RUMESH and ASHANTHA were world class fast bowling all rounders’ | Daily News

RUMESH and ASHANTHA were world class fast bowling all rounders’

After achieving that elusive full membership in the International Cricket Council in 1982, Sri Lanka produced many fast bowlers who were speedy,menacing and who all opposing batsmen feared facing them.

Two of them were ASHANTHA LAKDASA FRANCIS DE MEL and RUMESH JOSEPH RATNAYAKE. DE MEL learnt his trade at Isipathana before going across to Royal College where he bettered his trade ultimately ending up as one if not the fastest bowler in the country.

RATNAYAKE was a blue blooded Peterite. Bowling with great success in inter-school cricket and in the company of another fast bowling ace VINODHAN JOHN he teased, tormented and instilled fear on all batsmen who faced him and he put Peterite cricket at the top in that era with high class fast bowling reminiscent of Benedictines Cecil Waidyaratne and Neville Wickremasinghe in mid-1957 who batsmen feared.

International cricket – sub head

DE MEL and RATNAYAKE broke into the Sri Lanka teams and international cricket, when that man who was tagged the power behind the throne ABU FUARD who lorded and ruled the local cricket world with the blessings of the then Chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket the irrepressible GAMINI DISSANAYAKE who allowed FUARD free reign.

After having their early coaching at Isipathana and St. Peter’s College – DE MEL under former Peterite cricketer Mike Chanmugam and later under GaminiSalgadoe at Royal, RATNAYAKE came under former Peterite Captain and national team wicket keeper/batsman Dr. H.I.K. Fernando.

When they broke into big time cricket they had the fortune of coming under the Influence of that all-rounder of all allrounders in world cricket GARFIELD SOBERS who captained the West Indies who dominated world cricket with fearsome pace men like Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith and Chester Watson.

Played stellar roles

De MEL and RATNAYAKE played stellar roles in Sri Lanka’s first ever Test victory when they beat the Indian team led by KapilDev at the P.Sara Stadium in 1984. Not many wagered on new babes to Test cricket Sri Lanka led by DuleepMendis to beat a mighty team led by Dev who had led India to win the World Cup in England in 1983.

That Sri Lanka were trained to a nicety by Sobers who instilled in them that they should go hard at the Indians who are sure to capitulate under pressure. And that was exactly what this team did and the Indians failed to withstand the pressure and the end result was a 147 run victory for the Lankan babes.

That was an historic victory, considering that the Lankans were into the big league only a couple of years and when RATNAYAKE midway in his follow trough dived right to take a brilliant one-handed catch to dismiss Dev all hell broke loose not only on the ground but country wide as fire crackers rent the air and President Jayewardene who was a former Royal cricketer who was at the scene soaking in the action immediately declared a national holiday.

Excellent bowling figures

DE MEL had match figures of 2 for 63 in the first innings and in the second innings 3 for 63 with RATNAYAKE having figures of 4 for 76 in the first and 5 for 49 in the second innings. It was a truly amazing performance by the duo and along with Amal Silva who made 111, RanjanMadugalle 54, Roy Dias 95 and 60 not out, Mendis 51, Aravinda de Silva 75 not out and were along with the other team members the toasts of this historic victory.

RATNAYAKE it must be stated began his career as a leg spinner. Quite tall and strongly built, he decided to take to fast bowling and what a devastating bowler he turned out to be. He bowled right arm with a deceptive action that made batsmen struggling to read him.

He had some of the batsmen shaking in the knees when facing him. It is said he struck batsmen of the caliber of West Indian captain Clive Lloyd and team mate Larry Gomes. Lloyd unable to take the embarrassment queried RATANAYKE’S action. When things were getting hot for Lloyd he said he had been misquoted.

Stood by his story

But the respected Australian cricketer writer Dick Tucker when asked by me when I met him on a tour in Australia and who was ‘ghosting’ Lloyd in a column stood by his story.

Another story told me by my former team mate at St.Benedict’s College Ranjit Fernando was this. RATNAYAKE had struck New Zealand batsman John Wright on the head in NZ. Worried that he may have badly hurt the Kiwi batsman RATNAYAKE walked up to console Wright, but when he saw blood RATNAYAKE fainted.

RATNAYAKE earned his Test cap as a teenager and made his debut against New Zealand in Christchurch and made a big impression in a Test match against India at the SSC he returned figures of 6 for 85.

Top class seam bowling

On a tour of Australia in 1990/91 he produced top class seam bowling capturing 6 for 66 in Hobart. At Lord’s against England he had the fine figures of 5 for 69. RATNAYAKE was also a hard hitting bat using the long handle to advantage. He played in 23 Tests capturing 73 wickets and in the 70 ODI games he played he took 76 wickets.

DE MEL was a double international. In addition to representing the country in cricket he was also a clever bridge player and represented the country at the Commonwealth Games.

Playing in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test against England, he captured the first wicket when he had opener Geoff Cook edging to LalithKaluperuma in the gully. He followed with the wickets of Chris Tavare, Graham Gooch and Ian Botham which signaled his arrival as a first class fast bowler. He would have added the wicket of England captain Keith Fletcher to his bag, but had the mortification of seeing the catch being grassed. In the first drawn Test against India in 1985 the lion-hearted fast bowler had figures of 5 for 64.

Maiden tour of Pakistan

When Sri Lanka made their maiden tour of Pakistan after gaining Test status, DE MEL rocked the home team’s batting with 11 wickets in the series on wickets that were not conducive for fast bowling. His perseverance earned him the wickets.

DE MEL as a batsman was also a mauler of bowlers. I had the fortune of seeing him blast an Indian attach in a Gopalan Trophy game at the P.Sara Stadium and score a belligerent century. He played in many a Maharaja Organization team that dominated Mercantile cricket in the 1980s.

As is the case with all fast bowlers, DE MEL and RATNAYAKE had their careers cut short suffering irrecoverable injuries. They were not molly coddled like the fast bowlers of today. They worked hard for success. Where are the likes of the DE MELS and RATNAYAKEs now?

Both were outspoken and likeable cricketers. RATNAYAKE was god fearing. On retirement they were not lost to the game, but offered their expertise to the Cricket Board in the furtherance of the game. Both had credentials to be classed as LEGENDS of the game in Sri Lanka cricket. 


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