‘Big Sam’ was a hard hitter


I was commentating during the historic Richmond-Mahinda big match, popularly known by the Southerners as the ‘Lovers Quarrel’, way back in the 1970s, at the Galle Esplanade. I was highly impressed by a right-handed, lanky, smart batsman.

I was particularly interested in the manner he concentrated and handled the bowlers. He was bubbling with enthusiasm and confidence and was a treat to watch. The beauty of this right-hand batsman was that he even turned good balls into bad balls. He negotiated the bowlers so well.

This brilliant batsman won his Test cap on August 25, 1988 against England. His last Test was against Pakistan on December 12, 1991.

Who was this batsman?

He was Mapitige Athula Rohitha Samarasekera, a six footer, who also bowled medium pacers.

He was born on 5th August 1961. He played for Mahinda College, Galle, with distinction.

His elder brother, Anura Samarasekera was also a first class cricketer.

Samarasekera represented Galle CC, Tamil Union, Colombo Cricket Club (CCC) in the Premier League (Saravanamuttu Trophy) which was considered as the plum of Sri Lanka club cricket, then.

Skanda: Guide and Philosopher of many

He blossomed as a club cricketer at Tamil Union. It was that great gentleman who played for Royal College, University of Ceylon and Tamil Union, who was a ‘God Father’ to many talented cricketers from down South who provided the break and a helping hand to them. He was a philosopher and guide not only to Athula Samarasekera but to many talented cricketers like Upul Sumathipala, Upul Chandana, Gajaba Pitigala etc.

Who is this gentlemanly cricketer?

He is S. Skandakumar. In the 86th Royal-Thomian, he played for Royal under the captaincy of M. H. Macan Markar and in the 87th ‘Battle of the Blues’ he scored a brilliant 62 and was run out. He represented the University of Ceylon, Colombo and Tamil Union with distinction. Skanda is a one of the best internationally reputed cricket commentators in Sri Lanka and I consider him as my favourite and one of the best commentators.

Cricket is a passion for this gentleman. I am fortunate that I had the privileged of commentating with Skanda. He was the Chairman/Managing Director at George Stuarts, one of the leading mercantile firms in Sri Lanka. He served as the Secretary of the Board of Control of for Cricket in Sri Lanka.

He is a man of honesty and integrity. His president was another great gentleman and a past Thomian captain, Sri Lanka and Cambridge cricketer P. Ian Pieris. They were great cricket administrators.

Athula shines at Lord’s

The greatest achievement for any cricketer is to represent his country and to play at Lord’s. This historic ground is the Mecca of cricket.

In 1988, Samarasekera, in the Test match against England, scored a brilliant half century in the second innings. I described the run of play from the commentary box at Lord’s.

Samarasekera, who played some commanding innings, was an imposing figure. He played in only in four four Test matches, scored 118 runs, with a top score of 57 at Lord’s.

As a bowler, Samarasekera delivered 192 balls and captured three wickets in his career.

He played 39 ODIs between 1983-1994 and made 844 runs with a top score of 76 against Pakistan at Multan, Pakistan. He bowled 338 balls and did not capture a wicket.

In Tests, he held three catches and in one day internationals, accounted for five catches.

Multan knock was splendid

Samarasekera was a powerful striker of the ball. He possessed a sound technique. It was a treat to watch him in full cry. He provided maximum entertainment with his aggressive style. I was fortunate to witness and commentate on his highest Test score of 57 at Lord’s and his brilliant inning of 76, partnering Marvan Atapattu at Multan in Pakistan.

Samarasekera was never able to fully establish a permanent position in the Sri Lanka team. Therefore, he chose to end his international cricket career and took up to professional coaching. He first coached in Bangladesh.

His first ODI was against Pakistan on 9 June 1983 and the last was on April 18, 1994, in New Zealand.

He currently lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his family. He is married to Thilani. They are blessed with two sons, Sikhi and Seth and a daughter, Seenai. Samarasekera is a resident of Hampton Park, Melbourne, and helps cricketers from Sri Lanka. He works as a coach for Canon Sports and coaches young cricketers in the art of batting and bowling.

In 57 first class matches, Samarasekera scored 1470 runs, with a personal best of 111. He captured 20 wickets, for 656 runs, in 137.4 overs.

Athula Samarasekera’s swansong was the Australia Cup match against New Zealand in 1993-1994.

He was a fine cricketer and an ornament to Sri Lanka cricket.

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