By Rohan Wijesinghe
Former St Joseph’s, Sri Lanka School’s And NCC Opener.
He was either splitting stumps with sheer pace or guiding the city’s chaotic traffic to peace. That’s Tikiri Banda ‘Kehel’ Kehelgamuwa for you. Born on December 9, 1942; a quiet and courteous man, hailing from the ancient historic hilltop of Gampola, based in the Kandy district.
Botany Teacher Amaranayake
Seneviratne Amaranayake, a botany teacher attached to Dharmaraja college Kandy, airing his lungs on the footpaths of Gampola was stopped in his tracks by a spindly child aged about eight, raising dust and disarray, relentlessly knocking down an old tin can with such uncanny pace – using a rickety old tennis ball. The boy was being nurtured and weaned at Walhagoda Central, a tiny mixed school on the outskirts of Gampola. The little pacie was thence poached by teacher Amaranayake for Dharmaraja College, Kandy and the rest is a rich slice of our ‘new ball’ history.
Snappy Yorkers And Howling Bouncers
At Dharmaraja, Kehel came under the eagle eye of the redoubtable Sri Lankan speedster Sonny Yatawara, and amidst the salubrious climes of Kandy, blasted his way to the summit of speed bowling, so to speak. At Just 17 years of age , he was picked to tour India with the Ceylon
Schools, the teenager marking his territory as the quickest schoolboy bowler on both sides of the Palk Strait with an outstanding return of eight wickets for eight runs, against Combined Indian Colleges; all eight of his victims clean bowled. In fact he hit the stumps 11 times, being no balled thrice amidst the blitz. It was Yatawara who taught Kehel’s yorker to snap at the batters heels, and the method of bowling a howling bouncer at the ear flaps.
Best Schoolboy Bowler
Kehel, arguably the fastest arm since D.S. Jayasundera stalked our meadows at the turn of the century, devoured schoolboy batsmen on his return to the island – following his rampant run in the sub continent. In the school circuit he reserved his best blitz for a return of seven for 21 against Nalanda College amongst so many prized scalps. It is a little known fact that the fiery pacie from the little township of Gampola, won the much coveted All Island Best Schoolboy Bowler award in 1961 as well as in 1962 – to drive home the point.
Neil Weerasinghe one of the finest cricketers produced by St. Joseph’s College Colombo, aided and abetted by that other redoubtable Old Joe, Felix Perumal, lured the lad to Police Park in the year 1963. Unleashed on the seamer’s dream at the Police Park, the rookie policemen then set
a murderous pace, spreading fear across the country, to be quickly capped by Ceylon for her international shindig against Colin Cowdrey’s MCC in 1968. Conversely Kehel stalked and capped pretty schoolmistress Hemamalee Wettasinghe, attached to St. John’s College Panadura,
eventually and impatiently tying the valued knot in 1971. The handsome young Sub Inspector was attached to the Panadura Police at that particular point of time.
Brains and Beauty
Kehel’s children followed quickly – three girls of much beauty and brains; Sonali, Lasanda and Buddika; graduated from universities as far apart as Kelaniya, Colombo and Texas in the USA. The wickets followed quickly as well. In Ceylon’s encounters against top Indian opposition
for the Gopalan Trophy, Kehel ripped through top notch Indian batting consisting of the likes of Wadekar, Buddi Kunderam, Salim Durrani and Milka Singh, and Hanumant Singh among so many others. In Sara Trophy cricket, Kehelgamuwa raked in more than 500 wickets over a span of 15 years.
Arm Wasted On Club Cricket
The International games were so widely spaced – two dayers, two to three years apart. In 1968 against Joe Lister’s IX, a veritable English test line up, Kehel captured six for 67 and one for 28 against MCC in 1969, following up with one for 15 against Australia in 1972 and four for 19
against Australia in 1974. In 16 first class matches Kehel captured 55 wickets in a career spanning the years 1967 to 1974. Clearly his immense talent was utterly wasted playing club cricket on the meadows of Colombo.
Uprooting International stumps
Kehelgamuwa reminded me with justifiable pride the issue of clean bowling two of England’s finest batting products, Geoff Boycott and Tom Graveney. Boycott’s advice to a budding opening batsmen would be to ‘take the shine off the second new ball. The stodgy English opener would read the ‘small print’ on the ball before putting bat to it. This time he had just about time to see his stumps cart wheeling in three directions, off Kehel’s second ball, for zero. Come MCC under the baton of Cowdrey in 1969 - Tom Graveney, fearfully hopping about the popping
crease, and for reassurance – fiddling with his ball guard – between Kehels fire balls, had just about enough time to see his leg stump disappear behind his back, without troubling our pretty Oval scoreboard. No silly little slow balls and dainty cutters with our right arm banana bender then.
Leading Police To Heights
A tad under five feet eight inches, he would ram 125 pounds plus his broad chest and big heart into each delivery; pounding in off a 30 yard run, slightly bow legged, posterior jutting out, nostrils flared and studs pawing the grass. He loved to swing the bat like most tail enders do,
and would oblige with a couple of beefy blows off his ‘barrel of a chest’ if need be. Not all brawn though. It is often overlooked that Kehelgamuwa led Police so astutely for three years from 1969 to 1971 propelling Police Park from third division Donovan Andree, to first division Sara Trophy. On the National stage, his dressing room was enriched by the likes of Tissera, Jayasinghe, Chamnugam, Fuard and his new ball buddy Sahabandu among others. Police Park was no less colorful. He was in good company with the likes of Niel Weerasinghe, Felix Perumal, S. Sivaratnam, Franklyn Burke, Jayantha Paranathala, T.B. Werapitiya and U.S.I. Perera among
Wooed By Nomads
Somewhere in the, 60’s Nomads floundering at the bottom of the heap, wooed the hurricane from police and without doubt Kehel played a large part in helping the Municipal lads to annexe the much coveted Sara Trophy in 1965. Kehel recollected with warmth the wily leadership of DH
de Silva of Charity Commissioner fame. During an opposition run blitz, DH feigned dizziness, collapsing in a heap at mid pitch, following a an opposition batters, nick to the keeper being controversially turned down. It took the umpires, players, spectators, a few buckets of water
and well nigh 10 minutes to revive the prostrate, lifeless maverick skipper DH De Silva – following which the opposition batsmen had lost all focus, and plunged to a calamitous middle order collapse. Nomads CC won that encounter so comprehensively – recollects T B Kehelgamuwa
Sprinting up Police ranks
Professionally, having joined the Police force as a Sub Inspector in the year 1962, he sprinted up the ranks; from Senior Superintendent of Police to Director Transport and eventually handing over his beloved Khakis and jack boots as Deputy Inspector General of Police [Traffic].
His innate sense of civility, responsibility and tact, no doubt being a key to his success – within the barracks The legend has also put more than something back to the game. A National selector for over ten years, he pinnacled as the Chairmen of Selectors in the year 2001. He also managed the National side for quite a number of years and recollects with utter pride his stewardship of the side during the 1996 World Cup triumph.
The hurricane from hell has aged angelically – face creased in affability – fittingly crowned by a rich silvery mane. Presently he is attached to Maliban Biscuits Private ltd as their Chief Security
Officer. The man who de-planted so many cricket stumps, bides his time planting his precious herbs and fruits and pottering around his five grandchildren – his crowning glory.