David Heyn – Prince of batsmen

By Rohan Wijesinghe

Peter David Heyn,  of  a somewhat princely manner and demeanour,  was born just a kilometer away from the sturdy gates of St Peters College Bambalapitiya on the 26th of June 1945 at Harmers Avenue Wellawatte. The  Prince stalked the then humble hamlet of Wellawatte and its environs till his dad Major Russel Heyn enrolled the restless lad at St Peters College in the year 1951 or so.

David is in fact a delightful fusion of the  esteemed ethnicities that ruled this country for over 400 years, the Dutch and the British. Dad, Major General Russel Heyn was of Dutch ancestry and Davids “loveliest of mums” Edna was of British roots, a Lancastrian lineage in fact with a drop of American blood running through her as well. Major General Bertram Russel Heyn  played cricket and hockey at  Royal College  and  captained Ceylon   with utter distinction going on to  head our Cricket Board for a lengthy spell. Professionally  the Major General retired having commanded the country’s Army. Brother Richard Heyn captained St Peters at cricket and hockey. Mum  Heyn was for a while the President of the country’s  Womens  Hockey  Federation. Bloodlines cluttered then  with  such   prodigious   pedigree.

With 9 year old David swinging his little bat for the Peterite under 12’s  by the year 1954, it didn’t take coach Cyril Ekanayake long to discover that the energetic little chap was blessed with a rich repertoire of resplendent run getting shots, and without batting an eyelash,  penciled him for whopping stardom. Ironically David didn’t set the canal by his school  on fire with big scores. Not a single hundred between the time he was issued his birth certificate and school leaving certificate.  However his  assertiveness for one so young saw him leading the school in 1964.  He  played for them from the year 1961 onwards, sharing pegs in the Peterite dugout with the likes of Darrel Wimalaratne Peter de Niese, Travis Fernando, Tony Opatha , Tyronne de la Mercier and Adiel Anghie among others. By 1965 David had left school and had paddled his way to independence gaining employment in a shipping company, by which time he was potentially and soon actually the finest left hand batsmen in the country.

Having been cradled and weaned on the mat at the Burgher Recreation Club, David was thought of as a matting   wicket cricketer, and was marked for definite doom on the faster turf tracks. Hence the  well advised move to the Nondescripts Cricket Club in 1970 to munch some grass with the likes of Michael Tissera, Nirmal Hettiarachchi, Nimal Ranchigoda, Stanley Jayasinghe, Vijay Mahendran and Ranjit Fernando among others.  The  dashing  Dave could not have settled for a lovelier setting, nicer people,  a truer wicket,   or that  carpet of an outfield,  lovingly manicured by   irrepressible groundsmen Junaid. I almost missed mention of that medieval dressing room, seemingly miles below sea level. The change in clubs changed Heyns cricketing fortunes so profoundly. The six years at  NCC  were  sweetest  of  his seasons in the sun.

Heyn made a somewhat stuttering debut against the Pakistanis in 1966 whence the umpires won more attention than the cricket itself. That tour is best left to forgotten history.

Our pathfinder of a tour to England in 1968 ended in utter shambles. Despite our cricket being in steep ascendancy in the sixties our selectors were in utter disarray, selecting and discarding, squabbling and manipulating, recalling and rediscarding  and laughingly even selecting and then dropping themselves as we squirmed in shame. So sad that it ended as it should not have ended. David was a standby for that tour and by right should have been one of the first to be picked. Understandably the left hander still bears a bitterly fierce slant towards the administrators of that era. I suspect his razor edged candidness may have  even bucked the trend at times.

Back in Colombo pitted against Soberss West Indians  in 1967, I well remember David parting a sea of mindless morons baying for his  head,  halo of  golden curls and all, as he walked into the middle and parked his bat  at middle and leg. The babble of louts were hooting their heads off against his selection. With the big guns all gone  and Ceylon tottering at 95 for five. It must have been  pure purgatory for the 21 year old  as pottered around for exactly 21 minutes collecting  just one run.  David then decided to  crack the whip, by bringing   Wesley  Hall to heel and Gary  Sobers and Lester King as well as he incinerated the place with his left handed panache. To steady our sinking ship he sank to his knees and swept Sobers so sweetly, picked Hall so delectably off his bootlaces, besides leaning towards square to cut, pulling so belligerently and scurrying  so characteristically for anybodies  singles.  Daves 69 saved our day, swelling our total beyond 400. Those who came to scoff had stayed to cheer. By which time Wesley Goliath Hall had quietly crept behind the stumps to keep wickets. It would be blasphemy not to mention Ian Peiriss partnership of 110 in 55 minutes of Sunshine and Thunder in cahoots with Neil Chanmugam. In the year 1975  Heyn lapped a lovely 55 against Lloyds Carribeans. The 1975\76 tour of India could be considered the summit of the left handers career. India was a beehive of spin in the 60s and 70s, governed by those frenzied bumblebees Bedi Chandrasekar, Prasanna, Venkatraghavan, Shivalkar and Doshi.   They   who would wait for  at Santa Cruz. That Heyn swatted them  all with such disdainful panache is rich history, first at ahmedabad and then at Nagpur for scores of 100, 84, 30, and 50, in consecutive innings. He was named as one of the four  cricketers of that year in Indian cricket. Indian wickets seemed to be right up his three quarter length sleeves as he netted shoals of runs in the tests as well as in the Gopalan Trophy and Moin Ud Dowla fixtures. It was Davids view that we should be eternally grateful to the Indians who availed us of those precious opportunities In 1972 against Pakistan in Colombo David came up trumps with two gallant knocks of 22 n o and 49 no respectively.

Aided by his relatively small build and low centre of gravity, David was a captains prayer on the field.  He would vault over the sacred pitch, moving from cover point to cover point as the over changed hands, such was his importance in that neck of the woods. The effortless grace with which his palms sucked up the cracking square cuts and booming cover drives of Nurse, Butcher, Lloyd and Sobers were followed  up with snappy returns to graze the bails. No ugly sliding all over the place, as he seemed to be there to pick the cherry well in time. Loosely translated, despite   all the   hullabaloo and fads on fitness, diet,  rankings  and what not,  Heyn  ranks among  the  best  Sri Lankan fielders of  all  time.

That he bowled so little remains a mystery. Dave thundered in from A 15 yard run , wrist giving him loads of whip for his darting medium pace. He could  put a cork on the run rate as we saw in the hotly contested six a side battles between first class clubs in the seventies. Dave did open the bowling for Sri Lanka in un official Tests and is immensely proud of the three wickets he got at Ahmedabad against India.

The legend played 50 first class matches for 2625 runs at 35.95 and 136 runs as his highest in a career spanning the years 1964 to 1976. 18 of those games were unofficial Tests. At the height of Davids power Sri Lanka sadly were aeons away from the Test arena. These legends had no stage to bare their whopping wares.

Following that 1975\ 76 tour  to India, David sank at once without a trace, taking the plunge from tropical heat to near artic weather severing all ties with  Colombo it seemed, settling down with his  lovely British  wife Sue, in Richmond England.   Whilst in the U K  he played some good cricket for Richmond CC  AND Berkshire C C  and by the year 1985 aged 40, he had burned his bats for firewood. David is justifiably proud of his two adorable daughters Alexandra 27 and Georgina 25. Alexandra is an accountant  by profession and Georgina  has swum in British colours.

Back in the island in February this year to revive dusty memories,  a  tad heavier around the midriff, he may have lost the twinkle in his toes. Thankfully the  twinkle in his eyes  are as yet intact. The Peterite victory over the Josephians in their 76th big match on the 6th of march 2010 made his  big match  trip all the way from London  so childishly joyous. For David wore that Peterite cap with so much pride. Few Peterites have had a better right to wear one.

David Heyns claim to eminence is   justified   without a semblance of doubt in terms of the joyous sunshine he gave  to  the millions of devotees who watched him with me.

The writer is a Former Josephian, BRC, NCC & Sri Lanka under 19 opener and now a Cricket historian.

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  • http://www.peterite-classof1975.com joe perera

    thanks rohan.

    we are the peterite class of 1975


    good old 70’s

  • priya

    I remember the way he played against the windies ( lloyds team). At CCC in one of the unofficial tests , He deliberately cut the ball over the slip fielders time and time again. He used the pace of andy roberts and keith boyce to a nicety on that day. Only after long while after the entrance of sanath and Co., one could really appreciate the way David Heyn adopted himself to the situation. Didn’t he roll his arm over a few times as well? I remember him bowling slow medium pacers too !
    Thanks Rohan ! ( there were two rohan wijesinghes who played for joes , I think both of them were openers and played under 19, I presume you are the younger who was so elegant ! in your batting !) for bringing the memeories back to life !

  • Suraj Ranasinghe

    Thank you for a superbly written article. Growing up in the 70’s Anura Tennekoon, David Heyn and Co were my heroes and they epitomized everything that was good about cricket.

  • Nandin

    Yes, No doubt, he was the Best Cover fielder then. I have played against his side when we were at the Uni, in the early 70s.

    Good Luck to you David and the May the Blessings of Triple Gem be with you and your family.

    Please take care.


  • C Bernardus

    Brilliant, just like when you played attaching cricket during your School cricket career. The choice of words and style impeccable.

    Please do write an article in memory of our former College coach and mentor, the late Mr Fairlie Dalpethado. A Memorial mass will be held today [Saturday 27th March 2010 at 5.00 PM at the College Chapel.

    From me to you.