Sports

Oldest Thomian Cricketer late Punchi Banda (Artie) Lankatilleke - JP

Fondly known to friends as Artie, this grand old man of Uva passed away peacefully on 24th April just 97 days short of his 100th birthday. He was born in Badulla on 30/07/1903 to Mr. John Christopher Lankatilleke R. M. (Rate Mahaththaya) of Uva Wellassa and his Kumarihamy, Mrs. Jane Rosalind Weerakoone Dissanayake. At that time the family lived in his mother’s Walauwa at Mahilagastenne in Badulla. This is situated in Hela Mawatha, which is over 150 years old and could be seen todate.

He had two younger brothers. They were Malala and Kuda Lankatilleke who lived in Bandarawela and pre-deceased him a few years back. He also had three sisters. Gunaseeli who pre-deceased him whilst Senehalatha Palipane 86 years and Iranganie Ratnayake 79 years who are still living in Kandy. Artie grew up in this Walauwa until he was sent by his farsighted parents to the boarding of S. Thomas’ College in Mutwal during the time of the famous Warden Rev. Stone. At that time the school was situated in Mutuwal where the present Gal-palliya is located.

The school was shifted to Mount Lavinia due to the coal dust of ships getting blown over the Harbour and staining the uniforms of the schools boys. Artie was amongst the first batch of boys who came over to Mount Lavinia, where the present school is located. He used to say that at that time the class rooms had Cadjan Roofs until of course the present main block of class rooms were built to accommodate most of the class rooms. It is in these class rooms and the Boarding House that Artie became a disciplined man.

He was a sportsman par excellence having played for the 1st Eleven Cricket Team when he was only 16 years. As he was of small built he was not allowed to wear longs by the Warden to play in the first big match whilst all the others played in long flannel trousers. He played in 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1923 and captained in 1923. When he was first selected to play in the 1st XI Cricket Team of S. Thomas’ College, the Morning Leader newspapers had the following headlines of him "Veddha boy plays for S. Thomas’ ". This was because his father was the R. M. of Uva Wellassa where there were many Veddhas at that time. Much later when he was asked about this headline in the newspapers he always chuckled with pride to say that his father was the Chief Government Official in that area and hence he hailed from this part of the country. His parents too had come all the way from Uva to witness the match.

It is recalled by the older family members still living that the great Warden Rev. Stone always used to tell Artie’s parents that Artie was a well brought up and a disciplined child. This could well be the reason why he was able to captain the cricket team of this prestigious school. He was a true sportsman to the fingertips. It is said, that in the year the Thomians lost in 1923, he as the Captain had made a fine sporting gesture at the cost of loosing the match to their arch rival the Royalists.

On the final day of play the Umpires had stopped play when the Royalists were batting due to bad light in the last few overs of the match. The Royal captain had gone and complained to the Umpires and to their Team’s Coach about stopping the Match due to bad light. Then they had said that the Umpires decision was final unless of course he went and appealed to the Thomian Captain who was Artie Lankatilleke and only he could request the Umpires to continue with play. In desperation the Royal Captain had gone up to Artie and appealed to him to give his consent to play just one or two overs and to everyone’s surprise, Artie being the fine sportsman he was had agreed to continue playing and the Royalists had got the few runs they needed in that over and the Thomians lost match. The next day’s headlines had something like this" Royalists win the Match but the Thomians win the game of Cricket". All the English papers had paid a glowing tribute to Artie’s magnificent sporting gesture. It is said that he was so proud of this gesture although he lost the match and he always use to say that modern day cricket had lost true sportsmanship because all crickerters now put winning the match at any cost above the game of cricket itself. His Coach was firstly Mr. Edwards Navaratnam and later Mr. Leonard Arndt who was captain of S. Thomas’ in 1906. He also played Football and Tennis for the school and he continued playing Tennis with his brother-in-law Mr. Karaliadde at the Tennis Club of Badulla.

After leaving school, he joined the Government Service and was attached to Badulla Kachcheri as a junior Officer and continued working in his home town until he retired. He coached the Uva College Cricket Team in Badulla.

He married Ms. Sittamma Wanduragala of Wanduragala in Kurunegala whose brothers were Fisher, Earnest, John and Richard Ceaser Wanduragala. Most of his brothers’ in-law played cricket for S. Thomas’ College notably Mr. Earnest Wanduragala who according to the history of this game is easily the best Thomian cricketer in the 124 year series of the Big Match. He captained in 1910, 1911, 1912 and excelled in bowling having taken 7 for 34 and 7 for 42 in 1907, 6 for 32 in 1908 and 5 for 17 in 1911 at the respective Big Matches.

He had a match haul of 14 wickets for 76 runs in 1907. This feat is second only to the 14 wickets haul for 35 runs taken by 1906 Thomian Captain L. Arndt who later coached Mr. Artie Lankatillele.

Unfortunately, the matrimonial union of these two great cricketing families did not bless Artie and Sittamma with a son to continue with the Cricket tradition. As Artie says all his sons were Daughters!. Atrie had 6 beautiful daughters namely Ms. Chandrani, Malkanthi, Umanga, Amitha, Vinitha and Indrani.

In 1983, when Artie celebrated his 90th birthday the Daily News - Sports Extra had an article under the caption. "Led Thomian 60 years ago" and the first paragraph of this article had this to say about him "Every year in March, a diminutive, silver haired gentleman gets into the night-mail at the Bandarawela railway station and begins his journey to Colombo. He settles down in his seat, adjusts his muffler, and with almost boyish enthusiasm, looks forward to the Royal Thomian match that he is going to witness. He has reason to be excited for he is 80 years old, and has played for S. Thomas’ for four years and was captain, in 1923, sixty years ago."

In the early years he used to take his wife and daughters too to witness the Royal Thomian Cricket Match. In the 1950’s he took with him his niece Ms. Lalitha Karalliadde too to witness the match. Lalitha later became a Journalist for Lake House and used to write about Artie during the Big Match season.

Lalitha Witanachchi still recalls Artie taking his wife Sittamma for one of the important Royal - Thomian Cricket encounters by himself pushing her wheel-chair. Some of the daughters and grand sons too used to accompany him for the matches. In 2001 he witnessed the match accompanied by his grand son Milindha Morahela and great grand son Helaka Morahela.

Artie used to always stress on the Thomian Grit and what it is to play Cricket! this Gentleman’s Game. He had his ups and downs but he had great sustaining power largely due to the in built Thomian Grit he had cultivated whilst playing Cricket for the school.

His grand-son Ajith Abeygoonewardena a former office bearer of the BCCSL who was Vice Captain under Ranil Abeyanaike also played for the 1st Eleven Cricket Team in 1973. His other Grand-son Milindha Morahela was only able to play upto 2nd Eleven Cricket and was Head Prefect in 1979. Two other grand-sons Chandika and Modhika Siriwardena too were at S. Thomas’ College whilst at present his great grandson Helaka Morahela is in the school in the Upper 3rd class.

When the school celebrated 150 years Artie was invited to declare open the Schools Heritage Museum and was a speaker representing his age-group at the Special General Assembly to mark this important milestone in the history of this school. He donated to the Heritage Museum a Trophy awarded to him in 1923 for his batting performance at this Rayal - Thomian match. After this match he was the recipient of six other Prizes/Trophies for his excellent all-round performance as captain of this match.

He lived a peaceful life. Walking at least 5-6 miles a day was the secret to his longevity. After his wife fell ill and was permanently residing in Colombo Artie lived in his Walauwwa in Bandarawela all by himself most of the time. It should be stated that as an incentive for him to walk upto the Bandarawela Town from his home in Kebillawela North, he had given standing instructions to the Postman not to bring his mail to his door step, but that he would come every morning to the Bandarawela Post Office to collect his own mail. Then he bought his morning newspapers without which he was a lost man. Later on during the last two to three years of his life spent with his daughter Vinitha Bandaranayake he used to get very angry if the daily papers did not reach his hands on time. He use to say what was the purpose of reading the Daily Newspapers in the afternoon. He loved his black cigars and the occasional Brandy or Scotch. He use to smoke his black cigars until a couple of days before he died.

He was a devout Buddhist and use to always listen to Maithree Chintha Bana every morning. The pocket radio was always at his bed side. He always wore the wristwatch until his last day. Time was very important to him. He does not believe in wasting food. He always said: ''A clean plate is a clean mind'' and " waste not want not".

With his demise, the family has been dis-connected with one generation and he will be sadly missed by his surviving daughters, grand children and great grandchildren and at lest one great grandchild!

S. Thomas’ College and Cricket meant a lot for him and in cricketing parlance, how wonderful it would have been had he held his bat through his 100th Birthday which was just around the corner.

In a fitting tribute to this great cricketer, the Pall Bearers of his cortege led by the present Thomian Cricketers were Old Thomian Captains Ms. Mevan Peiris and Bertie Wijesinghe. Mr. Patchy Bulankulame under whose father (Mr. P. B. Bulankulame), Artie first played for S. Thomas’ in 1920 and distinguish Old Thomian Mr. Ashley De Voz . The other Pall Bearer was Mr. Harshana Perera the present Sub-Warden of the school who represented the schools at his funeral as the Warden Mr. David Ponniah was away in UK.

Cricket is an uncertain game ! So is our lives ! However, Artie lived a full life and adviced those of us who were close to him to always play with a Straight Bat as he had played throughout his long life - span of almost 100 years!.

May he attain Nibbana! (M.M)


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