“Oft in the stilly night
Ere slumber’s chains has bound me
Fond memory brings the light
Of other days around me
The smiles, the tears,
Of boyhood years”
The Royal Thomian match of 1951 will for long be remembered for its nail-biting finish, and for the manner in which the Royal College team led by skipper T. Vairavanathan extracted a victory from the jaws of defeat. It will certainly occupy a top position in the history of the series, the second oldest school cricket encounter in the world, (the first game being played in 1880).
In the souvenir issued in 2004 to commemorate the 125th encounter in the series under the title “The impossible finish of 1951” a cricket scribe writing under the pseudonym “The Commentator” exclaimed “Even the boldest writer of sports fiction would not have dared to invent such an implausible finish to a cricket match”.
Royal batted first and made an unimpressive 146. The Thomians followed for only a couple of overs when rain washed out further play. This was the era of the two day game played on Friday and Saturday, and rain invariably meant loss of playing time, and a draw. Playing time for the Saturday was only 5 ½ Hours for the completion of three innings…… A highly unlikely scenario for a decisive game. However Royal skipper Vairavanathan by astute captaincy had the Thomian struggling at 61 runs with seven wickets down.
Sensing the deteriorating nature of the wicket the Thomian skipper sent in the Royalists for their second turn at the wicket. As expected, the batting was not up to the challenge and except for skipper Vairavanathan and SS Jayawickreme who made 38 and 39 respectively, the Royal side struggled to get 105 when skipper Vairavanathan sportingly declared with 8 wickets down.
Either of the teams could win the game and the Thomians would have the match in the bag if they scored 191. A dogged resistance cum counter punching saw the Thomians with only 3 wickets down after having reached 150 runs. Did Vaira make a blunder in declaring? Another 41 runs with seven wickets to go seemed a most likely event, but not in skipper Vaira’s mind. To revert to the words of the scribe. “A good length off break, and batsman Jayewardene plays back. As Vairavanathan walks back he flashes a glance and a smile at the off-side fielders. In the heightened rapport among the team there is no need for words. Instantly they get the message…. The next one is pitched further and flighted even higher. The batsman has been playing back with increasing difficulty. He prods hesitantly, misses, the ball is through and heading for middle and off stumps, the bails go flying, and ROYAL HAS WON “ ….
WELL, THAT WAS THE CRICKET – NOW HERE IS THE OTHER STORY!
It was the morning of the first day of the match, and every Royalist over 15 years of age would want to be in the cycle parade which starts at Racecourse Avenue and winds its way past ( and into) Ladies College, Bishops College, Holy Family Convent, VIsakha Vidyalaya and thence to the match at the Oval. Invariably the procession would arrive about an hour later due to the high jinx and theatricals of the processionists. My classmate and buddy Chandra Putra Laxana asked me whether he could come with me on the cycle parade, and since he had no bicycle could he ride on the bar of my cycle. Agreed, no problems there, and he was to arrive at my home around 10.30 am.
In the weeks prior to the event I was on the hunt for A Fez or “thambi thoppi”with my friend Oma Senaratne. One Saturday Oma and I were riding our bikes near Deans Road Maradana looking for a likely victim when we came across a Moor funeral procession with hundreds of mourners (all males) and most of them wearing Fez hats; a scene which kept us licking our lips in anticipation.( we found out later that the funeral was that of Minister T.B. Jayah’s mother) We decided on a strategy. We would wait till the procession went up Dean’s Road and we would pounce on an unsuspecting straggler and remove his head gear, turn around and pedal fast in the opposite direction. The Fez was taken with one swift grab, and we headed towards Victoria Park with several men chasing us uttering choice expletives. Despite there being a prominent sign at the entrance to the Park saying “NO CYCLING PERMITTTED.“ We pedalled fast into the park and this time we were chased by the park watchers. We re-emerged in Green path the loot still safe and unscathed.
Laxana lived with his parents in a house called “The Walawaa” on High Level Road, Kirillapona, and probably the only Muslims to live in a “waluwwa”. A dear easy going friend he had no difficulty in agreeing to another friend asking him whether he could accompany him to the match. And so it was that on the morning of the match he came to my home with his friend Raja Silva, a 13 year old lad still wearing shorts. Raja was later to be known as Rahula Silva a dreaded cop. Now with Laxana and Raja it was impossible for us to go on my bike so instead we called for a Quickshaw and went to Princes Restaurant at the Galle Road next to Pendennis Avenue, then. Raja took a fancy to my trophy of a few days before, and was wearing the Fez thereafter, and that was the last I saw of it.! We had a glass of beer each including Raja who had not tasted beer before. There was no peer pressure there: on the contrary I felt that the guy was too young to drink beer, but he insisted. From Princes’ we hopped into another Quickshaw to the Oval when somewhere near Alexandra Road, Raja was feeling the impact of the beer. We then deviated to Bake House on Deans Road, as Raja was staggering after consuming the first glass of beer. We drew up two chairs on which he was laid across, and a friendly waiter fanned him while we marked time.
I was hoping that we could use the delay caused by Raja’s misadventure to good use as I thought the cycle procession would by now have reached the Lipton Circus area where the three of us could have joined the procession. When we came out however there was no sign of the procession but an eerie feeling that something had gone wrong. As we walked half-way up Ward Place we met with a scene of desolation and some destruction. Placards taken by the boys to the match were strewn about, and something serious may have happened. On reaching the Oval we heard the story which turned out to be nothing but a display of police brutality.
From the accounts given to me by our school mates the problem began when the procession of about 500 schoolboys turned into Ward Place and saw two police constables standing near the phone booth at the intersection between Alexandra Place and Ward Place. The usual chant of “ado kosso” erupted but what seemed to have irked the displeasure of the cops was when a boy took off the slouch hat of one of constables and placed it on his own head in a mocking gesture. The cops were not happy and had rung the Cinnamon Gardens Police station saying they were under attack. Within a few minutes police reinforcements headed by a jeep, a paddy wagon, and all the cops available at the Cinnamon Gardens police station swooped down on the procession with the cops swinging their batons and abusing the boys in raw Sinhala filth. It was a stupendous melee as the cops were on a military like mission!.
Roger Modder on seeing the cops breaking up the procession had abandoned his bike and was darting towards Borella junction pursued by a cop shouting “Anna suddawa allaganda” with Roger sprinting away shouting “mama sudda nemay mata Sinhala dannawa” Roger was too fast for the ralahami. They managed to ‘capture’ 12 boys including Gamini Iriyagolle, CV (Puggy) Gooneratne, Jehan Raheem, Jeevaka de Zoysa. They were all taken to the Cinnamon Garden Police station and humiliated by being placed in the police lock-up, and denied access to drinking water or to the telephone.
Some of the boys in the cycle procession who reached the Oval contacted Mr Bernard Anghie Warden of the College Hostel who came immediately with a couple of boys to the Police Station. Anghie was fondly referred to by the boys as Angus, and upon entering the police station, introduced himself to the inspector in charge from whom he asked permission to use the police station phone. He immediately rang Mr Sidney de Zoysa who was then a Senior and well known police officer. As soon as he took the phone and said “Hello Sidney “a magical aura seemed to have enveloped the police station! Sidney asked the phone to be given to the Inspector who was given an order which the entire police station could hear ”Release those boys immediately.”
Cops who had been taunting the boys earlier, had now became very solicitous about their welfare One particular sergeant who seemed to have had a bee in his bonnet about Royalists and had been vituperative and insulting, was nowhere to be seen and later sighted in the station in civil clothes.
There were rumours that the Old Boys Union wanted the cops to be dealt with, but after a few days the whole matter lost its significance, and everyone was in a reconciliatory mood. No further action was initiated. Of the boys whose name were mentioned in this story, only Jehan Raheem who worked as the UNDP Coordinator for Asia, now living in the USA and Geevaka de Zoysa retired architect are among the living today. Raja aka Rahula Silva passed away some years ago after a remarkable career in the Police Force. Chandra Putra Laxana worked as The Chief Editor of The Straits Times in Singapore and later migrated to Melbourne Australia where he passed away 20 years ago. Oma Senaratne trained as an automobile engineer in Chelsea, UK and worked in Kuwait. He passed away about two decades ago. Gamini Iriyagolle joined the Ceylon Civil Service, and on retirement passed away also about two decades ago. Puggy Gooneratne served as a Minister in Government and was assassinated by a terrorist bomb 24 years ago. Roger Modder was a Director of the firm Carson Cumberbatch and died following a motor accident. All of them are remembered with great affection.