Miller on Aussies Whistle-Stop at Colombo and its Oval in late March1953

Keith Miller in 1954 in the book,  K. Miller & R.S. Whitington: Gods or Flannelled Fools? London: Macdonald & Co., 1954, pp.146-147. with Comment from Asanga Welikala

Keith Miller in Colombo, 1953

“Equator crossed, the Australian cricketers prepared for their arrival at Colombo and the match against Ceylon that some of the team’s executives, suffering momentary small and selfish-mindedness, had at first striven to have cancelled, forgetting, in their wish for peace and comfort, the difference the playing of such a match would have upon the finances and fortunes of cricket in Colombo.

It was unfortunate, of course, for those twelve players chosen for the match that they had to forgo the pleasure of and novelty of strolling down the tree-bordered lanes of Colombo, ablaze with blue and red flowers; of watching the city’s conjurers causing mango-tree seedlings to grow in a matter of seconds, under coconut-shell cups and dark-blue cloths, into appreciable-sized striplings; of seeing cobras engaged in mortal combat with those white-furred, rat-eyed, swift-striking mongooses – mortal, bloody combat that made one almost sorry for the snake.

It was even unluckier for them that they had no time to lunch on chicken casserole grandmere at rupees 4 cents 50 or upon sauerkraut bavaroise followed by Sinhalese curries and mango melbas prepared by the Galle Face Hotel’s French chef Georges Esprit while the Galle Face’s most competent string orchestra played the latest Western music and the Galle Face’s horizontally twirling ceiling fans sent down cooler air from high overhead. It was perhaps more than a little unfair that these twelve cricketers had no chance to taxi to Mount Lavinia and sip iced John Collinses while they also drank in the view of the dark, slate-grey beach below and of the indigo-blue and white Indian Ocean surf that breaks over it, its jagged rocks and almost naked chocolate-bodied bathers, under a steamy, smoke-blue, artist’s sky.

But this match against Ceylon was just one of those appointments that had to be honoured. And the players’ sacrifice was repaid by the joy brought to thousands of people who sat with red caste marks on their foreheads and oriental combs in their black hair under the fans of the pavilions and perched precariously in the banyan trees on either side of the biggest, best and most informative scoring-board in the world; rewarded also by the joy the onlookers showed in watching, for once in a very blue moon, Ray Lindwall bowl, Arthur Morris hook and cover-drive without the semblance of a “Morris shuffle”, Don Tallon keep wicket with all his old grace and flair, and Graeme Hole execute off-drives with the elegance of Archie Jackson.

It was also repaid by the happy beaming smile of the Ceylon Cricket Club’s treasurer as he whipped thousands of rupees and seemingly millions of cents off his office table with whetted second finger into perspiring palm at the end of the most attractive, if sultry, day’s play.

And we firmly believe, whatever the players themselves may say to the contrary, that most of them were happy, as they cooled off under the great fans in the lounge of the Grand Oriental Hotel before reboarding the ferry, that they had provided such a thrill in the lives of these so easily pleased, appreciative, unsophisticated people.”

Comment from Welikala in sending me this quotation as well as that by Mountford re Test Match taking place at the Oval this month:

Mountford refers to the Oval’s signature monument, the ivy-clad scoreboard, which some of us grew up with when the Royal-Thomian used to be played at P. Sara. It was at one time the best scoreboard in the world, as Keith Miller notes below. Miller said the following of Australia’s stopover in Colombo en route to England in 1953. He was among other things a good mate of Sri Lanka’s greatest pre-Test era batsman, M. Sathasivam. He was one of Satha’s friends in need during his unfortunate litigation. In the previous Australian tour led by Bradman (pictures of which match in the Oval Taverners bar Mountford refers to), Satha was captain of Ceylon, having won a legendary tussle with F.C. de Saram for the privilege; during the 1953 tour, he was in remand custody, defending his innocence and liberty against a charge of murdering his wife. One could be forgiven for thinking this was prose from 1853, not 1953, even though Miller was in no sense a racist or even an imperialist. What a lot has changed.

THE MATCH: Australia vs Ceylon, 30 March 1953

Australia: 209 for 8 in 39 overs, with Arthur Morris 42 and G. Hole 54; and CW Bartels 4 for 62  and CI Gunasekara 2 for 35.

Ceylon: 149 for 4 in 38 over with Channa Gunasekara scoring 55 n.o. and Vernon Prins 42.

I was present and recall Miller bouncing Channa on the head,with the ball going for 4 leg byes. Everyone was amused.  For reports on the match from Bill O’Reilly, Jack Fingleton and Learie Constantine, see Michael Roberts & Alfred James, Crosscurrents. Sri Lanka and Australia at Cricket, Sydney, Walla Walla Press, 1998, pp. 80-87. Sir Learie Constantine was also Ceylon’s coach for this match.

 **Keith Miller and R.S. Whitington: Gods or Flannelled Fools? London: Macdonald & Co., 1954: pp.146-147.

* The photograph shows Sri Lankan cricket officials Lionel Madugalle and SJ Campbell among those greeting the Australiancricekters board ship. It is taken from Michael Roberts, Essaying Cricket: Sri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications 2005. Tehes econd image shows Sathasivam alongside his counsel Colvin R de Silva after he was found not guilty of murdering his wife. We know now that their servant William was responsible for the murder.  Miller visited Satha in jail. It is a lesson for all budding batsmen that such cricketers as Satha, Miller, Compton and Sobers were superb ballroom dancers and also ladies men who believed in wine, women and song. Unlike Miller and Sobers, however, Satha was a notoriously lazy fielder.

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