As Cricket is a long drawn out game, humour plays an important part in uplifting the spirits of a team especially when the chips are down.
In the sixties and seventies, I had the good fortune and pleasure of playing and being associated with the late Sylvester Dias to whom humour was second nature. He was a pace bowler who bowled with a square arm action but was able to hurl the ball at great speed and hostility. Most batsmen feared playing him on the matting wicket at De Soysa Park, Moratuwa where he represented the Moratuwa Sports Club. Sylvester had the uncanny gift of coming out with humourous quips which kept all those who associated with him in a happy mood. I would like to reminisce on some of the rib tickling moments I experienced in his presence.
We were a little over a month into a cricket season when I bumped into Sylvester down Chatham Street, Fort. After greeting him I asked him whether he was not playing cricket that season. He then asked me why I had asked him that question. I said that usually I read of his wicket taking performances in the newspapers and as I had not seen his name being mentioned I assumed he was not playing. He was quick to respond to my comment and said he was faced with a big problem because His Club’s slip fielders were dropping all the catches off his bowling and therefore he had now decided to bowl and run into the slip position on his follow through to take the catches himself.
Anura Tennekoon, a proud product of S. Thomas’ Mount Lavinia, represented the Sri Lankan National Cricket Team.
I was in the same team as Sylvester in a trial game played at the CCC Grounds. We had to field first on a very hot and humid day. The opposing team ran up a score of nearly 300 runs only for the loss of two wickets with Lasantha Rodrigo making a big hundred. At the end of the days play our tired and dejected team was ambling back to the pavilion when I suddenly found Sylvester putting his arm round my shoulder and he told me in Sinhala, “Aney Anura, Api me widihata awwe wellena, giya aathme karawala mudalalila wenna athi” ( Anura, we must have been dry fish merchants in our previous birth to get burnt in the sun in this manner). This remark had me in fits of laughter and I soon recovered from the tired day we had on the field.
We undertook a Veteran’s Tour in the mid eighties to play in a Tournament in Denmark. News had spread in the area we were playing, that we had qualified to play Australia in the Finals. Many Sri Lankans, of whom a large number constituted Tamils who had sought refugee status in Denmark, were present at the game. After a hard fought game of cricket Sylvester had the honour of scoring the winning run and the Sri Lankan spectators invaded the field and carried Sylvester on their shoulders back to the pavilion. After the presentation ceremony and celebrations were over and we were returning to our hotel in a coach, Sylvester loudly remarked that he was the only Sinhala person to be carried by the LTTE on their shoulders, which once again evoked a lot of laughter amongst us as we knew that Sylvester only wanted to keep us entertained as usual.
On another tour to India, Sylvester and Muthiah Devaraj were sharing a hotel room. One evening they had gone to a restaurant in the city and had befriended some Indians who were ardent cricket fans. During the course of conversation the Indians had suggested that they visit the late Sai Baba as his ashram was about a six hour drive one way from the city where they were staying. Having returned to the Hotel they had retired for the night. In the wee hours of the morning Sylvester had woken Devaraj and Devaraj thinking that Sylvester was in some discomfort had inquired as to what was wrong? Sylvester had replied that he was thinking about the suggestion of their Indian friends to visit Sai Baba that day and asked Devaraj if he would join him. Devaraj had declined to do so saying that it would be too tiring a trip as they had to play the next day. Finding it difficult to go back to sleep Devaraj through curiosity had asked Sylvester what favour he would have requested from Sai Baba had they met him. Sylvester had said he would have requested Sai Baba to give him the strength to play cricket until he went to his grave. This was not another humorous saying and Sylvester meant what he said in all sincerity as he was passionate about playing cricket as long as possible.
Sylvester continued to play competitive cricket till he was almost 50 years old and during his cricketing career brought a lot of joy to his associates with his humour.