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Rajive’s Big Match – A skipper’s nostalgia after 50 years

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Standing from left: K. Jansen, T. Gunawardene, S. Dep, C. Fonseka, R. de S. Wijeyeratne, R. De Silva, L. Jayasinghe, T. de S. Wijeyeratne, N. Wijewickrema, R. Martin, C. Sebastian. Seated from left: A. Johnpillai, Coach Mr Fairlie Dalpathado, Captain Rohan Fernando, Rector Father Mervyn Weerakkody, Vice-Captain Gary Melder, Master-in-charge Mr Angelo Rayer, R. Benedict

The 38th Battle of the Saint’s between St Joseph’s College and St Peter’s College was played on the 17th and 18th of March 1972 (50 years ago) at the Colombo Oval. I was the Captain of the St Joseph’s team whilst the great Roy Dias led the Peterite team. Both sides were evenly balanced although it was reported that St Joseph’s had the edge as we had won more games during the season.

My team was naturally confident although the Big Match was always treated with respect as the Peterites were never to be underestimated. Our team had no stars as our affable coach Mr. Dalpathado would say except perhaps Gary Melder whilst the stylish Roy Dias was at his peak, and much was expected of him. The team was confident, yet big match jitters seemed to bother the boys.

17th of March dawned and St Joseph’s won the toss and put St Peter’s into bat, and they were bowled out for 112 runs in their first innings. Rajive Benedict took 2 wickets, whilst Rohan de S Wijeratne had the best figures of 4 -34 and paceman Chandana Fonseka took 3 wickets. St Joseph’s got off to a good start but later slowed down to be 127 – 1 at close on Day 1. There were mixed feelings after the first day’s play including some criticism towards me for a slow innings.

One newspaper headline read “St Joseph’s well away but a decision unlikely.” Another headline said, “An early declaration is vital.” Whilst yet another said “Josephian’s in commanding position.” However, none of us dreamed of what was to take place on that historic second day.

St Joseph’s continued the innings from the first day and declared at 235 for 7 wickets at the milk interval on day 2. Gary Melder scored a quick fire 50 runs, whilst Rohan Martin made 36 and I scored 73 runs.

St Peter’s went into bat soon after the milk interval, and what took place could only be described as a miracle. Rajive Benedict who once again opened the attack was simply unplayable and ripped through the Peterite batting, recording the remarkable figures of 8 wickets for 6 runs and the Peterites were bowled out for a paltry 36 runs. This was the lowest ever total in the history of the Joe Pete series. Roy Dias was fortunately out cheaply, caught behind by Rohan Martin off the bowling of Paceman Chandana Fonseka. How I thanked my lucky stars that Rajive and I were on the same side. The match was over before the tea break, much to the annoyance of some of the Josephian supporters who had to cut short their revelry.

Hence it is nostalgic to re -live that memorable victory exactly after 50 years.

The architect of that great victory was left arm paceman Rajive Benedict who not only had the remarkable figures of 8 wickets for 6 runs in the Peterite second innings but ended up with a match bag of 10 for 24 in this match. I recall with affection my teammates, coach and master in charge of that memorable year. Mr Dalpathado the coach was a father figure and a shrewd tactician ably supported by Mr Angelo Rayer who was the Master In charge. He could read the game better than most coaches at that time. He is now 80 years young.

I also fondly recall 3 of my teammates who have moved on to heavenly shores, Gary Melder my vice-captain off spinner Ranjan De Silva, our scorer Sunimal De S Wijeratne and our great coach Mr Dalpathado. Many of my teammates are overseas namely Rajive Benedict, Keith Jansen and Cecil Sebastian are in Canada whilst Sirimath Dep the Allrounder is in Australia and Chandana Fonseka is in Dubai. Rohan Martin my opening partner and wicket keeper, Ajith Johnpillai the hard hitter, Allrounder Rohan de S Wijeratne, middle order bat Turlough De S Wijeratne, opening bat and wicket keeper Tony Goonewardene, off spinner Lalith Jayasinghe and the brilliant fielder Nihal Wijewickrema are in Sri Lanka and so is our cheer leader Rohan Wijesooriya who was an integral part of the team.

The Peterite team too had some fine players, in of course Roy Dias, Lalith Obeysekera, Bernard Wijetunge, Edgar Tavaryan, Mohan Abeysekera, to name a few. Many of them have remained close friends to this day. Our record stood for 36 years until St Joseph’s had another big match victory in 2008. Leading this exceptional team, where team spirit was so high, was an honour and privilege and a high point in my life. I consider this a blessing from the Almighty God.


Thursday, March 17, 2022 – 01:00

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