Passion Out In The Field

Passion out in the field, a review of Winds Behind the Willows by Sachitra MahendraThose mini teams that alternated between batting out in the field used to be common sight. But now that scene is slowly shifting into oblivion thanks to the palm-held devices and a busier generation. And like everything else, cricket is also losing its grip in a country where it meant everything to its nation.

Winds Behind The Willows - A Sri Lankan's life in love with cricke

But the scribes have not given up their passions on cricket. Shehan Karunatilaka penned a voluminous novel based on a cricket legend and bagged quite a few awards. The fresh addition to the field is Ranjan Mellawa who is a Business Consultant.

A passionate – or even obsessively, you can safely assert - follower of cricket, Ranjan has been witness to almost all the key moments of the Sri Lankan edition of the game. Next to Australia’s eight, Sri Lanka had featured in six cricket World Cup finals so far, in ODI’s and 20/20 competitions. Ranjan was the lucky audience to all six finals. This, any cricket fan would covet in a lifetime. Plus, he has held the secretary position of a Sri Lankan cricket club of note.

What matters most, however, is that he had patience to sit down and write down all his memories something his cricket contemporaries hardly have time for. A major portion of the cricket books available in the market are either autobiographies or coaching manuals authored by the celebrities of the game.

To come across a book on cricket authored by a fan could be a rare experience. Even rarest is when that book is laid down in a unique, incomparable, narrative style. Titled as Winds Behind The Willows, Mellawa introduces a new clan to the cricket literature. This memoir of Mellawa’s life in admiration for cricket emerges as a remarkable narration of five cricket decades full of events.

“I have captured all the great moments of the Sri Lankan cricketing experience, across eleven countries and uniquely through six World Cup finals. That includes both thrills and spills. Most of these experiences you won’t find in the public domain,” Mellawa notes.

The book will intrigue the modern readership as it contains descriptive passages about Sri Lanka’s pre-Test days as well, followed by a chain of events related to the cricket administration.

Ranjan Mellawa also operated an immigration and business consultancy for seven years when he relocated to the UK in 2005.

“As a result of having had a ringside view of major happenings involving the game in general and Sri Lankan cricket in particular, both within the ‘boundaries’ and through the rough and tumble without, I can now share my rich life-lessons that I have learned and the skills I have acquired, emphasising that cricket is a greater story than told by any scorecard.”

Adds he: “I am fondly reminiscing half-a-century of a life in love with cricket. It took me nearly 10k hours to duly convert thoughts to words, and self-publish the book.”

Printed in the UK, the book was fortunate to gather glowing comments from a number cricket legends.

The author, Ranjan Mellawa, at the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 final.

At the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 final between India and Sri Lanka, in Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket (Mirpur) Stadium, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

An ever-present figure at the Antigua Recreation Ground, Gravy.

A little known hero beyond the boundary: Ever-present at the Antigua Recreation Ground, Gravy’s dancing on a small platform in front of the Double Decker Stand, kitted-up as though going in to bat next, was one of the symbols of West Indian cricket in the nineties.

A tribute by Sydney Cricket of 'Yabba', Stephen Gascoigne.

As tribute by the Sydney Cricket & Sports Ground Trust to every spectator who visits the grounds, the memory of ‘Yabba’ Stephen Gascoigne, a real character who was an ever-present feature of the Sydney Cricket Ground between the two World Wars.

An excerpt from Winds Behind The Willows

It didn’t take long to convert our two-acre garden with rows of coconut trees to a mini cricket venue, popularly known as the ‘coconut grove’. Along with the neighbourhood kids, who numbered around fifteen, it hosted lots of matches spiced with many controversies, arguments, chucking, minor injuries, broken windows and lost balls.

We did sweat out in our coconut grove in the garden, on Saturdays and weekday evenings. I used to take a mighty swing at the spinning tennis ball, pitched on the ‘off’ side. This, because the house was located on the ‘leg’ side, and playing the ball on that side carried with it a certain danger. If it hit a glass-paned window, we would have had hell to pay from the seniors. It so happened that my brother Laksri once broke a window with a classic stroke on the leg side. As fate would have it, I was hauled up as the supposed culprit, made to kneel for around two hours and got a hiding while doing so. When my father demanded I ‘produce’ the offending object, Laksri insisted, on the sly, that I hand over an old rubber ball in place of the more fancied tennis ball. The matter ended with the ball being cut to pieces.

Michael Tissera and Ranjan Mellawa

One of Sri Lanka’s finest pre-Test cricket captains, Michael Tissera was the chief guest at the launch of Winds Behind The Willows.

Playing on the leg side has never been my strength ever since.

In one such instance, the ball took flight on the off side, as usual, but landed chock on a bunch of coconuts and I ran between wickets for dear life. As a squirrel on the bunch had a narrow miss and raised the alarm, a cacophony of squeaks and shrill whistles from his family created quite a din. Confusion overtook the fielders by the yo-yo ‘bounce’ of a tennis ball that had just hit some coconuts. Young voices added to the din, shouting instructions to the fielder, who finally subdued the ball.

A profusion of sweat forming on all of our teen frames was the norm, as the game progressed. We relished the thirstily looked forward to water breaks at the end of an innings.

Mellawa's cricket World Cup trophies: tickets to several finals.

Mellawa’s cricket World Cup trophies: Tickets to the finals in 1996 (50-over), 2007 (50-over) and 2009 (T20) 2011 (50-over), 2012 (T20) and 2014 (T20).

Ranjan Mellawa at the New Zealand Cricket Museum.

Mellawa’s visit to the New Zealand Cricket Museum, Wellington, during the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.

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