The saga of Asgiriya

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Sep - 29 - 2011
Sharm de Alwis

Asgiriya was dressed by the late Gamini Dissanayake in 1982 to be the most picturesque international cricket ground in the world. It was also the only Test venue owned by a school.

But now, with the Pallakele cricket stadium in place, Asgiriya will continue to foster a multitude of Trinity sports without hindrance, as it has over the years.

The Early Years

What appeared to be a hillside where Asgiriya now sits like a jewel in Trinity’s throne was actually two hills with a V-shaped valley. Members of the staff and schoolboys mowed the hills to make the eight acre field. The Principal, Rev. A. G. Fraser and Jasinghe of the staff were the architects.

PWD Engineers and other experts warned that the soil would be washed away by the heavy rains, but Fraser had seen for himself what the Dutch had done in Holland. Similar under-surface drains were built with loose stones.

Today, Asgiriya is acclaimed by foreign visitors as one of the best, and certainly one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world.

The first ball bowled on the single clay wicket was on January 15, 1915, with Richard Aluvihare at the striker’s end. He was later Knighted and was the country’s first Sri Lankan IGP.

Asgiriya now provides five wickets even with 10 foot requirements.

Boxing

The old pavilion was completed at the same time as the grounds. A brass plate commemorates the generosity of A. Arbuthnot, who made a personal donation. Well-wishers too made a contribution. The tiered benches upstairs are yet in use and a professional boxing ring worth half a million rupees, donated by Dion Gomes, sits in lordly splendor, having displaced the old ring that produced fourteen Best Boxers at the Stubbs Shield meets and who were awarded their Lion for the mandatory achievement. A noteworthy absentee in the pride of Lions is Leslie Handunge, who boxed at the Olympics in 1948 and ’52, captaining the second contingent.

Having won the Stubbs Shield in the inaugural year of 1914 and in 1915, ’17, ’18, ’21, ’22, ’23, ’26, ’49, ’50 and ’83, Trinity had the most number of wins until boxing was abandoned. When it was revived after 10 years, Trinity won the shield under Udeni Kiridena’s captaincy in 1983 and yet remained the winner of the shield for the most number of years before boxing was given up again, after Sajith Egodage won the Best Boxer’s Cup and his Lion in 1984.

The sport has now been revived as of last year and this year’s Best Boxer at the Stubbs was Trinitian Gunasekeram Lushath. He is the 15th Trinity Boxing Lion and has had the privilege of training in the new ring.

Cricket

Asgiriya has fostered Trinity sports with particular emphasis on cricket.

Although cricket was played at Trinity as early as 1883, it was not on a serious nature, because of the want of a playing field. Until Asgiriya was built, the Trinitians played cricket where the Chapel now stands.

And yet it is a marvel that Trinity did so well without a proper ground. The illustrious cricketers of the pre-Asgiriya era were C. B.Aluvihare, John Halangoda, S. R. Titus, R. Ondatje, R. S. Tennekoon, T. B. Malmiwela, C. E. de Silva and C. Dunuwille.

Asgiriya opened the floodgates for outstanding performances by Richard Aluvihare, W. P. Beligammana, H. C. Inman, M. P. Kallora, J. A. de Silva, Percy Maralanda, R. B. Ettipola, J. H. Bandaranayake, A. H. R. Joseph, V. C. Schokman, Philip Buultjens, S. A. Odayar, T. B. Wearapitiya, Harendra Dunuwille, M. T. M. Zaruk, Glen Van Langenberg, Himendra Ranaweera, Naren Dambawinne, Denham Madena, Tusha Weerasriya, Mevan Balalle, Kumar Sangakkara and several others, whose list will be a litany if it is to be given full rein.

Trinity’s first inter-school match was against Royal in 1893. Success was reaped in the fourth outing by nine wickets, under the captaincy of A. Coswatte. In 1898, was the first match against S. Thomas’ as well as Ananda.

The first time Trinity lost to Ananda was in 1955, when Nimal Tammita decamped from Trinity and plundered wickets at will with his wily spin.

1903 heralded the first game against Wesley and Trinity’s first win was in 1911. The first ‘Big Match’ against St. Anthony’s was in 1914, which was lost, but since then Trinity has been superior in all departments of the game and holds the scales of win/loss in a handsome manner.

John Halangoda made champions in his wake wherever he coached and it is a shame that Trinity let him go. He was Trinity’s coach from 1913 to ’26 and produced a crop of superlative players never equalled for brilliance or sustained duration by any other school. As many as 19 wins by an innings in a row, in addition to three wins against St. Joseph’s by 82 runs, 123 runs and by 10 wickets over a period of six seasons from the ‘Big Match’ in 1920 to the game against Royal in 1925 has never even been dreamed of by any school here or abroad. Not a single chance was grassed during the entire period.

When he left Trinity, he produced Bertie Wijesinha, Donald Fairweather, Norman Siebel and Willie Jayetileke of S. Thomas’, the mercurial Mahadevan Sathasivam, Bertram Henderling and Stanley Jayasekera of Wesley, A. C. M. Lafir, Ronnie Stevans and Premaratne of SACK.

Other coaches of excellence at Trinity have been A. H. R. Joseph and Bertie Wijesinha, whose father played for Trinity in the inaugural match against S. Thomas’ and scored 28 out in a first innings total of 52. Bertie himself had been a product of John Halangoda.

Last year, Trinity had eight wins on the trot and sported four Lions in Akila Jayasundera, Janihka Premasinghe, Niroshan Dickwella and Amil Anas. It is a healthy comparison with the best of Trinity: five in 1915 (Richard Aluvihare, H. C. Inman, W. P. Beliammana, M. P. Kallora, R. Ondatje); six in 1920 (Percy Maralanda, V. C. Schokman, Johnny Murray, E. M. Lallyet, F. A. Van Rooyen, R. B. Ettipola); five in 1946 (S. B. Pilapitiya, Frank Sirimanne, Mervyn Wanduragala, Asoka Imbuldeniya, Christopher Schokman); four in 1959 (Seneca de Chickera, Malsiri Kurukulasuriya, Nimal Maralanda and Jayan Ratwatte).

The new scoreboard is a gift from the old boys who collected funds during a cricket match against S. Thomas’. The figures move on rotating drums. The old scoreboard had been rotated by hand and in 1946 it was rotated every run by Roland Aluvihare and Sharm de Alwis, on the special instructions of the Principal, C. E. Simithraaratchy, when Trinity was in dire straits with the score at 35 for 7 wickets against St. Joseph’s, which game Trinity eventually won by one run thanks to the broad bats of Harvey Jones and his brother, Milroy. The manipulation of that scoreboard was always the preserve of small boys overlooked by the groundsman.

‘Test’ matches have been played on the Asgiriya turf since 1915. Those who graced the grounds and also Trinity’s Main Hall have been Jack Hobbs, Herbert Strudwick, Keith Miller, Frank Worrell, Sonny Ramadhin, Tom Graveney, Brian Close, Bill Lawry, Brian Lara and most of the international cricketers from 1982 onwards.

Athletics

When Lakshman Kadirgamar went sprawling on his first hurdle, ground boy Marthenis was quick by his side. “Don’t worry, Sir, even Duncan White fell at the first attempt.” Lakshman would have been the third Trinitian to captain the Olympic contingent in 1956 after Duncan White (1948) and Leslie Handunge (1952), had not the Law Finals got in the way.

Duncan White trained for three months on the Asgiriya grass to break the 400 metres hurdles Olympic record and to win the silver. The gold medal winner, Cochran trained for two years on cinder. Under Harry Hardy’s tutelage, Duncan, like all Trinity hurdlers, trained with a box of matches perched atop the hurdles.

Athletics was the first organized sport at Trinity and it goes back to 1883. The progress of the sport was slow, because it had always to give way to cricket and rugger in terms of time, space and energy. Yet, withal, Trinity has had her days of glory, specially in track events. Duncan White led the charge in 1936, when his team comprising Sammy David, E. E. Grenier, R. E. Aserappa, M. K. Kannangara, E. S. de Kretser and Taik-Shoung won the Tarbat Cup and the Jefferson Challenge Shield. These trophies had indeed been won earlier also and in later years, but 1936 was the second coming of the renaissance.

Trinity had had tremendous success in the CCB, Public Schools, and specially, in the Central Group Meets. Nevertheless, when compared with rugger, cricket and boxing, this was a game to remain as ‘Cinderella’ except on those special occasions like the night of ‘Cinderella’s Ball’.

The athletes who did proud by Trinity have been G. Mack, E. S. Kagwa and his nephew Michael Kagwa, G. Hay, A. N. Myanga, O. L. M. Lebbe, P. Ramanathan, Harry Geddes, Duncan White, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Vernon Boteju, Gamini Ranaraja, Dilip Kumar, Olympus Nayagam, Theo Nayagam, G. T. A. Samaranayake, Lalin Sourjah, N. L. K. Ratnayake, K. M. R. Rodrigo, M. Nizar, R. S. Abeysekera, M. P. Pushpakumar, D. A. D. H. Perera, Tusha Weerasuriya and A. I. Ranhotty.

Hockey

Official recognition for hockey was granted only in 1950. The very first year of the renaissance marked victories over S. Thomas’ and Wesley. It was to be a brief ‘Summer’. Although Trinity’s hockey records proved to be quite fair, the game did not get an impetus as it had to vie with rugger during the same season.

Sam Elhart was the first mentor and when he retired, Paul Jeyaraj took over and opened new vistas.

The players who fired the imagination of connoisseurs were S. S. Bambaradeniya, Bertie Dias, Baskaram Sahayam, Nimal Molligoda, S. M. B. Dissanayake, C. J. Nayagam, S. B. Dissanayake, R. Gnaratnam, Mirzan Ousmand, Roshan Aiyadurai, Prasad Jinadasa, Gamini Bandaranayake, M. R. M. Haniffa, M. G. H. Wadood, D. A. B. Ellepola and L. Ramakrishnan.

It is pertinent to mention that Duncan White’s brother, Freddie, even though he was from Kingswood, would often come to Asgiriya to hone his skills, which made him the world’s finest hockey goalie in a period that Ceylon was only behind India and Pakistan and that also by the odd goal.

Rugger – Trinity’s illicit lover

Until the Palakella grounds were made available by a grant of generosity of the then President of the country, the late D. B. Wijetunga, Trinity rugby was practiced at Asgiriya. That the school has been considered the cradle of the country’s rugby is due to its position in the vanguard of the popular game.

If the cupboard is not as full now with trophies, pride of passion remembers the past with adrenaline. S. B. Madugalle, M. B. Ekanayake, J. P. N. de Lanerolla, Albert Halangoda, E. S. Kagwa, A. H. R. Joseph, V. C. Perera, Philip Buultjens, V. C. Schokman, A. N. Myanga, A. C. B. Marks, Sammy David, Sydney Ratwatte, William Molegoda, Malcolm Wright, Michael Kagwa, Kavan Rambukwella, Mervyn Panditaratne, Dharmasiri Madugalle, Seevali Samarasekera, Mohan Sahayam and a further litany of names of those who lit the stadia, wherever they played the game.

Double Lions like S. B. Pilapitiya, Frank Sirimanne and M. T. M. Zaruk must forgive me for not including their names. It would have been laborious to read a hundred names when another hundred were worthy of mention.

Written by Sharm de Alwis. Obtained from the island newspaper.(28th of September 2011)

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