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Winds behind the willows

An encyclopaediac history on Sl cricket with warts and all
A book review



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A rare photo taken in Colombo (October 1930) of S.P. Foenander, then the Sports Editor of ‘Ceylon Observer’, gifting a replica of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy (Temple of the Tooth) to Don Bradman. Foenander is carrying Australian skipper Bill Woodfull’s son, Jack, in his arms. (Courtesy State Library of South Australia – PRG 682/16/108)


by Mahinda Wijesinghe


 


Almost a century ago, S.P.Foenander, referred internationally as the ‘Wisden of the East’, authored his 268-page classic tome ‘Sixty Years of Ceylon Cricket’ (Ceylon Advertising & General Publicity - 1924). That was the first book which authoritatively enlightened the cricket world about cricket and cricketers between the years 1863 to 1923, in the then fair isle of Ceylon. One must also remember that Foenander, who even rubbed shoulders with the legendary Bradman – see photo below- must have experienced the difficulties at that time in collecting/collating information and statistics and so on in compiling his book. After all, the print media at that time was not developed; TV nor Internet was not even thought of. In short sophisticated communication systems were not even in its infancy. So the accolade of being the pioneer of cricket journalism in Ceylon falls squarely on the shoulders of the late S.P. Foenander.


Today, Ranjan Mellawa, though a senior banker by profession for 25 years, has authored a 464-page (inclusive of pics) meticulously compiled encyclopaedia on our cricket titled ‘Winds behind the Willows’. Foenander, watching from the Elysian fields up yonder with the likes of Neville Cardus, E.W.Swanton, C.L.R. James, Raymond Robertson-Glasgow, A.A. Thompson, Christopher Martin-Jenkins et al adorning the chimerical Cricket journalists’ ‘Hall of Fame’ must be very proud of the work of Sri Lankan Ranjan Mellawa.


Whilst reading his aptly titled ‘work of art’ – more of it later – I was most impressed when he quotes British billionaire Sir Richard Branson and founder of Virgin Airlines: "There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions, in a way that serves the world and you." That statement hits the nail on the head where the author is concerned. No wonder, as the blurb in the front cover of the book states, he has traversed across 11 countries and watched (and may I add, imbibed every second of them) 6 World Cup finals.


The book comprises an index making it for easy reference and a book mark – now hold your breath – attached with "genuine grass trimmings from the hallowed turf at Lord’s cricket ground"! Unbelievable you say? Ask him and he has the answer of how this feat was achieved.


No, he was not a mere flag-waving cricket aficionado. Ranjan having been the secretary of a first-class cricket club in the country not only held positions as director in both commercial and merchant banking institutions in the island but also possesses a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Western Sydney. Wife Champa, referred affectionately as his ‘other woman’, and son Ryan, a graduate from the University of Leicester comprise the family. Champa should be awarded the olive branch for what she may have tolerated at the beginning but later she joined Ranjan in all of her husband’s ‘escapades’! It must indeed have been a Herculean task for the author to have balanced the juggling act of work-cricket-family. Now the family has settled down in Harrow, England.


Innumerable colour photographs add ‘colour’, and detailed accounts of encounters with anecdotes and statistics will satisfy the most exacting. Additionally, references by Charles Dickens in his classic ‘Pickwick Papers’ to an amusing description of a cricket match, and a passing reference to William Wordsworth’s most famous lyrical poem "I wondered lonely as a cloud" is the cream on the cake.


As our most famous and respected Sri Lankan statesman, the late Lakshman Kadirgamer once proudly said: "……….and the cake was baked at home." You can join that one-man club Ranjan – no questions asked.


Legend has it that the creator of the master detective Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in real life clean bowled the legendary Dr.W.G.Grace during a cricket match. Since no reference has been made on that score now I am wondering the veracity of this story!


Of course the author has not failed to record the knavery and the machinations of our so-called cricket administrators over the years. Implied accusations of our players getting handouts in the past from Indian bookies, throws a dark cloud over our cricket. Termed the twin warts of our cricket, Mellawa has placed all of this ever so religiously and in impeccable language to boot for the reader to draw his own conclusions.


‘Winds behind the Willows’ is a book that should be in every national and international cricket lovers’ library just as Foenander’s book written almost a century ago held stage all over the cricketing world..


This is a love story of a man whose memoirs on the game extending over five decades from the age of seven with a plastic bat in hand has culminated in this monumental work of art. This is a book on cricket like no other. I simply cannot say more than that. Thank you Ranjan.


 


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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