“I have bowled to Bradman, Hutton, Denis Compton, Keith Miller, Weekes, Worrell and Wolcott. If you ask me who is the most difficult batsman I have bowled to, I will mention a name that you might not know.” These were the words Ghulam Ahmed, a former Captain of India, speaking about a legendary cricketer from Sri Lanka.
Mahadevan Sathasivam was born on the 18th of October 1915 in Colombo. St. Joseph’s College, Colombo is the place where cricket started to have an impact on the man who is fondly known as ‘Satha’. He later moved to Wesley College Colombo where he unleashed another level of batting, ending his school career with a blistering 142 against S. Thomas’ College Mt Lavinia.
At the time (the 1940s), Sri Lanka played only against visiting teams from Australia and England and sometimes travelled to India for a few games. Satha’s first class stats show that he only played eleven matches, scoring 753 runs which included 3 hundreds and 3 fifties at an average of 41.83; numbers that are acceptable even for a batsman at present. However, the more dramatic numbers are hard to find. His domestic career for Tamil Union included 44 hundreds and 4 double hundreds.
One of the best innings of Sathasivam came in Colombo against the visiting Indian team led by Vijay Merchant. Sri Lanka were bundled out for a score of 107, only ten runs were contributed by Satha whereas Vinoo Markad was all over Sri Lanka, picking up 8 for 35. India replied with 179 which was guided by a score of 49 by Syed Mushtaq Ali (India’s domestic T20 tournament is named after him). In the second innings it was a showcase of Satha’s class as he scored 111; the game ended in a draw, with Sri Lanka on 225 for 7.
The innings was a memorable one as he took the strong Indian bowling apart. After the match ended, Vijay Merchant paid a visit to the Sri Lankan dressing room and handed him a stump as a token of appreciation.
At Chepauk Madras, Sathasivam made a scintillating 215 which made headlines and was a record at that time. The innings of 215 was rated by many as the greatest to be played at Madras.
In 1950 Sri Lanka played a game against the Commonwealth XI where only a score of 153 was managed by Sri Lanka. Sathasivam’s innings of 96 against the invincible West Indian attack headed by Frank Worrell show the class and elegance of the man. Frank Worrell, the West Indian captain at the time applauded Satha, along with his team. He would go on to admit later that if he was to pick a World XI, Mahadevan Sathasivam would be 1st on the list.
Sir Gary Sobers too praised the right-hander, hailing him as ‘the greatest batsman on earth’.
Mahadevan Sathasivam also has the distinguished honour of being the only player to captain three countries, Ceylon, Singapore and Malaysia.
It was exactly 103 years ago that he was born, he ruled the game when we were being ruled, his brand of cricket made the world sit back and watch.
On July 9th 1977 Satha took his last breath. It has been 41 years since he left us but his stylish batsman-ship will keep his memory alive for as long as the game is being played.