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The incomparable Vijaya Malalasekera

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Vijaya Malalasekera and Mano Ponniah opening for Cambridge against Oxford at Lord’s – July 1967.

By Rohan Wijeyaratna

It was the Royal – Thomian of 1963. Royal batting second were facing a formidable Thomian total of 254 for 8 declared. Before long they were heading for trouble at 34 for 3. That’s when a fresh-faced youngster still only 17, made his way to the middle. Before his arrival, he was subjected to a copious dousing of well-meant advice from Saliya Atapattu – a former Royal sporting personality, seated next to him in the pavilion. It was all about what must be done to avert a possible calamity, since that possibility now seemed staring Royal, squarely in the face.

Distinctly funereal

As if to confirm Saliya Attapattu’s worst fears were no stretch of his imagination, Royal were soon 42 for 4 when Tony Sirimanne (later of CR fame) snared the scalp of the Royal skipper S.S. Kumar for very little. Let alone overhauling the Thomians, getting past the follow-on mark now seemed a distant dream for the Reid Avenue boys. The Thomian attack consisted of burly Roger D’ Silva, Barney Reid, Tony Sirimanne, Panditharatne and Sarath Seneviratne, and as Cedric Fernando now wended his way to join Vijaya Malalasekera in the middle, the mood in the Royal camp was distinctly funereal, while the noise from the Thomian camp threatened to lift the pavilion rafters.

Roger D’Silva with his tail up, was bowling like the wind, and Barney Reid was doing his usual thing – bowling spin and swing with mesmeric skill and guile, out-foxing everyone standing 20 yards away. With Cedric Fernando’s arrival, everyone resigned to expect the worst.

That was when the perfect anti-climax slowly began to unravel.

Took the bull by the horns

Malalasekera -a fresh faced lad, strong of build and even stronger of temperament, wasn’t the type to die wondering. Being a cricketing buccaneer of sorts, he quickly ditched Saliya Attapattu’s well meant advice, no sooner he got up from his pavilion seat. Deciding instead to take the bull by its horns, Malalasekera cut loose with an array of stinging square cuts, drives, pulls and hooks, against Roger D’ Silva’s menacing pace. Then he proceeded to nullify Barney Reid’s nagging accuracy, guile and cunning, by unleashing an array of strokes of such breathtaking fury, they were now being wildly cheered by even those in the Thomian camp, who by then had reached an advanced state of inebriation and didn’t know who was doing what. Noisy pavilion banter argued whether or not this was the most furious innings ever seen at a Royal-Thomian. Let there be no mistake; this was no exhibition of vulgar village green hitting. Instead, it was fearsomely orthodox stroke play, executed with immense power and precision. In short, it was reminiscent of an Everton Weekes’ innings when in full flow. Some of Vijaya’s drives to the cover boundary were of such ferocity and force, the ball would hit the short parapet wall at the front of block C or D at the Oval, and ricochet right back to the actual playing strip! Thanks to this unprecedented assault, Malalasekera reached a sensational hundred in just two hours and 10 minutes on either side of lunch on day two. That innings which contained 20 fours and one six turned the flow of the game on its head, and to date ranks as one of the most fiercest exhibitions of sustained hitting ever seen in the entire history of the Royal-Thomian. Shortly after that blitzkrieg, Royal declared at 207 for four.

Hadrian’s wall

Throughout it all, Cedric Fernando served as the perfect foil for Vijaya, presenting a bat which rivalled Hadrian’s great wall beyond which no ball could pass. No amount of praise would do him justice for the role he played in this gallant partnership. Although playing second fiddle, Fernando played a stellar role in the proceedings and at the declaration was unbeaten on 47. Malalasekera remained unbowed on 112,whilst playing the innings of his life.

Never a selfish cricketer

Vijaya Malalasekera was never a selfish cricketer. Instead, he was a supremely confident young man with a cavalier bent, ready and willing at all time to back his own instincts. Not in a conceited way, he was cocky up to his eye-lashes, of his own abilities. It was not in his character to tailor his innings to make good his promise to his parents, that should they come down from London to witness the match, he would make a hundred. Grapevine rumour has it that the father in a moment of light headed recklessness had responded saying that in that event, he would secure his son a seat at Cambridge. Being Ceylon’s Ambassador in England at the time, there was not a lot Gunapala Malalasekera could not do, given the esteem in which he was held in those parts. But Vijaya being Vijaya and therefore hugely popular and totally out-going in a literal and metaphorical sense, had little time for study whilst at Royal. As things panned out Vijaya secured his place at Cambridge after acquiring the necessary entrance requirements in England. The story heard through the grapevine of his father’s promise to get him to Cambridge in return for a ‘big match’ hundred may be or mayn’t be true, but it is a good story and therefore shall be retained. What is definitely true however, is that his sporting stock rose considerably after his ‘big match’ performance and tilted the scales in his favour, when the prestigious ‘Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ award was announced. That was a fitting culmination to a terrific season for this hugely popular, fun loving young man.

On the strength of that one inning Vijaya Malalasekera was included in the Colts XI which played the University in a crucial game which would decide the Sara Trophy champions for that year. Malalasekera played a brief but trademark innings as Colts got the better of their opponents who went on to win the championship on points. That was the only Sara trophy game Vijaya played in Ceylon, before proceeding to England to join his parents. With his departure, he forewent the Royal College captaincy the following year.

Having fulfilled the entrance requirements and charmed his way past the Admissions Tutor at Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, Malalasekera was in like a breeze and allowed to read for a degree in Law in 1966.

Murray asked to leave

Much like Lorenz Pereira of a slightly earlier vintage and quite predictably, Vijaya enjoyed his life at Cambridge to the fullest. So did one Deryck Murray, who kept wicket for the West Indies and captained the Varsity at cricket in 1965 and 1966. Murray took an instant liking to Vijaya, both for his style of batting and his approach to life. In fact, Murray tended to enjoy himself so much, he was kindly asked to leave the University by the end of his second year whilst being Captain of Cambridge! The social life at Cambridge seemed irresistible to some, and a source of immense distraction to cavalier cricketers, who were unwilling to have their noses constantly pore over their books while the bright lights beckoned. In Malalasekera’s first year (1966) while batting at No 6, he played 24 innings in 13 first class matches, making 323 runs with a highest score of 80 at an average of 13.45. Against Essex in his very first match Vijaya batting in the same vein as his ‘Big Match’ innings of 1963, pummeled a brilliant 80 against the likes of Barry Knight, Robin Hobbs and Ray East, and against Northants, he made an attractive 72 teaming up with Deryck Murray to record the highest Cambridge total for the season. But as Wisden pointed out, “….. V.P. Malalasekera from Ceylon, flattered only to deceive too often.” All told, Cambridge enjoyed a poor season in 1966.

Peter May’s admiration

Having enjoyed a reasonably successful first year, Malalasekera failed to become an automatic choice the following year as his magical form deserted him. Consequently, and much to his chagrin he was left out of the Cambridge side, and was playing for the Fitzwilliam College XI instead; a crushing blow to a young man’s ego. However, in the annual Cambridge University v Quidnuncs (former Cantabrigians) fixture, Steve Russell, the Cambridge captain invited Malalasekera to open batting with All-Ceylon opener Mano Ponniah, who had by then, just joined the Varsity.

Stung by the fact that he was dropped from the Varsity team, Malalasekera on his way to the middle, somewhat nervously asked Ponniah not only to take first strike, but also to ‘take it easy’ against Test opening bowler Richard Hutton, who was tasked to open the proceedings. Ponniah taking first strike promptly forgot his solemn promise and gleefully took a single off the very first ball to get off strike. This brought Vijaya Malalasekera to face England Test paceman Richard Hutton, now in his prime.

As Ponniah recalls, nervousness was plainly visible on Vijaya’s face. In fact, his face seemed whiter than Hutton’s! That was before the ball arrived. It came at a screaming pace and left at a screaming pace. In-between, Malalasekera had leaned into it and stroked it superlatively on the up with such sublime timing and placement, the ball vanished like a startled banshee, gathering speed as it went. This was such a spectacular strike through the covers, Peter May standing at first slip could not resist applauding, and as he crossed to change ends at the end of the over, he stopped and asked Vijaya for his 2 lb 2 oz bat to have a closer look at it. Peter May the ex- English captain was renowned as one of the hardest strikers of a cricket ball in England in his glory days of active cricket.

Cambridge team pictured besides the Grace Gates at Lord’s. Vijay Malalasekera seated front row extreme right and Mano Ponniah standing second from right.

The first Asians to open for Cambridge

For the record, Mano Ponniah and Vijay Malalasekera were the first Asians to open for Cambridge in the Varsity game of 1967. This was Ponniah’s first year at Cambridge. Vijaya missed playing in the entire 1968 season, thanks to a troublesome shoulder injury.

Completing his degree the following year, Malalasekera proceeded to Law College, where he passed his Law exams in 1970. Reading his name on the notice board one day, he was so thrilled, he ran all the way to his erstwhile friend Gijra Rajapakse’s digs to break the news and proceeded to ring all known Sri Lankan friends to come along to London House to fittingly celebrate his success!

Chose his friends wisely

Unsurprisingly, Vijaya– at least outwardly -was a strong Buddhist. He was also an internationalist in every sense of the word. He saw no division amongst religions; a fact driven home by his marriage to Niri – a strong catholic. Gijra Rajapakse was the Bestman at the wedding. The story goes that Gijra, walking alongside Vijaya just seconds before they entered the church together, whispered in his ear “Malalasekera, the car is outside; in case you change your mind”. There was no gain saying Vijaya chose his closest friends wisely!

Among the hand luggage he carried with him on his way back to Ceylon was a book on Buddhism picked up on the way. Knowing that it was very likely his parents would be at the airport to greet him, Vijaya carried the book prominently in his hand to impress his father in particular, who was a leading light in Buddhist affairs back in Ceylon. The tactic some say, worked wonders!

Nearly decapitated….

On his return, Vijaya played a few Sara Trophy games for the NCC and then shifted to the CCC where he played some Daily News cricket. Mahen Dayananda of the CCC who shared many a partnership with him recalls walking up to Malalasekera and pleading with him on one occasion to hit his straight drives not so straight, lest he be decapitated at the non-striker’s end!

Malalasekera tried his hand at practicing law but soon decided to join the private sector instead. Shortly, he was heading the legal Department at Ceylon Tobacco Company, and ended up as its Corporate and Regulatory Affairs Director. Upon his retirement he was invited to join several other companies as a Board member, since his expertise, experience and knowledge on good governance were in high demand, and valued by many.

The first two Interim Committees

Following gun fire at the Cricket Board AGM in early 1999, President Chandrika Kumaratunge dissolved the Board and installed the first Interim Committee, headed by Rienzie Wijetilleke. That Committee came across as a breath of fresh air into the musty cricket administration at the time. However, they functioned for less than one year from June 1999, resigning from their posts in May 2000, owing to continual political intrigue exercised by those who should have known better. Not before long, the Cricket Board was again mired in controversy, necessitating higher powers to intervene. Possibly because she knew him personally and trusted in his ability and sincerity, Vijaya Malalasekera was appointed by President Chandrika Kumaratunge as Chairman of the second Interim Committee of the cricket Board in 2002. He accepted, but not before making it quite clear that he wished her to always fully back his judgment, failing which he would be gone. To her eternal credit, President Kumaratunge kept to her word and respected the understanding. Appointed alongside him were Michael Tissera, Sidath Wettimuny and Kushil Gunasekera, in what was one of the most productive and efficient Interim Committees the Board had ever known.

During Vijaya’s tenure, Sri Lanka registered a record ten straight Test wins under Sanath Jayasuriya’s captaincy. At least a part of that success must be credited to Vijaya’s leadership and methods of governance. He led by example. He was clear cut, forthright, bold and fearless in his decision making. Yet he was non interfering. He set an example and displayed sterling qualities of leadership. This trend cascaded to each rung below. He strongly believed a leader is only as good as his team. Men of proven worth and capability were invited to serve on the various sub-committees, and they were allowed to utilize their expertise and work without hindrance. Alas, that Interim Committee too wasn’t destined to remain long in office. In the political upheaval of late 2002, the Ministry of Sports went into the hands of a different ruling political faction and Vijaya Malalasekera for no valid reason was removed from his post as a consequence. That was the end of one of the most productive spells of cricket administration in this country.

Walked with Kings ……

Fun loving and friendly by nature, Vijaya Malalasekera was comfortable in any crowd, be it royalty or men from the street. He could – as the poet said – walk with Kings, yet not lose the common touch. Although a colourful cricketer and a ‘character’ in his own right, he proved in a spell of less than one year, that his greatest contribution to the game could have been through its administration. It was to the eternal misfortune of this country that it failed to use him considerably more, than it actually did!



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Dialog powers SLAF ‘Commander’s Cup 2022’ golf tournament

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The Sri Lanka Air Force will commence its sports program for the new year with the prestigious ‘Commanders Cup 2022’ golf tournament powered by Dialog Enterprises.

The 9th edition of the Commander’s Cup golf tournament will take off at the picturesque Eagle golf links at China Bay on the 22nd of January with the participation of over 100 local and foreign golfers. The 18-hole course offers nearly seven kilometers of challenging rounds of golf for a par of 72. (Competitors will have the opportunity to play a practice round on the 21st).

In addition to the ‘Commander’s Cup’  tournament male and female golfers presently serving in the tri-forces will vie for the Eagle’s Challenge Trophy.

The awards ceremony will take place on the 22nd evening.

At a media briefing held at the SLAF headquarters to announce the tournament,  Group Chief Officer of Dialog Enterprises Navin Peiris said that Dialog was honoured to partner Sri Lanka Air Force to make the prestigious Commander’s cup golf tournament a success. He added that the tournament brings together the top ranking players and provides players from the tri-forces to hone their skills.”Throughout the past year Dialog Enterprises has maintained a close association with the sport of golf in Sri Lanka by sponsoring golf clubs, tournaments,  golf development clinics for children, supporting leading golfers at national and international level and uplifting the livelihood of communities connected to the sport,” he said

Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana and Group Chief Officer of Dialog Enterprises Navin Peiris unveiled the ‘Commander’s Cup’ after which Pieris handed over the sponsorship check to the Air Force Commander.

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Sakuna, Dunith guide Sri Lanka to hard-fought victory 

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ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup

Skipper Dunith Wellalage and middle order batsman Sakuna Liyanage played vital roles as Sri Lanka Under 19s registered a 40 run victory over Scotland in their opening match of the ICC Under 19 World Cup in Georgetown on Friday.

Wellalage’s canny left-arm spin saw him rack up formidable figures of five for 27 from nine overs as Scotland were unable to ever get going in pursuit of their 219 target.

Liyanage was the hero with the bat, striking a majestic run-a-ball 85 to haul his side up to a total that left the game intriguingly poised at the halfway mark.

Raveen de Silva (30) delivered some important runs from the tail while contributions from top order batters Chamindu Wickramasinghe (28) and Sadisha Rajapaksa (24) left Charlie Peet’s Scots with considerable work to do.

Sean Fischer-Keogh (3-56), Jack Jarvis and Oliver Davidson – two wickets apiece – starred with the ball but underdogs Scotland were unable to mount a viable attempt with the bat as Sri Lanka’s spinners turned the screw.

Spearheaded by Wellalage’s brilliance, the 2000 runners-up suffocated the Scots as Shevon Daniel (2-16), Matheesha Pathirana and Wanuja Sahan also took important wickets.

Only middle-order batter Jarvis, who notched 55 off 61 balls after arriving at the crease with scoreboard pressure intensifying, scored over 20 for Scotland after the top four failed to fire in the face of some accurate Sri Lankan bowling.

A flurry of late wickets saw Scotland eventually dismissed with eight balls of the innings remaining, 40 runs short of Sri Lanka who will look to build valuable momentum ahead of their mouth-watering Monday meeting with fellow Friday winners Australia.

Australia delivered a dominant early statement of intent as the hotly-anticipated ICC Under 19 Men’s Cricket World Cup kicked off on Friday.

The three-time champions breezed past West Indies by six wickets to get their tournament off to a flyer and inflict an early blow on the hosts in Guyana.

Cooper Connolly’s side required just 40.1 overs to take all ten West Indian wickets and spearheaded by opener Teague Wyllie, chased down their target of 170 to win with ease.

West Indies were punished for a below-par batting performance as Australia cruised to a comfortable triumph at Providence.

After Ackeem Auguste’s side had been bowled out for just 169 – with almost ten full overs to spare – Wyllie’s polished 86 not out helped Australia complete the most impressive display of the day and win within 45 overs.

Australia’s seamers had caused havoc with the new ball as opening bowlers Tom Whitney – three for 20 – and William Salzmann – one for 19 – reduced the hosts to 12 for three after 5.1 overs. Skipper Auguste’s defiant 57, bolstered by wicket-keeper Rivaldo Clarke’s 37, propelled them to a fourth wicket partnership of 95 but wickets at regular intervals after Clarke’s dismissal proved the West Indians’ downfall.

Australian captain Connolly and off-spinner Nivethan Radhakrishna took three wickets apiece as West Indies, winners of the ICC U19 Men’s CWC in 2016, were unable to muster a match-winning total.

And that inability was ruthlessly capitalised on by the Australians, who overcame the early dismissals of top order batters Corey Miller and Isaac Higgins to power to a straightforward victory.

Wyllie’s impressive innings was assisted by Radhakrishnan’s 31 and Connolly’s 23 as Australia, crowned champions back in 1988, 2002 and 2010, got their tournament off to the perfect start in the Caribbean.

Sri Lanka U19 beat Scotland

Brief Scores:

Sri Lanka U19

218 all out in 45.2 overs (Chamindu Wickramasinghe 28, Sadeesha Rajapaksa 24, Sakuna Liyanage 85, Raveen de Silva 30; Sean Fischer-Keogh 3/56, Jack Jarvis 2/27, Oliver Davidson 2/50) 

Scotland U19

178 all out in 48.4 overs (Jack Jarvis 55; Dunith Wellalage 5/27, Shevon Daniel 2/16) 

Australia U19 beat West Indies

Brief Scores:

West Indies U19

169 all out in 40.1 overs (Rivaldo Clarke 37, Ackeem Auguste 57, McKenny Clarke 29; Tom Whitney 3/20, Nivethan Radhakrishnan 3/48, Cooper Connolly 3/17) 

Australia U19

170 for 4 in 44.5 overs (Teague Wyllie 86n.o., Cooper Connolly 23, Nivethan Radhakrishnan 31)  

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Chandimal and Asalanka star in thrilling Sri Lankan win

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Rex Clementine at Pallekele

Having been given a fresh life in white ball cricket, former captain Dinesh Chandimal grabbed the opportunity with both hands posting a match winning 75 to help Sri Lanka to a thrilling five wicket win over Zimbabwe at Pallekele last night.

Set a daunting target of 297, the hosts got home with nine deliveries to spare as Charith Asalanka and Chandimal starred sharing a 129 run stand for the fourth wicket to help Sri Lanka go 1-0 up in the three match series. It’s now the highest successful run chase at Pallekele improving on Sri Lanka’s 288 for eight against Pakistan in 2015.

Çhandimal was not part of the ODI squad but was a late replacement as a COVID scare forced the selectors to withdraw several players.

Pathum Nissanka had batted superbly for his less than run a ball 75 but with his dismissal Sri Lanka were down to 147 for three in the 25th over. With the hosts not having much batting depth, the fourth wicket pair of Chandimal and Asalanka had to rise to the occasion and they did it so well.

Going into the last ten overs, Sri Lanka needed a run a ball and without taking any undue risks Chandimal and Asalanka finished off the job. When the partnership was eventually broken, Sri Lanka needed 21 runs.

The fourth wicket stand was worth 129 and came off 127 deliveries as Sri Lanka started off the new year with a win.

Earlier, the experienced Sean Williams was the mainstay of Zimbabwe innings hitting his fifth ODI century and in the process he became the seventh Zimbabwean to score 4000 runs. He is the fourth fastest Zimbabwean to the milestone behind the Flower brothers and Brendan Taylor.

Williams  half-century came in 52 balls and he required only 34 more deliveries to complete his hundred. His knock contained nine fours and two sixes.

Williams  knock followed after a good partnership by the openers. Regis Chakabva was dropped on two by Charith Asalanka at slip off Nuwan Pradeep and he went onto post his third half-century.  Chakabva made 72 and shared a 80 run stand for the first wicket with Takudzwanashe Kaitano, who was on debut.

Sri Lanka were sloppy with their fielding putting down two straight forward chances and their over rate too was well below par taking 20 minutes more time than the stipulated time limit.

The hosts handed ODI debut to Chamika Gunasekara but after sending one over, the 22-year-old quick returned to the pavilion with a left hamstring strain and never returned.

At 248 for four with six overs remaining, Zimbabwe were threatening to post a total beyond 300 but Sri Lanka pulled things back as there was a flurry of wickets.

Chamika Karunaratne was the pick of the bowlers finishing with three for 69. He picked up two wickets in the last over of the innings and his figures were spoilt as last man Richard Ngarava smashed a six and a four off the last two deliveries of the over.

SLC had decided to allow half of the capacity crowd and close to 10,000 supporters turned up.

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