Plus - Appreciation

Fond recollections of the Maristonian master blaster

Melvin Mallawaratchi

Misty-eyed Maristonians of the 1950s have fond recollections of the glory days of Melvin Mallawaratchi who stood out like a colossus striding across the field of sports. In the 80-year history of the college, Melvin was perhaps the only Maristonian to captain the school in cricket, athletics and volleyball. In the ’50s Gladstone Dias was the only other Maristonian to captain the college in cricket and athletics.

Melvin was indeed a multi- faceted sportsman. But his first love was always cricket. He talked, walked and breathed cricket. He was fascinated by its various facets and always spoke in glowing terms about the great game and its great players.

Both at school and later in adult life Melvin’s lifestyle was carefree and lighthearted. Although Melvin never read the Rubaiyat of the philosopher-poet Omar Khayyam, Melvin’s life style was based on the essential philosophy of Khayyam -- all we have is this ever slipping moment, this now, which itself has a timeless quality. So was his cricket. He was an unorthodox cricketer with simple batting techniques and an uncluttered mind. This is what made him a success. In victory or defeat he never lost his sense of humour. He knew how to enjoy the game.

Among Melvin’s cricketing contemporaries at Maris Stella were Ignatius Anandappa, Oliver Fernando, Siripala Kurera, Mervyn Fernando and in later years Gladstone Dias. But Melvin was peerless – he was the unrivalled king of the willow at Maris Stella in his time and perhaps for all time in the history of the college.

He wielded the willow with power and grace. He hammered bowlers in a space of few overs and often took the game away from the opponents. However, the quintessential adventurer that he was, in a moment he would play an unnecessary shot and gift his wicket away. Melvin at the crease was akin to a Hitchcock thriller! You never knew what was to follow. He was a power player with a penchant to strike the ball. Caution was never in his vocabulary. If there was something to be hit, he would make sure that it was hit. No half measures for him. Like in life, he was fearless at the crease, carefree and ready to put the bowler under pressure.

In 1957 he set the grounds of Maris Stella ablaze with his electrifying batting in an encounter with Ibbagamuwa M.M.V. His score of 96 runs in 20 minutes was Vintage Melvin – 2 sixers, 18 fours including nine in quick succession. Equally memorable was his score of 100 in 55 minutes against Joseph Vaz. He was the eternal tormentor of Ibbagamuwa and in 1959 scored 74 in the first innings and a hurricane 54 in the second. We stood in awe and admired this fine schoolboy when in 1959 he hammered the bowlers of St. Anthony’s College Wattala with a whirlwind 111 not out in the 1st innings and 96 in the second. His aggregate for that season came close to a record in school cricket.

In 1957, Melvin the prolific scorer broke the Maris Stella College ground record of 459 for one season set up in 1955 by Eardley Fernando by over 100 runs.

Soon Melvin attracted the attention of the National Schools Cricket Association. In the 1958 schools quadrangular tournament, Melvin was the only Maristonian selected for participation. Cyril Ernest who played for St. Mary’s Negombo was the other cricketer from Negombo featured in this tournament which had big names such as Polonowita, Yatawara, Michael Tissera, Ranjit Samarasekera and Herbie Jayasuriya. Cyril Ernest is now a successful Cardiologist living in Los Angeles and Herbie Jayasuriya retired as Senior Superintendent of Police.

Once again in 1959, Melvin was the only Maristonian participant in the National Schools Cricket Association Tournament. He played for Outstation Schools vs. Colombo and for an Association XI vs. Jaffna District.

While yet a schoolboy, Melvin represented the Negombo Cricket Club at national level tournaments. He was one of club cricket’s greatest entertainers scoring 99 in 50 minutes against Tamils “B” and 130 in 68 minutes including 12 sixers and 7 fours in a Daily News Trophy match agaisnt Kotahena. With such superlative and exhilarating performances, Melvin entered the list of cricketing legends in the early 1960s. In a newspaper write up headlined “Selector’s Guide” on selecting players to represent Ceylon for matches with the West Indies, Madras and Australia, Melvin was listed with some of the finest cricketers of that era-- Vernon Prins, A.C.M. Lafir, Michael Tissera, H.I.K. Fernando, C.I. Gunasekera, Makin Salih and Abu Fuard.

At Maris Stella, Melvin excelled himself in athletics as well. His pet events were 100 yards, 440 yards and javelin.His contemporaries on the track and field were Charles Senarath, who retired as Moratuwa University’s Engineering Dean and S.P. Dharmadasa De Silva, Former Senior D.I.G. of Police. We pooled our paltry resources of pocket money as schoolboys and came in a group to cheer Melvin when he ran the 100 yards at the Public School Track and Field Event in the late 50s. Melvin was tipped to win against E.L. Perera and R.A.F. Perera. Unfortunately he faltered in the starting blocks.

At school, Melvin with his chiselled features and Sir Garfield Sobers like swagger sent many a teenage school girl hearts aflutter. Eventually he married the love of his life Geraldine whom he met at Nestles. They had 4 daughters and a son – Marlon who along with Graeme Labrooy and Shehan Samarathunga were coached in the rudiments of cricket by Melvin as the College Cricket Coach from 1982 – 1984.

Melvin’s death on November 9, 1998 was a moment of great grief to all of us who were privileged to have shared the warmth of his friendship, sense of humour and love of life.

Merrick Gooneratne

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