By Rohan Wijesinghe
Hailing from a wealthy business family, with roots deep in the heart of Borella, little Mahathevan was saturated with precocious batting ability even at the age of 6. Taking his first tentative tottering steps at St Joseph’s College Darley Road he was subsequently poached by Wesley College Borella somewhere in the early twenties .It was a priceless gain for Wesley whom he eventually led in 1930. I understand that he did not exactly set Cambell Park on fire and yet he must have done sufficiently well to have earned the captaincy of that renowned seat of learning.
Towering above all else
I well remember having seen little Sathasivam in a junior school photograph, aged about 12, seated in the senior row with his feet swinging well above the ground.That’s before he towered above all else in the 30’s through to the 50’s, brilliance pouring out from him in a pretty parade of runs. Bronzed and all swagger and swashbuckle, he would march to his stance, cap rakishly askew, bat nonchalantly tucked under his left armpit , bat handle pointing to the ground, silk cuffs buttoned at his knuckles and crimson handkerchief dripping out of his pocket. His wand of a bat seemed an extension of his forearm as he batted with such scornful elegance for his beloved Ceylon and Tamil Union competing in the islands premier cricket division.
Partying and Batting
Partying and Batting were his pet passions. He would penetrate the most impregnable of fields set against him and as dusk fell, the dusky well built right hander would penetrate the defences of the Prettiest Lassie on the dance floor, dancing the night away well into sunrise. Thence he would grab a shower to shake off the stardust, the sequins and the monstrous stupor, and sway his way to yet another of his champagne tons. He was at his exhilarating best with the wine overflowing. There was a time when the nineteen year old Garfield Sober’s passing through Ceylon, was put in Satha’s care by Sir Frank Worrell. Satha characteristically took the Allrounder on a pub crawl, commencing at the Grand Oriental Hotel and winding their way around the pubs in Colombo, to eventually end up at the Colts Cricket Club in the wee hours of the following dawn. Utterly impressed, Sir Gary remained Satha’s pal for ever after.
His arrival at the wicket was always a moment of anticipation not to say grandeur. Bars emptied as members rolled out and drank in the glory of his shots. Even pretty damsels chucked their knitting needles aside to swoon over the maestro, such were the seductive effects of his batting. Blessed with ballerina balance he would waltz to the pitch of the ball, leaning into his cover drives and uncoiling for his pull shots besides late cutting off the keepers webbing. The prodigous right hander was a stadium filler, and would have packed it up to the rafters without the benefit of blaring speakers, pyjama suits, glaring lights, multi colored balls and the dancing girls. Only trouble is, the dancing lassies with their seductively flamboyant gyrations may have diverted his attention from the business of batting, to less elegant pursuits, what with Satha’s unbridled penchant for the fairer sex. On the field he was a lumbering sort of chap, a captains nightmare in fact, veiling that particular flaw with the flowing brilliance of his bat.
Runs galore for country
Club cricket during that particular era was dominated by F C de Saram, Sargo Jayawickreme and Satha. And if one were looking for yardsticks F C de Saram stroked 63 club hundreds, Sargo Jayawicreme clubbed his way to 58 tons, with Tissera caressing 26 centuries, as compared to Silky Sathas 45 hundreds. Runs piled upon runs. To dissect his centuries would be too arduous a process in a tiny space such as this.
In Internationals for Ceylon Cricket Association which in effect was the country’s national side, at the Chepauk Stadium Madras, Satha notched 215 runs against a top South Indian side in 236 minutes, the bowling stacked with Indian Test Stars. That particular knock is immortal and will not die with the fading of the headlines.
Batting for Rest of India vs the Hindus a side packed with the beefiest of Indian bowling. Satha, batting as only Satha can, hammered a belligerent 101 in about even time, wham bang thank you ma’am.
In 1950 the cream of India, Ceylon and Australia ganged up against the Ceylonese side for a game. Batting for Ceylon on a glue pot against the likes of Miller, Worrell, Ramadhin, Freer and Tribe, Satha stroked a patient 90 repelling four hours of temptation, displaying that he had the tenacity as well as the flamboyance when needed. As the wickets tumbled around him against top notch spin, Satha farmed the strike and milked the bowling to be unbeaten on 96 when the 9th wicket fell.
Clash of the Mavericks
In 1945 against India, following heavy overnight rain which had converted the strip to one vast puddle, Satha waded into the attack with characteristic authority to score a precious 107 for Ceylon. Sathasivam captained Ceylon against Don Bradmans invincible Aussies in the year 1948 . Following that 1948 Aussie tour the two mavericks, F C de Saram and Sathasivam were embroiled in a major tussle, locking antlers for the country’s captaincy. Two big cats in the same cage as it were, and which fracas was resolved amicably with the intervention of the Board. FC de Saram was never ever a cheat and yet it was awesome what the ‘ Rascal Of A Colonel’ would do within the rules. As such it was the contention of many that the crusty old De Saram was the more articulate skipper and pipped Satha to the coveted post. Satha however carries the unique distinction of having captained the National cricket teams of Singapore and Malaysia in the 1950’s in addition to leading Ceylon.
Gods in shimmering flannels
As a matter of interest the Ceylonese sides for those matches were made up of B R Heyn, F C de Saram, Sargo Jayawickreme, Sathasivam himself, Malcolm Spittle, Bertie Wijesinghe, R L de Kretser, Ben Navaratne, Makin Salie, Lucien de Zoysa, TB Werapitiya and Sathi Coomarasamy The Indians on their part, not to be outdone pitted their best against us. C K Nayudu, Mustaq Ali, Vijay Merchant, Nari Contractor, Vijay Hazare, Vinoo Mankad and Dhatu Phadkar among others, gods in shimmering flannels. They were far less lucrative days and yet they enjoyed themselves so thoroughly, despite the murderously arduous travel conditions. Ceylon’s 1940 tour through India took them through 4000 miles of rugged terrain, shunting between five major cities, within the space of 22 days, for just 12 days of cricket, traveling by train mind you!
Satha in prison
In the year 1951 Satha was the first accused in the controversial death of his spouse, walloped on the head with a grinding stone, and was so thankfully aquitted of all charges to the relief of the millions of fans across the cricketing world. As the legal wheels continued to grind ceaselessly, Keith Miller, Frank Worrell, and Gary Sobers in passing through Ceylon made it a point to visit the jailed Satha in prison, offering him unconditional support and encouragement. Such was the esteem they had for him. The fracas was fodder for the tabloids and the piranha of a press hounded him mercilessly, siphoning whatever zest that was left in the legend.
Having wallowed in the depths of deep despair for a while, Satha left our shores for Malaysia, returning to the land of his birth, only to pass away peacefully to infinity, on the 9th of July 1977, at 62 years of age, leaving infinite memories of his timeless grace.
Sir Frank Worrell rated Satha as the greatest batsmen on earth. Sir Gary Sobers ranked him as the best batsmen he had seen. Indian skipper Ghulam Ahmed rated him as the best batsmen he has bowled to. I rest my case, as I seek the right to write, that such Majesty has never walked this way again.
The writer is a former Josephian, BRC, NCC and Sri Lanka Under 19 Opener and now a Cricket historian