An Outsider’s Inside View of Sri Lankan Cricket

An outsider's inside view of Sri Lankan cricket. A book review of Winds Behind the Willows by Andrew Fidel Fernando.

First, allow me to lay out a bias: I was probably always going to like this one.

Sri Lanka does not, alas, produce a wealth of cricket books. Where Ben Stokes already has a hardcover in circulation, Muttiah Muralitharan is yet to flog a 400-page grievance – the likes of which has recently become the prerogative of so many retired cricketers. (And of endured hardships, who could possibly have a greater store than Murali?)

A cricket book out of Sri Lanka is rare enough, but with Winds Behind the Willows, Ranjan Mellawa has produced something truly unique: memoirs of a lifelong fan. There are no tiffs with former captains, or gripes about selectors here. Here are rough-and-ready touring tales from six global tournaments, and many Tests besides. Here is a bird’s eye view of Sri Lankan cricket’s many tumbling transformations in Mellawa’s five decades of following cricket.

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Innovate, Don’t Fake: Do You Know the New Laws on Fielding?

England's David Willey making a spectacular catch

England’s David Willey pulled off a spectacular catch on the boundary during the first ODI against Bangladesh on 7 October 2016 in Dhaka (© Sky Sports).

England hosted the 2009 ICC World T20, where Sri Lanka showcased its famed unorthodoxy at its brilliant best. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

On 10 June 2009, Sanath Jayasuriya having violently demolished the Windies attack with an 81-run blitz off 47 balls, it was Angelo Mathews’ turn to treat the fifteen thousand plus crowd at Trent Bridge, Nottingham to an outlandish piece of innovative fielding.

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The Seven-Year Itch of Sri Lanka Cricket!

Historic figures in the history of Sri Lankan cricket, lost out on proper recognition.

Due to the ignorance of the officials of the (Sri Lanka) cricket board, players of that era [1982-1988] although they did play cricket, which could have been awarded the first-class tag, lost out. Such records could have been entered against their respective names in the international first-class cricket records. A tragic loss.

Old timers would recall Billy Wilder’s whimsical Hollywood film made in 1955 starring Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. In this satire, Wilder attempts to portray that most men after seven years of marriage their passions tend to stray. Hence ‘The Seven Year Itch’. Sri Lanka cricket too had that itch but due to different reasons! Reasons of ignorance.

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An Excellent Portrayal of Cricket’s Roving Fandom

 

Winds behind the Willows: An excellent portrayal of cricket's roving fandom

The greatest lovers of cricket and the connoisseurs of the game are not necessarily the greatest cricketers. Most often we find that the true lovers of the game are those who have played a reasonable amount of cricket but have never attained the great heights to which the great cricketers have. Ranjan Mellawa is one of them, and like me, he started his cricketing career in his father’s coconut grove, but unlike me, his fellow cricketers were his brothers and his friends. Mine were my sisters and my maids.

Playing with the rubber ball and the bat was how most of us started our cricket in Sri Lanka, and Ranjan weaves an interesting tale not only of his own beginnings but also of the beginnings of the game in England, Sri Lanka and how it has spread the world over. Particularly, he talks of how Sri Lanka itself matured over the years, and after a long struggle, gained international status and subsequently built on it to achieve greater heights, by winning the World Cup in 1996.

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Galle – Where Passion Meets Beauty

Galle International Cricket Stadium: distinctive, historic and picturesque

In 2014, one of the most dominant sides in Test cricket, South Africa were touring Sri Lanka, and the series commenced at Sri Lanka’s fortress, the Galle International Cricket Stadium.

‘Machan, shall we go for the Galle Test match. It has been a while since I saw Sanga bat’, I said to my friend, longing to see the legend bat one last time before his retirement.

Our plans were temporarily put on hold by the Proteas, who batted for two days while rattling a mammoth score. Sri Lanka were 30 for no loss at stumps on the second day.

‘Let’s go early morning tomorrow’, said my friend, convinced that Tharanga was not going to survive the early swing for too long.

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‘Fans Deserve a Better Deal’ – Views of a Random Follower

A stadium with a seating capacity of 33,000 is sold out when only 4,000 tickets have been allocated and sold.

Colombo,  21st August 2017

My dear Ranjan

Just finished reading your book Winds Behind the Willows.

I am no fan of cricket except when Aunty Sita pushed me into watching TV whenever Sri Lanka was playing. She was a devoted fan – who would shut the TV down when Sri Lanka is doomed to lose. She would also watch the international finals so long as the Australians were not winning; from their lip movements, she said that they were very crude in the swear words.

I know very little of the game of cricket as I hardly ever played it after a cussed boy hit me on the forehead with a leather ball I was facing. I was then 15 years. I thereafter took to tennis, badminton, table tennis, swimming & rowing.

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Andy Roberts – As It Happened

Sri Lanka Cricketers World Cup 1975

I knew Andy from years gone by. No one bothered with his real name, he was simply Andy Roberts, of course, connected in some way to cricket and the West Indian fast bowler. Andy’s mother, Cicilin, worked for Aunty Dee, job description, Major Domo in the kitchen, plus all the chores that went with a middle-class home in the sixties. Big, charcoal black, that was Cicilin, hefty as a hippo, with a smile that sprouted through toothless gums and an abundance of breast that overflowed out of size forty-two. Cicilin was ramrod at Dee’s home, duties including everything, plus occasionally spanking the little masters of the household. This was Sri Lanka, sans wars and turmoil, times of life in a lighter shade, slow lane and lazy stuff, where laughter came easy and plenty to all comers.

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Winners don’t do different things but they do things differently!

Mahela Jayawardena of Sri Lanka achieves cricket history.

Mahela Jayawardena (Sri Lanka) celebrates his century on the fourth day of the first Test against England on 14 May 2006 at Lord’s. (Photo by Patrick Eagar / Patrick Eagar Collection / Getty Images) Mahela Jayawardena achieved twice what many legends never managed once: a lasting place in the history of The Home – the Lord’s Honours Board. (Courtesy MCC)

Ranjan’s different type of book on cricketing stories, titled ‘Winds Behind The Willows: A Sri Lankan’s Life in Love with Cricket’ amply portrays his passion and love for the game. In my view, his effort gives in-depth analysis of the matches he had witnessed, that are so precise that the reader is engrossed and enlightened in a delightful way.

Winds Behind The Willows is an interesting book...for everyone who wishes to enhance knowledge Click To Tweet

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An encyclopaediac history on SL cricket with warts and all

A review of Winds Behind The Willows printed in The Island on May 14th 2017

 

Foenander, watching from the Elysian fields up yonder with the likes of Neville Cardus, E. W. Swanton, C. L. R. James, Raymond Robertson-Glasgow, A. A. Thompson, Christopher Martin-Jenkins et al adorning the chimerical cricket journalists’ ‘Hall of Fame’ must be very proud of the work of Sri Lankan Ranjan Mellawa.

Almost a century ago, S. P. Foenander, referred internationally as the ‘Wisden of the East’, authored his 268-page classic tome ‘Sixty Years of Ceylon Cricket’ (Ceylon Advertising & General Publicity – 1924). That was the first book which authoritatively enlightened the cricket world about cricket and cricketers between the years 1863 to 1923, in the then fair isle of Ceylon. One must also remember that Foenander, who even rubbed shoulders with the legendary Bradman – see photo above – must have experienced the difficulties at that time in collecting/collating information and statistics and so on in compiling his book. After all, the print media at that time was not developed; TV nor Internet was not even thought of. In short sophisticated communication systems were not even in its infancy. So, the accolade of being the pioneer of cricket journalism in Ceylon falls squarely on the shoulders of the late S. P. Foenander.

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