Mahinda Wijesinghe, whose essay has appeared elsewhere with the title “There was never a truer servant of the game”
Dandeniyage Hemachandra de Silva, universally known simply as ‘DH’, passed away a few days ago in Melbourne, Australia, aged 81 years after a brief illness. His brothers ‘DP’, ‘DS’, & ‘DG’ too were outstanding cricketers. Without fear of contradiction, as a cricket theoretician who assiduously (and honestly) practised what he preached, I can claim, ‘DH’ has no peer. At a time when commercialism had not gripped the game of cricket, as it is today, here was a man who dedicated his time, expense – he was not endowed with endless riches either – and energy, to discover/help budding cricketers. His theory being : “ help a 100 players and you may discover one champion.” Well he did discover a champion in Daya Sahabandu. The former Royal College left-arm opening bowler later became a champion leg-spinner under the tutelage of ‘DH’, and was a tower of strength for Nomads Cricket Club captained by ‘DH’ . The captain, whilst fielding at leg-gully for instance, used to sometimes indicate to Sahabandu the bowler, with three of his extended fingers which stump to bowl at! It was not fun watching this charade if one was the non-striker.
During my visits to Melbourne our main discussions (what else?) used to be about the current state of the game in Sri Lanka. “Surely Mahinda,” he used to repeat over and over “if you discover a paceman who can bowl like Wesley Hall or Ray Lindwall that is a bonus. C’mon, are you trying to tell me you cannot discover a classy left-arm spinner like ‘Bandu or Ajith de Silva, or a flighty right-arm leg-spinner? You got to look around and make a careful search and identify such players. Sri Lanka can win matches at Tests level or 50-over games (he considers T20 cricket as baseball) if we had a penetrative set of spinners as India used to possess in the 1970’s you remember?” What else could I do except nod in agreement to these words of wisdom?
There used to be a story doing the rounds at one time that ‘DH’ purposefully failed his final examination at the University so that he could captain the cricket team in the following year. I confronted him with this story – and he admitted so! This should give an idea of the man’s dedication to the game. Early morning practices for the players – take 100 close-in and high -catches, practice on slip-cradle for the slip fielders (where are the slip cradles gone now?), 2 rounds along the perimeter of the grounds were part of the routine under the gimlet-eyes of the captain. Another innovation of ‘DH’ – as told to me by Daya Sahabandu – to ensure bowlers to get their arm past the ear, a javelin was stuck at the bowling-end. If the bowler is bowling square-arm the chances are that he would strike the javelin! Such methods were not in any MCC book of coaching.
With the aid of the then Municipal Commissioner, Mr. B. A. Jayasinghe, another cricket addict, ‘DH’ was able to start the Nomads Cricket Club, which he captained for a period of ten years and also led his side to championship honours during one year as well. More effective than his competent right-hand batting his shrewd captaincy played a vital role in annexing the title.
Whilst being the Charity Commissioner of the Colombo Municipal Council he did yeoman service to cricket and cricketers until he was transferred to Kandy in a higher capacity, and there too cricket and tennis played a big part in his life in the hill capital.
A tragedy almost took his life there and he then decided to migrate to Melbourne with his family. During his final period of illness his loving wife Sujatha (“Suji” to all) and/or his children always kept vigil by his side. Such was their devotion to this legendary, honourable, person until inevitable death took him away.
May his sojourn in Samsara be short and devoid of much suffering.