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A. C. M. Lafir
– One of Sri Lanka’s finest openers

Opening an innings is not much of a tonic for tingling nerves. The opener feels like a soldier just before bullets begin to fly. He is like an actor, waiting for the curtain to rise. No matter how experienced he is, no matter how calm and cool he is, there are always a few butterflies fluttering in the stomach.

As an opening batsmen for more than two and half decades, I must frankly state, the opening batsman’s slot is the most difficult and exciting experience that any cricketer can face. It is a big challenge.

Imagine, you are entering into an environment for the first time to face lightening deliveries, which you have not seen or experienced before. Usually, cricket coaches entrust that job mostly to a technically correct batsman. It is a very important position. If you provide a sound start, the team will be high in spirit and will be confident about building a solid innings. Therefore, the role of the opener is very vital.

The opener must get his team off to a good start. It is remarkable how many times batting collapses will follow the failure of one or both openers.

There are ‘Musts’ for an opener - you must adjust to the weather - primarily, wind and light. Wind is so important because, one of the fast bowler’s principal weapons will be his ability to swing the new ball. The opening batsman, therefore, will need to know what sort of swing he is facing. Light is not so complicated. There is one more factor to attend to, before taking strike, the placing of the field.

Some of the finest openers that I have seen who represented Ceylon at the highest level are Makin Salih, Ronald Ried and my opening partner, Sarath Silva, to name a few out of many.

Of them all, A. C. M. Lafir was one of the best in the mid 1950s, who represented Ceylon.

I can still remember as a young school boy, how I spoke to him and how he signed my autograph at the Colombo Oval. He proudly wore the Antonian blazer. I presume, he was the greatest batsman produced by St. Anthony’s, Katugastota after the legendary Jack Anderson of early 1920s. Abdul Lafir was considered one of the finest stylists, technically sound opening batsmen produced by Sri Lanka.

Like Geoff Boycott, he, Lafir, was a grafter. He made a lot of runs between 1953 and 1970.

A. C. M. Lafir was born December 27, 1935. As a tiny tot, he played tennis ball cricket at Sri Rahula College, Katugastota ground. The school children in the neighbourhood played cricket here. Two outstanding Antonians - Ronnie Stevens and Tom Deen, also had their baptism here.

In 1948, he joined St. Anthony’s College Katugastota, when the late Rev. Father D. A. Rosati OSB, an Italian priest was the head of the school. Father Rosati was a brilliant educationist who made St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota, a leading educational institution in the island, at that time.

It was the legendary coach of St. Anthony’s College Katugastota, the late John Halangoda, who spotted the talent of A. C. M. Lafir.

Abdul Lafir, step by step, from junior level graduated to the senior level at St. Anthony’s. He outshone the great Antonian who held centre-stage, Jack Anderson (1917/1918) who came to fame scoring 291 n.o. against S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia.

The legendary coach, Master-in-Charge of cricket at S. Thomas’ College, the late ‘Lessie’ once related to me an interesting anecdote regarding Jack Anderson’s 291 not out.

R. S. De Saram, who was the opening bowler for the school near the sea, who represented the college from 1915 to 1917, later became the Warden of S. Thomas.

One day, one of his team-mates in the 1917, S. Thomas’ College First XI, in later years met him, to admit his grandson to college. This gentleman entering the warden’s chamber asked:

"Canon, can you remember me?"

Witty as ever, the great educationist, Canon De Saram remarked,

"how can I forget you? You are the one who helped Jack Anderson to score that magical 291 n.o., as you dropped a ‘sitter’ at mid off before he scored his first run."

As a schoolboy cricketer, Jack Anderson averaged 100 in 1918. In 1954, Lafir averaged 106 runs, scoring five centuries. Unfortunately, the great Anderson never got the opportunity of representing Ceylon. I presume that A. C. M. Lafir was the first Antonian cricketer to win Sri Lanka cricket colours. As a schoolboy, he scored more than 1000 runs in a season.

Abdul Lafir played six years and captained St. Anthony’s College in 1954. He had the rare privilege of captaining a leading Catholic school. Lafir later played for Saracens and Nomads with distinction.

He came into the limelight as a schoolboy at the age of 18, when he and his partner Ronald Stevens produced a sparkling record stand of 276 runs for the first wicket against their arch-rivals, Trinity College, in the ‘Big Match’. Lafir’s personal contribution was 184. His partner Ronnie Stevens scored a century.

During the centenary year, 1954, some of the brilliant students who shone academically also played cricket for St. Anthony’s College. Professor A. H. Sherifdeen, reputed surgeon played for the First XI from 1955 to 1957. In 1957, Professor Sherifdeen played under the late Ranjit Doranagama. Incidentally, Nalanda played St. Anthony’s for the first tine in 1957 and it was my debut for Nalanda as opener cum wicket-keeper. My rival wicket keeper was the late Anton Rambukpotha.

Abdul Lafir was selected to play for Ceylon in 1962 against the Englishmen. The England side included the legendary Sir Len Hutton. Two of the world’s fastest bowlers - Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson, and Brian Statham opened the bowling. He scored a patient 27 runs.

Reputed cricket commentator, the late Maurice Perera joined the staff of St. Anthony’s College, after graduating from the University of Ceylon. This kind-hearted teacher, a great disciplinarian, was in charge of this champion outfit of 1954 as the Master-in-Charge of Cricket and Prefect of Games. He coached Lafir and the team.

The late Maurice Perera, brother of the late Anton Perera, represented the University of Ceylon in 1947-1949 and played with such eminent personalities like T. B., Werapitiya, S. J. Thambiah, Malcolm Wright, Bradman and Ronnie Weerakoon brothers and Rudra Rajasingham etc. He was a very senior reputed English commentator.

On February 16, 1962, he scored 84 runs against the MCC team captained by Ted Dexter. When he walked into bat, Ceylon were three down for 36 runs, with Abu Fuard (9), Lasantha Rodrigo (8), Stanley Jayasinghe (1). He faced B. Knight, A. Brown, T. Dexter, T. Lock, D. A. Allen and R. W. Barber.

In 1957, he joined the Department of Police. It was a short story. Then he joined Lever Brothers. Later, he worked in the Middle East for a couple of years.

Later he qualified as a coach. He had a stint, coaching in Australia. Two of his best products were Asanka Gurusinghe and Roshan Mahanama.

Abdul is married to Carmini, an English teacher. She is the wind behind his wings. They are blessed with three children, namely Aashiq, Nirala and Mehera.

Unassuming Abdul is a fine human being and a thorough gentleman!

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