Mahadevan Sathasivam: Batting colossus of “Ceylon” cricket
By Premasara Epasinghe
The study of the past events, especially, political, social, and economic development of a country can be defined as HISTORY. The nation that forgets the past has no future. There were some politicians, who opposed the teaching of history in our schools sometime ago. They fell by the wayside totally, rejected by the people.
Sports history is fascinating and thrilling. I strongly feel that our present sportsmen and sportswomen should read and do an indepth study of our "Sporting Greats," so that they in turn can emulate their great deeds. Undoubtedly, the characteristic of this great sportsmen will be a role- model to most of our young, up and coming sportsmen and sportswomen.
Today, I feature the most exciting, adventurous batting artist that displayed his born talents as a Colossus in the playing field of cricket. He occupied centre stage during the period spanning from 1940-60s. The colourful figure tormented not only the local bowlers, but also international bowlers of repute; from India, Pakistan, England and Australia.
He is none other than Mahadevan Sathasivam, popularly known as M. Sathasivam. ‘Satha’ was a product of Wesley College, Colombo.
Once, I drove to Kandy to commentate in a match played at Asgiriya accompanying the legendary Gamini Goonasena, and famous cricket writer Rajan Bala from India.
Rajan presented his latest book titled ‘ALL BEAUTIFUL BOYS’ to me, a readable, lovely cricket book, written in simple language in his own inimitable style. Turning the pages, I came across an interesting chapter on Ceylon Cricket. The famous author Rajan Bala in this chapter pays a big tribute and a bouquet to M. Sathasivam. He quotes from an past Indian cricket captain, brilliant off-spinner Gulam Ahamed.
Quote: "I have bowled at Bradman, Harvey, Hutton, Dennis Compton, Keith Miller, The Terrible W’s -Weekes, Worrel and Walcott. If you ask me a question, who is the most difficult batsman that I have ever bowled, I will mention a name that some times you will not know. He is M. Sathasivam of Ceylon. I will never forget how he thrashed me in Chennai."
M. Sathasivam was the most feared batsman during this era. As Nalanda opener cum wicket- keeper in the Champion Side of 1957, 1 was very fortunate to witness the double century of Sathasivam at the NCC grounds. He represented the "Champions Side" against the "Rest." The cream of Sri Lanka super stars, were in action. This was the best innings I have ever seen in my life. I have seen the best of cricket in the world to a certain extent. Sathasivam was a batting artist. I have never seen a batsman who plays the ‘late cut’ so beautifully. It is a "Sathasivam Special."
Sathasivam wore cream flannels and a cream coloured, fuji silk long-sleeved shirt. Like the famous Douglas Jardine, the English captain of the "Body Line Series" in 1930s, he wore a handkerchief round his neck and harlequin cap adding colour to his personality. His footwork was excellent. For him, there was nothing called a good or a bad ball. While batting with his superb concentration, he turned the good ball to bad balls. With his hallmark stroke, late-cut, he could pierce through the slip cordon, third man, gully or point at will.
Once I had the good fortune of playing for Saracens against Tamil Union. Nalanda coach, ever-green Gerry Gooneratne, captained the Saracens side. Gerry as a successful captain, has "foxed" Satha many a time. His ploy was simple. In this particular match, Gerry, used his off-spinner Mahinda Athulathmudali, when Satha arrived at the crease. Gerry laid a trap. He got the tall, lanky off-spinner ‘Atu’ to bowl three deliveries outside off-stump. Satha’s beautiful late-cut was a treat to watch. Gerry instructed Atu, to allow him to play his famous stroke. The fourth ball spun from middle to leg. Satha moved and cut it. Gerry applauded his beautiful late-cuts. "Nice shot Satha," "Beauty Satha" and encouraged him to go for his pet shot freely. The fourth ball, he misjudged and cut through gully uppishly. Gerry rolling to his left, held a brilliant catch to dismiss Satha. We were all in cloud nine.
Those days the clash between Singhalese Sports Club (SSC) and Tamil Union AC was like a Greek meeting a Greek. It was the local "Cricket Derby." The two teams consisted of the best cricketers of the island. The centre of attraction was Sathasivam. S.S.C. and Tamil Union always maintained a very cordial relationship. S.S.C. possessed the shrewdest captain, Col. F.C. De Saram. The S.S.C. camp planned their strategy weeks ahead, to get Satha out early. ‘Pappa Saram’ planned a different "coup" to dismiss Satha early. He was invited to the S.S.C. for a social gathering the day before the match. The S.S.C. members entertained Satha, till the morning hours. He did not go home. He slept in the car. On the match day, he went straight to the dressing room and had a good shower.
Winning the toss, S.S.C. invited Tamil Union to bat first. Within twenty minutes, they captured openers for 24 runs. Sathasivam walked in to the middle. He straight away went in to action. By lunch, he reached the magical three figure mark with 17 hits to ropes. F.C. De Saram’s, ‘Coup de Et’ failed. Although in different camps Satha and F.C. were best of friends, and played cricket with the true spirit of the noble game. Satha is so close to Col. F.C. De Saram that he used to address him as ‘Derrick.’
Another incident that is etched in my mind is a statement by R. Rangachari, the former Indian pace bowler. I commentated the first ever cricket commentary for Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation relating to the First Test between Sri Lanka and India in 1982. I’m very grateful to late Mr. M. J. Perera, one of the most respected civil servants, and one of the top administrators who selected me as one of the commentators for that Test. Rangachari was the curator. He said the best innings he had ever seen was the double century of Sathasivam at Chinnaswamy Stadium.
The legendary West Indian Learie Constantine’s Commonwealth team visited Ceylon in 1950. In a rain affected match at the Colombo Oval, Sathasivam scored a brilliant 96. In an earlier match against India in 1945, he scored 107. In a Gopalam Trophy match, Sathasivam scored an epic innings of 215, the highest individual score made at Chinnaswamy Stadium till 1950.
Sathasivam was a controversial figure. He was in remand jail, charged for the murder of his wife. After he was acquitted, he once again played for Tamil Union in the Division Two Tournament.
News went round the city that Sathasivam is back at play. Thousands flocked to see their hero after a lapse of about five years. The match was played as BRC ground, Tamil Union versus BRC. After the fall of the 2nd wicket, Sathasivam walked in. The spectators gave a grand ovation. Satha took his guard. A young fast bowler, to show his might and arrogance, send a ‘bumper’ to Satha. He ducked. The bowler’s intention was to frighten the old man. He send another ‘bumper.’ It should be reminded that during this period there were no helmets. Satha, slowly walked up to the young bowler and had said very politely: "Son, I am an old man, like your father. Don’t try to injure me. Don’t bump at me."
The fast bowler, with his tail up, bowled another ‘bumper’ to Sathasivam. The batting maestro positioned himself well and hammered a mighty six and dispatched the ball over the mara trees and the ball was deposited at the nearby Havelock Rugby Ground.