There'll not be another 'Satha'
It was on one of those days many years ago, as I stood at the then
famous, Fort Chatham Street - that I couldn't help but keep my eyes
focussed on a man, who did seem extraordinary to be special.
He was tall, clad in a three quarter long sleeved silken shirt (with
half of his shirt collar up) a pair of white trousers and his feet shod,
in a pair of moccasins.
Conscious that many were noticing him, he with superior delight and a
spring in his step walked into 'Dianas'. After being there a while, he
walked out sprightly in the very same casual but attractive way to enter
'Chands' and he left that as well to enter his car.
He had his left hand on the wheel, his right elbow on the right
window, with cigarette between his fingers, to drive off with a twinkle
in his eye - That man was none other, than the one and only 'Mahadevan
Sathasivam,' who was affectionately known as debonair 'Satha'.
His uniqueness lay as a right handed stylish batsman, with an
attractive flamboyancy. Satha who was the wayward genius, was a batsman
par excellence, who through his artistic wizardry with the willow lent
enchantment to the game, in a way that on one else, but only he could.
In his inimitable way of cricket, he was beyond compare to be peerless
in that class of batsmanship.
What was so distinctive about Satha was, that he brought to his
batting a lackadaisical approach and an air of nonchalance, that was so
deceptive to leave fielders, bowlers and wicket keepers confused. For on
the contrary he was always alert, fleet of foot with supple wrists and
hands and feet moving in obedience to the ticking of his mind while at
His very delicate late cut to the slips with much finesse, was
likened to the elegance of a swordsman, slicing through a stalk leaving
the flower undisturbed, to remain on the stalk, without falling. He was
an unconventional type, both on and off the field, a versed to his style
being cramped by rules and regulations. Extraordinary as he was, lack of
practice or the latest of nights, did not bother him at all.
There were times, when he was getting ready to bat, he would request
the ground boy to strap his ordered to measure slim air of pads on his
legs - the ground boy apart, the slim pair of pads were to his liking to
move quickly on his feet.
Out there in the middle, he was completely different to score runs in
his familiar accustomed way. His devil may care arrogance, disdain and
contempt with which he treated bowlers and, a measure of cheeky cynicism
thrown in, was a draw bringing spectators from all other cricket venues
to just see him bat.
He was appropriately attired, be it for a cricket match or at public
occasions, to earn the sobriquet 'cynosure'. Some do say, that the
swiftness of his feet, was partly due to his frequenting the dance floor
and, that he kept his eyes alert by playing billiards.
Satha was born on October 18, 1916 and passed away at the age of 61
on July 9, 1077. He grew up in the vicinity of all Saints Church Borella
and attended the nearby Wesley College, as a student. Representing
Wesley at cricket from 1934 - 1936 he was impressive as a prodigious
batsman and turned out to be a prolific scorer. But the match that is
etched in the memory is the 1936 Wesley vs S' Thomas' cricket encounter.
The invincible Thomian star studded side led by Donald Fair weather
made 260 or so and, then made shambles of the Wesley batting, reducing
it to 70 for 5 in no time. But Satha was still there, and for reasons
best known to some, Satha had something to settle with S' Thomas' -
accepting the challenge from this point, he burst forth in an innings of
sparkling brilliance without compare for 142 runs, to take the score
well over 300 and save the day for the school. Indeed Wesley's gain was
Decades later the Principal of Wesley College was, Rev James Cartman,
who played for the CCC and was President of the Ceylon Schools Cricket
Satha was almost synonymous with Wesley. Cartman requested Satha to
come on an evening and see the team at practice.
Satha saw Wesley's senior batsman Ansar, was being tentative and
hesitant against the fast bouncers of the opening bowler Radley. This
found Satha telling Ansar to step aside and give him the bat, and that
he will show him how. Satha sans pads, gloves and other protectives
rocked up and down on the crease and hooked Radley's bouncer onto the
road, the next on the off, he square drove onto the gravel foot path.
Is words to Ansar were that for a fast bowler you have got to keep
your feet moving, and not allow them to get stuck to the crease.
Needless to say, Ansar was one amongst many others, to whom Satha was a
Satha's cricket career spanned a period of 19 years commencing from
1934 - it did suffer interruptions to an extent by the2nd world war and
a long drawn out domestic problem.
Significant was Satha's characteristic commandeering entry to the
wicket, with the cap at a jaunty angle and the bat firmly in his hand.
If he did get out cheaply, he undaunted would make his exit, with that
'coco-hoop' look, as if to say well you got me this time but you'll pay
for it next time.
The first time I saw Satha play, was when we met the Australian
Services team in 1945, led by Lindsay Hassette, with that handsome
brute, as ladies wont to say, in Keith Miller the others being Cecil
Pepper Roper, Pettiford', Whittington and Carmody.
Miller made a belligerent 132 and the hand he had in dismissing Satha
in both innings is worth recounting. Noticing Sathasivam batting his own
characteristic stylish flourish and the evident flair to hook, Miller
alerted Pettiford on the line and deliberately bounced a little out of
the leg stump, Satha instinctively went for the shot.
The ball soared high in the fine leg region and lodged in the safe
hands of Pettiford, who hadn't to move.
The next was when Satha in grand elegance, cut a ball from Cecil
Pepper towards Miller in the 2nd slip, the ball sped in a flash with
lightening speed, almost along the ground, quick indeed for the eye to
follow and the crowd roared in applause for a certain four and looked
towards the boundary - Miller too, to keep it up, from his bent position
turned towards the line, as if to beckon the ball back.
Then it happened, there was a hushed silence, everybody kept still
and Miller from the point of his ankle tossed the ball for all to see
and up went the umpire's finger. It's not only cricket but other mutual
interest made Satha, Miller, Worrell, Walcott, Sobers, Weekers and yet
others from other countries, firm friends.
Then came Bradman's all conquering side in 1948. It was a whistle
stop half-a-day match, with Sathasivam captaining all Ceylon and, having
the rare distinction of leading Malaysia as well later on. Skippering
two countries does speak much for this entertaining batsman. In that
whistle stop match, Australia hurriedly scored 184 for 8, whilst Ceylon
replied with 46 for 2.
Satha made quite a number of fifties, too many to touch upon here,
but we will just dwell on two. The evening prior to the Commonwealth
match, Satha was making merry late into the night at a leading hotel
with some friends.
On being aware of this, one with authority in the CCA despite the
heavy rains, went up to Satha and with anger said, "Satha you're dropped
for tomorrow's match" Satha's reply in that merry mood was "you'd better
drop me only at 6.00 pm tomorrow". The next day turned out to be gloomy
with overcast grey skies and intermittent thin drizzle.
Satha was up against bowlers like George Pope, Fred Freer and Geo
Tribe, on a pitch that was soggy spoken of as a mud larker's wicket.
Satha's strategy on a treacherous pitch was to be meticulous in cutting
off the flourishes and frills and play out of character to be subdued
and punish the bad deliveries with sheer elegance. The outcome was that
at 6.00 pm he was unbeaten on 96 and the match I presume ended in draw.
There were any fifties scored like this by Satha, who was reluctant to
run his singles, but rather walked them, and on the field he proved to
be lethargic. Against the West Indies, he cut Trim to gully over the
outstretched arm of Walcott, which made Jeff Stollmeyer ask Walcott to
move further away - Satha the maestro of the delicate late cut, seeing
the gap he had fashioned between Walcott and Weekes, he came down on the
ball n a flash to send the ball through the gap to the boundary. There
is also the incident of Worell deliberately dropping Satha, in order to
see him bat.
Satha in his cricket career scored 40 centuries and 4 double
centuries. It is not the intention to analyze all the 40 centuries made
by him in cavalier, though committed to the side's cause. But we will
just dwell on two - India had a very strong side under the great batsman
Vijay Merchant, and vicious spin bowler, Vino Mankad. Ceylon batting on
the Oval wicket in 1945 was dismissed for 107 with India enjoying a lead
of 72. Ceylon sent into bat again had barely wiped out the deficit with
5 wickets down for 75, when Satha curbing his natural instincts in the
interest of his team, scored a pleasing 111 in a total score of 225 for
7 to earn a highly meritorious draw.
In a premier league match, Colts batting first on Saturday made 210 -
Satha having to meet his friend in Bandarawela, walked up in mufti to,
Tita Nathaniel, and said that he would not be batting that evening as he
was heading for Bandarawela. Early next morning, he at 5.30 am rushed to
the Tamil Union, had a net, a shower, breakfast of bacon and eggs and
attired for the matched dashed for the Colts ground.
There was panic in the Colts camp, when the night watchman was
walking back - that led to a sigh of relief to see Satha in his usual
way walking towards the wicket to make 09 and win the match.
The BRC, soon after the 'Battle of the Blues' had co-opted one of the
captains of the two sides who was a pace bowler to open bowling.
He bounced the ball which Satha let it to the wicket keeper, whilst
Satha slowly walked to the youngster and said "Sonny I am an old man,
but don't do it again". The youngster not to be outdone did it again and
had the dismay of seeing the ball soar onto the Havelock's Rubby grounds
and Satha went merrily on.
It was quite evident that Satha enjoyed his batting with a gimmick or
two. He drew a few matches for Tamil Union by bagging the batting from
the last man by changing for the last ball. He would cut into gully
twice, only to be fielded, the third time he would make the motions of
cutting, but at the very last moment he would withdraw his bat to fox
the renowned Ben, wicket keeper for 4 byes.
If close in fielders are set for Satha, which is rare, he would walk
up to the level of the close in fielders and bat from there. This did
have the desired effect for the close in fielders to be moved away.
Satha when into his stride would yell 'boy!' and the ground boy would
come running out with his cap. Batting ever so attractively Satha would
walk down the pitch and shout "i want that car off", a nervous umpire
will go down to the line and get the car moved away - that was Satha.
Apart from the numerous fifties, he also scored 40 centuries and an
additional four double centuries, at the progressive age of 43 years.
However, the innings that lingers and still spoken of even today in
India and Sri Lanka with much enthusiasm - is when Sathasivam with much
finesse and elegance scored 215 to break Joe Hardstaff's record at the
Chepauk Stadium Madras, where all Ceylon in 1947 played South India. In
appreciation spontaneous cheers rent the air from all over the grounds
and, those in the Pavilion to a man gave him a standing ovation. It is
difficult to follow or describe Satha's stroke play, it has to be seen
to be relished - a pity that there was no TV coverage then.
When Ghulam Ahamed a former Indian Captain and a great spin bowler
was asked by an Indian Journalist as to whom he regarded as the best
batsman, he had bowled to - Ahmed's reply was "you might have not heard
him, M Sathasivam of Ceylon".
The journalist continues asking, "after bowling to all the greats of
the time, as to how he picked u a relative unknown and gave him pride of
place". Ghulanm Ahmed said "he did not allow me to land the ball most of
the time during his double century against South India".
Sobers on a holiday here as a guest of Satha, were on a pub crawl and
ended up at the colts where a match was being played. A small crowd had
gathered around them. Satha was goading Sobers by saying he would even
today thrash him over the trees around the Park and Sobers good
naturedly kept it up by saying "yes maan, I know maan, yes maan". After
a while Satha went to ease himself, Sobers sought the opportunity to
tell those gathered "my boss (that is Worrell) says Satha is the
greatest batsman he had seen", Praise indeed.
He is truly a great son of Wesley College, and the Old Wesleyite
Sports Club, has done well to perpetuate the memory of Satha by holding
the annual Thomian vs Wesley cricket encounter for the Mahadevan
Sathasivam challenge Trophy.
I have been following cricket for many years, but I have yet to see a
batsman like Satha coming up.
The mould in which he was cast, is no more and the like of him we
will not see again.
(The writer is indebted to the late Chana Gunasekera from some
facts culled from his book "The Willow Quartet" which he left behind).