My earliest memory of the legendary cricket coach of Ananda, P.W. Perera, is of a strongly built man with a commanding presence directing operations at the centre of the grounds that Ananda shared with Nalanda at Campbell Place. With his weather-beaten face, sleeves rolled half-way up his muscular fore-arms and the top button of his white shirt unbuttoned he reminded me of some of the great West Indian cricketers of that era.
It was Ananda’s good fortune that “PW” as we fondly called him among ourselves (officially he was, and still is, an unfeigned “Sir”), returned to coach Ananda in 1966. Of course, his reputation had preceded him, having achieved great things coaching Ananda during the fifties, but we did not know what to expect. The Big Match souvenir showed that he had the record for the best bowling performance in the Ananda-Nalanda series (8 for 51 in 1941, the year after he captained Ananda) but we knew little about the man himself.
The first thing that struck me was his emphasis on discipline, dedication and the honour associated with playing for Ananda. At the time he played school cricket, Ananda was still looked down upon by the more established, ‘westernised’ schools and the cricket establishment. This attitude extended well into the fifties until an army of outstanding cricketers from Ananda, Nalanda and other so-called ‘inferior’ schools ended that era. Many of that vanguard of storm-troopers were PW products.
Our predecessors had to overcome prejudice as well as be much better than the others to be considered equals worthy of respect and opportunity. However, PW harboured no bitterness. His response, which we in turn adopted, was to counter with relentless determination and consistent performance. So our coach and mentor would be on the ground well in time for practices and make sure that we put our time to good use. When the time came for battle, we were ready physically and psychologically.
PW was a non-intrusive coach. He didn’t try to change a cricketer’s natural style and instincts to fit a pre-conceived mould. There was no standardisation. Instead, he would focus on spotting talent, getting the basics right and instilling the right attitudes. Everyone was treated fairly and had to play their part. There was never any doubt that Ananda and the team’s interest came first - always. In many ways, he was more like a father to us all – watchful, supportive, preparing us for the future.
He would invite past Ananda cricketers to join in our practices and help out. Through our interactions we were made more aware that we were part of a great tradition, a broader ‘family’ that had fought and overcome many past battles. We also learnt the unwritten lessons of experience passed on from generation to generation by word and deed. This gave us youngsters a sense of pride in Ananda’s hard-won track record and steeled us to play our part in embellishing it further.
PW had an instinctive feel for the psychological aspects of coaching too. He would, when he felt the time was right, thrust players into situations which would make them extend themselves and discover their capabilities. A test of fire !
I well remember the first day of our match against Trinity College in 1968 when our usually reliable coach suddenly announced that I, a seasoned tail-ender, would bat at No.3. We had a battery of accomplished batsmen so it came as a sharp shock to everyone. Mine was not to question why but to go out there and not let down our coach. At the end of play, I was on 97 not out and next day I completed my first and only century in any form of cricket ! I realised later that he took that risk to make me grow as an individual – and, of course, strengthen Ananda’s team for the future. PW still relates this incident ostensibly in jest, but I learnt an important life-lesson that day all those years ago.
P.W. Perera grew up during a period when the resurgence of national consciousness was in full flow. Home-grown institutions like Ananda, Nalanda and Dharmaraja were not merely schools but centres where the collective conscience of emerging, independent Sri Lanka was being formed. During this period of significant social change, hardship and struggle were facts of daily life for these institutions and the people who gave them life. The forces arrayed to undermine them were many.
Even sports, like cricket, were not just amusements but part of the struggle to conclusively prove that the ‘natives’ were capable of achieving excellence and taking care of their own affairs. PW was a student at Ananda between 1935 and 1941, playing for the college for four years from 1938 to 1941. In his final year he set up that famous Big Match bowling record and went on to captain the Combined Schools team – the first Anandian to do so. This was a period when no one from outside the anointed circle of schools and clubs could hope to be considered for the national team. So PW played club cricket and Sri Lanka missed out.
He started his coaching career at Dharmaraja College, Kandy shaping the team up to beat teams like Ananda, Nalanda, Trinity and St.Anthony's. He then joined the Prisons Department in 1944 and thereafter, coached schools wherever his job took him – St.Mary’s College - Negombo, an 8-year stint with Ananda, St.Servatius’ College – Matara, another 8 years with Ananda, St. Anthony’s College – Kandy and on to D.S. Senanayake Vidyalaya (where a young Aravinda de Silva was rising fast). Finally, PW took charge of all the junior teams at Ananda in 1982 and kept going until he finally retired at the end of 2004. Quite a long and varied inning spanning over 60 years of coaching – testimony to his love and dedication to the game.
In the early 1990s PW completed 50 years of coaching school cricket but his enthusiasm remained undimmed. The traditional match between Ananda and Dharmaraja, where he started his coaching career, seemed the most appropriate occasion to celebrate his unparalleled contribution and so a challenge trophy in his name was instituted in 1998. Henceforth, the game between these two brother schools would be contested for the P.W. Perera trophy. The trophy, to which many of his past students contributed, was finally presented to the College and PW’s contribution acknowledged at the Ananda Colours Night on 10th December, 1998. When PW walked on to the stage of Kularatne Hall that evening, he received a spontaneous standing ovation from the entire audience, many of whom could have been his great-grandchildren, and he was visibly moved. Later that day I wrote to him -
“You are a cricketing institution at Ananda and so many other schools around the country that we can safely assert that you are a national asset. The results are there for all to see even though you don’t advertise the fact.
We are also grateful to you for teaching us, directly and through your own lifestyle, the lessons that cricket and its traditions offer to produce mature, decent human beings – qualities such as simplicity, unselfisness, fairplay, determination, perseverance and team spirit.
As all those boys who benefit from your paternal guidance progress to adulthood and go their separate ways in life, the responsibilities they have to take on may not leave them much time to return to their roots. But whenever they happen to meet, they never fail to recall those golden years of cricket that you made possible. The sharing of these happy memories alone will ensure that P.W. Perera will be remembered well into the 21st century and beyond.
The trophy presented today in your honour and the token gift is quite inadequate but I hope you will recognize them for what they are – symbols of the affection and high regard we have for you.”
In his reply he stated –
“Believe me, if I have achieved any success as a cricket coach, it was completely due to my love and absolute devotion to the job treating each pupil alike and, in my humble way, trying to make him a complete cricketer and a complete gentleman as well”.
That sums up the man and his character precisely.
1935 - 1941 :
STUDENT AT ANANDA COLLEGE
Copyright © 2001 OAAV. All rights reserved.