By Rohan Wijesinghe
He was either splitting stumps with sheer pace or guiding the city’s chaotic traffick to peace.That’s Tikiri Banda Kehelgamuwa for you. Born on the 9th of December 1942; a quietly courteous man, hailing from the ancient historic hilltop kingdom of Gampola in the Kandy district.
Botany teacher Amaranayake
Seneviratne Amaranayake, a schoolmaster attached to Dharmaraja college Kandy, airing his lungs on the footpaths of Gampola was stopped in his tracks by a spindly child aged about 8, raising dust and disarray, knocking down an old tin can with such uncanny pace, using a rickety old tennis ball.
The boy was being weaned at Walhagoda Central, a tiny mixed school on the outskirts of Gampola. The little pacie without much ado, was poached by Amaranayake for Dharmaraja College, Kandy and the rest is a rich slice of our ‘ new ball’ history.
Snappy yorkers and howling bouncers
At Dharmaraja, Kehel came under the eagle eye of the redoubtable speedster Sonny Yatawara and amidst the salubrious climes blasted his way to the summit, so to speak. Just 17 years of age , he was picked to tour India with the Ceylon Schools, the teenager marking his territory as the quickest schoolboy bowler on both sides of the Palk Strait with an outstanding return of 8 wickets for 8 runs, against Combined Indian Colleges; all eight of his victims clean bowled. In fact he hit the stumps 11 times, being no balled thrice amidst the blitz. It was Yatawara who taught Kehels yorker to snap at the the batters heels, and how to bowl a howling bouncer at the ear flaps.
Best schoolboy bowler
Kehel, arguably the fastest arm since DS Jayasundera stalked our meadows at the turn of the century, devoured schoolboy batsmen on his return to the island, following his rampant run in the sub continent. In the school circuit he reserved his best blitz for a return of 7 for 21 against Nalanda College amongst so many prized scalps. It is a little known fact that the fiery pacie from the little township, won the much coveted All Island ‘Best Schoolboy Bowler’ award in 1961 as well as in 1962.
Neil Weerasinghe one of the finest cricketers produced by St Joseph’s College Colombo, aided and abetted by that other redoubtable Old Joe, Felix Perumal, lured the lad to Police Park in the year 1963.Unleashed on the seamers dream at the Park, the rookie policemen set a murderous pace, spreading fear across the country, to be quickly capped by Ceylon for her international shindig against Colin Cowdrey’s MCC in 1968. Conversely ‘Kehel’ stalked and capped pretty schoolmistress Hemamalee Wettasinghe, attached to St John’s College Panadura, eventually, impatiently tying the valued knot in 1971. The handsome young Sub Inspector was attached to the Panadura Police at that point of time.
Brains and beauty
The children followed quickly, three girls of beauty and brains; Sonali, Lasanda and Buddika; graduated from universities as far apart as Kelaniya, Colombo and Texas in the USA. The wickets followed quickly as well. In Ceylon’s encounters against top Indian opposition for the Gopalan Trophy, Kehel ripped through top notch Indian batting consisting of the likes of Wadekar, Buddi Kunderam, Salim Durrani and Milka Singh among so many others. In Sara Trophy cricket, Kehelgamuwa raked in over 500 wickets over a span of 15 years.
Arm wasted on club Cricket
The International games were so widely spaced; two dayers, two to three years apart. In 1968 against Joe Lister’s IX, a veritable English test line up, Kehel captured 6 for 67; 1 for 28 against MCC in 1969; 1 for 15 against Australia in 1972; and 4 for 19 against Australia in 1974. In 16 first class matches Kehel captured 55 wickets in a career spanning the years 1967 to 1974. Clearly his immense talent was wasted playing club cricket on the meadows of Colombo.
Uprooting international stumps
Kehelgamuwa reminded me with justifiable pride the issue of clean bowling two of England’s finest products, Geoff Boycott and Tom Graveney. Boycott’s advice to a budding opening batsmen would be to ‘take the shine off the SECOND NEW BALL. The stodgy English opener would read the ‘small print’ on the ball before putting bat to it. This time he had just about time to see his stumps cart wheeling in three directions, off Kehels SECOND BALL, for zero. Come MCC under the baton of Cowdrey in 1969; Tom Graveney, fearfully hopping about and for comfort and reassurance, fiddling with his ball guard, between Kehels fire balls, had just about enough time to see his leg stump disappear behind his back, without troubling that pretty Oval scoreboard. No silly little slow balls and dainty cutters with our right arm banana bender then.
Leading Police to heights
A tad under 5 feet 8 inches, he would ram 125 pounds plus his broad chest and big heart into each delivery; pounding in off a 30 yard run, slightly bow legged, posterior jutting out, nostrils flared and studs pawing the grass. He loved to swing the bat like most tail enders do, and would oblige with a couple of beefy blows off his ‘barrel of a chest’ if need be. Not all brawn though. It is often overlooked that Kehelgamuwa led Police so astutely for three years from 1969 to 1971 propelling Police Park from 3rd division Donovan Andree, to 1st division Sara Trophy. On the National stage, his dressing room was enriched by the likes of Tissera, Jayasinghe,Chamnugam, Fuard and his new ball buddy Sahabandu among others. Police Park was no less colorful. He was in good company with the likes of Niel Weerasinghe, Felix Perumal, S Sivaratnam, Franklyn Burke, Jayantha Paranathala, TB Werapitiya and USI Perera among others.
Wooed by nomads
Somewhere in the, 60’s Nomads floundering at the bottom of the heap wooed the hurricane and without doubt Kehel played a large part in helping the Municipal lads to annexe the much coveted Sara Trophy in 1965. Kehel recollected with warmth the wily leadership of DH de Silva of Charity Commissioner fame; During an opposition run blitz , DH feigned dizziness, collapsing in a heap at mid pitch, following a nick to the keeper being controversially turned down. It took the umpires, players, spectators, a few buckets of water and well nigh 15 minutes to revive the prostrate, lifeless maverick skipper; by which time the opposition batsmen had lost all focus, and plunged to a calamitous middle order collapse.
Sprinting up Police ranks
Having joined the Police force as a Sub Inspector in the year 1962, he sprinted up the ranks; from Senior Superintendent of Police to Director Transport and eventually handing over his beloved Khakis and jack boots as Deputy Inspector General of Police [Head Quarters]. His innate sense of civility, responsibility and tact, no doubt being a key to his success.
The legend has also put more than something back to the game. A National selector for over 10 years and pinnacling as the Chairmen of Selectors in the year 2001. He also managed the National side for quite a number of years and recollects with utter pride his stewardship of the side during the 1996 World Cup triumph.
The hurricane from hell has aged angelically, face creased in affability, fittingly crowned by a rich silvery mane. Presently he is attached to Maliban Biscuits Private ltd as their Chief Security Officer. The man who de-planted so many cricket stumps, bides his time planting his precious vegetables and pottering around his five grandchildren, his crowning glory.
The writer is a former Josephian, BRC, NCC and Sri Lanka Under 19 Opener and now a Cricket historian