Royal People

A dedication to those wonderful people who served Royal Primary School & Royal College, in Sri Lanka, since 1835, and, who will be remembered for their committment, sincerety and unselfishness.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Eardley Lieversz remembers


House and second XI cricket in the Sixties

In the sixties, house and second XI cricket were more than nurseries for Royal’s cricketers and captains. They were democratising institutions in more ways than one. For instance, the second XI (going as the “A” team) took cricket to the rural areas. Secondly, simply by being a reserve/scorer in the second XI, keen cricketers could leave school with the satisfaction of having gained representative honours. To others, even being a reserve for their house team was a source of pride.

In house cricket lesser lights could mingle with the stellar performers, and quite often outshine them. In this sense house cricket was a great leveller. House cricket was also where the great rivalries of intra school cricket were played out, and where the unsung heroes of Royal cricket could lay their ghosts to rest. House cricket hosted many great tactical battles and psychological warfare, encouraged sportsmanship amidst dour struggles, and produced many great cricketing moments. In the ultimate analysis, events at the Royal Thomian, first XI, second XI and house cricket, were interwoven and inseparable.

Overlapping loyalties

My loyalty to Royal College was never tested on a daily basis for obvious reasons. However, my classmates were divided into opposing camps based on who one supported in test cricket (England or Australia), the school house one belonged to, and the pop singer(s) (Elvis, Cliff, Jim Reeves, Beatles etc) one identified with. About three-quarters of my cricket loving acquaintances were English supporters, and an identical proportion belonged to houses (Hartley, Harward and Marsh) other than Boake.

However, Australia did not lose a test series to England between me becoming an Australian cricket supporter (in 1958) and leaving school, so my allegiance was never really tested. Hence Boake house became the source of my school identity. I would say that other than when Royal played St. Thomas’ at cricket or Trinity at rugby, I was emotionally more of a Boakite than a Royalist.

Whereas St. Thomas' was the fixed foe in cricket, Boake’s rivals could from three sources. And whereas I perceived individual Thomian cricketers not in individual terms but as representing the larger abstraction, the traditional enemy, there was a greater personal element in house cricket rivalry. One confronted Thomian cricketers for only two days of the year. One’s opponents in house cricket were those with whom one interacted on a daily basis.

A Boake house partisan

Some of my greatest cricketing moments have been associated with Boake House. In 1961 when Velupillai, a Boake legend, led Boake to victory, I was a reserve, and was exposed for the first time to team sport solidarity. In the following year, with me now a member of the team, we repeated our success. In 1965 I took practice and was delighted when Boake beat Harward (with Nirmal Hettiaratchy) in the under XIV final after conceding a first innings lead. Sunimal Yapa, who was to capture the winning wicket in the 1969 big match, scored an unbeaten 70 odd in the second innings when Boake were chasing about 140 to win.

My greatest triumph as a Boakite was when Boake, devoid of a single coloursman, beat the much more fancied Hartley and Harward, sides studded with coloursmen, to take the Bawa Bowl for first XI cricket in 1966. However, the source of a string of events which culminated in Boake’s triumph was the Thomian win of 1964. Truly, the manner in which the Royal Thomian unfolded had an impact at the lower levels of the game at Royal.

Thomian win of 1964

In 1964 and 1965 St. Thomas’ had the strongest teams in the history of Sri Lankan school cricket, and Royal responded by picking teams to save rather than win games. And the greatest victims of Thomian ascendance were Jana Wickremasinghe and Chandra Abeywickrema (Corky), the latter who turned in great performances at the junior levels, and at the nets. In 1964, following a nine wicket loss to St. Benedicts, Royal went for batsmen who could bowl a bit. After Royal’s loss to STC in the same year, this selection principle was extended to batsmen who could keep wickets a bit. Samerajeeva bowled a mere 12 overs in three Royal-Thomians, and wasn’t bowled at all in 1965. However, he almost single-handedly salvaged a draw in 1964 with some dogged batting, and if he had succeeded, he would have improved Abeywickrema’s chances in 1965, with loading the team with batsmen less of a priority.

If anyone is in doubt that Corky is the great unsung hero of Royal cricket, consider this. He opened the bowling with Thalayasingam in the under 16 college team, and took twice as many wickets on a regular basis, including 6 wickets for 4 runs against St. Joseph’s at Darley Road. He also took 3 wickets in 5 balls without conceding a run under terrific pressure against Piliyandala MMV to save Royal A from certain defeat. He also took more Thomian wickets than any other bowler of his time - 7 for 47 (Under XIV at Mt.Lavinia), 5 for 20 (under XVI at Reid Avenue), and 6 for 26 (second XI at Mt.Lavinia), and 3 wickets at Reid Avenue. Many of his victims were batsmen who made their mark in the Royal -Thomian. This is an impressive record although achieved mainly on matting wickets.

Corky ascendant

In 1966 Corky was not considered for selection, as coloursmen were rarely replaced, and he was made captain of the A Team/second XI. However, he did not take that many wickets as he under bowled himself. The hunger was not there until he captained Boake against teams studded with coloursmen. He had an extra motive to win those house matches because he knew the Master in charge was watching, and in his mind the Hartley and Harward teams were the Master in charge’s teams.

Boake humiliated Hartley, which had players of the calibre of L. Thalayasingham, R. P. Liyanage, Skandakumar, S.J. de Silva (1967 cricket captain), and B.N.R. Mendis, by beating them by an innings. It was widely believed that Harward would teach us a lesson in the final, after making a meal of Marsh who could only manage 12 (Chitty taking 8 wickets for 1, and Samarajeeva 2 for 10), but we still prevailed over them in a hard fought final. Harward had the likes of W.A.J. Wimaladharma, L.A.D. Sirisena, A.M. Samerajeeva, Ranjit Gunasekera (1968 cricket captain), Jayantha Kudahetty, and Chris Chitty. Although it is correct to say that bespectacled Corky was the finest swing bowler never to gain Royal colours, in whose absence we would never have had the edge over our superior opponents, Corky would be the first to admit that the camaraderie that existed in the side inspired him to produce his best.

Triumph of the underdog

On paper, Boake were fairly ordinary, but we won the psychological war, supported each other on the field, took magnificent catches, and timed our contributions in such a manner that the whole became greater than the sum of its component parts. Prior to the match we taunted Hartley’s “big guns”, hinting at “secret weapons” which could turn the tide in our favour, and alluding to the ignominy of losing with so many coloursmen.

Truly, I have never experienced such team spirit or for that matter contributed so much to it. The more experience players spread themselves around the field and took turns in encouraging and inspiring our less experienced bowlers. We backed each other up, on and off the field, and maintained a high level of morale. Those five days of cricket were the hardest I’ve ever experienced, and the most rewarding. As a result, I could have left school in 1966 a happy man.

In other winning sides I have been in, we had specialist cricketers. However, in this Boake side we had ring ins from other sports, most notably, Firoz Nilam from table tennis and Bryan Baptist from rugby. Firoz had already confounded the purists in the 1965 game against Hartley, by scoring freely with a technical synthesis of batting orthodoxy and skills brought across from the world of backhand slices and topspin lobs. After being hit for successive boundaries the burly R.P. Liyanage threw the ball at his captain in frustration at having to bowl to someone who did not observe the conventional rules of batting. In addition to Firoz, we had another psychological weapon in Bryan whom we discovered could hurl the ball at an impressive pace. So we converted him into a shock bowler overnight. What a loose and lethal cannon he turned out to be although we had to nurse and cajole him to prevent his deliveries from injuring our own fieldsmen.

A surreal sight

Jayendran, the youngest brother of Royal and Hartley captain, who observed the unfolding of the drama from the sidelines, claims to have seen nothing like it in cricket. He recalls a scene, best described as surreal, in which the school’s cricketing royalty, his heroes and kin, was made to look very ordinary by a very ordinary side. He looked on with utter disbelief as, in his words; the elite forces of Hartley were humbled by a bunch of amateurs. The elation and despair felt by the players, depending on which side one was on, was accompanied by a similar sense of disbelief.

Hartley collapsed in a heap on the afternoon of the 19th but had clawed their way back by close, limiting Boake’s lead to 39 with only two wickets in hand. But nobody, including the Boake players, anticipated Boake’s spirited tail-end rally led by Firoz Nilam and Upali Suraweera that stretched our lead to 113. Firoz made up for his lack of footwork with a keen eye, sharp reflexes, and a sense of placement which was at odds with the line and length of the ball. Just when a bowler felt that his defences had been penetrated, the ball would fly to a part of the ground that was least protected. Royal’s best were made to look silly trying to outguess the country’s table-tennis champ who himself had to second guess his own instincts. However, the results were devastating, and on the numerous occasions he lifted B.N.R. Mendis to the gym, our surprise turned quickly to elation as we sensed the psychological momentum of the game moving inexorably in our favor.

A fortnight later, in a low scoring final, our first innings lead of 51 runs was a sufficient buffer against a Harward fight back, and the modest target of 108 for victory was way beyond Harward’s range against the wizardry and ascendancy of Corky and the two “Briyyas” (Lieversz and Baptist). Although Harward gave it all they had, our morale and team work was superior. Corky farewelled his school with his second seven wicket haul for the tourney. Anketell (who along with Nigel de Kretzer was the best left-handed batsman of my generation) kept Chitty at bay, with a score of 30 to 40 in the first innings. Although Harvard clawed back in the second innings, our first innings lead was an insurmountable buffer. Many of those who shone in these two house games were veterans of the second XI circuit.

The second XI

I am most familiar with second XI and “A’ team cricket in the period from October 1964 to February 1967. A combination of strong first XI sides, an unprecedented enthusiasm for the game and an abundance of cricketing talent in school, meant that two second string teams were required to accommodate the overflow, despite the high attrition resulting from the GCE “O” level barrier. The sixties were a time when almost everyone in school wished to either represent the school or house in cricket, even as scorer. This resulted in an embarrassment of riches for the selectors. We could have produced sides to stretch many a school first XI side with the talent we carried. Some of the players went on to get colours, the majority didn't achieve honours befitting their talent. However, because of the idiosyncrasies and skills of the second stringers, and the many characters who passed through, not to mention the variety of settings the games were played against, I retain vivid memories of those times.

I can still picture Skandakumar launching on request, into stirring renditions of “Return to Sender” while strumming the imaginary strings of a bat. And as sure as night follows day, R.J. de Silva, the Arjuna Ranatunge of the sixties, never failed to feign a cramp on reaching fifty. This habit backfired on him on 8th February 1967 when we put on a hundred for the first wicket against Dharmarajah at the Health Sports Club grounds. Metha Abeygunawardene replaced R.J. at the crease after the latter was carried off the field. Both not out batsmen at the crease, obtained colours about a month later. And the scene at the second XI Royal -Thomian of 1966, played on the Reid Avenue mat, where both R.J. de Silva and Rama Sellamutta magnanimously shouted “yours” to a ball which popped up high between them, is indelibly etched in my memory.

Many of the games played by the “A” team were against less prestigious outstation schools which took us to rural or suburban venues as diverse as Chilaw, Negombo, Wattala, Piliyandala, Panadura, Moratuwa, Kotte, Ibbagamuwa and Kandy. The cricket ground at Dharmarajah College must have been perched at the highest point in Kandy and was reached through a long uphill climb followed by 152 steps. Of all the grounds that we played on, the venue of our game against St. Mathew’s, Dematagoda, that took place on 30th October 1965, was the most eerie. The ground adjoined the Prisons and we could observe inmates following the progress of the game through the bars of a top floor balcony. I am certain that the thought of a jail break heading in our direction led to me being run out first ball to a throw from third man that came over my head as I strolled to the non-striker’s end.

Logistical nightmares

Our master in charge, John de Saram, had the unenviable task of sometimes organising transport to two different venues on particular weekends, or picking and dropping off our outstation visitors at Fort railway station when we were inevitably one car short. As long as the overall quality of the team was preserved, selectors took into consideration candidates who could deliver transport.

The threat of double booking or wrong scheduling constantly hovered over us. There was the occasion (2nd of February 1966) when, at Mr. de Saram’s bequest, I rang Josephian master Mr. Ockers (sic) to confirm the pre-Poya day fixture only to be informed that the Josephian cricket team was already on its way. Mr. de Saram and I leapt into action, performed a roll call and hastily assembled 11 players, who in turn had to procure gear from every available source. As a result, players fitted themselves in everything from tennis shoes and coloured footwear to ill-fitting white longs (which varied in length). Relief at winning the toss soon turned to despair when we lost our first three wickets without a single run on the board and I walked in to bat in panic-stricken mode leaving my protector behind. From 0 for 3 we moved to 56 for 7 before finally setting St. Joseph’s a target of 122. We won by 16 runs after the Joes were once 17 for 2, 50 for 3 and 102 for 7. Cricket matches do not come more exciting and eventful than this.

Interacting with our rural counterparts

In those days cricket in Sri Lanka was very much a game appreciated by urban folk, English and Sinhalese speaking. This situation had changed considerably by the late seventies due to the advent of Sinhalese commentary and scholarships afforded to rural students. In 1980 I came across a game of cricket being played on the fallow paddy terraces of Maspanne hamlet (a fairly remote village west of the Uma Oya in Upper Badulla). The organiser of the game explained in English that he had learnt the game at Royal where he was enrolled.

In the sixties, it was the “A” team that first introduced me to the poorer segments of the country and made me less won’t to take my privileges for granted. The enthusiasm and hospitality shown by our opponents, whose equipment and facilities were decidedly inferior to ours, was an extremely humbling experience. And despite our poor Sinhalese we had to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting ambassadors for our school. However, on the field we played a ruthless game, as a good performance could catapult players into the first XI. S.J. de Silva, R.L. Wijeytilike, and Skandakumar, were those who left us for bigger things in 1964-5. Cricketers from rural schools paid the price for the competitiveness among Royalists seeking colours.

Off field humour

These seasons were full of the sort of on and off-field incidents that make cricket so unique. Although many of us skillfully avoided catches, there was no avoiding John de Saram’s droll asides. Once at the practice turf the ball was hit over the fence and landed on the University woodwork shed, amidst the shavings. Mr de Saram likened the crunching sound made by the big built Anil “Jumbo” Fernando and Rama Sellamuuttu as they trampled underfoot and sank rapidly into the shavings, to “Elephants in a dry-zone jungle”. I was first alerted to the remark when Skandakumar virtually split himself in laughter. Then Brian Lieversz burst into a loud guffaw, and the joke had a snowballing effect as it went down the line. He later likened Rama Sellamuttu’s lumbering gait to an “Old goods train”. These gems were all the more effective because, due to his reticent nature, we weren’t even sure that he took in such scenes.

In the Josephian encounter described above, S.P. Sellayah volunteered to open the batting, asserting in a semi pompous manner, that he “wished to gain some valuable experience”. On his return to the shed after failing to trouble the scorers, Mr. de Saram could barely stifle a chuckle when he cynically remarked “Well Sellayah, it looks like you obtained some valuable experience after all”.

Toeing the line

Mr. de Saram’s sense of reserve held him in good stead. When anger occasionally overcame his unflappable demeanor it came as such a surprise that we were all taken aback. However, his sarcasm, which I was occasionally at the receiving end of in the context of cricket, was his strongest weapon. Because it was wielded sparingly, its potency never diminished, and served as an effective deterrent.

On 31st January 1967 we took on Sri Sumangala at the Panadura Sports Ground and dropped as many as 17 catches. I stood out by taking two catches at leg slip, one of them brilliant, which led to a sense of hubris befitting someone who had come down from the first team. Consequently, I began to encroach on the captain’s territory of advising the bowlers. Just as we about to leave for the field after the milk break Mr. de Saram signaled that he had a few words to say. Blowing a puff of smoke into the air and looking at no one in particular he said “I want you to know that if you continue to field in this fashion it will be the last game you play for the school”. My smugness at being the only person to shine in the field was soon punctured by his concluding remark, namely, “And remember that there is only one captain on the field”. He didn’t have to get all worked up to make a point. (For the record, we scored 95 to Sri Sumangala’s 96 and 30 for 9.)

As good as the first XI

Abeywickrema was one of many players playing in the second XI who would have walked into many school sides, even St. Thomas’. And he and other talented players made the second XI competitive with the first XI. And as captain too, he was the equal of his first XI counterparts.

In 1965-6 we had Abeywickrema, Brian Lieversz and Chris Chitty in the team, which was arguably as good a medium pace combination as Lucky Thalaysingham, R.P Liyanage and N. Wadugodapitiya, of the 1st eleven. Another sight that had gone out of fashion in the first XI, but was most prominent in the second XI, was the art of leg spin, Sellamuttu and Wickremasuriya being its main proponents. And in addition we had J.S. Pieris, who like Abeywickrema, never played in the Royal-Thomian, but was Royal’s best left arm spinner of the decade.

We won every “A” match including the Royal –Thomian, except one where the rain intervened. The first XI inter-house final of 1966 was in fact a battle between the star fast bowlers of the second XI (Abeywickrema and Lieversz for Boake, and Chris Chitty for Harward). The first XI bowlers made little impact in the house semis and finals.

Cricket at its finest

Abeywickrema knew very well that Boake’s only chance was for her two pacemen to be supported by brilliant fielding. Throughout the final the onus was on the opposing batsmen to take risks against tight bowling. For the most part Abeywickrema employed a leg trap to his traditional in swinger to the right hander. Glancing and working the ball to leg was therefore fraught with risk. One batsman was caught at fine leg slip. However, a batsman of the calibre of Kudahetty had to be countered by leg cutters. Abeywickrema skillfully changed the degree of turn to force the batsman to over adjust and produce an inside edge. Kudahetty said “Very well bowled Abey” in recognition of a great piece of cricket, which also sealed the game in Boake’s favour. Such a concerted effort by bowlers to turn the screws on batsmen, and unremitting struggles between bat and ball, was equal to what prevailed at the higher levels of school cricket.

The lesser lights made a difference

Many of the memorable house and second XI games described took place on the matting wicket. This is where many of us first experienced the smell of linseed and freshly mown grass, the ritual of taking guard and chalking one’s crease, and the thrill of playing to one’s first mass audience. Such dramas were presided over by groundsman Noor who was an ubiquitous presence. Noor died tragically in the mid seventies and took along with him some unique memories.

Royal’s cricketing finest, those who made their mark in the Royal - Thomian, and also at the international level, gained their first exposure to the rituals and romance of structured cricket, on the humble mat by the gym. However, John de Saram is equally proud of those of his charges who made their mark across a wide range of professions, indicating that cricket at Royal, at whatever level, was, if nothing else, a character builder. By the same token, even those who made a name for themselves only after leaving school, would nonetheless look back on their involvement in house and second XI cricket with nostalgia, pride, and a sense of time well spent.

This article is dedicated to all those Royalists who kept cricket alive, and enriched it, at the school in the sixties, through their participation in house and second XI cricket, or by turning up en masse for house cricket practice. Their enthusiasm created an atmosphere which brought out the best in players destined for stardom. It was a privilege to play with or against them, to watch or instruct them, or simply discuss cricket with them. I regret in not being able to specify every one of them by name.

Eardley Lieversz

Boake House First XI (that played Hartley, game commencing at 3.00 pm on Monday, 19th September, 1966) (Monday was the equivalent of Friday because the weekend was determined by Poya)

C. Abeywickrema (Captain), E.C.L. Lieversz, N.B.L. Lieversz, A.V. Tennekoon, R.S. I. de Silva, A.U.C. Suraweera, F. Nilam, S. Anketell, C.A.P. Samarasekera, R.G.M. de Silva, B.L. Baptist 12th Man: R.S.R. Gunawardene Reserves: S.H. Mohammed, A.K. Sameer



Boake versus Hartley, 19 - 20/9/1966 (Monday and Tuesday)

End of day 1 – Hartley 63 (N.B.L. Lieversz 8-28), Boake 102 for 8 wickets

End of day 2 – Boake 176 all out (F. Nilam 64 n.o.), Hartley 96 (C. Abeywickrema 7-45)

Result: Boake beat Hartley by an innings and 17 runs

Boake versus Harward, 4 – 5/10/1966, 7/10/1966 (Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday)

End of day 1 – Boake 121, Harward 53 for 8 wickets

End of day 2 – Harward 70 all out (B. Baptist 4-9), Boake 15 for 1 wicket

End of day 3 – Boake 56 all out, Harward 64 (C. Abeywickrema 7 for ?)

Result: Boake beat Harward by 44 runs


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