Daya Sahabandu A great bowler

by Premasara Epasinghe

After the unofficial Test match between Sri Lanka and England, I had the good fortune of meeting the English team at a reception, hosted by the Board of Control for Cricket, Sri Lanka, at a leading hotel in Colombo.

I had a friendly chat with the century maker, Tom Graveney, one of the outstanding batsmen in the world, during that era.

In our discussion, a remark this brilliant batsman made is still etched in my mind.

Graveney’s Test Record clearly indicates what a brilliant bating artist he was.

He played in 79 tests, unbeaten in 13 innings of 123, amassed 4,882 runs at an average of 44.38, with a top score of 258.

I still remember the glowing tribute he paid to Sri Lanka’s dual purpose bowler - Daya Sahabandu.

"That man, the pencil slim Daya Sahabandu, is a fantastic bowler. I can tell you frankly in my 26 year career upto 1969, he is the best left arm bowler I faced. He varies the ball beautifully; turns sharply. On the Oval wicket, he is the only bowler who troubled me. To face him a batsman must possess loads of concentration. If he was born in England, he should have played for us. I wish him good luck for this unassuming friendly character. He is a disciplined bowler."

Daya Sahabandu was the first and the third Asian in cricket history to surpass the four-figure magical mark of 1,000 wickets. Daya’s Division One Club Cricket record was amazing and unbelievable 19 and a half seasons, 253 matches, 6,552.1 overs, 1,919 maidens, given away 14,787 runs, captured 1,048 wickets at an average of 14.11.

The other two Asian bowlers to pass the 1,000 wicket mark were India’s Bishen Singh Bedi and Pakistan’s Intikab Alam.

Daya Sahabandu was born on March 28, 1940.to Vincent Saunders Sahabandu and Amita Mendis Gunasekera. His father was attached to the Education Office, Western Province, Colombo. They were living at Charlemont Road, Wellawatta. Daya Sahabandu’s brother is Sasita Sahabandu (S. S. Sahabandu), PC. They studied at Royal College, Colombo.

He started playing cricket in their back garden with his brother Sasita. His brother was 10-years-old and Daya was about six at that time. Elder brother, Sasita, dominated in batting and Daya was doing the bowling all the time.

This marked the launch of his cricket career.

Daya Sahabandu joined Royal College Primary in 1945 and entered Royal College in 1951. The late J. C. A. Corea and Dudley De Silva were the principals during this period.

Viji Weerasinghe

His first teacher at Royal College was the legendary ‘Disapamok of Royal’ Viji Weerasinghe, a great teacher, who was an ornament or a ‘Kohinoor’ (the most precious diamond) to the teaching profession. He was part and parcel of this great educational institute. He produced thousands of Royalist who became productive citizens.

As a past teacher at Nalanda College, I feel sad that these types of dedicated and committed teachers are a very rare breed today. Daya Sahabandu came under his wing. He was a teacher, guide and philosopher to Daya. As a brilliant educationist, he noted Daya’s potential.

Daya Sahabandu started playing cricket at Royal Primary as a tiny tot in 1949, as an opening bowler. His first coach was Edward. When he graduated to Royal College, he was coached by B. S. E. de Bruin. He spotted Daya’s talent as a left arm bowler. Daya represented Royal College from 1958 to 1960.

In his first Royal-Thomian in 1958, he had a match bag of 5 for 78. He captured the wickets of Dr. L. R. Amarasekera, M. F. Sproule, (a leading lawyer) and Dr. M. L. Idroos in the first innings and N. S. Gurusinghe and Michael Tissera in the second innings.

In the 1959 Royal-Thomian, he captured the wicket of Nihal Gurusinghe (Dr. Nihal Gurusinghe) after he scored 69 runs for the Thomians and in 1960, he opened the bowling with Lalith Senanayake and captured four wickets for 46 runs.

After leaving Royal College, he joined the Colombo Municipality as a ground instructor and served from 1963-1977. In 1977, he joined the Maharaja Organisation.

In 1963, he started his club cricket career. He was fortunate that he played under D. H. de Silva for Nomads. It was under Stanley Jayasinghe’s watchful eyes that Daya made a name as a fine left arm leg-spinner.

Daya Sahabandu won his ‘Ceylon Cap’ in 1969 when he played against Colin Cowdrey’s England team.

I presume, although he was one of the best left-arm leg-spinners produced in Sri Lanka, his most cherished moment in his cricket career must be that batting prowess he showed against India at Hyderabad in 1975.

Sri Lanka were five down for 195, and on the fourth day, Daya Sahabandu batted for four and a half hours and made an unbeaten 32. If my memory serves me right, Daya Sahabandu and Tony Opatha were associated in a seventh wicket stand of 75 runs. He faced some of the best spinners in the world, such as B. Chandrasekhar, Bishen Singh Bedi and Erapali Prasanna. He played the innings, not for the sake of fame, but for the team and country.

He represented Sri Lanka from 1969 to 1975.

Daya Sahabandu’s contribution to Sri Lanka cricket was enormous.

During that era, he was undoubtedly the best left-arm leg-spinner. The unassuming Daya Sahabandu was a great team man. He always put country before self.

Alfred Hitchcock Thriller

Daya Sahabandu was a player of guts and determination.

My memory goes back to 1958, to the Nalanda-Royal Inter School match played at Royal College grounds.

It was one of the most thrilling matches that I have witnessed. It was like a Hitchcock film. As I played in the champion Nalanda First XI team in 1957 as a wicketkeeper/opening batsmen and I was out of school, I went to see how my team-mates were faring.

Royal were set a target of 140 runs to get, in 75 minutes. They accepted the challenge and were cruising at 123 for 4 wickets, with 15 minutes to spare. At this stage, Mahwatta Premaratne, skipper of Nalanda, struck.

Four wickets in four successive balls – Premaratne’s magic

His sensational bowling spell of 4 wickets in 4 successive balls almost turned a Royal victory into defeat. Premaratne turned tables on Royal when they were in sight of victory. The scoreboard read 123 for 8. Added to Royal woes, in an excitement and a terrible mix up, Vithanage was run out.

With 15 vital minutes to go, Daya Sahabandu joined Mahinda Wijesinghe as the last man. With some correct, defensive batting, the two of them held the innings together and Royal forced a draw.

All beautiful boys

It must be mentioned here that both Royal and Nalanda played their cricket hard, but in the best of spirits and maintained sportsmanship at the highest level. Although we played for two schools, we were always best of fiends.

I still remember, to name a few, the Sarath and Rangit Samarasinghe brothers, Lorensz Pereira, Lalith and Nenda Senanayake brothers, Michael Willie, Ben Eliyathamby, N. J. de S. De Mel and Dr. Harsha Samaraweera Thavaneetharaja. (Incidently, I opened with ‘Thavam’ for the Dept. of Education in 1968). They are ‘All Beautiful Boys’.

Daya Sahabandu played only in one ODI match against England on January 25, 1969. The two rival captains were Michael Tissera and Colin Cowdrey. England scored 236 in 60 overs. Daya Sahabandu’s bowling figures were 12-4-35-0. All Ceylon 234 for 7 in 50 overs. All Ceylon were declared winners on the run rate.

He also played six unofficial ‘Tests’.

He excelled in the Gopalan Trophy matches. Daya Sahabandu collected a match bag of 11 wickets.

In other matches played for the Board Presidents XI against visiting teams, he excelled. Against the State Bank of India, he had a match bag of 7 for 77.

In a drawn game against Ajit Wadekar’s XI, played at CCC, in 1975, Daya Sahabandu had a match bag of 8 for 112.

After retiring from the game, he coached St. Joseph’s College, Maradana, and Royal Second XI teams.

In 1983, Daya married Swarna Kulasekera, a housewife who is a tower of inspiration for him. They are blessed with a son, Janaka Suraj Sahabandu, who is a banker, attached to Hatton National Bank.

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