Mas Piganak Arapan (මස් පිඟානක් ඇරපන්)

Mas Piganak Arapan

Granville de Silva double-capped for Sri Lanka over a quarter century ago, basketball and cricket, concurrently.

That is the line “Barman, send him a beef plate;” it sure triggered me to punch on a think-pad an extraordinary tale connected to cricket and basketball at the National level. Here I am in Melbourne, cruising conversations of old times with old friends and out comes the repetition of a fairy tale I knew so well. Yes, as in most things in life the gems gather soot in the back-burners while irrelevant mediocrity bash in the limelight. Let me change the scoreboard.

Granville de Silva double-capped for Sri Lanka over a quarter century ago, basketball and cricket, concurrently. Granna, as he was popularly known had not much time to spare to reach anywhere in sport. At 19 he was a total nobody playing carrom at the Moratuwa YMCA. He’d never shot a basketball and never played leather-ball cricket, just another drifting young man seeking ‘whatever possible’ avenues of life.

Granna was six feet three inches tall, scraggy as a totem pole, ‘pin thin’ if I were to describe his torso. A coach picked him up and took him to the basketball court. A tall man and clumsy as a clown, he trained daily learning the finer points of the game from his coach who was a personification of the very devil himself. At the beginning Granna’s interest was mild, little by little he picked up the fundamentals of playing basketball and improved in leaps and bounds, spending long hours on the court. He perhaps at that time had very little options in life other than playing carrom and loafing around.

The story is simple from then on. Within three years Granna became the best centre player in the country and Moratuwa YMCA won many trophies led by the scraggy ‘Granna.’ He, with a touch of rascality, was now a well-filled muscular pivot-player dominating the rings and the backboards of all the tournaments.

He got capped for Sri Lanka, not as an ‘also sat on the bench’ distributing glucose and water to the players but as a prominent member and went on to captain the national team.

The story from here gets very interesting. Granna was now 24 years old.

“I had finished a game of basketball at St Sebastian’s College and was going home. There were some cricketers practising at the nets, and I asked whether I could bowl.”

“I bowled, just the way I had done with a softball,” that was the beginning. “In three balls, meda polla kadagena giya,” middle stump gone and that is where the real fairytale started.

He had the most incorrect bowling style. Run-up and stop at the wicket and bowl. As awkward as it may have been, he was fast. Granna’s arm was long and strong, and he was blessed with a Sisyphus shoulder that gave venom and speed to the missiles he sent. Run up or no run-up, he was fast, much faster than anyone would expect him to be with his joke of a run-up.

That was when singing idol Milton Mallawarchchi, a staunch supporter who was nursing a drink in a corner shouted at the barman “Eyata mas piganak arapan.”

The tall man was immediately entered into cricket, played ‘Daily News’ league for Sebastianites. That was the beginning. The first match he bowled so well and followed the same with every match he played. Granna was making small waves without even knowing he had the talent to move to the bigger league of better players.

Next was Liberty Club sponsored by Bombay Sweets ownership where muscat and bombai mutai was a treat after matches. They paid too, 500 rupees a game, and the wickets kept tumbling down as Granna hurled his missiles with a long run-up and almost a ‘full-stop’ at the wicket.

“I had very little knowledge of the game, and there were a lot of people who helped me for which I am very grateful,” the appreciation is sincere, the words coming from the heart after so many years.

The road was open now to the rich green grass of Sara Trophy. Granna needed to join the big boys to play the big league. Bloomfield opened a door for him, and there he was catapult-shooting the ‘cream at the crease,’ the willow wielding luminaries of the era at their batting best.

First match, playing Sara Trophy, against the Army, seven wickets in the 1st innings and 6 in the second. The captain asked him to lead the team back to the pavilion. The Bloomfield supporters had only one call “Kawda bang e danda?” (Who’s that tall bloke?). Back inside everyone celebrated the new-found fast bowler of Bloomfield. That was when singing idol Milton Mallawarchchi, a staunch supporter who was nursing a drink in a corner shouted at the barman “Eyata mas piganak arapan.”

A match haul of 13 wickets and a plate of devilled beef as a reward to celebrate. I wonder what Malinga would say if someone sent him a mas pigana after a man of the match performance?

“The cricket scene has changed,” says Granna sipping a Shiraz in a tall glass. “What with IPLs and high-paying contracts and match-fixing and the politics that has entered worldwide cricket, it is not the same anymore.”

Then came more cricket, with more wickets and the same “run and stop” at the bowler’s end. Selections were on the cards for Prudential [World Cup], and they played Duleep’s team against Roy’s, and Granna bowled for Roy and sent Duleep, Sidath, Ranjan and Amal to the pavilion. Granna was lucky; legendary Garfield Sobers was brought in as coach for the national team, this was 1983. Who would argue with Sir Gary when he picked Granville de Silva to play for Sri Lanka at the World Cup in England?

That followed a tour of down under, playing Benson and Hedges with the Aussies and Windies. A few more matches at home and Granna moved to Australia, part cricket, part a new home and a new hope for himself and family.

There ended a magnificent short career of double-caps for Sri Lanka. In basketball, he was the best at that time, and in cricket, he made it to the top, to the World Cup itself, all from a humble beginning, spring-leaping from a carrom board at the Moratuwa YMCA.

Now the years have rolled, and the world has aged, so did Granna. The man is still strong, walks in the evenings and does gym work. The passport maybe Aussie but the heart is still beating for a faraway land, where he once belonged. “Yes, I watch cricket, ball by ball when the Lions play.” I guess it is a romance that is hard to shed. Sometimes he shoots basketballs too when the battle-scarred knees do not hurt so bad.

“The cricket scene has changed,” says Granna sipping a Shiraz in a tall glass. “What with IPLs and high-paying contracts and match-fixing and the politics that has entered worldwide cricket, it is not the same anymore.”

Yes, cricket today is a far cry from the days Granna hurled his missiles and walked into the national side with Bombay sweets and beef plates from the Bloomfield Bar. He was never in the closeted world of the affluent in cricket. Granna’s stories are nothing less than fairy tales, and he did live them and still hoards them in memory to bring out colourfully in relevant company. I was privileged to get the first-hand version, which I place unvarnished before you. It is the story of the carrom player who double-capped for Sri Lanka, held his own with the best and walked away as a victor in anyone’s sporting measurement.

The Old Warrior is now pastured in Melbourne, sharing life with Charmaine, his teenage sweetheart from the YMCA carrom days. They raised two lovely daughters and the family live in perfect peace, just the right combination of a fulfilled life. What more can one ask, from cricket, from basketball or for that matter from life itself? Granna sure has won where it matters.

The best to me still was Milton Mallawarchhi’s “mas pigana” (beef plate), very hard to beat that as a cricketing anecdote.

(The above is a guest post by Captain Elmo Jayawardena. He left school at 17. He’s been an aviator for a long time. In the midst of an illustrious career, he penned many books, including the 2001 Gratiaen Prize winner “Sam’s Story and State Literary Award winner “The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay”. “CandleAid Lanka,” is his brainchild, for people in need. Capt Jayawardena can be contacted via [email protected])

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