A Giant Gesture by a Small Man — A Big Match Story

This was written for the Nation in lieu of Kingswood’s Big Match against Dharmaraja, in 2012. It was carried among several other “Big Match stories” that had been submitted by numerous writers from different school backgrounds. The story relates to Kingswood’s skipper of 2004 and a small gesture that has made this little fellow a name to remember.

 

It is the season where everyone has his or her Big Match story to tell. The story I have to relate happens in 2004, during that year’s traditional Big Match between Kandy’s Kingswood and Dharmaraja: the island’s third oldest contest of the sort, then, 98 years old. This year, Kingswood (who last won the series in 1958, and who lost last year to break a 30-year-run of draws) is set to take on Dharmaraja at Pallekele in their 106th encounter. A little story would help the sporting spirits of both sides.

During my stay, Kingswood was seldom known for its cricket, but more as a ‘competent’ side that could play out a game for a respectable draw. The 2004 team was lead by Samudu Wijesinghe and the team, in comparison to the previous year, was fresh and young. Only three of the previous year’s (senior) players were eligible to stay; and even they were mostly the ‘less used’ players of the year before. There was also much talk among the boys that there was an element of dissent within the team on Samudu’s being captain. Being an average middle-order bat and an innocuous off-break bowler, Samudu’s ability to lead from the front was amply questioned by his critics. A season without much event – largely drawn out – then, climaxed with the Big Match.

Kingswood XI, 2004. Samudu Wijesinghe is on the right of Principal Chandrasekara
Kingswood XI, 2004. Samudu Wijesinghe is on the right of Principal Chandrasekara

The Dharmaraja XI of that year boasted of several dashing fellows; chief among them being a gentleman called Chamara Kapugedara, who was all set to complete 1000 runs for the season. His name had been bloated by sports writers all season along, and part of our concern that year was to see who this ballooned cricketer was in the first place. The match, to say the least, was heading for a tame draw on the second evening – which, as we knew, was the main intention right from the beginning. Kapugedara scores a stylish half-century in the first innings which the Rajans dominate. With minutes to stumps on the last day, with no more than a maximum of two overs possible, to the surprise of the gathered, Dharmaraja walks out for their second inning. Kapugedara – with a season’s aggregate of 988 runs – is sent up the order to try and knock off 12 runs in the allowed space.

From what is later discovered – and that, too, through dressing room leakage – the Kingswood skipper and the team had decided to ‘allow’ Kapugedara an aim at the rare milestone. It is seldom the case where a team would come out to play for two overs in a game that is already destined to be drawn. But, Samudu had already decided to send down two overs with (what a fellow who had been to the match that day called) “a funny field setting with open gaps in the in field”. Kapugedara, in fact, nicks one behind to the Kingswood stumper Minimuthu Dissanayake; but, giving a rare twist to the adage ‘it is just not Cricket’ Samudu’s men do not appeal for the catch. Years later, Minimuthu tells me how he watched from behind as Kapugedara stylishly follows up with three boundaries, to gallop past the 1000 run mark.

The decision taken by Samudu and his team to ‘facilitate’ the curl of the Rajan batting, today, gets circulated in several versions. Each myth has its own story, but what is concrete about this ‘unsung moment’ is that the Kingswood skipper’s upholding of the laurels of gamesmanship; thus recording in the pages of cricketing history a moral for all to celebrate. Though the stadium was baffled that evening under fading light, the dressing room testifies that Samudu’s was a conscious strategy. What is more important is that all that season Samudu was an under-pressure skipper, whose abilities were questioned. And here he was, staking everything and taking an initiative in the realisation of any schoolboy cricketer’s dream.

It is the 1000 runs in that season of 2004 which first brings Chamara Kapugedara to the national limelight. This achievement, and based on yet another string of high scores the following year, earns Kapugedara an early national berth. The fact that he has not been able to live up to his early potential at the national front is unfortunate enough. Over the past six years or so, Kapugedara has been in and out of the national side; winning the hearts of an extended audience and fan base.

The last we hear of Samudu Wijesinghe the cricketer is, a week after the ‘act of sport’, when he leads Kingswood to an unlikely win in the limited over game. This, too, is a thrilling win through a classic fight back: a win by a solitary run. Samudu has since settled to a more assured life in the field of Insurance and like a true artiste has not bothered to clarify the ambiguity of this whole episode. His cricket team – hardly a match winning XI –, however, has given each and everyone of those who believe in his ‘sportsmanship’ a moral in goodwill to be shared with their kids for the rest of their lifetime.

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