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Golden Memories:50th Annual Big Match Between Thurstan and Isipathana on March 22nd and 23rd)


Jayantha Jayaweera

(Jayantha Jayaweera BSc Civil Eng (Lon), MIE (Aust), CPEng, an old boy of both Thurstan and Isipathana wanders down memory lane as the 50th encounter of the Thurstan-Isipathana big match draws near)

This year two leading boys’ schools in Colombo, Thurstan College and Isipathana College, are celebrating their 50th annual big cricket match encounter on 22nd and 23rd March 2013 at the SSC grounds. This is a special occasion for past students of both schools and an opportunity for many of them to reunite, for some of them perhaps since leaving school.

I am one of many old boys who live overseas and am returning to Sri Lanka to witness this historic occasion.

My association with the Thurstan and Isipathana big match began in 1966 when I joined Isipathana from Government Training College Practising School, Maharagama. I was only thirteen and did not want to leave my school in Maharagama. However, my brother Gamini Jayaweera persuaded me that I would have greater opportunities at Isipathana. Gamini thought that one day I might follow his footsteps and represent the Isipathana college cricket team. He was wrong. I did not play for Isipathana. I left Isipathana in 1970 and joined Thurstan College and went on to play cricket for the college team in 1971 and 1972.

During 1966 to 1969, I was a student at Isipathana and my brother Gamini (naya bowler) played for Isipathana in 1966 under the captaincy of S.I. Ekanayake. Gamini and S.I. domiciled in England since the seventies. S.I. is a very successful businessman in England. Isipathana College had a few high profile students during the late sixties. The child actor Srinath Basnayake who appeared on “Satha Panaha” film, the well-respected Buddhist monk Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thera and the famous singer Upali Kannangara were two years senior to me at school. Dixon, the lead guitarist for Super Golden Chimes, was one year junior to me. Sarath Dassanayaka , the renowned musician who directed music for a number of films in Sri Lanka, and actor Upali Attanayake were members of the tutorial staff at Isipathana. The current President of Sri Lanka, His Excellency Honourable Mahinda Rajapakse, was a student of Thurstan College from 1957-1964. Actor Somi Ratnayake was attached to the Canteen at Thurstan in the early seventies and actor Mahendra Perera was two years junior to me at Thurstan College.

My first experience going to a big match was attending the 1966 big match at Health Grounds in Borella. We took the narrow gauge train to the grounds. I remember vividly that the train was covered with the red, yellow and blue flags of Thurstan and the green of Isipathana.

The 1966 Thurstan College team was captained by none other than our own Priya Paranavitane, a class mate of the Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse. He was a brilliant all-rounder and played 1st division cricket for Colombo University and SSC in the late sixties and seventies. Other members of the team were Ajanta Nagodavithana, Raja Sureshchandra (Retired Supreme Court Judge), Mahenda Goonaratna, Srilal Perera, Kumar Devapura (well known businessman), Upali Bandarathileke, Dilip Gunwardena and Ranjith Gulawita. Isipathana was led by the versatile S.I. Ekanayake and the team consisted of my brother Gamini Jayaweera, late Chakrawarthy de Silva, late Rohan Wijewardena, Sanath Kumar Sirisena, A .U. Perera, Nihal Jayathileka, A.U. Seneviratne and Basnayake. Guluwita and Suresh from Thurstan and Gamini, Chakrawarthy and Sirisena from Isipathana went on to play first division cricket. Nihal Jayathilake, the wicketkeeper of Isipathana, was a brilliant rugger player and played as breakaway for a number of leading rugger clubs in Colombo and Kandy in the Clifford Cup rugby tournament in the late sixties and seventies. Upali Bandarathileke was an outstanding all-rounder and joined the Army after captaining the college in 1969. He played first division cricket for the Army and rose to the rank of Brigadier before he retired from active service. The big match, however, was marred by rain and play was resumed after several inspections of the wicket and surrounding area of play. Rain interrupted play on both days and the match was declared a draw.

The 1968 match was accorded big match status and much of the credit must go to the Principals of both schools, Mr P.M. Jayathilake of Thurstan and Col. G.W. Rajapakse of Isipathana. We should be grateful to Mr Jayathilake who introduced revolutionary changes to college cricket during his short stay at Colombo 7 school. Col. G.W. Rajapakse left Isipathana in 1969 to become the Principal of Ananada College.

One of the main features of this inaugural big match was the introduction of the first ever cycle parade, organised by the prefects and seniors. Nearly 200 cyclists took part in this event, which was full of glamour and colour. I thought it was a wonderful experience.

The big match was played at SSC grounds and the two teams were led by Ajanta Nagodavithana for Thurstan and the late Rohan Wijewardena for Isipathana. I strongly believe the cricket team (1st XI) that represented the college in 1968 was the best, and began the golden era of Thurstan cricket. It started when the college appointed a former old boy as coach of the 1st XI cricket team. Considerable credit must go to Upali Ahangama, our coach until 1972. This dedicated and talented gentleman never charged any fee for his service and spent his own money to help some of the players, including me. I am very grateful to him and it would reflect his great service if the school named the Thurstan College cricket grounds pavilion or the home dressing room after him.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the action of the match at large because we were not on the ground to witness it. We were at the gates of the ladies’ schools, or dancing to the music of the “Papare” band. All I knew was that Isipathana lost the match. We had a memorable time with our friends on both days and that is what I call the “big match experience”. I hope to meet most of these friends in this year’s big match.

I left Isipathana in 1970 and joined the ‘A’ Level class at Thurstan College to continue my education. Thurstan College was full of funny characters in the late sixties and seventies. I was outside the office of the school on my first day at Thurstan. One skinny fellow came to me and introduced himself as S.L.C. Perera. He said,“Remember me as Stafford Ladies College Perera if you can’t remember my initials.”

The secretary of the cricket team in 1971/72 season, Lalith Jayasekera and I lived in Dehiwela and used to catch the school bus together. He invited me to cricket practice and introduced me to Upali, the cricket coach. Upali changed my bowling action to high-armed and shortened my run-up to the crease. Diyanesh Rajaratnam was the captain of the team and he was the brains behind my success. I was introduced to the team in a match against Maliyadeva College at the expense of Rohan “Sokka” Perera and Jayantha Chandra. I bowled well in the match and cemented my position as a regular of the team.

The highlight of the year was dashing batsman Diyanesh Rajaratnam’s double century against Prince of Wales College at Moratuwa. Diyanesh reached his double hundred before tea. It included 12 sixers and 24 boundaries against a very good bowling attack. The Prince of Wales team had the services of Priyantha Jayasekera (Kokoo), Ajith Mendis, Chithral Mendis, Sriyan Samararatne and Bandula de Silva. It was a magnificent innings and it will always remind me of Diyanesh’s classy batting. He was talented, elegant and full of strokes on both sides of the wicket. He scored 163 against Kingswood College in the following year. I batted at No.11 in that match and when I partnered him, he was on 110 not out. We put up a partnership of 58 and my contribution was 1. That was the beauty of Diyanesh. The other highlight of the year was Aponso’s spell against St. Benedict’s College at Kotahena. They were staring at defeat when rain saved the holy school St. Benedict’s. We scored 204 in the first innings and St. Benedict’s were bundled out for 102. They were 8 for 86 in their second innings. Jayalath Aponso was at his best in that season with his round-arm action similar to Lasith Malinga. The skipper of St. Benedict’s Johnny Martin was clean bowled for golden ducks by two beauties from Aponso in both innings. I bowled well in both innings with a match bag of 6 wickets.

Unfortunately the big match was cancelled due to the JVP-led insurgency in the beginning of April in 1971. However, Thurstan College was one of the eight schools selected to participate in the first ever Brown’s Trophy limited over tournament introduced by Ceylon Schools Cricket Federation. We played against St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota at Nomads Grounds and we lost by 16 runs. Diyanesh injured his finger and went on to score 43. In 1971we had the services of Jayalath Aponso, Lalith jayasekera, Narendra lal Munasinghe, Jayantha Pathirana, C.J. Jayasinghe, Daya Boteju, Harsha Mayadunne and me. Most of the players who represented the school in this year went on to play club cricket in the first division tournament.

The College team in 1972 year was captained by Lalith Jayasekera and assisted by Gihan Amerasurya as his deputy. The Isipathana team was led by Lailth Jayasundera and assisted by K H Nandasena. Later, Jayasundera was a member of Sri Lanka’s Test umpiring squad for a number of years before he migrated to USA. The Isipathana team consisted of Kolitha Ransinghe, Nimal Luxshman, Rumy, late Lanka Perera, H.L.U. Silva, Senerath Perera and late Nimal Ranjith. The Thurrstan team had the service of veteran Diyanesh Rajaratnam, Narendra Lal Munasinghe, Jayantha Pathirana, Jayantha Silva, Rohan “Sokka” Perera, Sheran Wickramasekara, Harsha Mayadunne, Gunachandra Edirisinghe and me.

The match was played at Colombo Oval. Isipathana won the toss and elected to bat. I dropped a sitter from Lalith Jayasundera and he went on to score a fifty. Jayantha Pathirana bowled well and ended with five wickets. I took two wickets after bowling seven overs. The match was evenly balanced until the declaration from Isipathana. Isispathana declared in the second inning leaving us to chase 111 runs within 60 minutes. Diyanesh opened the batting with Jayantha Silva and scored 68 not out.

We were very close to victory until the unruly Isipathana supporters invaded the playing area. They removed the bails and the match was abandoned for a 30 minutes. When play was resumed we were 7 runs short of victory with 8 wickets in hand. However, the match was declared a draw by the umpires.

As I mentioned before, I strongly believe the cricket teams (1st XI) that represented the college between 1968 and 1972 were the best and I labelled this as the golden era of Thurstan cricket. These teams had the balance, talent, variety, leadership and teamwork to compete with any elite school in Colombo and Kandy. The majority of the players who represented college in this era went on to play “P Sara”cricket, which was unofficial first class cricket in Sri Lanka before we obtained test status. It was an honour for a school that consisted of 800-900 students and was founded in 1950 to produce a large number of high class cricketers within a very short span of time.

We should not forget the services rendered to cricket by our college Principals during that period such as Messrs Gunawardena, P.M Jayathilake and Siri Pandithasekera and Master in Charge of Cricket Mr. Pathiraja.

My family has had a long association with the Thurstan and Isipathana big match which continues to this day with my nephew, Liyan De Silva, playing for Isipathana in 2005.