He was a natural record breaker in all facets of his 55-year sporting and journalistic career; still at the crease and batting until two Sundays ago when his column appeared with a prescient and forthright epitaph to the potential demise of Sri Lanka cricket. To drive home the point, he asked that the team wear [...]


Elmo Rodrigopulle – evergreen Sports Journalist


Elmo Rodrigopulle

He was a natural record breaker in all facets of his 55-year sporting and journalistic career; still at the crease and batting until two Sundays ago when his column appeared with a prescient and forthright epitaph to the potential demise of Sri Lanka cricket. To drive home the point, he asked that the team wear masks to hide their faces after the drubbing they inflicted on themselves. He hoped that discipline will prevail to bring order and regain hard won international recognition whichwas disappearing into the clouds!

His passing at the age of 80 has taken away the only active cricketer-journalist in our media, who played at the highest-level, first class cricket—in the pre-Test era, for the Board President’s XI in 1972 which was the equivalent of the national team and remained a credible cricket columnist to be taken seriously. It is a record too that he worked under the 29 Editors-in-Chief ranging from mythical personalities such as Tori de Souza to Reggie Michael to Mervyn de Silva. Under the tutelage of Times’ Features Editor, Subbiah Muttiah, he picked up the finer elements of the ethics of reporting and responsible editorship and of reader-friendly display. Elmo then shared his immeasurable talent freely and generously with those who needed it.

Innovative as a sports editor, he did not sit on ceremony but immersed himself in all facets of the production of the sports pages. As a guest columnist I saw him taking on the most difficult of tasks with disarming smile and humour in the most stressful of times to meet deadlines. With unassuming cool competence, he brought a rare artistic quality, electrified as it were the sports page grids in our time, especially when special supplements were produced.

Still a record was that as a columnist he had an unbroken stint for over 50 years of reporting combined with weekly columns, mostly on cricket but occasionally ranging from soccer to cricket, to rugby to track and field, to boxing and billiards to motor racing, basketball, volleyball and netball, and even golf. When I was a guest writer, he assigned me mischievously to netball stating that Trinitians should get used to watching girls at play before writing about the scrum!

In club cricket, he played for the Saracens, Tamil Union, BRC and scored the first-ever century when 50-over cricket was introduced in Sri Lanka. He was as feared a blower as he was sought after to join competing club teams. He toured and covered cricket matches and sporting events in over 12 countries, including covering the Olympics in Munich where a terrorist attack took place. As a recognised national cricketer and writer, he held his own in the press boxes when the best of international experts discussed and dissected the matches and earned their respect.

While cricketing blood ran through his veins, soccer was his passion. In the erstwhile Times of Ceylon, he wrote a series of articles urging then Prime Minister R. Premadasa to redevelop the Sugathadasa Stadium that was going into rack and ruin. The stadium was near his residence, and he had a sentimental attachment to it. Reading these articles, the Prime Minster summoned Elmo for a fuller briefing. When Premadasa completed the stadium, in his inauguration speech he was charitable and gracious to thank Rodrigopulle in all three languages for urging him to redo the stadium.

Sports editors and columnists can be under attack when they are opinionated and write independent of political pressures. Elmo’s signature achievement was about being at the crease, with determination, for as long as one can notch the score, facing every variation of attack and counterattack for his writing; of being able to have his eye on the ball, exercise careful judgment, use the front foot and the back foot at the right time, ride the rough and tumble be it pace, spin, turning wicket or sticky! His Editors even under pressure, did not interfere, as his one-time Daily News Editor Manik de Silva will attest.

While rickety old typewriters were the only instruments journalist had in those times, Elmo was a quick study in the era of bromide and now digital printing; and reveled in artistic forays in layouts to capture the attention of the sports loving reading public.

In all this, as a visiting guest reporter and columnist, I witnessed how he cheered up the sports desk and print shop with wit and often ‘politically incorrect’ humour and took digs at colleagues, including the fairer sex. He was an outgoing social animal and at his best after a couple elbow bending exercises as he called them. With his unbuttoned shirt sporting a good-luck gold cross round his neck as a talisman, no one took offense and the ladies loved his jokes! In the office and print shop he was the mentor, the coach and the defender of the peon to the press operator to the stenographer, to the copy writer. They delighted in Elmo loosening the stress of deadline pressures.

Because of his credibility as a wily bowler and a fearless columnist, many of the cricketing greats respected him and befriended him. Among them were the famous Mahadevan Sathasivam, Michael Tissera, H.I.K. Fernando, Abu Fuard, Ranjit Fernando, Nihal Kodituwakku, Niel Chanmugam, Lionel Fernando, SarathWimalaratne, Lareef, Idroos, Ranjan Madugalle and scores of others.

He had a great affection for the great Sathasivam. Elmo would recall the story when he was in the company of the Great Satha, who the not-out batsmen in a crucial match and everything was hinged on him. That night Satha was at the club enjoying himself and imbibing the spirits till the early hours of the morning. He staggered out and was helped into his car by Elmo and a few others. Everybody was sure that the match was doomed! Satha went home, showered, and came onto the crease next morning only to notch yet another brilliant century to help win the match! Coming back to the pavilion, Satha invited Elmo for a celebratory toast!

Elmo, the columnist was allowed by his editors to write at will. He wrote responsibly in his Comment, Sportscope and Legends columns over the years, with first-hand experience, credibility and authority. His editors regarded this as adding to the stature of the sports columns. Though on several occasions controversial and provocative, he played a straight bat and held his ground. The Editors backed him.

As the shadows lengthened in the evening of his journalistic life at the wicket, he should rightfully have felt content that he had earned his place in the pantheon of the country’s illustrious sports writers.

I end with the beginning of the story of Elmo, the record breaker, the purveyor of magical deliveries and the evergreen sports journalist. The record will show he surely bowled many a ‘maiden’ to the confusion and consternation of batsmen with his wily spin and led his teams on and off the field with distinction. But most of all there was one maiden that was etched in his soul –that of Gina nee Anandappa– his beautiful and charming wife of 53 years to whose piano rendition he would often sing the Jim Reeves perennial ‘I love you because…..’

 May the Angels sing him to his well-earned eternal rest.  

M.V. Muhsin


Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.