Cricket coach Jansz honoured

jansz.jpg (15069 bytes)by Ravi Nagahawatte
The name Noel Jansz might not ring a bell in many cricket enthusiasts for he is only a coach. But the name is familiar in Wattala among cricketers and followers of the game. He was the coach of St.Anthony’s College Wattala for 18 long years where he offered his services in an honorary capacity. He produced many outstanding cricketers. But like some dedicated coaches he had only memorable moments to savour in the sport as his coaching didn’t bring him big money. On May 3 his beloved students felicitated him at a special function. Noel looks at this function as the best gift cricket has given him. The 71-year-old in an interview with ‘ The Island’ revealed some interesting moments and milestones in his coaching career which spanned 25 long years.

Noel had been a product of the De La Salle brothers, a group of Catholic Brothers who dedicate themselves in providing education. He had his initial education at St.Benedict’s College and had a stint at De Mazenod College before joining St.Anthony’s College. At St.Anthony’s his interest in cricket grew like uncut grass. Fair play aroused his interest more than winning or losing. He had the honour of captaining the school’s First XI team and remembered inviting a batsman of the opposite team to bat again as he thought that the umpire’s decision had gone against the him. "The batsman was on 49 and I thought it was only fair to call him back with the umpire’s consent of course, so that he could make his half century. The batsman went on to get his half century. Our opponents were St.Benedict’s and their master-in-charge in return gave his consent for the match to continue well past the closing time. St.Anthony’s won that match," reminisced Janz. The veteran coach has always promoted sportsmanship, a rare thing today. He remembered one of his students signalling a six after everyone thought that the fielder had taken a spectacular catch. The fielder had in fact taken the catch and later fallen, trampling the rope in the process. Noel had an illustrious career at St.Anthony’s Wattala where he was also the head prefect of the school. He had many accomplishments in the field of cricket. One incident which is still fresh in his memory is the day he became the first Anthonian to score a century on the school’s ground.

Leaving school Noel joined Saracens SC and continued his cricket. One day nine old boys of St.Anthony’s College came to his house and suggested that a club be formed so that ex-Anthonians could have their own place for recreation. The Old Anthonian’s Sports Club was formed in 1957. As Noel recalled, the club was funded by the late Justin Fernando and Ivor Patternot. Noel always believes that the players who cannot find places in a reputed club should go and play for lesser known club without idling. Many years later when Noel was seriously involved in coaching there came an occasion where one of his students started a club in the same vicinity. Noel saw to it that the excess players that Old Anthonian’s had crossed over to this new club. This change of clubs by players was supervised by Noel who made sure that the old club retained only one out of two players who were equal in their abilities. That new club was Wattala CC.

Noel was invited to coach his school team in 1979. He took over the reins from Brother Placidus. He had the desire to give some thing back to the school. When money was offered for his services it embarrassed him. Noel worked as an executive at Glaxo Pvt Limited and it is said that he spent most of his earnings on his coaching classes. As Noel explains the players showed results and as time went on many wanted to know the secret behind his success. "I made sure that the players were disciplined and there was no interference from parents," is how Noel spelt out his formula for success. As he made a name for himself he had to experience an old saying, ‘success breeds hatred’. Losing a match was no big deal for him. But he never tolerated bad behaviour from his students. Noel recalled an incident where his blood once boiled on seeing one of his students show displeasure over an umpire’s decision. "The boy thought that the umpire’s decision went in favour of the fielding side and when he was returning to the pavilion he stopped and stared at the umpire. I just couldn’t tolerate this kind of behaviour from a kid. I jumped on to the field, caught the student by the neck, took him to the umpire and made him apologise," recalled Noel. He never kept a grudge in his mind. One day his students were missing too many catches at a match. On making inquiries he found out that the boys had had a late night the day before the match. An angry Noel had written a letter to the players which said he was leaving the grounds. Noel had gone home but he remembered to take with him some short eats as he knew that the boys would come home in the evening to make an apology for their ‘sins’. As expected the players arrived with the two umpires accompanying them. "I sent the boys up to the roof garden in my house and chatted to the umpires. Later I offered the boys the short eats but none were willing to eat till they apologised to me for what had happened. I said nothing of that was in my mind as it was in the past. The boys ate only after they apologised," said Noel.

St.Anthony’s had many successful years under the guidance of Noel. The team was always rated amongst the top eight schools in the island during this period. Noel is credited with having coached three national cricketers out of whom, one is the present Sri Lankan fast bowler Chaminda Vaas. The other two national products of Noel were Manjula Munasinghe and Upul Fernando (Sri Lanka U-19). As Noel explained he had given Vaas his blessings when the opportunity came for the left arm seamer’s way to join St.Joseph’s College. "The Rector of St.Joseph’s was once the chief guest at an awards ceremony at St.Anthony’s. Chaminda Vaas came up for many awards that night. The Rector was so impressed by the lads achievements that he gave an invitation to Vaas to join St.Joseph’s. I gave my blessings to him as I knew he would be presented with better facilities to play cricket at his new school," said Noel. As the years passed by Vaas turned out to be one of the best fast bowlers the country owned. Vaas was under the tutelage of Noel for only two years but he always spoke about it. Once Noel had gone to the SSC Grounds to see Vaas who was practising with the national team. Vaas had introduced his former guru to Dav Whatmore, the whole episode making Noel embarrassed. Later Vaas had told him that he had made a change to his bowling action and had asked him what he thought of it. "I said this to Ranjith Fernando and he said Vaas had all the right to do so as I was at one time his guru. I viewed his action and said "perfect putha perfect". What more could I have said," said Noel.

The felicitation ceremony took place at Hirantha Perera’s (Once a promising student of his) house in Wattala. Someone had counted 102 cars at the occasion. He was presented with an album, two souvenir bats and a cash award.