By Rohan Wijesinghe
The captioned superlative was certainly intended and deservedly so. A quiet man whose character was in his bowling, Daya Sahabandu was a priceless asset, a genius of a bowler in his time, extending from the 60’s and well into the 80’s. In the pelting rain I sought refuge at Daya Sahabandu’s for a revival of dusty memories. Betwixt claps of thunder and cups of tea, the golden arm trolleyed in his precious scrap books, not having lost a scrap of his boyous zest, for this his beloved game of cricket.
NEIGHBOURS IN A SPIN
Daya Sahababdu and his legendary skills were born on the 28th of March 1940 at 28 Charlemont Road Wellawatte. By 6 years of age the scrawny little chap had caught the cricket bug and honed his fledgling skills on his hapless little neighbours down the lane. His left arm had ceaselessly tweaked his mantra from dusk to dawn; till the last weary toddler turned home for supper. The sweet summer sweat was not wasted; certainly not on our budding legend.
By the year 1958 the hawkeyed Gammy Goonasena had earmarked Sahabandu’s arm, for certain glory. The trailblazing New South Wales, Nottingamshire and Cambridge University spinner was utterly impressed by the scrawny youngster, fairly humming the ball off his knuckles for Royal College, under the baton of Michael Wille.
THOUSAND SARA SCALPS
Initially marking his run for Sinhalese Sports Club in the Daily News Trophy from 1960 to 1963, a change of clubs in 1964 transformed his cricketing fortunes. At Nomads the crafty skipper D H de Silva, licking his chops gave Sahabandu a fair crack of the whip; 6552 overs in fact, over a span of 20 years or so. Bandu repaid his Skipper in full measure, with a haul of 1048 Sara Trophy wickets at an average of 14.11. The left armer plugged 1919 of those overs with priceless maidens. Only the laws prevented ‘DH’ from bowling Sahab simultaneously from both ends.
Armed then with the destructive Left Arm of Sahabandu and a wicked glint in his eye, D H de Silva made a successful assault on Ceylon’s plum cricket title; the Sara Trophy in 1965: A proud moment for Bandu, the Nomads and the Colombo Municipality, who so large heartedly gave refuge to so many hugely talented cricketers, from the less fashionable schools. A big bouquet to the Council, Belatedly even, for giving Nomads a leg-up to lift that plum in 1965. A couple of those who did the Municipalty proud come to mind; they being Leslie Piyasena, WL Withanage, SB Senanayake, Daya Boteju, Granville Hamer, Jayalath Aponso among others, who brought the required bubble to the dressing room, whilst the likes of Stanley Jayasinghe, Anura Polonowita and DP de Silva provided the fireworks.
Runs and wickets did not pay Bandu’s bills. Certainly not in that particular era. The Board of Control paid Bandu a paltry Rs 200 per International as ‘Smoke Money’. The ever benevolent Mr R Maharajah, employing Sahab for well nigh 30 years, ensured that our country was not deprived of a priceless asset.
PURGATORY FOR BATTER’S
Sahabandu’s fistful of wiles consisted of his stock orthodox left arm leg spin; His armer was a beast of a ball, evilly disguised amongst his slower deliveries. Purgatory for the batsmen would arrive early in the day; if ever Bandu took the new ball. Loping in from 8 paces or so, he would whip it into the right hander at a sharp slant, and such a steep dip in flight. Without a visible change in action, he could ram in a howling bouncer. Oh yes, he could make the best of them look ridiculous oft times.
STARVED OF A STAGE
Pathetically the mountains of accolades at home only fetched him a handful of International hustings, none of which were squandered by the erstwhile spinner, as depicted below.
3 for 54 for Sri Lanka against India at Nagpur, in 1975.
2 for 90 for Ceylon against MCC at Colombo in 1969.
2 for 52 and 2 for 52 for Ceylon against Australia at Colombo in 1969
1 for 33 and 5 for 86 for Ceylon against MCC at Colombo in 1970.
The heaps of wickets reaped in Gopalan Trophy Fixtures and for the Board Presidents IX against visiting Internationals are not depicted here as the figures would take much space to catalogue. Batsmen of the caliber of Graveney, Cowdrey, Walters, Hunte, Chappell, Gavaskar, Vishwanath, Edrich and Boycott were among the batsmen he had to contend with, and that he asserted himself is patently clear. Tom Graveney arguably the best English post war Test batsmen contended that Daya Sahabandu was the best bowler he had faced in 20 years of big cricket. Hence, comparision with Englands ‘Deadly’ Underwood was wholly justifiable. Bandu conversely heaped loads of praise on the Captaincy of Tissera, the Batting of Tennakoon and the Pace of Kehelgamuwa.
INDIANS IN A SPIN
A sudden tumble of wickets in the lower middle order would bring Bandu, seemingly reluctantly to the middle, equipped with an old relic of a twine bound bat. He reminded me with immense pride, whence he carved, swatted, snicked and bludgeoned his way to a heroic 32 n.o. against the wiles and curves of Prassanna and Chandrasekhar in an Unofficial Test against India in 1975.
LOVED BY THE CROWDS
The chink in his edifice was his ponderous fielding. Loitering perpetually at mid on, Bandu could be delightfully detached, absent minded and even gloriously relaxed, as he plotted the demise of the batsman, who had just swatted a couple of boundaries, between his boots at long on. His lazy, lumbering, loping, somewhat gawky elegance on the field was adored by the crowd, as they broke into raptourous applause, even when the legend dropped a dolly or misfielded or even mis-anticipated a straight drive.
In a rare flash of deadpan humor the maestro recollected as to how the peanut vendor, the pineapple seller, umpires, scorers, spectators and the players would all travel to a game in the same bus; public conveyance being the primary mode of transport available during those austere times. Just a couple of well heeled opponents would speed past ‘his’ bus in their swanky auto’s; only for their wickets to be lapped up by Bandu later in the day.
Daya Sahabandu; characteristically guileless, delightfully eccentric and perpetually boyish, remains utterly incapable of making an enemy. Lean frame wobbling a bit now, he has mellowed much. At 69 years of age he exemplifies the joy and pride of having been part of the great game. Single minded, he lives cricket and thinks and talks little else, as he struts in retirement among his souvenirs and memories, lovingly tended to by his gracious spouse Swarna and son Janaka, who incidentally is a Banker by profession.
KING OF VIHARA MAHA DEVI
As I bade goodbye, the Genial Genius ominously tugged at his frayed right sleeve, licked his gangly index finger, and flicked an imaginery ball skywards. A wicked routine that fired heaps and heaps of fear into the hearts of batsmen. Dayananda Sahabandu was by no means the ‘King Of The Road’; But he was certainly the King of Vihara Maha Devi; the ‘Park’ that he adorned with such Majesty so many moons ago.
The writer is a former Josephian, BRC, NCC and Sri Lanka Under 19 Opener and now a Cricket historian