By Sharm de Alwis
Dido’ Keerthiratne’s stroke-play was of such high quality that he was chosen to open batting for S. Thomas’ when he was only 15 years old. His opening partner was none other than Conrad Barrow who would captain the school after Roger Inman’s two terms.
It must be mentioned here that Roger was the elder brother of Clive of SPC and son of the legendary H.C. Inman of Trinity who had ten five-wicket hauls and three half centuries of which one was four runs shy of a century in 1915 to be awarded the coveted ‘Lion’.
The others in Dido’s first year who would be stars in the cricket firmament were T. Jayalingam [STC] Saliya Atapattu and Stanley Unamboowe [RC], P.I. Peiris and C.H. Gunasekera and would carve niches for themselves as stellar players for the country. Homer Titus who had his nucleus at Trinity where his father, S.R. Titus was the school’s first centurion [174 Vs Wesley in 1911] before the concept of the ‘Lion’ was introduced in 1915, would seek greener pastures with his brothers Spiro and Andre.
Dido was ousted from his opener’s berth in 1952 by Sidat Sri Nandalochana but his technique had matured for him to be placed in the momentous one-drop position. He would have captained STC in 1954 after P.I. Peiris notched in 1953 a barn-storming run-a-ball 123, helped by Geoff Wijesinghe’s 64 to win a place in the country’s Xl. P.I. also had wicket hauls of two and four in the game which STC won by innings and 34 runs. Geoff Wijesinghe continued in his merry way into 1954 by which he had the highest aggregate and best average to be termed “Royal-Thomian Konappu”. I believe his fifth wicket record stand with P.I. still stands.
‘Dido’ had a fine cricketing brain. In the 1952 game against St. Joseph’s College when the match was dead-locked as a draw and captain cum speed merchant Ken Serpanchy was taking his mark to hurl the last ball of the match, Dido read Serpanchy’s mind, walked up to Zakroff Cader who was to face the delivery and told him “It’s going to be a bouncer. Take the run before the ball reaches the keeper” and thereby STC beat SJC by one run.
Dido frequently had half centuries against Trinity, St. Peter’s, Wesley and St. Joseph’s.
As Dido’s academics did not match his cricketing excellence, he could not continue to play for STC and therefore joined Prince of Wales where he was awarded ‘colours’ even as he entered the premises. He played for Prince of Wales for two years in the company of Lasantha Rodrigo and Don Premaratne.
When he captained Pure Beverages in the early years of Coca Cola, the team was a man short for a game against Wattala Antonians. I was ‘roped’ in to fill the breach. Annesley de Silva was making sweet music with the willow and ‘Dido’ summoned a last gasp inspiration to say loud enough for the batsman to hear, “Sharm, can you measure 22 yards?” and tossed me the ball.
Annesley stepped out to blast the imposter’s first delivery, missed the line and had his off-stump knocked off its pedestal. That was the only over I was given and it was also my only hurrah.
Denzil ‘Dido’ Keerthiratne was at the time in the zenith as a cricketer. He played for SSC in the Sara Trophy Games alongside F.C. de Saram [captain], Bertie Wijesinha, Lucien de Soyza, Channa Gunasekera, Mahesh Rodrigo, Ben Navaratne and the other front liners which included Geoff Wijesinghe.
He was also, then the factory manager of the firm that was taking on Elephant House. His CEO, even though he had been the national champion of golf for many years would only tell him, “Cricket or work.” Dido had to work even on Saturdays and Sundays.
Or else he would have rubbed shoulders with A.C.M. Lafir, H.I. Fernando and Ronnie Reid as the foursome of pulverising opening batsmen.