NEIL Wijeratne, the master of historical anecdotes, launched, Tuesday, Batting On A Matting Wicket, his third sports book in English. The 200 pages on cricket of yore bristle with anecdotes, best left unrevealed here lest it subtracts any pleasure from what really is a heartwarming read. The author himself might’ve related an anecdote or two from the book in his address to the launch’s audience. But he didn’t – only because he had a gem instead to tell. St Joseph’s College’s Bonjean Hall, the venue of the book’s launch, he said was built in 1911 – and the first play staged there was Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, under the patronage of then Governor Hugh Clifford and Lady Clifford, the donor of rugby’s Clifford Cup.
“The starting time of the play was 9.30 p.m.,’’ said Wijeratne, “9.30 in the night in 1911 mind you.’’ The irony is telling: Colombo streets in 1911 were gas lit; in 2011 the city nights might be neon-drenched, but 9.30 cinemas went out of business a long time ago, as did late-night buses. Just like Wijeratne: he has an eye for anecdotes that tell a social story of the time – which stimulates the imagination of his readers.
Regular readers of Wijeratne’s popular weekly column “Sports Nostalgia’’ will probably recognize some passages of the book as he has drawn from those columns published in The Daily Mirror.
The book is dedicated to Hector Perera, St Joseph’s 1970 cricket captain, childhood friend and hero of the author. His other heroes, Lalith De S. Wijeratne, SJC skipper in 1968, and Arthur Hakel, paceman of the late ‘60s, were present – and spoke of cricket in the ‘60s with passion, filling the air with nostalgia.
Given cricket’s present-day professionalism, all what was said, Tuesday, might’ve been the quaint parlance of the distant ‘60s. However, Wijeratne, while admitting it is unfair to compare the values of his era with those of the present, he doubted that in his time whether 1. National skippers would’ve taken bribes to lose matches, 2. National players would’ve refused to play for the country or 3. The national captain would’ve attended a team mate’s wedding in track bottoms and t-shirt. “We were taught different values and principles in our time,’’ said Wijeratne. Neil Wijeratne’s book is a reminder of that time.
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