Mahadevan Sathasivam is considered one of the most naturally gifted batsmen the world has seen. He has stirred such vigorous sentiments among the local and foreign cricket enthusiasts that even several decades after his death there are quite a number of eople who still talk and write about his deeds on the cricket field in [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Remembering a craftsman who stopped the world with his bat

Mahadevan Sathasivam released from prison – 60 years ago

Mahadevan Sathasivam is considered one of the most naturally gifted batsmen the world has seen. He has stirred such vigorous sentiments among the local and foreign cricket enthusiasts that even several decades after his death there are quite a number of eople who still talk and write about his deeds on the cricket field in Sri Lanka and abroad. It is said that little Sathasivam was saturated with precocious batting ability even at the age of six!

Young Sathasivam first attended St. Joseph’s College, where he represented the junior school in cricket, and then was admitted to grade four at Wesley College.

Sathasivam (left) and Sir Don Bradman at the toss at the Oval in Colombo in 1948.

He first played cricket for Wesley at the age of 15 years. His last season for Wesley in 1936 was considered by far his best and most magnificent, when he terminated the season with a classic 142 against St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia.

After leaving school, he represented and captained the Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club.

Sathasivam married Ms. Paripooranam Ananda Rajendra, the younger daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ramanathan Rajendra in 1941. In 1949, Mrs. Sathasivam sold her half-share of her parent’s house in Horton Place, which she got as dowry, to her sister who had the other half-share. With the proceeds of that sale, Mrs. Sathasivam bought No. 7, St. Alban’s Place, Bambalapitiya, the house named “Jayamangalam”.

On 9th September 1951, close to one o’clock in the morning, Mr. Sathasivam came home. His wife opened the front door for him and they spent the night together. At about 10.30 in the morning, he left that house.

That afternoon, Mrs. Sathasivam was found strangled.

When a man or woman dies under suspicious circumstances, it is said that the spouse is the first suspect!

In this instance also it was true. He was the first suspect for her murder. He had motives – a divorce case filed by his wife and an extra-marital affair with a foreign lady!

On hearing the murder of Mrs. Sathasivam, the Superintendent of Police (SP), Crimes Mr. Albert Silva, rushed to the scene of murder. On the evidence he had collected on the spot, he arrested Sathasivam the same evening at a friend’s place. Then he set about the task of recovering Mrs. Sathasivam’s missing gold ‘thali’ (necklace) she had been wearing at the time of the murder.

Ten days after the incident Tangalle police in the Southern Province arrested William, the servant boy who went missing on the day of murder. He appeared to be bubbling with ease and confidence and at home with the policemen.

However, Mr. Albert Silva the SP was hardly able to tell the boy that he had recovered the ‘thali’, with his hand in the coat-pocket in the pretence of pulling the ‘thali’ out William had fallen prostrate on the ground, wailing and crying and with tears gushing out, and pleaded for mercy.

William had confessed with details of his dastardly performance that he had murdered the lady. And in the face of the boy’s statement, the SP had moved for the immediate release of Sathasivam, and the boy, William, charged for the murder of Mrs. Sathasivam.
Sir Richard Aluvihare, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) had rejected out of hand the SP’s plea, and ordered proceedings against Sathasivam.

Sathasivam and William were charged for the murder.

The Attorney-General decided to pardon William. William was made a Crown Witness. SP Albert Silva, who was known as “Honest Albert” true to his principle of honesty, was left with no alternative in the face of the IGP’s order. He left the police service which he had served with honesty and devotion.

After the 58-day Supreme Court trial of Sathasivam, Justice E. F. N. Gratiaen concluded his lengthy address to the Jury with the following statement:

“If you are not convinced of Mr. Sathasivam’s guilt, still more, if you are convinced of his innocence, the verdict is, ‘Not guilty.’ In which event it will be your duty, and I am sure your pleasure to bring back a verdict, which will set Mr. Sathasivam free after so long a period of incarceration.”

“Let us hope that at any rate if your verdict is in his favour, that his long lonely hours have helped him to realize that the folly of his ways has led to so much unhappiness to so many others, and let him remember his obligation to the dead and to the children who for twenty months have had neither a father nor a mother. But if he is guilty that is the end of the case.”

After a 64-minute deliberation the Jury brought a unanimous verdict of not guilty against Sathasivam proving SP Albert Silva was correct.

Justice Gratiaen addressing Mr. Sathasivam said, “On the verdict brought by the Jury you have been found not guilty. You are now free.”

Mahadevan Sathasivam then walked out of the dock a free man on 26 June 1953, after spending 625 days in the remand prisons, for a crime he did not commit.

Mr. Sathasivam and his counsel Dr. Colvin R de Silva were mobbed by the large crowd which burst into applause as they entered the car to drive to No. 7, St. Alban’s Place, the residence of Mr. Sathasivam where his mother and four children awaited him. This was the house he left at 10.30 a.m. some 20 months ago!

Interviewed by a press reporter at his residence, Sathasivam said that he would be the happiest man to see the murderer of his wife brought to justice.

“My immediate concern is to see to the welfare and education of my children. I would once again turn my attention to cricket,” said Sathasivam.

It was the evidence of the first Professor of Forensic Medicine in Ceylon, Professor G.S.W. de Saram and the Professor of Forensic Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, Professor Sydney Smith, that saved Sathasivam. His defence Counsel, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva’s unparalleled intellectual brilliance as a counsel was immensely helpful.

The former Foreign Minister, late Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, President’s Counsel, has stated, “High society gossip had hanged Sathasivam from every lamp post in the city. Upon acquittal he was carried shoulder high out of court by his supporters – a hero once again.”

(Excerpts from books “Murder in Ceylon – the Sathasivam Case” and “Sathasivam of Ceylon – the Batting Legend” written by Professor Ravindra

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