Vijay Malalasekera, the former Royal College and Cambridge Blue cricketer reminisces on cricket ahead of the 138th Battle of the Blues encounter against S Thomas’ College that commences on March 9 at the SSC grounds.
Q: What led you to take up to cricket?
VM: From my boyhood days I had been very interested in cricket since in our neighbourhood we always played cricket as a pastime. My interest grew further as a result of my being taken to watch the Royal-Thomian cricket match from 1952 onwards. I saw Royal being defeated that year but was enamoured by the players who performed for Royal. This interest grew in me and since 1952 I watched every Royal-Thomian upto the time I left for England in 1963. Having seen players like T. Nirmalingam, Michael Wille, Lorensz Pereira, Michael Dias, the brothers Lalith and Nanda Senanayake and the likes of Dan Piachaud, Ronnie Reid, Michael Tissera, Michael Sproule and the likes of the opposing side made me want to play in the Big match. In particular, I remember Nirmalingam’s 69 in 1954 where he was run out for 69 and when the Royal scoreboard read 70 for 1 and the man out was Nirmalingam for 69. It was an innings of sheer brilliance. Ronnie Reid’s 157 in 1956 and his two short innings of 65 in 1957 and Tissera’s 49 in 1954 were all inspiring innings. The Dias-Lalith Senanayake partnership in 1958 against the formidable leg-spinner Larif Idroos were innings to remember. Lalith went on to get 69 and 47 n.o. in 1960 and they were brilliant knocks made in absolute style for a right-hander. They all inspired me to promise myself that one day I will play in the Royal-Thomian as a Royalist.
Q: Any illustrious players of mention while playing for Cambridge and when in England?
VM: The Cambridge team which I was a member of had one or two players of repute. In 1966, which was the 1st year that I played for the University when I was awarded the Cambridge Blue for cricket, the team was captained by Derryck Murray who was the youngest member of Sir Frank Worrell’s team which toured England in 1963. At the end of that series Derryck was a regular wicket-keeper for the West Indies and went on to break the world record during that tour. Further, he went on to be the vice-captain of the West Indies team under Clive Lloyd and was sent as ambassador for Trinidad and Tobago to Washington. Another player of repute was Roger Knight who played for Sussex and latterly went onto captain Surrey in the county championships. On his retirement from cricket, he became secretary to the M.C.C. for a period of 4 to 5 years and was elected president of the M.C.C. two years ago. Chris Martin-Jenkins though he had only a few games for the University went onto becomes one of the finest commentators on the game of cricket for the BBC. He also edited the Cricketer magazine and was extremely knowledgeable about the game. There were several others like Nick Cosh and Phil Carling who played a few games for their respective counties, Surrey and Glamorgan. If my memory serves me right, Phil Carling became secretary to the Glamorgan Cricket Club, subsequently.
Q: What were the fundamentals which you conveyed as a coach?
VM: As a coach, one did not want to stifle the natural talent of youngsters provided their basic technique in playing the forward defence or the backward defence was in order. The fundamentals of the game had usually been taught at junior level which said very much for the coaches at that level. One only spoke about strategies during a particular game and the fact that we play to win within the rules of the game. The ethics and the morality of the players were very much a part of the coach’s armoury. They were taught to play hard and if they lost, to learn to stand by the road and cheer as the winners go by. Sledging in any form was not tolerated upon and if anyone did indulge in such activity, he was dealt with severely. It was dinned into their minds that cricket was a team game and not an individual sport. The Royal-Thomian encounter in itself helped to bring camaraderie and build friendships which last a life time. Quite a number of my friends are old Thomians who have played against me such as Randy Morrell who captained STC in ‘63, Kumar Boralessa, etc. Randy Morrell will always make it a point to invite me to his house if and when I am in Australia.
Q: Who would you pick as industrious captains who played to obtain results and why?
VM: As Richie Benaud the Australian skipper said, 90% of a good captain is luck and 10% is strategy. It is indeed difficult to pick one industrious captain but persons like Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Arjuna Ranatunga, and Michael Tissera I would say were good captains. I would like to add to that list the Royal captain of 1962 Darrell Lieversz as he inspired the entire side which had a number of freshers to perform as a team under many a trying circumstance.
Q: Can cricket produce fulltime professionals engaged in pursuits other than cricket? You being one how did you manage studies, work and sports?
VM: In the current day and age, cricket itself is a profession though it ends fairly early in life. At the time we were playing we did not have a huge schedule of fixtures even though we were playing counties and visiting national teams at Cambridge. The lack of a strenuous schedule helped us to combine both studies as well as playing cricket. At the outset let me tell you that it was difficult as you cannot fail an exam at Cambridge for you were sent down from the University which meant that you came down without a degree. In the old days, persons such as F.C. de Saram, Chippie Gunasekera, H.C. Perera and H.I.K. Fernando were able to combine cricket with their professional careers. In the modern day, this is not the case. Fortunately or unfortunately, particularly in Sri Lanka, learning and achieving a career in life has been given the greatest prominence. In a way quite rightly so, in the competitive world we live in.