Engineered and architected opening batting skills | Daily News


 

CHARLES EDWARD MANOHARAN PONNIAH

Engineered and architected opening batting skills

S.Thomas College, Mount Lavinia have over the years produced some elegant and successful opening batsmen. They were cricketers and above all gentlemen who after scoring heavily in school and club cricket journeyed to sport the Sri Lanka cap.

Those who donned the national cap who come to mind are Ronnie Reid, T.C.T.Edwards, Buddy Reid and the last being CHARLES EDWARD MANOHARAN PONNIAH who we are proud to feature as our ‘SPORTS LEGEND’ this Friday.

Talking of some of the Thomian openers who performed well with the bat in school and club cricket and come to mind were Claude and Ronnie Reid brothers of Buddy, Upali Goonetilleke, David Ponniah and Ajit Jayasekera. David is the brother of our ‘SPORTS LEGEND’ who also played for the University and later ended up being Warden of STCML.

Phenomenal rise

MANO PONNIAH began his phenomenal rise as an opener from junior cricket and had the good fortune of being taught the rudiments of the game by that famous Thomian coach Lassie Abeywardene who Thomian cricketers of a generation past still revere.

PONNIAH started his junior cricket as a right hand leg spinner and who knows had he continued bowling that rare art, he may have gone on to emulate the feats or even surpassed the phenomenal records of another famous Thomian leg spinner during that era, Lareef Idroos. The deeds of Idroos who also captained the school were featured in ‘SPORTS LEGENDS’ and needs no reiteration.

But PONNIAH did not stick to bowling leg spin, but spent more time under the guidance of Abeywardene fine tuning as a batsman. It is said the junior school team had a surfeit of batsman and, believe it or not, he was number 11 batsman in the under-14. He showed his prowess as an opening batsman at the next level.

Cricket fanatic

PONNIAH was a cricket fanatic and would watch and read books on how to further improve his batting. From his young days he made opening batting his forte and culminated it by going on to proudly seal his opening batting slot not only for the country but also in England playing for Cambridge University. PONNIAH opened batting for Cambridge with former Royalist Vijaya Malalasekera. The first time that two Lankans opened batting for Cambridge University.

In addition to learning his basics under Abeywardene, he had the good fortune of being spotted by the one and only F.C.de Saram who saw in him the batsman with an ideal temperament and stroke play of a promising opening batsman who could make it to the top if he persevered and de Saram told him so.

The initial job of a good opening batsman is to score off the new ball. PONNIAH had that attribute aplenty because he had a good eye and could spot the swinging ball much earlier than most other opening batsmen could do. And so success was predicted and achieved with him sporting the dream national cap.

Immense patience

He was certainly not an attacking opening batsman who would attempt to bash new ball bowlers, but would offer the full face of the bat to ball –playing straight - and had immense patience and the all important concentration required of an opening batsman.

PONNIAH with a lot of runs behind him made it to the Thomian first eleven in 1960 and had the distinction of scoring a half century in the big match against Royal which knock incidentally saved the blushes of a Thomian defeat.

At STCML some of PONNIAH’S team mates were Lareef Idroos, Michael Sproule, Gamini Marapona, S.P. Wijesinghe and B.W.R. Thomas. In his first big match his opening partner was Gamini Marapona who was also a sound wicket keeper.

Joined University

After his heroics at STCML and club PONIAH passed out and joined the University where in addition to his studies he also found time for his pet sport cricket and in the Uni he came under a clever captain in former Josephian opening batsman and Captain Carlyle Perera where for the first time in the history of Uni cricket it won the Sara Trophy pushing aside strong club teams like the SSC and NCC. That Uni team had a galaxy of schoolboy cricketers of that era.

PONNIAH had his first taste of international cricket in 1964 when he was picked to face the Bob Simpson led Australian team. He later fronted up to Pakistan which game was won and then toured India where they won the first historical Unofficial Test under another Thomian Michael Tissera. Mind you PONNIAH was only 21 at that time.

PONNIAH who was aiming to be an Engineer while at Uni was yearning to play cricket in England and he realized that dream when had the good fortune of joining Cambridge University where there were outstanding cricketers such as Indian Abbas Ali Baig, Nawab of Pataudi and Pakistani Javed Burki.

Met Gamini Goonasena

It was at Cambridge that he met another Sri Lankan Gamini Goonasena who was a big hit who helped him further his cricket. He played for the Uni in 19687/68 and 69. He scored a near 1000 runs acclimatizing nicely to the fickle and varying conditions and wickets in England missing two centuries by just 10 runs and later joining a rare breed that have opened batting and remained unconquered against Leicestershire for which county Sri Lankans Stanley Jayasinghe and Clive Inman played. He made his first three figure score against Lancashire which he still treasures.

PONNIAH was greatly disappointed when after being picked in a Sri Lanka team to England in 1968 to play most counties, the tour did not materialize for reasons that need not be reiterated here. That was a great set back for the game in the country. PONNIAH would have joined former Sri Lankan greats Stanley Jaysinghe and Clive Inman and become the third to do so when he was invited by Leicestershire to play for the club in the county circuit. But with a heavy load of studies he had to sadly turn down the offer.

Cambridge Blue

PONNIAH obtained his Cambridge Blue and playing for Cambridge was also Vijaya Malalasekera a former Royalist who scored a century in the Royal-Thomian and on his return played for Nondescripts Cricket Club.

PONNIAH played many times for MCC and is a member of that prestigious club that now has Sri Lanka’s legend Kumart Sangakkara as its President. PONNIAH is a Engineer and Architect. Great for a sportsman!

PONNIAH when I first met him when was playing STCML and the writer for St. Bens and in later years at dinner hosted by his former Uni club mate Cyril Ernest at Ranjit Fernando’s residence we reminisced of school cricket then and he was still the same unassuming and simple character although being and Engineer and Architect

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