Trinity v ACM Lafir in the 1950: Commemorating 100 years of Trinity v St Anthony’s cricket
Dr Lakshman Karaliadde a British Sri Lankan doctor gave the Dr BS Perera memorial oration on the invitation of the Anesthesiologists and Intensivits of SL in 2010. He wanted some of his Trinity College and Kandy friends to attend. He rang me from his home in Kandy to invite me for the oration and asked me to let him know who of my Trinitian friends I was in contact with, in order to invite them too.
I mentioned YU Chang and Gamini Fernando, old school friends, mean rugby players and inveterate Marine Drive (Colombo Plan ‘Gota’s Road) early morning walkers. They had already been invited. I could not recall any others. To be helpful, I told him that I meet ACM Laffir who was for his sins an Old Anthonian.
Lakshman unhesitatingly told me to ask Lafir to come too and sent me 2 invitations. When I told Lafir, the most dominating schoolboy cricketer of his time and delivered the invitation he accepted it graciously. He asked me to thank Lakshman but said he did not know who Lakshman was at all. I told him he need not worry as what mattered was that all Trinitians of the 1950s knew him far too well for their comfort.
Laffir and I went together for the Oration at the Cinnamon Grand then Trans Asia Hotel. There were many great names of the medical profession present and it included several foreigners too. It was a superb oration, witty, with much said about the late Prof Perera and anesthetics that no doubt had the medical fraternity captivated, every one chuckling at Lakshman’s quiet humour spiced delivery and Lafir and I lacking comprehension, nearly bowled over. It also included at least 5 mentions of ACM Lafir such as ‘it was like a ACM Lafir cover drive, square cut, a rare lofted six , dignified behavior, talent, unrelenting application and hard work. All that that went into marathon innings Anthonians like Jack Anderson who scored 291 v S Thomas in the 1920s and Lafir were famous for.
As I took Lafir back he said he was very happy he had come. Many of the doctors came up to speak with him after the oration ended. He had met up with his good friend and member of his Anthonian side, the eminent Prof Sherrifdeen too. Lafir added ‘Lalin I still cannot recollect the good doctor but he even brought in my name to describe some of the intricacies of anesthetics. It was amazing. I just don’t know how he did it or why. I replied that ‘it was natural as you were such a famous cricketer in our time and he is a good doctor’. He said ‘OK but while he did mention my name several times, you who were his school friend and invited me. Why did he not mention you even once’? I said ‘Abdul don’t worry about that. Everyone present had grown up knowing all about you. All the comments about you gave an impetus to the oration. Every Trinitian of the 1950s will never forget you as you were a thundering pain to us until you got back into the pavilion. If however Dr Lakshman had mentioned my name there would have been much confusion as no one would know who or what he was talking about’.
The next time Lafir told me he was pleasantly surprised was when Lakshman invited him again when the first and only Sara Trophy winning University cricket team, all great names in SL cricket, many of them famous doctors, some of them from all over the world, held a brilliant reunion at the NCC a few years later. Everyone recognized Lafir and many a tale of his mighty doings were recalled. As I drove back I told Lafir he was beginning to be a pain again by asking questions.
Now comes the 100th anniversary of the Trinity Anthonian ‘big match’. Actually it in not exactly 100 years since the first match was played but probably the 101st or 102nd as some matches like in 1956 and 1957 were not played. I feel very sad about the 1956 match as it was to be my last for Trinity. It was Trinity that made a fuss. A fallout from that was that the first ever Kandy Schools v Colombo schools cricket match was played without any of the formidable Anthonians. They included star players like Anton Rambukpotha, SW Seneviratne, Ranjith Dorenegama Michael Raj and I think Ranjith Samarasekera among others and Brian Rambukpotha, good friends of mine. Kandy Schools were thrashed by innings with Ronald Reid (S Thomas) and Selvi Perimpanayagam (Royal) scoring centuries.
I joined Trinity not very propitiously in 1948 from S Thomas Prep school Kollupitiya. Trinity captained by Lionel ‘Lala’ Wordsworth including Lakshman Kadirigamar, Lakshman Jayakody, lanky Louis Williams, Eustace Rulach,(called ‘Useless’ by the Antonians) Michael Shokman, K Karuppiah and opening bowler Shanmugam was beaten badly by Pamunwas’s team .’Lala’ and Michael later like Laffir became sub inspectors of police for a while and left disillusioned.
At times the Trinity team names looked like a listing of Kandyan Kingdom Generals and chieftains. There were also descendants of Kandyan Muslims, Kandyan Tamils and Kandyan Europeans with Ugandan, Burmese and Indians including a General entering the lists. It is said that a Kandyan Tamil descendant Kanairam played for the West Indies too.
The following year’s match was a draw. ‘Lala’s mother, a Brit was school matron and a mother to all who fell genuinely sick especially during the raging influenza epidemic in the mid 1950s. Louis’s brother Rajah played rugby for CR & FC and Ceylon partnering famed Khavan Rambukwella as an inside three. The Williams’ sister Irene from Trinity’s CMS sister school Ladies’ College was a school’s and national sprint champion. I saw Louis scoring 76 runs but do not remember against whom, probably Wesley or St Joseph’s. Victory eluded Trinity once by one run with 8 wickets standing against one of them.
There were no vehicle parades and public suffering on the ‘Big match’ days in Kandy. Maurice Perera joining us in the upper school however toppled his father’s jeep carrying double the maximum number of passengers near the present TCKOBA club. Luckily no one was injured. The Principal gave Maurice what was called 6 of the best for his pains.
We were present at the match wearing whites - school uniform. We were permitted to shout ‘well played sir’ or ‘well bowled’ and clap but never to hoot or jeer especially when a misfortune attended the opposing school or to sing and dance 'bailas'. The old Sinhala songs were our favourites while ‘5 minutes more’ was sung at rugby matches awaiting the curtain call on Royal’s fortunes and the favourite ‘Wrap me up in the Trinity blazer’. I remember the Trinity Principal coming upstairs into the old pavilion that still stands in the later test match elevated grounds to chide us for shouting something like ‘he’s no bowler thrash the bowler’ or some such derisive cry that we had picked up from Colombo schools. Visions of 6 cuts with the cane at Monday’s school assembly kept the peace at Trinity. One day 60 boys were caned for ‘cutting’ ‘set’ rugby. In Colombo unexplainably adaptations of American civil war songs like ‘Hang all the R……..s’ on the kadju pulang tree’ and ‘Hurrah for Mary’ were traditional cricket match songs.
I was disgusted to see graffiti like “Lala bogs today” scrawled on the walls of St Sylvester’s College and other buildings on the way to Asgiriya. The rector of St Anthony’s was Father Rosairo who was very strict but had no control of gratuitous ‘well wishers’ in Kandy. As Bandula Jayasekera states in his Island article on the 100th anniversary, there was no liquor too. The Asgiriya priests looked on the proceedings from their heights above the grounds.
In 1950 ACM Lafir at the age of 14 made his debut for St Anthony’s under Stanley Jayasinghe. Eustace Rulach captained Trinity in 1950 and 1951. The 1950 match was drawn. In 1951, St Anthony’s under Bernard Weerakoon was trounced. St Anthony’s collapsed for 37 runs in the first innings with tall debutant SB (‘Bena’) Silva taking a wicket with his first ball in his only match for the I.e. had a total of 4 wickets. Bena was later a highly motivated officer in the 2nd (Volunteer) Battalion of the SLLI and made Brigadier. What is little known is that even in this match ACM not only scored 65 in the 2nd innings for his side but took 6 wickets and won prizes for best bat, bowler, fielder all rounder and player! He scored more than Trinity’s left handed Gnanasekeram who was dropped by Pamunuwa off Lafir’s bowling and scored 50. Gnana was unrestrained and exciting to watch. Unlike MU Odawa’s howitzer hitting especially at Campbell Park, Gnana rarely lasted long. I saw Lakshman Jayakody’s many fighting innings, bespectacled Indrajit Balasuriya from Matara scoring a spritely 61 runs v St Joseph’s and Derek Misso’s fight back too. There was no lightning fast Kagwa’s from Uganda (1940s) then to rip through the opposition. Odayar’s father, SU, and 2 uncles including Izzadeen played for Trinity too. No Chinese played for Trinity cricket reserving their best for rugby and boxing but Chin played junior cricket v Trinity at Katugastota.
The next year (1952) rain saved Trinity under Gamini Tennekon (who went to Sandhurst too). Trinitians were said to pray for rain on the second day of most matches in those somewhat dismal distant years. Lafir scored 60. At lunch on the 2nd day the sun was shining brightly. Soon after it bucketed with rain. Play was stopped. The sun then came out suddenly to mock Trinity. The Anthonian church bells rang. Trinity hearts sank. Prayers were offered silently especially by us juniors who otherwise never bothered. Play resumed followed providentially by another thunder storm as though the heavens were responding to all the silent praying going on. Most of us left the grounds and trudged back to school (2 miles away), sure it was all over. Some time afterwards while we were back at the 600 pupil school, over half of them boarders, came the news that the match had been restarted. We found breathing difficult. The next we knew was that the rains started again. The match was finally abandoned as light faded and Trinity appealed. It had become virtual night. St Anthony’s wanted the match to continue! We were then warned that the Anthonains were marching on Trinity. There is no truth in the rumour that followed that we boarders gathered round the captured German machine gun gifted to the school after WW1.It was mounted facing the Quadrangle.
In 1953 under the formidable Lion hearted Ananda (Gul) Bandaranayake Trinity drew again. Lafir scored 42 runs. It was in this match that for the first and only time persistent, wicked, nasty and incessant ‘bumpers’ were bowled at the head with about 7 fielders on the leg side. This was by TM (‘Tom’) Deen, a menacing speedster and an entertaining hitter too, in the Trinity 2nd innings. He had with wicked intent embraced the famous West Indian fast bowler and all rounder Leary Constantine’s take no prisoners style of bowling during coaching lessons for the Kandy lads at Asgiriya. Constantine also advised the batsmen to learn to dance as he saw they were slow footed.
There was shock, anger, disbelief and awe too in the Trinity camp. Trinity hearts skipped beats as their batsmen were hit. Thoughts of Harold Larwood’s body line bowling crossed their minds. It was like watching an erratic firing squad with Trinity batsmen as targets. The umpires acted like spectators.
This was thankfully the first and only time it happened. Trinity took heart in the resolution that showed in 6 foot rugby skipper and Lion, Stubbs Shield Heavy weight runner up ’Lucky’ Vitharne’s face as he took Deen on and guided us to safety hitting some fours too. ‘Lucky’ who had scores of over 80 v St Benedicts and 100 v Ananda went on to Sandhurst together with Anthonian Saliya Dorenegama (one of 3 brothers who played for St Anthony’s), Deen’s opening bowling partner. ‘Lucky’ and Saliya played for Sandhurst and were commissioned into the Sinha Regiment where I joined them in 1961. Lucky also played for the Sandhurst rugby 2nd XV and for the First XV in a few matches, the only one to do so from SL. Sena de Sylva, who too played in the 1956 Trinity cricket team may have done as well at Sandhurst if he had not suffer a recurring leg injury. Both impressed the New Zealand, South African and Rhodesian as well as British cadets and Sandhurst coaches with their fearless ankle level tackles. ‘Lucky’ later coached St Anthony’s at rugby.
Winning the Army regimental cricket tournament for 2 years in succession was no strain as Sinha Regiment had Ceylon cap and Thomian Major MO Gooneratne, George Thevanayagam later Major General, another Sandhurst commissioned officer from Trinity’s sister school in Jaffna, St Johns’ ( that also produced cavalry officer J Bala Francis who was the star entertainer with his electrifying hitting at Sandhurst in 1959-60) and Trinity’s part time slinger, also Sandhurst trained, Tissa ‘Buster’ Jayatunge.
Anthonian opening bowler and ex Sandhurst Stanley Roles came up to Diyatalawa to join Saliya and me in the newly raised Gemunu Watch.His brother Eric skittled S Thomas with 6 wickets for 16 runs in the team captained by Jayantissa Ratwatte (Lion and centurion in the big match). Gemunu Watch too had 3 Trinity cricketers including the Commanding Officer (CO) John F Halangode Jnr and my elder brother Eshin and 3 Anthonians as Sivananthan Arunachalam from Lafir’s 1956 team also joined us. The CO was the son of the legendary John Halangode Snr who having played for Trinity in the 1920s, later coached Lafir and St Anthony’s to greatness. Grandson Brigadier Hiran followed in his father’s footsteps. He commanded the Regiment in war. It was his brother Mahinda who joined CP Richards in the famous ninth wicket stand of 91 runs that saved S Thomas in its centenary match v Royal in 1979. Haroon Musafer was in that Royal team. His Wesley College wicket keeper father ’Bomba’ went to Sandhurst. Haroon married the daughter of Trinity’s British Sri Lankan Dr. Malcolm de Silva who was earlier an officer in the SL Army Medical Corps.
Ironically, Trinity was coached by Anthonian Theodore (Tuffy) Silva who had a pathological belief in not progressing much beyond forward defence. The iconic Hilary Abeyratne, the most impressive and finest teacher at Trinity, whose sparkling 22 fours century v Royal set Asgiriya ablaze in the pre war years, came from England and took over from ‘Tuffy’. Always audacious was his watchword.
Then came the unforgettable match in 1954 at Katugastota. No Trinitian looks back with pleasure at the mention of that match. Lafir scored 176 memorable runs in a mammoth 266 run opening stand with Ronnie Stevens who crawled to 108.(Stevens scored 2 stolid centuries v Trinity). With the drinks came a scrawled message to captain Lafir not to declare but to go for 400 runs. Fast bowler Ivor Geddes (ex STC) who had broken his left arm which was in a plaster, led the attack for just 2 overs, being hit for 20 runs. He batted with one hand and hit a couple of fours. He later joined the RAF as an officer and was the squash champion at their base in Cyprus in the 1970s. He was in Colombo about 15 years ago for the first ever Trinity St Anthony’s get together. His father Harry was a Trinity athlete. But the sons of John Murray and Winter did not play much cricket.
St Anthony’s totaled 399 for 7 wickets on the first day of a match that started at 1.30 pm. They declared the next morning. Trinity captained by Abey Hulangamuwa was trounced by an innings despite a plucky 50 and 30 by wicket keeper Rowland Aluvihare who sprayed the ground with sixes and hit a couple of them into the squash courts at S Thomas’ too. Was it slow left armer A Sivanathan who later joined the Army who did the most damage then?
Nimal Maralande like Michael Tissera at S Thomas was 14 years old too when he played for Trinity in 1954. His father Dr Percy had captained in the golden years of Trinity cricket (1920s) when a victory by 10 wickets in a match after 2 or 3 years of winning all matches by innings against Colombo’s best was greeted with despondency! The team also had Sene Ettipola, who famously bowled the Chinaman with huge success. His father too played for Trinity. Sene told me one day in the Fort, Colombo in the late 1960s that Army Commander General Richard Udugama had been accused by President JR Jayewardene of falsely planning a coup because he was jealous that Trinity kept winning the Bradby!
Michael Tissera while full of praise for Nimal’s 116 run century v S Thomas in 1957 at Asgiriya reckons Malsiri Kurukulasuriya’s 134 run century was even better. Malsiri later played at Cambridge Uni and for Canada. Hulangamuwa who scored 124 runs v S Thomas’ also went to Sandhurst. He was commissioned into the Ceylon Light Infantry, (now SLLI) commanded by Trinitian Col Richard Udugama, later General and Army Commander. QC Sir Desmond de Silva, well over 6 foot played junior cricket before leaving for UK to become internationally famous and marry a Yugoslav Princess.
Lafir, still at school was offered like a sacrificial lamb in 1953 for Ceylon to face MCC’s Tyson, the world’s most feared fast bowler .It was at a time when almost all the protective gear there is now, was unheard of. He scored 26 being one of only two who entered double figures for Ceylon. The other was FC de Saram (46) the captain. ’Lala’ Wordsworth captained the Ceylon Schools team v West Indies that had the famous 3 W’s Worrel, Weekes and Walcott.
Lafir’s other top scores included 50 v S Thomas’, 100 v Royal captained by Fitzroy Crozier, 184 v St Benedicts, 82 & 120 v Ananda captained by Dhanasiri Weerasinghe including Parakrama Molligoda who later commanded the 2nd Volunteer battalion Gemunu Watch, 24 & 53 v St Peter’s and 99 v St Joseph’s before dragging pacer T Ismail onto his stumps.
1955. This was Lafir’s ‘annus horribilis’. The mightiest shout ever heard at Asgiriya according to my class mate and later Trinity Principal Breckenridge, was when Lafir was bowled middle stump for 8 runs. Trinity, captained by Hector Ratwatte a graceful and quick scoring opening bat who used to walk down the wicket to off drive fast bowlers to the boundary, led St Anthony’s by over 80 run. This included an over 50 run last wicket stand; with wicket keeper Geoff Koelmeyer scoring 40 odd not out.
In the second innings Lafir failed again, this time to Trinity’s vice captain the unflappable Herman Scharenguivel who had scored 81 v St Joseph’s the previous week. His brother Fredrick (my age) had left Trinity and opened bowling for S Thomas with the menacing Denis Ferdinands. Herman an excellent fielder dropped W Premaratne the next ball after Lafir got out. Nobody noticed or bothered. St Anthony’s led by 40 runs with 2 wickets of their 2nd innings left at the end of the match.
Lafir playing against Trinity in a third term match that same year for Kandy United Sports club funded by Sylvester de Soysa failed again together with a full complement of First XI Anthonians on a drying Asgiriya pitch. They were dismissed for about 60 runs with many caught by one of the 3 eagerly waiting and hungry short legs.
Lafir realized he had a weakness when playing in swingers. He asked former Ceylon captain Colonel FC de Saram at the SSC for help. FC told him he should have come long before. He asked Laffir to adopt a two eyed stance. This helped. While many know much about FC’S cricket including his century for Oxford Uni v Australia under Woodful in the 1930s and the utter lunacy of his leadership in the 1962 coup attempt, few may know he held the ground record for the last wicket at Lords playing for the Royal Artillery in the finals of the British Army regimental cricket tournament. This record may still be standing.
The 1956 match was regrettably not played due to an administrative disagreement between the schools. Mahinda Ratwatte, triple games captain and coloursman (cricket, rugby and boxing) was the Trinity captain. It was probably the worst year in Trinity cricket.
Lafir later coached too .His star pupils included Roshan Mahanama and Asanka Gurusinghe and also Nigel Fernando (Royal ) .His very promising cricket career was cut short by a recurrence of a sever soccer injury while in the Police.
ACM Lafir really did stride the school cricket fields in the 1950s like a colossus. He was a battling and dour batsman who stretched out to neutralize both pace and spin. Once set, he went about grafting runs excelling in cover driving and square cutting as few have done against the quality opposition that existed at the time. He was also a right arm off spin bowler who kept taking wickets without much publicity but with much profit. As a cover point fielder he was a great danger to batsmen with his sure hands and accurate and lightning throws at the wicket.
Muralitharan (St Anthony’s) and Sangakkara (Trinity) became famous all over the world, Mahes Goonethileke shone, Kapugedera and Weeraratne flattered while Dickwella and Pathirana flash and Lahiru Kumara promises but it was ACM Lafir who showed the most character, talent and potency while yet in school. He was probably the best all rounder of the lot. The 1950s were a Lafir era that was unforgettable.
- Asian Tribune -