By Rohan Wijesinghe – Former St Joseph’s, Sri Lanka Schools And NCC Opener
Perched at the very summit of his illustrious career, having earlier tweaked his leg-spin for Lanka, in three successive Worlds Cups in ‘75’, ‘79’ and ‘83’, to be specific – Somachandra de Silva – ‘DS’ as he is fondly known, is remarkably composed as he adds his boundless energy, expertise and passion to the helm of Sri Lanka Cricket’s – steamy boiler room.
DS was pitch-forked into the interim Chairmanship of the Board – burning with desire and oozing with intent – to put something back into the game. As I met up with him, the spunky ex-leg-spinner is so thrifty with words, and you could safely knock 10 years off his age – perfectly groomed hair and lean in the hips. Despite a couple of flaws DS inspires devotion, as he extracts the last atom of loyalty from his crew with his nephew the infatigable Suraj Dandeniya cracking the whip in perfect tandem with him. If I may digress a tad now – that other much valued Anandian Anurudda Polonowita and his picture perfect pitches – deserve an honorable mention here.
Particularly Painful Period
Early this year, with the World Cup poised to go into full swing, and with so much on his plate. – Somachandra De Silva looked forlorn and fettered. The venues under his thumb were in utter dust and disarray. Even the ICC’s knives were out and just inches away from our dusky Chairman’s chest. Mercifully his confidence appears to be seeping back - what with his beloved Test venues – Pallakelle, Sooriyawewa and Khettarama, receiving the highest praise possible from the media, the players and fans alike – with each venue trying to outdo the other in their majesty, beauty, hospitality and generosity.
Providing The Cutting Edge
Dandeniyage Somachandra De Silva was a priceless asset at a time, when we simply did not have the bowling, to skittle sides out. DS was truly heaven sent spin. Our crying need for a spinner that left-the-bat was met. The wrist spin of the right-arm leggy had the crowd in raptures, what with his subtle variations, as he so flamboyantly bared his wares for his country. On one of his good days, you could hear the ‘thing’ spinning, as a strong wrist gave him whip, like a tightly coiled spring leaping open. Oh the subtle variations – the one that left the bat, the flipper that skidded and the screaming faster ball. His vicious googly was the best of the lot. Oh yes he had all the leggy’s wicked weapons in his well stacked armoury.
Tweaking His Little Mantra
Dandeniyage Somachandra, was born on the 11th of June 1942, in the deeply southern outpost of Unawatuna, Galle – to Simon and Mrs Saminona Dandeniyage De Silva. The family consisted of 6 boys and 1 girl. The siblings preferred cricket to even having their meals or sitting at their books. Tiny DS for his part would tweak his sorcerous mantra, from dusk to dawn on the incomparably golden beaches of Unawatuna. Of siblings, DP de Silva and DS himself went on to don National colors, besides which DH along with the eldest, SD were truly splendid first class cricketers. Older sibling ‘DH’, one of the shrewdest cricket captains ever produced by the Lankan club cricket system, took an early interest in fixing ‘DS’ flaws. By the year 1957 the right armer was wreaking havoc among the schools in this country, and was quickly poached by Moratuwa SC to don their maroon cap and coat. He came of age later at Nomads SC, reaping heaps of wickets there.
Creating Tweaky Havoc
It took a while for the leggy to break into the National ranks. Leg spinners were always cloaked in mystique and treated with a fair degree of suspicion, what with their penchant for being generally flamboyant and costly. Despite that particular misconception, DS was duly picked and dunked at the deep end against Mike Denesses’ MCC in 1973, with De Silva simply spinning them out for a total of 163, with a bag of 5 for 40. Thence against Chappell’s mighty Aussie’s, De Silva grabbed 2 for 60, the year being 1975. Then again in 1976, DS spun out 15 Indians in two Tests and come Pakistan to Colombo, the right armer took no less than 22 wickets in three tests. In that same year DS ran through the mighty West Indians in Colombo with a match return of 10 for 156.
Simply The Best In Lanka
By the time he had run through those Windies, De Silva was without doubt one of the top spinners in the sub-continent, and in recognition was duly honored by the Indians as one of their four ‘cricketers of year’ – the year being 1976 – a huge honor for little Lanka. That DS was the best leg spinner ever produced by this island nation, is devoid of doubt. This in an era when Lanka was rather step motherishly treated by the international cricketing fraternity and the international outings were few and far between. Against that particular austere backdrop, DS de Silva was also the first Sri Lankan cricketer to chalk up 200 first class wickets and 1000 first class runs.
Much International Repute
DS De Silva first crashed into International cricket’s conscience in the 1979 World Cup clash against India, as we comprehensively beat that monumental Test cricketing nation – by 47 runs, with De Silva scalping Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amaranth and Abid Ali, as India crashed to 191 all out. His International career could be neatly sliced into two semesters; categorically the pre-test era, and the early era of Lanka’s test cricketing exploits.
Touching Test Cricket At 40
By the time Sri Lanka was elevated to ‘test status’ the leggy was touching 40 years of age. As such De Silva was 10 tears too soon. For the record – the right armer played 12 tests for the country. In our inaugural Test against England, DS bowled especially well to grab 3 for 54. In those 12 tests he scalped 37 batsmen in total, with 5 for 59 as his best. In 41 ODI’s he had 32 wickets with 3 for 29 as his best.
DS was usually anchored at number 8 with the bat, carving 406 phlegmatic runs with 61 as his highest. In 41 ODI’s the right hand batsmen, deploying his characteristically angular and upright style scored 371 runs with 37 as his best
De Silva skippered the country in the absence of the injured Mendis, against New Zealand in two tests, seemingly enjoying the pressure, and scoring half tons in both tests.
Running Amok Among The Leagues
Betwixt all that razzmatazz, De Silva ran amok among the English leagues – first for Lincolnshire in the central Lancashire league and thence for Shropshire in the Lancashire leagues. His particular angle of delivery was of utter bother to the batters of the English minor counties. Oh yes he certainly ran through many a minor county line-up as he shone through the misty English gloom. The stats are much too heavy to mention here.
A Resonantly Distinguished Career
Having galloped across the grass from Unawatuna to Wooloongabba….mesmerizing batsmen of many a hue – DS De Silva then shifted his interest to coaching the sorcerous spin-stuff he peddled so well. For a while he was in the pay of the Lankan Board, spreading his knowledge, so successfully across the land. Now comes his resounding success at the helm of the Board. A truly distinguished career, by any yardstick. Besides which he has comprehensively put the sea of puny pundits and critics in their place. In appreciation of the sweat you have put in Sir, – may all the roads rise in glory, as we bring the ‘Cup’ back home.