Battle of the Maroons

Ananda vs Nalanda

Fifty Years Ago - When Ananda won after 24 years

by Ananda Sumanadasa | 23 February 2015

Played at the Colombo Oval on March 19th and 20th this was the 36th Battle of the Maroons. Anura Gamini Perera, one of the best batsmen in school cricket that year captained Ananda, and Shantha Peiris a fine all-rounder captained Nalanda. Going by the 1965 season’s performance, Ananda had the edge over Nalanda having won three matches and lost one, while Nalanda had won one match and lost four.

Ananda winning the toss decided to bat first on a wicket that looked full of runs. The players were greeted at the middle by two experienced umpires Lucky Mayo and M Hamer. Nalanda opened the bowling with their two left-arm pacemen Anura de Silva and A Ponnamperuma both bowling round the wicket. AG Perera and A Sumanadasa started the innings comfortably with the former in his typical style belting a couple of fours in next to no time. However, with the score at 19 Perera fell to a full-blooded pull shot which was smartly taken by Amaraweera who flung himself to his left. Then three more batsmen – Laksman de Silva, Sumanadasa and Duminda Siriwardene - were back in the pavilion within a space of half an hour. The ideal batting wicket played as expected with no surprises. It was the batsmen who surprised all, playing well below expectations. Struggling at 28 for 4 in 50 minutes Ananda had only themselves to blame for the disastrous start. The Ananda dressing room was not a happy one. The early damage was done by Ponnamperuma and Vas Gunawardena and Anura de Silva. At this stage Ananda pinned their hopes on left-hander GC Perera and Tilak de Silva, who hit a century against St. Benedict’s the previous year, to rescue the shambles of an innings. And rescue they did. Both batsmen batted with purpose and sound judgment punishing the loose ball to move the score to 91 for 4 at lunch.

Soon after lunch the partnership of 70 runs in 77 minutes came to an end when Tilak de Silva was caught behind the wicket by Seneviratne off Gunawardena for 25. Following de Silva’s departure, wickets fell in quick succession. Lalith Gunaratne and Sunil Wettimuny – playing in his first big match – were the next to fall, both victims to a good spell of bowling by Shantha Pieris. Perera running out of partners was 8th out at 119 caught by Seneviratne off Gunawardena mistiming a pull shot. Perera displayed beautiful stroke play in his 57 runs in two hours which included 9 fours. The highlights of his innings were his text-book style straight drives and cover drives, and pull shots to the mid-wicket area. The tail did not wag and the last two batsmen - Ivan Amaranayake and P Dayapriya – were dismissed with the score at 122. The Ananda innings lasted 165 minutes. If not for Perera’s half-century and his partnership with Tilak de Silva, Ananda would have been in dire straits as the last five wickets fell for 24 runs. The immense value of the 70 run partnership can be measured by the fact that it took place between two major collapses – 28 for 4 at the start, and 24 for 5 at the end. The Nalanda bowlers, especially Gunawardena with 4 for 25 and Shantha Pieris with 3 for 29, supported by some fine fielding all round did exceptionally well to contain Ananda for a mediocre total of 122.

Nalanda going in to bat at 2:10 PM started the innings in business-like fashion with Shanta Pieris scoring freely all over the field, ably assisted by stubborn batting by Laxman Doolwela, aged only 14 years and looking just that. This onslaught caught Ananda by surprise but with the score at 45 Lalith Gunaratne with his left-arm medium paced in-swingers had Pieris, who was going for his strokes, caught behind the wicket by Ivan Amaranayake. This as it happened was a turning point in more ways than one.

By an interesting twist of circumstances there was a General Election on Monday, March 22nd and government servants were called for duty on Friday the 19th. So the coach Dhanasiri Weerasinghe missed the first day of the match. AG Perera, who was discouraged from bowling as he was a specialist batsman, came on to bowl with the score at 45 for 1 even though he had hardly bowled during the season. It is a tribute to his confidence that he decided to bowl himself at this crucial stage and not let things get out of hand. With the score at 48 he struck a lethal blow in his third over capturing three wickets in five balls with his left-arm seamers. The second ball of the over saw left-hander Cholomondly Amarasekera caught behind by Amaranayake. Then with the last two balls of the over he removed Anura de Silva, well caught by Gunaratne in the slips, and Wasantha Seneviratne, caught again by Amaranayake. Doolwela was joined at the wicket by Laxman Jayawardena and this pair batted till the tea break with Nalanda at 52 for 4.

After tea Jayawardena with a couple of good hits to the boundary was beginning to show signs of reviving the innings until he got out to a smart one-handed catch in the slips by AG Perera off Siriwardena with the score at 65. Nalanda appeared to be in a fairly desperate situation. There was a semblance of a recovery that threatened Ananda when the 6th wicket partnership of Doolwela and Gunawardena, both freshers, took the total past the 100 mark in 150 minutes at 5:15 PM with the latter batting aggressively. Ten minutes later just when it seemed that Nalanda was gaining the upper hand Gunawardena lost his concentration trying to sweep a ball pitched outside off stump by off-spinner Siriwardena, completely missed it, and was adjudged lbw for 24. The 6th wicket partnership of 46 took Nalanda to 111.

Doolwela who had been holding the fort valiantly was joined by Mahinda Wijesekera with just half an hour to go. Neither of these two batsmen was to last much longer. By now the sun had had its day and with lengthening shadows the light too was turning a shade darker. There was some confusion in the middle and Wijesekera was run out. Doolwela looked like he was determined to see Nalanda through till the day’s end and continue in the morning. However, with 20 minutes of play left his long and patient innings came to an abrupt end when he too was run out trying to move the score along. Doolwela, 8th out for 37 with the total at 122 held the Ananda attack at bay for just over three hours. AG Perera came back in to the attack and bowled out the last two batsmen - Ponnamperuma and Amaraweera – finishing off the innings in the last over before close. Number 10 batsman Eastman Narangoda in the short time he was at the crease remained defiant with 10 not out. With the last four wickets adding only 27 runs, Nalanda were all out for 138 giving them a slender lead of 16 runs.

Given that Nalanda batted for 210 minutes Ananda did well to prevent their opponents from taking a bigger lead and thus a psychological advantage. AG Perera’s final figures of 9.1-3-27-5 speak for itself. Siriwardena too applied pressure with 2 for 25 in 19 overs.

At the end of the first day Nalanda could feel relieved that they restricted the stronger side on paper to a paltry score and outscored their opponents by a small margin. Regrettably they were unable to drive home the early advantage with a significant score.

The second day turned a new page with Ananda running a small deficit of 16 runs. It was anyone’s game. Ananda was looking for a good start to put up a substantial score and leave enough time to get Nalanda out. Nalanda obviously was looking for a repeat performance to get Ananda out for a low score as in the first innings. Either way it looked probable that there was going to be a decision.

This time round Ananda got off to a good start with AG Perera and Sumanadasa putting up a brisk 51 run partnership in one hour before a Gunawardena yorker bowled the latter out for 27. AG, the centurion against St. Benedict’s a few weeks earlier, was joined by Laksman de Silva a quick scoring bat, and the pair kept the momentum going. AG looked like he was beginning to tear apart the bowling as he had done many a time. But with the score at 68 he cut Gunawardena straight into Pieris’s hands at gully for 30 runs. Siriwardena who had scored a century in the first match of the season against Dharmapala walked in with high expectations. Going for a big hit he was caught near the boundary by Narangoda off Peiris making the score 73 for 3.

At this stage Ananda’s lead was only 57 runs with 7 wickets in hand. Neither side had the upper hand. Then the two de Silvas, Laksman and Tilak, took the score to 100 when the former fell victim to Narangoda for 20. At lunch Ananda had 108 for 4 on the board with Tilak de Silva and GC Perera at the wicket with more work ahead for them. After lunch these two batsmen punished the bowling as the score moved quickly to the 130’s giving Ananda a fairly comfortable lead of 150 runs with 6 wickets in hand. However, fortune changed hands again within a space of 15 minutes when Ananda lost 3 wickets for 4 runs, going from 135 for 5 to 139 for 7 to a deadly spell of bowling by Ponnamperuma who claimed the wickets of de Silva for 20 at 135, and Dayapriya and Gunaratne with the score at 139. It was left to GC Perera once again to repair the innings as he took most of the strike away from Sunil Wettimuni. Next to go was Perera for 35, another of Ponnamperuma’s scalps, brilliantly stumped by Seneviratne, with the score at 150. Wettimuni gave a glimpse of his potential when he slowly but surely helped to move the score along to 158 before edging a ball from Wijesekera and was caught behind. Last man out was LS Perera bowled by Anura de Silva with the total at 160. GC Perera top scored again for Ananda with some excellent strokes including four boundaries. Ponnamperuma bowled a menacing length throughout the innings to rein in the Ananda batmen and finished with the impressive figures 33-15-32-4. Gunawardena chipped in with 2 for 52 in 19 overs. None of the bowlers allowed the Ananda batsmen to take any liberties much as they tried.

The Ananda innings ended just before 3:00 PM with the total of 160 coming in 220 minutes. This left Nalanda with 145 runs to win in 160 minutes. The game was well poised when Nalanda went in to bat the second innings. Victory was within reach of either side. One could sense from the very first over that this was going to be a battle of nerves. Shantha Peiris wasted no time in going on the attack taking 3 runs in the first over off Gunaratne. The next over saw AG Perera opening the bowling. Bowling over the wicket, with his first ball he had Peiris shuffling at the crease and bowled off his pads. Both Perera and Gunaratne from the start were bowling a vicious length and direction and making the batsmen play every ball giving them no respite. Doolwela the thorn in the side of Ananda in the first innings hung his bat out to a scorcher from Gunaratne and was snapped up by Tilak de Silva in the slips. Both openers downed for 5 runs. Amarasekera was joined by Narangoda, promoted in the batting order following his short but defiant knock the day before. This pair had a huge burden to bring Nalanda back in to the game. But in the heat of the moment an unnecessary run out saw the end of Amarasekera when Nalanda could least afford it. When things go wrong they can go horribly wrong as Nalanda was soon to find out. The change in the batting order did not pay dividends as Narangoda was 4th out – caught by Siriwardena off Gunaratne – with 6 runs on the board. At tea Nalanda were 9 for 4 with Wijesekera and Jayawardena at the wicket. Their chances of winning was now slipping away unless the middle-order batsmen pulled through to perform a miracle.

Nalanda fared no better after tea as their innings started to unravel against the bowling of Perera and Gunaratne. Both Jayawardena and Wijesekera were removed by these two bowlers with the score at 16.The former beaten by Gunaratne’s quicker in-swing, and the latter caught behind by Amaranayake off Perera. 16 runs for 6 wickets. The 7th wicket pair of Seneviratne and Gunawardena was Nalanda’s last recognized batsmen. Seneviratne who was in the runs during the season put some life in to the innings with some delightful strokes and kept Nalanda’s hopes alive. While Gunaratne continued to bowl from the Tennis Court End, changes were made at the Scoreboard End. Pacemen Dayapriya bowled an over followed by off-spinner Siriwardena. After a 24 run partnership in even time Seneviratne at 17 edged a ball from Gunaratne that flew past him and was caught by Amaranayake making the score 40 for 7 at 4:25 PM. With Seneviratne’s departure things looked bleak for Nalanda. Even saving the game seemed a distinct impossibility as Ananda inched closer to a win.

With defeat staring in the face there was little that Gunawardena could do partnering the tail-enders. The target of 145 was far too distant. With the score at 45 Gunaratne bagged his 5th wicket when Gunawardena gave a simple catch to Dayapriya at short extra cover. The fielders crowded round the new batsman Anura de Silva. In the next over Ponnamperuma played and missed a ball from Siriwardena and the score was 45 for 9. In came the last man Amaraweera to face the inevitable.

Every ball bowled was accompanied by an almost deafening roar from the Ananda stands. However, that did not deter the last pair. They were not giving in that easily. Anura de Silva in particular was confident and unyielding, getting harder to dislodge. He nicely stroked a couple of boundaries and was in to double figures. The scoreboard was registering runs not slowly but at quicker than a run-a-minute pace. Skipper AG Perera thought he had enough of it and brought himself in to the attack. With the second ball of the over – his 7th – he flattened de Silva’s leg stump with Nalanda’s total at 63. Anura de Silva’s 14 runs were the second highest score for Nalanda. It was fitting that Perera should take the final wicket.

In the end the two left-armers, Lalith Gunaratne’s quick in-swingers and AG Perera’s seamers, proved too much of a formidable combination for the Nalanda batsmen who offered little by way of resistance. Gunaratne had the match winning figures of 13-5-26-5. AG Perera, no less valuable, finished with 7.2-0-22-3. Thus , he had the stunning match figures of 16.3-3-49-8. And this for someone who hardly bowled all season.

A feature of the match was that both sides fielded well and some brilliant catches were taken. The wicket keeping too was outstanding. No batsman got a second chance. No catches went amiss. This in a way to an extent explains the low scoring on a good batting wicket.

Thus ended the 36th encounter with Ananda winning by a fairly convincing margin of 81 runs with 75 minutes to spare. The match was played in the true spirit of the game, a testament to the high standard of brotherhood between the two schools. The last time Ananda won was in 1941 under the captaincy of MA Jayasinghe. For Ananda the victory was all the more rewarding as they had waited 24 long years.