their main attraction pulled a muscle against Surrey and was standing down. Constantine considered for a moment. “I’ll play”, he said. “Don’t put him on to bowl”, warned the doctor; “I’ve patched him; not cured him. So – no bowling”.

He was right. Constantine took Lee’s wicket, then broke down and Middlesex ran up a big score. Whole Sunday he rested and the masseurs did their utmost. On Monday morning five West Indians were out for 79 when he walked to the wicket, but he treated the bowling with scorn 50 runs in 20 minutes; 86 in less than an hour. His side notched 230 and were back in the fight.

On Tuesday he bowled with the speed of light. Lee, Killick and Hendren fell to him quickly and he soon had six for 11. As the team came into the pavilion the members rose in acknowledgement. “What are they standing for?” asked Constantine. “For you”, grinned the skipper.

Eventually the West Indians were left with 259 to win and C. G. Macartney, who was in the pavilion, begged Nunes to put Constantine higher in the order, but he refused to listen. Five were down for 100 when he went in, but in little over an hour it was all over. He pulverised the bowling for a not out century and the West Indies won by three wickets. Once again the members rose to him.

His fielding made many a mediocre bowler look first class. During a Test in the West Indies, Achong, a slow bowler was keeping George Gunn quiet. Constantine at slip, edged close in. Had Gunn slashed and connected his head would have been blown off. But Gunn played forward defensively and Constantine, with a leap took the ball near the ground in front of the bat!

Early in his career he was a very fast bowler. Later he developed guile and sometimes bowled an over of six entirely different balls, the deadliest being a slow googly with a fast action.

But cricket was only one facet of Constantine’s life. He wanted to be a barrister and in Trinidad had worked as court clerk, conveyancing clerk and finally chief clerk. When the chance came to turn professional for Nelson, a Lancashire League club, he took it at a record fee with bonuses of 25 Sterling Pounds for every 50 runs or five wickets, and the money he put by enabled him to study for the law.

After the war, in which he did excellent work, Constantine returned to his studies and was called to the Bar in 1954. He also wrote, broadcast and entered political life and finally was appointed Minister of Works and Transport in his native Trinidad.

He has always regarded himself as an Ambassador for the coloured races and by his modesty and sportsmanship – often in the face of insults – has helped to raise their status. In 1944 after paying a deposit and reserving rooms at a London hotel for his wife and family he was asked to leave and told, “We are not going to have these niggers in our hotel”…………………..– A.C. de S.

Sir Jack Hobbs – a model for young cricketers

Sir John Berry Hobbs, more familiarly known as Sir Jack Hobbs to the cricketing world, the great Surrey and England cricketer is not amongst us these days. Hobbs who was born on December 16 in 1882, died on December 22 in 1963 aged 81 years. However, his name will be uppermost in the minds of cricket fans as long as the game of cricket is played.

Jack Hobbs also played in Ceylon in 1930.



Hobbs at Darrawella












He was a model for young cricketers. His stroke-play had a distinctive classical elegance. He had uncanny judgement in knowing how and when to hit the ball. He was also a polished fielder at cover point. He had played many good knocks in all the countries he played in, but the Indians good a good taste of his stroke-play allround the wicket.

Jack Hobbs was a top rank star for 29 years, from 1905 to 1934. His average during his career was 50.65 with the fantastic total of 61,237 runs. By his forcing style of play, always just that little bit ahead of the bowlers’ technique, he made them try new approaches and, in doing so gave a new twist to the game.

By this ability to be just that little bit ahead of the bowlers, his natural ability to adapt himself to any conditions. Jack Hobbs reigned supreme throughout his career.

To Hobbs, it did not matter what challenge the wicket presented – fast, slow “sticky’ matting – or what tricks the opposing bowlers thought out. Jack Hobbs survived. To get him out was an Achievement – in capital letters.

It must be remembered, though, that for the greater part of Hobbs’s career runs were not the most important thing. Sir Don Bradman scored more heavily than did Hobbs but at no time did he have the ability to match Hobbs’s performance on a turning wicket. Hobbs could stay at the wicket.

Jack Hobbs’s career can be divided in two parts. 1905-1914, a period in which his techniques revolved round an incredible fleetness of foot, all-round stroke play with the governing action from his wrists. In fact, a logical development of the methods of “W.G.” When the First World War was over Jack Hobbs was 37, an age when some present day cricketers are thought to be past their prime. But Hobbs adapted his style to the demands of the time and his own advancing years. He became the most-serenely poised, player on the field.

In his career he made 61 test appearances, 44 of them against the Australians. In his Test games he scored 5,410 runs of which 3,636 were made against the Aussies.

Of the “post grace” era players only Patsy Hendren and W. G. Quaife have challenged his records. They knocked up 1,000 runs 25 times in a season – Jack Hobbs performed this feat 26 times. He scored 244 centuries, 197 in first class matches.

Jack Hobbs was – and is – remembered for the sheer artistry of his game. Neville Cardus, writing in Wisden’s Century Edition in which he lists Jack Hobbs as one of the “Six Giants of the Wisden Century” says “I never saw him make an uneducated stroke…

The game will retain the image of him in its Hall of Fame – the twiddle of his bat before he bent slightly to face and look at the attack: the gentle, accurate to-an-inch push for a single to get off the mark, the stroke so nicely timed that he could had he wished have walked it,” to make a run……………………….. – A.C. de S.

Sri Lanka gained much from Sir Garfield Sobers’ coaching

Sir Garfield Sobers, though a West Indian great, was equally loved by the Sri Lankans as he coached the Sri Lankan after Sri Lanka gained Test status in 1981.


The then president of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka-the late Mr. Gamini Dissanayake was quick to pounce on the opportunity and made personal contact with Sobers who coached the Sri Lankan cricketers for two years 1982 to 1983. Before he started his coaching assignments, Sobers was a well-known figure in the cricket world and he played county cricket, Sheffield Shield Cricket with South Australia and even North Staffs and South Cheshire League Cricket with Norton, plus many charity games. He established a remarkable record which speaks volumes about his capabilities: 8,032 runs, 236 wickets and 109 catches in 93 Tests for West indies.

ENGLAND – JUNE 12: West Indies bowler Garry Sobers in bowling action during a tour match in England circa 1966 in England, United Kingdom. (Photo by Don Morley/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)


More significantly, he could turn the tide of a Test within an hour, and it was on these occasions that partisanship was suspended. You simply sat back and marvelled at the occasion. From the direst situation his only thought was to attack. He was physically fearless.

He never wore a thigh-pad, never mind a helmet, and, from his boyhood with the Barbados police team until his retirement, he was only seriously hit twice. Such was his adaptability that he could bowl left-arm very fast, swinging it both ways, left-arm finger-spin and left-arm wrist-spin. By his own recollection, he was no-balled fewer than half a dozen times during his entire career.

 Perhaps the most fundamental argument against the modern idiom of cricket is that Sobers was never coached. He mistrusted coaches. He learned the game playing all spare hours in the street with his brothers and friends and then, after the early Barbados sunset, playing on with his miniature implements, much to the detriment of the furniture, in his despairing mother’s house. …………………….– A.C. de S.


Sir Frank Worrell from leg-break bowler to top class batsman

Sir Frank Worrell was a gentleman cricketer and this is borne by the fact that when he was leading the West Indies in their first match against Worcestershire on a tour of England, he made a fine gesture by declaring when the tourists had scored one more run than the county half-an-hour after the start of play on the third day.



The first day was washed off because of rain and Worcestershire made 119 against the hostile pace bowling of Hall and Griffith the home team batsmen were all at sea in this match and even spinners Sobers and Valentine made in roads to Worcestershire batting.

Griffith took 4 for 28, Valentine 3 for 57 and Sobers two for eight runs.

The West Indies were not happily placed with 90 for 2 wickets, however on the third day, when the Windies were 120 for 2 wickets, just one run more than the home team, Worrell declared their innings closed. Wircestershire made 162 for 4 wickets declared and threw a challenge to the Windies to score at the rate of 80 runs an hour, it looked somewhat feasible on paper, but Worrell was not going to take any chances so early on tour and the game petted out to a draw with the West Indies finally making 57 for 3 wickets.

Frank Worrell started as a left-arm leg-break bowler when he was around 13 years and gradually turned his attention to batting in later years and he played in Lancashire League cricket before playing in the West Indies Test team. In Lancashire League he had an awesome record scoring 1,694 runs at an average of 112.93 runs, having hit seven centuries. He captained the West Indies in 1960-61 for the first time, touring Australia with Gerry Alexander as his deputy. Worrell played 51 Tests scoring 3,860 runs before he retired. Making his debut against England in 1954, he made it a point to lead the West Indies to victory in his last series against England in 1963.

His shots were literally strokes, smooth and polished sending the ball here an there at his sweetwill and leisure with the minimum of effort. His method as a batsman was orthodox. He never made a crude or ungrammatical stroke.

One of Frank Worrell’s superb innings was played in 1952 against Australia in Melbourne where he made 102 in 3 and 3 3/4 hours, facing Lindwall, Miller and Johnstone and going his tranquill way in spite of serverly bruised hand caused by a blow from Miller.

Frank Worrell was born in Barbados on August 1 in 1924 and died at the relatively young age of 43 years on March 13 in 1967. For all what he did for cricket in the West Indies and elsewhere, a trophy in his name – Sir Frank Worrell Trophy’ was presented for the Australia – West Indies series in 1965. Earlier, Worrell was knighted in 1964 and thereafter he functioned as Dean of the students of the University of Trinidad, West Indies.

With Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott, Worrell formed the West Indies’ famous “Three W’s who electrified the cricket world with their brilliant batting in the 1950s. Australian cricketer Steve Waugh spoke in glowing terms of West Indian cricket and Sir Frank Worrell.

“I think respect for history is part of the game”, Waugh said. “You should know the great players of the past. It is always nice to have a bit of information on these guys. I don’t think it is compulsory, but it is nice to know what went on in the past. The three Ws are legends and people love them over here. I suppose they were the guys who started the exciting cricket with Australia in the 1960s. I quite enjoy following the traditions of the game and meeting old cricketers” …………………-“A.C. de S.

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