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Josephian Priya Perera was a phenomenal all-rounder

Posted on 18 January 2017 by admin

CRICKETPriya Perera – the former Josephian, University and All Ceylon all-rounder

KNOWN affectionately as Priya, I first made his acquaintance in 1960 at cricket practices in the University. Competition for places in the University team to play in the Saravanamuttu Trophy Tournament then was fierce, given the extent to which talent was prodigious.

HIK Fernando, DH de Silva, Brendon Gooneratne, Thurairajah, late Ranjith Doranegama, Neil Chanmugam, Buddy Reid, Carlyle Perera were only a few of this galaxy. To fill the void left by the departing seniors in 1960, there were freshmen of almost equal repute.

Priya Perera, Nihal Gurusinghe, Mohanlal Fernando, Malsiri Kurukulasooriya, late Anton Rambukpotha, late NJS de Mel, Seneca De Chickera, late Thavaneetharajah are some of the names that come to mind.

Having not played any class of cricket in school days at St. Peter's College, Colombo, I had the rare fortune of securing a regular slot in the University team in 1960 alongside school giants of the class of Priya Perera, the former Josephian and combined schools Captain, Mohanlal Fernando, the Best Allrounder in schools from Ananda, and Nihal Gurusinghe, the batting star from S. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia.

Those were the halcyon days when the University was a dominant force in premier cricket, displaying a penchant to defeat renowned teams of the class of SSC, NCC.

The acme of this golden era was when the University emerged as Sara Trophy Champions in 1963 under the astute captaincy of Carlyle Perera, after knocking at its doors in the previous 3 years.

The university's cricketing excellence continued into the late 60s like an unbroken thread, given the continuous talent which entered it in that decade. Mano Ponniah, Lareef Idroos, Sivananthan, Kingsley Fernando, Harsha Samarajeeva, Cyril Ernest, Nanda Senanayake stamped their imprint on the championship team of 1963.

Yet later arrived Mevan Peiris, Sarath Wimalaratne and Sarath Seneviratne to sustain the quality of excellence University then displayed at Cricket.

Priya Perera had entered the University with a giant reputation in the school days for his exceptionally outstanding exploits in batting, bowling, fielding and astute captaincy.

I had the fortune of moving with him closely in the team, particularly because he made me feel at ease in a star studded team playing premier-cricket, given the handicap I carried of being an "unknown" with no cricket background and laurels whatsoever to boast of.

He constantly offered tips and advice in an unobtrusive, friendly way, a kind of guidance from which I benefited immensely. Priya was therefore both a friend and guide to me. Priya unfortunately departed from this world rather tragically in the early 70's in London, when so young.

In recent times, I had seen numerous articles on past greats in the print media. This served as a stimulus to write about this great all rounder who occupied centre stage in the late 50s and 60s.

Priya's exploits as an All rounder at St. Joseph's, and then the University, were legion. Scoring 66 runs of a modest total of 173, and capturing 3 wickets in his very first outing for the University in 1960, Priya was blooded into the national team to play against Pakistan Eaglets by the selectors who considered him a wise investment. I also recall him playing in the national team against the West Indies in 1961.

It would be difficult to assess in what sphere of the game, batting or bowling, he was more talented and proficient; he was equally skilled at both. His height and long limbs accentuated the grace and artistry he displayed, be it in batting or bowling. He was the epitome of technical perfection. As an off spinner, he belonged to the classical genre, a connoisseur's delight.

He belonged to a vintage when off spinners assiduously practiced virtues associated with this classic art: the high arm, flight, variation, guile, and the ball that does not turn, variously described as the floater or the arm ball.

The quality of Priya's bowling was enriched by a shrewd head, height, long limbs and fingers. The practice of this craft is for the crafty, for deception has necessarily to be in one's armoury to snare wickets on featherbeds. Priya did so with monotonous frequency.

Priya's off spin magic brings to mind nostalgic memories of other quality off spinners of his ilk; the one time Josephian SSC and Police great Neil Weerasinghe, and Abu Fuard, Lalith Kaluperuma, and Neil Chanmugam of all Ceylon repute. It is unfortunate that their classical action has not been captured on celluloid for worthy emulation by today's aspiring off spinners.

As a batsman, Priya was equally adept. I yet recall Priya walking out to bat, a casual, nonchalant glance at the sky to condition himself to the light, before prodding forward and back to technical perfection in order to get his eye in; and then his strokes began to cascade, not through brutish force, but caressingly. Priya's height and long limbs added lustre to his grace, artistry, and dominance over bowlers.

Priya on display held centre stage not only in batting and bowling, but in fielding as well. He was one of the most outstanding close in-fielders of the time, particularly in the gully region.

His long fingers often wrapped around the ball even after it seemingly had eluded and passed him, as happened when he caught out a West Indian batsman in the fixture Ceylon played against the West Indies in 1961.

And now to Priya the man. What impelled me to write about him is not merely to recapture his exceptional and unique career as a cricketer, but more to remember him for the pristine human qualities he was endowed with.

He was modest, gentle, cultured, unassuming and helpful to those in need, virtues of a good head and heart. I cannot forget him for easing me into the environment of top grade cricket, his shrewd cricketing brain then realizing that I required direction.

Those were the days unlike now, when even in a team, one stood in solitude on stage. It is this debt of gratitude in particular that makes me remember Priya as someone special.

The writer represented the University along with the late Priya Perera, in the Sara Trophy Cricket Tournament in the early 60s. He also played for Colts, NCC, Police, the State Services in the Quadrangular tournament and for the Central Province against the MCC XI led by Ted Dexter at Radella in 1962.

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