“Sathasivam”by Ravindra Fernando

SATHA BookHemamal Jayawardena

When I dropped in recently at the Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Colombo to get some guidance on some forensic aspects of child abuse, a subject on which the professor is a pioneering expert, I noticed a book on his table on a subject that had nothing to do with forensic medicine. It was titled, “Sathasivam of Ceylon – the Batting Legend”.
This interested me and I went over a few pages. It took me a while to realise that it was Professor Fernando who had authored the book, to my surprise. It was unusual as the book was not on medicine or a medically related subject as he usually writes. It was on cricket! More accurately, about a cricketer. As we spoke more, I recalled reading a piece he had written long ago on our ace wicket keeper, Kaluwitharana to the newspaper as well and realised that Professor is a keen cricket fan. This led to the following interview,which I thought will be of interest to all our readers.

1. Satha greets Sobers

Sobers greets Satha … both men blessed with great footwork at batting crease, dance floor and … more

Q: Of all cricketers, why did you select Mahadevan Sathasivam?
A: When I did research to write the book on the murder of Mrs.Sathasivam a few years ago, many articles I read convinced me that Mahadevan Sathasivam was perhaps the best batsman Sri Lanka has produced. So I thought I must document the cricket career of Sathasivam one day. This book is the result.

Q. Why do you say he is perhaps our best batsman?
A. He played comparatively few matches at a time we did not have test status here and abroad. Records of those few matches show what a batting genius he was. He captained two countries and there are many cricketers and cricket writers who considered he was the best batsman at that time.

Q. Who were they?
A. Firstly, I would like to mention that playing a match against the Commonwealth XI in 1950, Ceylon was all out for 153. Sathasivam scored a brilliant 96 weathering the storm for 238 minutes. Only two others reached double figures, demonstrating the greatness of Sathasivam.Sathasivam’s 96 runs in this match against the bowling attack which included West Indians Frank Worrell, Geo Tribe, Fred Freer and GeoPope, who had reputations for being unplayable on such wickets.

Based on this innings of Sathasivam, Frank Worrell, a former West Indian captain named Sathasivam as the best batsman in the world. Worrell himself led the applause of the fielding team as Sathasivam made his way to the pavilion. Worrell’s opinion he confided to Garfield Sobers before Sobers came on a coaching stint to Sri Lanka.Worrell publicly announced that if he was to pick a World XI, the first batsman he would pick would be “Sathasivam from Ceylon.”

Q. What were the other great innings he has played?
A. All writers mention another two. One was the record-breaking 215 he scored for All Ceylon against South India. Sriram Veera, the chief cricket correspondent for Mumbai Mirror has said, “In the year 1947, a slim figure glided to the centre of the wicket with a ‘bewitching elegance’, his cap worn at a rakish angle, a white handkerchief tied around his neck, and proceeded to dispatch the ball to all parts of the ground while making 215. If the old timers are to be believed, that knock from Mahadevan Sathasivam, the legendary and flamboyant Ceylonese batsman, was the finest innings ever played at Chepauk.”
The “Madras Mail” reporting Sathasivam’s death in the sports column stated that Sathasivam, who played the finest ever three-figure knock at the historic Chepauk ground is no more. “…Ever since, as a lanky stripling Sathasivam made his mark in the then cricket-crazy island, he had been a regular member of the Ceylon teams that visited India until his wife’s death involved him in a court case, which ruined his career. Probably because of this he left the island and worked in Malaysia, which country also, he had the distinction of captaining.”

“Such had been the name and fame that preceded the Colombo run getting machine that he was the cynosure of eyes…He had by then blossomed into one of the world’s greatest batsmen of the time. He emphasised his rise to the highest class by making mince meat of an attack that comprised the pace of M.J. Gopalan and C.R. Rangachari, the latter in his heyday, and the spin of N.J. Venkatesan, Ghulam Ahmed, C.P. Johnstone and B.C Alva. He was on dancing feet as he proceeded to erase the Chepauk record of 213 by making 215 in almost even time before a spellbound crowd.”

“From Jack Hobbs and “Governor – General” Charlie Macartney, Jo Hardstaff and Dennis Compton, great little master Lindsay Hassett and Everton Weekes, and the four-in-one Gary Sobers, and our own C.K. Nayudu, Vijay Hazare and Ren Nailer, batsmen have enthralled theintelligent and knowledgeable Chepauk crowds and enriched Chepauk’s history with their batsman ship of varying styles.”

“But no one has played an innings like Sathasivam’s record-making double century – 215 dazzling runs – that contained the fireworks of Nayudu, the footwork of Weekes, the subtlety of Hassett, the drivingpower of Sobers and ingredients of batsmanship of the highest class. A great batsman has passed away, one whom Chepauk will never forget,” concluded the ‘Madras Mail’ article.The second was the magnificent 111 he scored to the delight of thecrowd against India led by Vijay Merchant, which had bowlers of the class of Amarnath, Banerjee, Mankad, C.S. Nayudu, Hazare and Modi.After the match, Vijay Merchant rushed into the dressing room, congratulated Sathasivam and gave him a stump and said, ‘In appreciation for a really fine innings’.

Q. What were Sathasivam’s other achievements?
A. He had a brilliant school cricket career at Wesley. His last season for Wesley in 1936 was considered by far his best and most magnificent, when he terminated the season with a classic 142 against St.Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. A schoolboy batsman rarely has had the privilege of scoring a century in the windswept grounds of Mount Lavinia.

Sathasivam also had an unparalleled club cricket career with the Tamil Union. Out of 44 centuries he scored, 27 were for the Tamil Union. He scored 44 centuries including 4 double centuries, which included the 215 I mentioned earlier, 206 for the ‘Rest’ team against the Mercantile Services, 201 not out for Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club against Warblers Sports Club and 200 for B.R. Heyn’s XI vs F.C de Saram’s XI.

Q. What sort of a person was Sathasivam ?
A. He was an outgoing friendly person who could make friends with anyone. For example, he was a good friend of West Indian captain Worrell and in 1965, he sent a miniature bat autographed by the victorious West Indian team, who created history against England the previous summer, through Garfield Sobers.
Former Australian test captain Keith Miller travelling to England with the Australian team visited Sathasivam when he was in the remand prison in 1953 soon after the All-Ceylon match. He spent half an hour with Sathasivam. Miller once said Satha could fit into any team of any country.

Stanley Jayasinghe, a former skipper of Nalanda College, who played for Ceylon and Leicestershire in county cricket in England, paid a glowing tribute to Sathasivam. With the 10 years of cricket in England under his belt he had said Sathasivam was Sri Lanka’s best by a long shot. “…And for me, he is among the three most devastating batsmen and stroke players in the world! Don’t forget I am saying three most devastating stroke players that could tear any bowling attack to shreds are Sathasivam, Rohan Kanhai and Ted Dexter.”

Q. What were the two countries he captained? Obviously, one must be Sri Lanka. The other?
A. Yes. He captained Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, in 1948 Don Bradman’s Australia. In 1957, at the tail end of his first-class career, Sathasivam migrated to Singapore to take up a lucrative insurance business when the Canadian Insurance Company he represented closed down their Colombo Office. Later he was transferred to Malaya. He played for both Singapore and Malaya (present Malaysia) and captained the Malayan team.Q. Now that you have written about the best batsman we produced, Mahadevan Sathasivam, what about writing a book on our best bowler Muralidaran? A. Why not?

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