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More on Lorenz and Daya Sahabandu

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Putting in the hard yards.

On one of those boring lockdown days of early June, Lorenz Pereira lit up The Sunday Island with a highly entertaining piece in which he recalled what he termed as one of his most satisfying sporting achievements. That was the making of Daya Sahabandu the cricketer. Several generations have rolled by since Lorenz Pereira’s heyday in sport, and for the benefit of today’s man about town, a few paragraphs on Lorenz Pereira would not be out of place, before we begin discussing the enigma that was Daya Sahabandu.

Eustace Lorenz Pereira was a born sport; both as a player and a person. Cricket came to him naturally. Blessed with a fine cricketing brain while still in school, he was an excellent left-hand bat, a very useful off spinner and an outstanding fielder in the gully or in the covers in particular. Given the flamboyance, the confidence and the style with which he played his sport, it was natural he became the cynosure of all eyes, be it when playing cricket or rugby football.

 

Arguably, the finest ……

Lorenz first played for Royal under Fitzroy Crozier in 1956. He was Michael Wille’s deputy in 1957. He went on to captain Royal in 1958 – the year in which Michael Tissera captained St. Thomas’. Lorenz also played for Royal in 1959, when the team was led by Sarath Samarasinghe. His sporting accomplishments and talents were such, many wise heads considered him as arguably, the finest sporting talent that Royal had unearthed till then.

Lorenz won Royal College colours at Cricket, Rugby, Athletics and Tennis, in addition to also winning Public Schools Athletics colours. He would have won more, had not those ancient Egyptians and horologists decided that a day should consist of only 24 hours and no more. In recognition of his outstanding contribution to sport, and given his other accomplishments and agreeable attributes, Royal College appointed him their Head Prefect in 1958. Further, in recognition of his continued outstanding achievements at cricket, he was picked the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1959.

Lorenz Pereira made his mark at rugby for Royal as a brilliant wing three quarter but did not captain his school. One of the standout features of his play was his ability to hit high speed from a near standstill position within seconds. His play was also characterized by his tendency to frequently cut in and join the threes in mesmeric overlaps, often side stepping the enemy with no discernible drop in speed. He preferred to make his advances without having to endure human contact. This he often achieved through the use of speed, dash and verve. Memorably, in the return leg of the Bradby shield in 1958 Lorenz playing on the right wing threw the ball into a line out, and from the ensuing maul the ball changed hands several times while moving down the line and across the field to the left wing, where a speeding Lorenz Pereira was at hand to collect the final pass and score a sensational try! That brilliant piece of work won Royal not only the match, but also the Bradby Shield in the dying moments of that game.

 

Talent without question

After leaving school Lorenz Pereira played cricket for the SSC and rugby football for the CR & FC before proceeding to Cambridge, where he didn’t play much and therefore did not win a Varsity Blue. Given his awesome talent and his natural flair, this could only have been through some lack of application on his part. In fact, if I were to hazard a guess, he may have devoted far too little time to sport for reasons best known to him; for his promise and his sporting talent were both without question.

Having obtained his degree and upon his return, Lorenz joined John Keells Tea Department and began working as a Tea Broker. Always seen with a characteristic kerchief knotted round his neck on a cricket field, he turned out for the SSC once again, before giving up the game altogether – owing possibly to waning interest. Although his cricketing skills were munificent, it was at Rugby that he shone with spectacular success.

 

First ‘non-white’ Captain

Lorenz Pereira was a man of great charm and winsome ways. Given his pedigree, his panache and his awesome popularity within the sporting circuit, it came as no surprise when he was conferred the then highly prestigious membership of the C.C.C., CH & FC and the Gymkhana Club as one of the first Ceylonese to be accorded that honour. That was sometime in the early 1960s. He was also the first ‘non-white’ to captain C.C.C. and CH & FC at cricket and rugby football.

Even though he never captained his school at rugby, Lorenz captained the national rugby team while playing for the CH and FC. Playing alongside the likes of Omar Sheriff, John Burrows, Mike Davies, Maurice Marrinon, Y.C. Chang and Brian Baptist (to name but a few), he became an integral part of most CH sides in the 1960s and early 1970s. He would often thrill spectators with his raking runs, his brilliant side stepping and swerving; his selling of perfect dummies while accelerating into the space created, and leaving the opposition defense reeling in his wake. Outside the paddock he developed many social skills, not the least the ability to amuse, while delivering some outstanding after dinner speeches. That was a skill he would unfurl with great finesse and timing whenever the occasion demanded. But despite all that, not many heard him say until now that he had a direct hand in making Daya Sahabandu, the cricketer he turned out to be!

 

The spindly Daya Sahabandu

Daya Sahabandu began his cricket career at Royal as a spindly left arm in-swing bowler. He played only a few First XI games under Michael Wille’s captaincy in 1957 before he was dropped. Relieved he was no longer under Wille’s stringent leadership, Sahabandu played for the Second XI where he tried out and acquired a great liking for spin bowling. Playing under the more relaxed regime of Lorenz Pereira in 1958, Sahabandu employed both styles of bowling and met with much success. Having played in the Royal-Thomian of 1958, 1959 and 1960, Bandu won his cricket colours in each of those years, while opening the bowling and thereafter reverting to spin.

Bandu’s chief weapon was his awesome accuracy. The trick with his bowling was that he would adjust the flight of the delivery according to the state of the wicket. For instance, if he found he could extract more spin at a certain trajectory of delivery, he would make it his stock ball. From then on, he would tie up the batsman in knots, and finally commit him into error. He developed his ‘chinaman’ and the googly later on in his career while playing club cricket, but in the main during his schooldays, he was a ‘no frills’ left arm orthodox bowler of great consistency.

 

‘DH’ the mentor

Daya Sahabandu played under several captains in his time but it was under D.H. de Silva that he flowered out and achieved his best. ‘DH’ mentored him and was a great influence on Bandu’s personal progress during his playing years at Nomads. But try as he might, there was one aspect over which ‘DH’ could not wield any influence whatsoever over Bandu. That was the aspect of fielding – but more on that later.

To this day, Bandu considers ‘DH’ as the finest captain he played under. ‘DH’ was the Brian Close of Sri Lanka cricket. He was aggressive, up front and in your face. Not the most popular or best liked among those who knew him purely as an opponent, ‘DH’ carried a lot of cricket between his ears. Cricket to him was a thinking man’s game, and he lived his life for the sport – playing, thinking, analysing. He and Bandu were like peas in a pod; one doing the plotting and the other doing the executing. Having unerringly analysed each opposing player, ‘DH’ would – either from first slip or any bat-pad position – surreptitiously direct Bandu where he should be pitching next. Sometimes Bandu would open the bowling for Nomads and bowl quickish left arm orthodox. He had the ability to make some balls pop up more than others, and this kept the bat-pad fielders always interested. Even when well into his 40s, ‘DH’ would position himself at silly point or forward short leg and employ several others in brazenly attacking positions close to the bat, only because he had such an unshaken belief in Sahabandu’s unerring accuracy.

 

Often punching above their weight ….

In short, Bandu could pitch the ball on a 50 cent piece if he so wished. Once he had discovered the best trajectory to bowl, he was like a wound-up clockwork; faithfully trudging back to his bowling mark, turning and running in, and landing the leather exactly where his skipper wanted it, time after time. He repeated this routine like a mantra, never allowing himself to be flustered by any outside influence or distraction. If ‘DH’ was the Sri Lankan equivalent of Brian Close, Sahabandu was to Ceylon, what Underwood was to England. DH and Bandu were brilliant – even eccentric, and for sure, crankily cricket mad! If the wicket took spin or suggested the slightest trace of dampness, Sahabandu – be it with spin or seam – was near unplayable. It was grippingly entertaining spectacle, watching Nomads often punch above their weight and getting the better of more fancied teams with their tight cricket and cunning!

 

Could no longer be ignored ….

Bandu played his cricket at a time when athleticism and fielding excellence weren’t the most sought after attributes in players, when it came to selection. Despite that concession, it was generally agreed that Bandu ‘s ideal fielding position should be the remotest possible in the field, since placing him behind the sightscreen was not an option. Although his fielding skills remained static over the years, his skills with the ball continued to improve, particularly with the advent of Stanley Jayasinghe to Nomads in 1968 or thereabouts. Teaming up with D.H., Stanley helped Sahabandu raise his game by several notches, until it was no longer possible to ignore him for national service.

And so despite his near magical ability with the ball, It took Bandu all of two months short of 29th years to play his first match for Ceylon. That was in January 1969 when he represented the country in a 60 over game against a powerful MCC team. Not unsurprisingly Bandu returned the best bowling figures, capturing 3 for 35 off his allotted 12 overs against the likes of Edrich, Fletcher, Graveney, Cowdrey and D’Oliveira. Playing for Ceylon in the three day game which followed, Sahabandu again returned the best bowling figures for the Ceylonese, capturing 2 for 90 in 44.2 overs. His two scalps were the prized wickets of Tom Graveney and Keith Fletcher.

Next followed Ian Chappell’s Australians in Ceylon in 1970 (27-12-64-2 and 22-6-52-2), England in Ceylon in 1970 (23-12-33-1 and 37-15-86-5) and England in Sri Lanka in 1973 (16-5-42-0 and 14-4-24-0). Daya Sahabandu played his last game for his country in November 1975 while touring India.

 

A masterpiece in stonewalling ….

Of the three “Tests” that were played on that Indian tour of 1975, it was with the bat that Bandu grabbed the greatest attention. In the first “Test” at Hyderabad (Nov 8th – 11th) Bandu held up the Indian juggernaut of Madan Lal, Amarnath, Bedi, Chandrasekhar and Prasanna, by batting till after tea on the final day and stalling what might have been a galloping innings defeat for his side. Going in as night watchman in the Sri Lankan 2nd innings the night before, Sahabandu held his end up for four hours and 16 minutes on the final day, with a rare exhibition of ‘stroke-less batting’. His marathon effort might not have been enough to save the game for his side, but it certainly went a long way towards helping Sri Lanka avoid the ignominy of an innings defeat, while prolonging the inevitable till the 2nd last over of the final day. His final representative game was the 3rd Test at Nagpur on 28th, 29th, 30th November, and 1st December 1975.

If Daya Sahabandu with the ball in hand was unquestionably a champion, his repute as a fieldsman as mentioned before, was nothing short of withering. Lorenz describes him as a total liability in the field, stating that if he were placed at wide third man at the start of an over, he would meander with no particular aim or direction, until he ended up at fine leg by the time the over ended! In short, Lorenz found that Bandu needed supervision and his fielding position set, not just once every over, but before each ball! Bandu’s legendary habit of loitering whilst being engrossed in a world of his own continued unabated throughout his playing career, much to the chagrin of many of his captains.

 

Bandu, the incomparable!

But perhaps the final word must remain with Mike Wille, captain of Royal in 1957 who is credited with this story. Royal were getting smashed at the hands of St Benedict’s when Neville Casiechetty ‘s scorching hit off a Bandu delivery was brilliantly caught at cover. As luck would have it the ball was deemed a ‘No ball’. On noticing the batsman at the non-striker’s end was yards out of his crease and having no chance of a safe return whatsoever, the fielder gently lobbed the ball back to Sahabandu, who had only to remove the bails to effect what would have been a run out by yards!

What Bandu did next must surely go down in the annals of cricket’s rich folklore, passed down the generations. Catching the ball that was gently lobbed back at him, Bandu turned, and with bowed head, simply walked back to his bowling mark, contemplating the infinite!

It must have been Mike Wille’s fitness and his youth, which saved him from suffering a midfield heart attack!



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Royal-Thomian continues uninterrupted

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142nd Battle of the Blues

by Reemus Fernando 

The fact that the historic Battle of the Blues had been played uninterruptedly even during the two World Wars and local insurgencies is something that ‘Royal-Thomian’ enthusiasts cherish so dearly. That uninterrupted status of the annual encounter will be intact when S. Thomas’ under the captaincy of Shalin de Mel and Royal skippered by the former Sri Lanka Under-19 player Ahan Wickramasinghe enter the SSC ground for the 142nd edition of the Big Match today.

After the inaugural match was played in 1880, it is the first time the match is played in October as the organizers had to postpone the event twice (May and September) this year due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Except the Royal-Thomian only one other Big Match had been played this year.

With no match exposure during recent months, and some players barely having played matches of innings format, analysts believe that only a special batting effort could make the encounter last for three days if the weather permits. Except the three Sri Lanka Under-19 players who were involved in the just concluded series against Bangladesh, other players have not taken part in matches during recent months due to lockdowns and pandemic related restrictions.

Even the Sri Lanka Under-19 players, namely Ryan Fernando and Yasiru Rodrigo from S. Thomas’ and Sadisha Rajapaksha from Royal competed only in two to three Limited Overs matches during the series concluded on Monday. However, nearly a month-long training camp where they also played practice games is going to stand in good stead for the trio. Both teams played a few traditional matches early this year but those statistics will not make it easy assessing the true strengths of the two teams.

The Thomians are fielding one of the youngest teams in recent history. There are as many as seven freshers lining up with the four colursmen against a team that have as many as six players from the last Big Match and three others who played First XI cricket last season. According to S. Thomas’ coach Dinesh Kumarasinghe, “the present Thomian outfit is the youngest team since 1999.” Some of them have played only in an Under-15 tournament. That too in the year 2019.

The Thomians will heavily rely on skipper De Mel, Sri Lanka Under 19 duo Fernando and Rodrigo, and Caniston Gunarathnam who all played in the last Big Match. Apart from them batting opener Anuk Palihawadana was the only batsman who was among runs during the few traditional matches they played early this year.

Left armer Rodrigo will spearhead the bowling attack with Caniston Gunarathnam with Nethan Caldera providing additional pace options. Offies Palihawadena and Thenuka Liyanage and leg spinner Rajindu Tilakaratne will brace the spin department.

On paper, Royal are the formidable team with the entire batting line up having played First XI cricket for more than two seasons. Skipper Wickramasinghe maintained an average over 85 runs during their traditional matches early this year. Kavindu Pathiratne, Isiwara Dissanayake, Sadisha Rajapaksha and Dasis Manchanayake who excelled at the last Big Match are reliable batsmen.

Kavindu Pathiratne will lead the bowling attack with fellow pacemen Dan Poddiwela and Sonal Amarasekara, while left arm spinner Balasuriya will be joined by Prashan Silva to make strong the spin department.

The match will be played behind closed doors. Organisers said in a statement yesterday that only the sponsor’s media arm will be permitted to cover the match. (Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

Teams

Royal:

Ahan Wickramsinghe (Captain), Kavindu Pathiratne (V. Capt.), Prashan Silva, Isiwara Dissanayake, Gishan Balasuriya, Sadisha Rajapaksha, Dasis Manchanayake, Sonal Amarasekara, Sehan Herath, Sineth Jayawardena, Dan Poddiwela.  

S. Thomas’:

Shalin De Mel (Captain), Ryan Fernando (V. Capt.), Yasiru Rodrigo, Caniston Gunarathnam, Anuk Palihawadena, Romesh Mendis, Nathan Caldera, Thenuka Liyanage, Mahith Perera, Rajindu Tilakaratne, Senesh Hettiarachchi.  

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Can Gollings reverse Sri Lanka’s rugby fortunes?

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by a special sports correspondent

Sri Lanka’s rugby players and fans received inspiring news days ago with the sport’s governing body Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) appointing England rugby union star Ben Gollings as Rugby Director to oversee preparations of the national men’s and women’s squads for the upcoming Asian Sevens Series.

Gollings perhaps knows too well that this cricket crazy nation also has a similar passion for rugby union; especially the abbreviated form of the sport.

Gollings is no stranger to the Sri Lanka rugby scene having had a coaching stint back in the island in 2012. The island’s rugby squads are often loaded with ‘steppers’ (fast runners) when the best players from all the clubs are drafted into the national pool. But this time around the players from Kandy SC and CR&FC will not be considered for selection because these two clubs decided to refrain from contesting the upcoming domestic sevens tournament; participation at the event serving as the criterion for players to be drafted into the national pool.

Strangely Sri Lanka doesn’t know where its priorities are and has been focusing on the 15-a-side version of the sport despite the little success in that form in the international rugby scene.

The rugby clubs that own the players are more focused on the marathon league tournament which absorbs much of the resources and the valuable time the players give to the sport. Speculation is rife that both Kandy SC and CR & FC didn’t see it wise to expose its players to international rugby unprepared and invite injuries to players. Sri Lanka needs an accomplished coach out there in the middle who can lift the islanders’ game to the next level and slowly take the players out of the Covid mentality they are trapped in. Even Gollings had mentioned at a press conference held on Monday that “as sports personalities you won’t forget how to play the game. My responsibility is to boost their confidence and give them the platform to express themselves and accelerate.”

SLR has released its calendar and plans to have two domestic sevens tournaments; the first in January (15-16) and the second in June (17-18).

SLR must stick to plans and drive forward because a sport like rugby union will always attract sponsors. Rugby in Sri Lanka was a little late to start compared to other disciplines. And a star in the calibre of Gollings landing in Sri Lanka goes on to suggest that there is potential for the sport to grow over here. That growth- in the long-run-is possible with a programme under the rugby controlling body; which has the supreme authority to select a side that can represent Sri Lanka in the international scene.

There were rugby officials in the past who tried to shift the focus from club rugby to national rugby, but often they ran into heavy opposition. Clubs in Sri Lanka only cooperate with SLR if events in the calendar are spaced out and players have enough time to recover.

Many years ago, this writer read an article in a foreign magazine which gave a strong message on sport and its people. It was stated there that if one studies a national team in attendance and finds the players disorganised and neglected then most likely the same situation exists with the country’s government and how the latter treats its people.

Right now, the focus is on rugby sevens and on the upcoming ‘Warriors Sevens’ tournament which will serve as the trial to select the men’s national team for the Asian Sevens Series. And given the way rugby was struggling to get its activities off the ground, one noticed the sport’s controlling body being detached from the sports minster or the Minister of Sports distancing himself from rugby officials despite the sports minister himself being a former national rugby player.

In this fiercely personalised era where everyone takes care of himself or herself whether in sport or other form of employment SLR must seriously think of player remuneration during training for national assignments. In the past the state didn’t have that professional thinking nor the clout to turn the players into national assets. Even now the players remain properties of private clubs; just like some of the best players in the world out there. But the difference is that players in other countries have that deeper understanding about representing the country and the notion of taking responsibility is embedded into their psyche from a young age. This is not the case in Sri Lanka. Just rewind the clock and see how many Sri Lankan sportsmen and officials decamped on their return from overseas after a tournament concluded. Luckily, we haven’t seen that in the annals of Sri Lanka rugby as yet.

Coming back to the players, Minister Namal Rajapaksa has the clout and the connections to get the players to think of a national assignment if that be the need of the hour. SLR President Rizly Illyas is a person who has grown old in the sport and is perhaps the ideal person to be in charge of rugby over here because a personality of that vintage is absolutely necessary when ambitious youngsters demand too much too soon and need to be put in their places. It’s a commonly asked question whether the sports minister and the SLR ‘big boss’ are at loggerheads and find it hard to map out a way ‘to agree to disagree’ and move on with the sport.

Rugby produces some of the fiercest battles out there on the pitch and the sport teaches you how to cherish the moments in the game and nurture friendships when you socialize after a match. This lesson must never be forgotten!

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Asalanka wants to win more games for Sri Lanka

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Rex Clementine in Dubai

Sri Lanka are enjoying a brilliant wave of success having won five games in a row now in the ICC T-20 World Cup. While their bowling has looked formidable, batting has been brittle and it needed a stunning unbeaten 80 from Charith Asalanka for them to overcome Bangladesh. Asalanka, a two time Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year and a former Sri Lanka Under-19 captain has been earmarked for great things and the first signs of a star in the making were on show on Sunday during his stunning knock.

The country is not short of cricketing talent. Kusal Mendis has been the brightest young talent to emerge in recent times but unfortunately young players lose track. Asalanka is someone who has got a good head above his shoulders and there are signs that he is a captain in the making.

“Very pleased that I was able to win a game for Sri Lanka and I am looking forward to win lot more. I was not in the best of form during the home South Africa series and missed the warm-up games here. I was able to mentally prepare for the game during that time and worked with the coaches a lot and there was lot of input from Mahela as well,” Asalanka told journalists.

Providing him good support was Bhanuka Rajapaksa with whom he added 86 runs for the fifth wicket after the top order had collapsed.

“We all know that Bhanuka is an attacking batsman. No matter what the situation of the game is, he will attack. There was a short boundary on one side of the wicket so we wanted to target that and it worked,” Asalanka explained.

“We had done a lot of analysis as to which bowler to target and stuff. The other thing is that in all venues one side of the boundary is short so there was no harm in taking on even their best bowler.”

Sri Lanka will take on Australia today in Dubai and Asalanka said that a lot of planning has gone in ahead of the game. “We have a plan for each of the 11 Australian players. We kept out one day and did the planning against them. Australia is completely different from Bangladesh. Their strength is pace. We have done a lot of training accordingly and looking forward to it,” Asalanka explained.

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