Whenever we meet up with a fellow schoolmate, if he was not known to you, one of the first things we do, is try to establish when he was in school. Even though we may ask which year did you leave college? we often follow it up with were you with so and so? Invariably the person referred to would have been a prominent or colourful character while in school. With me, most often the question is were you with A.G. (Perera) or Dumindha (Siriwardene) or Lalith (Gunaratne). They all captained the Cricket Teams. I say yes to all, because I am very proud to say I was with them, even though Dumi was a year senior to me and Lalith was a couple of years junior to me. A.G. was a classmate of mine right through from the middle school to the A.L. Classes.
It is well over three decades since I formally left the precincts of Ananda as a student, but how well I remember some of the vibrant Anandians who were there then. Looking back, I was trying to do this little exercise to figure out who I thought was the most colourful Anandian of my era. Many names flash though my mind. I know my judgment would definitely be clouded. As a very young Anandian in the primary school we looked up to all the senior sportsmen as big heroes. Then as we grew up and we ourselves became the seniors we came to know our mates better and appreciated them more for their good humour, sportsmanship, loyalty and true grit. So this is just one persons memories of some of the very many Anandians who would have been there at that time.
Definitely one of my very first heroes was Danasiri Weerasighe. The first ever Big Match I went for was the year Dane captained. I was in standard four (in Mr Ruberus class) and can still recall how excited I was to go to the Oval to watch the match. Of course I couldnt understand head or tail of what was happening on the field. But I could well remember that I thought our Captain was way more handsome than the Captain of Nalanda! I could also remember Nimal Thammita who was the Vice Captain and opening bowler coming to our class for something. How thrilled we were that we were able to touch his blazer! I did not know Dane much at school, but I did get to know him later, first as my cricket coach, and now as a friend and mentor.
I am sure most of us know Dane. However I would like to share a story or two about him during his time as our cricket coach. Dane had this uncanny knack of making the right decisions even when it seemed absurd or unpopular at the time. I can well remember one particular incident. There was this young cricketer who had just turned fifteen, but Dane thought he was exceptionally talented and had the correct temperament to play in the First Eleven Team. Most every one thought otherwise and there was a lot of opposition. In fact he looked rather thin and frail, and few thought he would be able to face a barrage of good pace bowling. Even Mr Rajapakse (Col G.W.Rajapakse) who was the prefect of games at the time had advised Dane against playing him. Dane convinced Mr Rajapkase and the young fifteen year old played for the first eleven. From the very first game, he played as if he was a third year coloursman. That fifteen year old was none other than Sunil Wettimuni (now a Pilot with Sri Lankan Airlines) who went on to be the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year and later played for the Sri Lanka Team for many years.
That was not the only instance. There were many more. It was the same with the selection of Nihal Jayasinghe. Dane selected Nihal to play for the big match as an opening bowler even though at the time some of the others in the selection committee were not too happy about it. Nihal played and in a superb spell of bowling captured 7 wickets for thirty odd runs. The chances were that he would have bettered P.W.Pereras (another renowned cricket coach of Ananda) bowling record of 8 for 58 at the Big Match, had Nalanda not declared their innings closed in spite of being in a bad way.
An incident I would never forget is when Dane dropped me for the St. Benedicts match, in preference to my buddy Nimal Eddussuriya. I was a big hero the previous week having saved the match against Mahinda College. In a last wicket partnership of just 16 runs, we held on for 65 minutes to save the match from an innings defeat. So I was quite sure of my place in the team for the last three matches of the season. It came as a rude shock when I found that I was dropped for the next match. I didnt talk to anyone on our usual walk after cricket practice from Campbell Place to the Borella bus stand. That day I thought there was no greater villain than Danasiri Weerasinghe in generations! Nimal opened the bowling and took 8 wickets in the first innings. Dane was proved right once again. I was a very disappointed schoolboy at that time, but on looking back I cannot thank Dane enough for the lessons we learned from him. With him always the Team came first and individuals second.
During the period of 1955 to 1960 Ananda produced a host of superb sportsmen. Some names that come to mind straightaway are, Sarath Wijesinghe (Athletics and Cricket), Daya Aththanagoda (Athletics), D.D. Somasiri (Athletics and Cricket), Para Molligoda, Palitha Premasiri, Daya Amarasinghe, N.G.Ekanayake and Anuruddha Polonowita (all Cricketers). Then there was H.B. Jayasekra (Athletics and Cricket) and L. Blalasuriya (Cadetting) both of whom later became two of the top most Civil Engineers in Sri Lanka. Nandasiri de Silva, Rohana Amarasinghe, and Priya Lecumwasam excelled in Athletics. Of the above, the contribution made by Anu Polongs (as he is popularly known) to Sri Lanka cricket in general and cricket at Ananda in particular has been exceptional.
Even though I would have been quite young, I do recall a number of memorable events concerning the above-mentioned Anandians. Daya Amarasinghes back-to-back centuries. Para Molligodas defiant century- which included two massive sixers- against Zahira College when we had to field a second string team due to most of the senior players being down with chickenpox. D.D. Somasiris 88 at the Big Match. But more than anyone else I think there were three very exceptional sportsmen of that era. They were Sonny Yatawara (sadly he passed away last year), Rohan Daluwatte and Vijitha Wejesekera.
Yatawara excelled in cricket and soccer and he represented the college in athletics and hockey as well. But he will be best remembered as a fiery opening bowler. That was an era when batsmen did not wear helmets, and it would have been awesome to face a bowler of Yatawaras pace. I can still vividly remember the St.Peters-Ananda match when three Peterite Cricketers had to be carried off the field injured by Yatawara bouncers. I suppose Yatawara was the answer to St. Peters Russell Duckworth whose bouncers injured a couple of Anandians in the previous year. Another memorable moment of Yatawaras cricketing career would be when representing Sri Lanka, he clean bowled the great Sir Garry Sobers at the Colombo Oval.
Rohan Daluwatte. What a sportsman he was. He excelled in every sport he did. He was the Senior Sergeant of the cadet platoon, and captained the College Athletics and Basket Ball Teams. He also represented the college in cricket and soccer and he was a good badminton player as well. During his time Ananda excelled in Athletics, Basketball and Cadetting not to mention Cricket. Even then, Dalu showed his qualities of leadership. He was soft spoken, unassuming and always had time for the juniors. It is no surprise that today he is the top General in Charge of the Defence Forces in Sri Lanka.
Vijitha Wejesekera was another exceptional athlete. He did only athletics as a sport but that he did exceedingly well. It was such a delight to watch him glide over the hurdles. He was the public schools champion in the Hurdles and the Pole-vault. If I remember correctly he broke the Ceylon Record in the hurdles while in school and the pole-vault record a few years later. He was such an outstanding athlete that he was voted as the All Island Sports Star of the Year.
The memories of the years from 1960 to 66 are even more vivid. Space will not permit me to relate all the interesting incidents and anecdotes of that time. There were many exceptional sportsmen and there were a few others who were unforgettable and colourful characters. Ananda produced some superb cricketers during that time. The most prominent amongst them were cricketers like, Yatagama Amaradasa, Para Polonowitta, T.D. Rajapakse, Sarath Wimalaratne, Mohanlal Fernando, Dharamsiri (Tikka) de Silva, Lucky Hewagama, Duminda Siriwardene, A.G.Perera, Dayan Pathirawithane, Thilak de Silva, Lalith Gunaratne, Mahilal de Silva, Sunil Wettimuni and Sanjeewa Senanayake. They were all top- notch school cricketers.
There were of course other sportsmen as well. Some of them are happily here with us in Melbourne. Some of the athletes that come to mind are Nanda Ranatunge, Mani Seniviratne, (both Nanda and Mani live in Melbourne)Hema Amarasinghe, C.S. Muddananyak, Ranjith Athulathmudali, Mahinda Wickramaratne,, Neil Umagiliya and S.C.P. Jayasuriya . (Again it is with sadness I note that S.C.P. passed away a couple of months ago. He was a Deputy Inspector General of Police). Even though Ananda didnt have a swimming pool at the time Boris Marks, and P.S.P.Dayananda became national swimming and diving champions. Another very colourful character of that era was my good friend Nevile Fernando who also lives in Melbourne now. Nevile captained the Table Tennis Team and was a member of the Cricket team. But more than anything else Nevile will be remembered for his wit. It was a laugh a minute to listen to him then and that has not changed one bit after all these years. Mohan Perera is another top sportsman of that era who is living with us in Melbourne today. Mohan had the unique distinction of captaining the Tennis, Table Tennis, and Badminton teams.
Through the years Anandians have served our Defence Forces with pride. There were many Anandians who joined the Sri Lanka Army in the early and mid sixties. Upali Karunaratne, Jaliya Nammuni, Patrick Fernando, Lionel Balagalle (the present Army Commander), D.S.K. (Sisira) Wejesuriya, Gamini Gunesekera (Baba Gune) all excelled in sports and/or cadetting while in College and became Major Generals in the Army. Daya Rajasinghe excelled in cadetting and rifle shooting and represented Sri Lanka in many events. It is with pride we note that there are more Anandians in our Defence Forces today than from any other school, fighting in defence of the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
Then there were many Anandians who were not necessarily sportsmen, but who would be remembered for their colourful personalities during their time at College. Mahipala (Mike) Udabage, Buddadasa Bohodinayake, Lal Kurukulasuriya, Wickramabahu Karunaratne, Karu Jayasuriya, Preethiraj Wejegunewardene, Ranjan Hearth Gunerathne, Devasiri Rodrigo and Sudharshan Senevirathne (Sudharshan also captained the first ever Rugger Team) are some that come to mind.. All of them with the exception of Ranjan are at the top of their respective professions today. Ranjan was a very vibrant and brilliant student while at College. He came first in the Island at the A.L. Exams and was exempted from the first year at the University. (Incidentally there were 12 students from Ananda who were exempted from the first year at the Faculty of Engineering that year.) Most tragically a brilliant career was cut short when Ranjan was drowned in the Mahavalli on 2 July 1966.
Amongst all these wonderful characters who would I think was the most colourful of them all? There were many but with difficulty I narrowed it down to two. It came down to Rohan Daluwatte and Sarath Wimalaratne. But how could you differentiate from some of the others who had shown such wonderful qualities. How could one measure the courage and integrity of someone like Lucky Hewagama- who is with us in Melbourne now. He declined to accept the Captaincy of the Cricket Team (or play in the team) in 1963 on a matter of principle. He put the Captaincy of the Cricket team on line as he considered it unfair and unjust on a fellow teammate of the previous year. I would say it would be the dream of every Anandian to be the Captain of the First Eleven Cricket Team. May be even more than being the Head Prefect of the College.
Both Dalu and Sarath were born leaders. Everyone looked up to them, and they had that special capacity to get the best from their mates. As Sarath was closer to my age group I think I got to know him a bit better than Dalu. Sarath was the guy who would walk up to you when you were facing defeat, with the opposition having to make 10 runs to win with four wickets in hand, put his arm round your shoulder and say look, they have to get 10 runs, we need only 4 wickets, give me just four good balls right on the stumps. Thats all we need. That was Sarath. He never gave up, played hard with no quarter asked and none given. He always gave as much as he got. The year he captained the Cricket team if I remember correctly we won 5 matches lost 4 and two were drawn. The matches we lost we mainly lost because of challenging declarations. Every match had an exciting finish. That year when we beat St. Thomass College the Sunday Times back page headline was Wimalaratne Beat STC. It was an unforgettable performance from him in every department of the game- batting, bowling (pace and spin) fielding but most of all the leadership. When he was head prefect he attended every school function and encouraged the other students in their endeavours. He was a live wire in every thing he did. In short he was a true Anandian.
I think we owe much to these colourful characters. May be even as much as we owe our teachers, for all what we are today. We learnt and picked up so much from these wonderful Anandians even without realizing it. They kept up the traditions and the values of Ananda. I pay tribute to all of them not only for what I learnt from them but also for the most wonderful and cherished memories, and for making us so proud to be Anandians.
Copyright © 2001 OAAV. All rights reserved.