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.