At the High Table
Book Review

(Story of Sri Lanka Cricket The Amazing Feats recorded in her first twenty five years plus some inside stories of Sri Lanka and International Cricket)

By Mahinda Wijesinghe

Mahinda Wijesinghe is no stranger to the world of cricket. He was a cricketer of no mean repute beginning from his school days at Royal into club cricket. One recalls his memorable feat in 1957 of taking four wickets in four balls at Campbell Place for Royal against Ananda, which brought him many accolades from the cognoscenti including a presentation, at the College General Assembly, of a set of books on cricket by that doyen of Sri Lanka cricket writers the late S.P. Foenander. Foenander, perhaps, had a premonition that the recipient would be a great artiste not only with the ball but with his pen as well. In that MW has kept that promise. Over the years he has been able to delight the cricket loving public with his pen regaling them with delightful anecdotes and stories involving cricket backed up by statistics that has brought him renown not only as an accomplished writer but a remarkable cricket statistician. He also has to his credit a pioneering concept paper on the use of the third umpire. As Douglas Miller, Chairman Association of Cricket Umpires & Historians describes: “Mahinda Wijesinghe is a remarkable man. He led the way in proposing a link between on-field umpires and television cameras.”

His current effort At The High Table is the story of the journey of Sri Lanka Cricket to the High Table of Test Playing countries. It is a magnificent effort of a connoisseur with taste and one who himself is at the High Table in his chosen vocation of a cricket writer, crusader, raconteur and an authority on cricket statistics.
The book is in two parts. The first part Down Memory Lane is a collection of articles he had been writing over the years. The second part comprises Cricket Records: valuable data and statistics relating Sri Lanka’s journey to the High Table. Normally statistics can be boring.

But in this book cricket lovers will find a veritable store-house of valuable information arranged in a manner that would interest even the most fastidious reader. The book describes through the display of statistics as well as through well-crafted stories and articles the important aspects of Sri Lanka’s journey to the High Table and her performance thereafter. It also has very valuable material on various issues on cricket which the author thinks fit to place before the reader such as, eg. , a suggestion: why not a tennis ball cricket world cup in 2010?

The section on Down Memory Lane has, inter alia, some very interesting, well-documented accounts on some great players of the past, who had brought fame and glory to Sri Lanka in the days of yore .They, indeed, set the scene for others to follow to the High Table. The readers will find of particular interest feats, as lucidly recorded by the author, of such greats as Sargo Jayawickrema , the Walter Hammond of Sri Lanka; F.C De Saram ,who, inter alia , scored a brilliant hundred for Oxford University against the mighty Aussies led by Don Bradman, a team which had two of world’s leading spinners of that time, Grimmet and Fleetwood-Smith; M. Sathasivam, who was once described by the legendary West Indian skipper, Sir Frank Worrell, as the best batsman he has ever seen; Gamini Goonesena, whom the author identifies as the “unsung hero of Sri Lanka cricket” and many other stories of cricketing personalities, local and international. An interesting episode on Satha, where the author himself was involved makes good reading. This was when Satha pelted Royal opening bowler Patrick Poulier for two successive sixes at the Oval; the second one, followed by an ‘I told you not to’ from Satha ; and this after the bowler had been issued a friendly ‘warning’ by the batsman against bowling bouncers at him. Having been fortunate enough to see Satha play some of his classic innings in the good old days, I can readily assimilate the author’s description of him by a catchy turn of phrase- “the brass and panache of the man.” Readers will also find the saga of Gamini Goonasena’s rise to fame and the account of his brilliant all-round performance as skipper of the Cambridge University team in the annual encounter against Oxford, leading his team to a historic win ,most absorbing and inspiring.

Adam Gilchrist is in the news these days, having recently accused Sri Lankan off-spinner Muralidaran of being a chucker, in his autobiography. It is , indeed, ironical that Gilchrist, who now accuses Murali of chucking , very much against established evidence to the contrary , was guilty of at least acting against the spirit of the Game when he sought the assistance of an alien element a squash ball, to wit, on his way to a century in the World Cup final of 2007, which can very well be labeled as a “squash ball century”- the only one of its kind. One sincerely hopes that it remains the only one of its kind!

In a well thought out piece “Was it Ethical or, more correctly Legal?”, the author raises the issue: was Gilchrist guilty of breaching the laws of the Game or was he acting against the spirit of the Game? Or was he making a mockery of both? Reading this article as well as the one on “How Gilchrist ‘squashed’ a century and diddled Sri Lanka”, I felt that this is a matter that deserves greater attention of the authorities than had been already accorded to it, if they are serious about safeguarding the Game in its pristine state. Were the authorities dodging the issue or sleeping over it? It will be interesting to read Gilchrist’s accusation of Murali, against the author’s account of the crusade to “counter the adverse campaign against Sri Lankan off spinner Muralidaran”, in which the author himself played no mean part and also the author’s poignant account on Bedi entitled “The 4-letter World of an ex-spinner with a 4-letter Name.” In this article the author succinctly refers to Bedi’s “green-eyed propensities on Murali!”

These articles and many more and the statistical account of Sri Lanka’s journey to the High Table and thereafter( “over fifty international records to her credit in twenty five years”, as the author asserts ) makes delightful reading not only for the connoisseur but for anyone who is interested in the game of cricket. As one writer, Nigel Kerner, has described: these come from “one of the finest chroniclers and archivists in the world” and again “It is a master work of facts and figures and anecdotes with a particular accent on the Sri Lanka game.” As a layman with an abiding love for this wonderful game, in its pristine state , of course, I found reading At the High Table deeply gratifying, re both content and style. The tone is the work of a well-honed cricketer with an irresistible passion for the game, a penchant for good writing, in the classical mould, and an unrelenting nose for detail: a veritable labour of love, indeed. It should find its way not only to the collector’s shelf but to every school library so that every young aspiring cricketer will have an opportunity of culling the wealth of information and knowledge within its lucid pages and be inspired thereby.-ULK

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