Ranjan Anandappa, in Sunday Observer, 23 September 2007, with this title “1969 Schools Cricket Team – Best produced by Sri Lanka”
CRICKET: Emphasis has been laid so much on qualified coaches and physios these days, but few knew that one of the most successful under 19 cricket teams ever to leave the shores of Sri Lanka which was undoubtedly the 1969 Sri Lanka Schools cricket team, then Ceylon, which toured India. The team was captained by former Ananda College cricketer Mithra Wettimuny [and] did not possess either a coach or a physio.
It was manager A. D. Karunananda (Ananda) and assistant manager Angelo Rayer (St. Joseph’s) both strict disciplinarians who guided the boys through the one-and-a half month tour which ended in a highly successful note for [what was then known as ] “Ceylon”.
The team played five unofficial Test matches and won two and drew the rest. Out of the five zonal games the schools team won four and came very close of winning the fifth one.
Although manager Karunananda did not want to predict anything extravagant of the team on arrival at the Madras Airport on December 15, 1969, the team showed as to what they have been made of as their performance stunned the Indians. Prior to the team’s departure they had a short stint under Sri Lankan coach Laddie Outschoorn who represented Worcestershire in the county circuit, otherwise it was the manager and the assistant manager that provided the inspiration.
Bringing back memories of the tour which took place nearly 38 years ago captain Mithra Wettimuny, the second of the illustrious Wettimuny brothers of five, said that it was the enormous talent and strict discipline was the key for their success. Maintaining a high standard of discipline at any cost may be in sport or politics, is the formula for success.
“The tour was an incredible success, because the Indians were the leading team at that time in India. But we outplayed them completely. During that time the standards were very high in the schools, and we were playing beautifully. We had very good batsmen and a very steady bowling attack and the fielding was outstanding and sometimes absolutely brilliant.” said Mithra Wettimuny.
“Robi Banerjie, was the Indian captain, who was a fighter to the core. He was a fine medium pacer who could bat too. I expected him to play for India, but he did not. There was another batsman Hansraj who batted with an intractable defence. But at the same time, we also fought tooth and nail, but played like absolute gentlemen. Even today it is fine, our boys are playing very good cricket now. I do not have much of a following in the present day under 19 cricket”, he said.
“I must say our under 19 teams during the 60s and 70s were extremely good. One reason for that was because we were not a test playing country at that time, and cricket was our first love. We did not have many opportunities for the simple reason as we did not have the status. Once we got the status, we began to improve gradually, and it takes a lot of time to be on par where you can brush shoulders with other Test playing nations. Today, we do that, and after we won the World Cup in 1996, we have become a major force in international cricket”, added Mithra who represented the country in two Test matches, both in New Zealand. He opened batting with his brother Sidath in both Tests in New Zealand, and created history being the first set of brothers to open batting for Sri Lanka in a Test match.
There were more members of that side namely, Bandula Warnapura the first Test captain, Duleep Mendis, and Ajith de Silva who made their Test debut in the Inaugural Test played in February 1982. It was an outstanding team effort coupled by some notable individual performances particularly by Royal’s Jagath Fernando who went on to complete an unbeaten 200 and the nippy off spin bowling by the skipper Mithra Wettimuny.
The 1969 team comprised: Mithra Wettimuny (Ananda – Captain), Asitha Jayaweera (Royal) Vice-captain, J. Thalayasingham (Royal), Wendell Kelaart, Manik de S. Wijeratne (St. Joseph’s), Bandula Warnapura, Leslie Narangoda (Nalanda), Ajith de Silva (Dharmasoka), Dinesh Rajaratnam (Thurstan), Priyantha Jayasekera, Ajith Mendis (Prince Of Wales), Duleep Mendis (S. Thomas’), Rory Inman (St. Peter’s), Ananda Jayatileka (Ananda).
A NOTE by Michael Roberts, 7 September 2023
Anandappa’s account inadvertently omits one of the touring party: Jagath Fernando …. though marking one of his feats in the body of the text. The magnificent results fashioned by this squad need greater imprint in the story of Sri Lankan cricket. Facing Indian cricketers in thier home turf is no joke. Two victories and two draws add up to an outstanding tour by an oustanding squad.
While the input of the managerial duo is noted by Anandappah, we must surely mark their achieevments in gold — their names must be etched in plaque. So, too, the on-field leadership duo of Mithra Wettimuny (Ananda College) and Tissa Jayaweera (Royal).
Jayaweera, alas, left the island in pursuit of his career soon afterwords. But Jagath Fernando’s outstanding capacities were undermined by a curel fateby cruel hand. Jagath was multiskilled and an oustadning flyhalf for the CRFC and Sri Lanka during the rugger season. He was so dangerous that one of the Police team felled him with a karate chop during one of the finals. In the result he was stricken with sunstroke of some kind whenever he ventured o to the cricket field. A debilitating tale this.