Memoirs of the Bradby Shield-When Ravi Bala’s Trinitians Ran Away With The Shield

We pride ourselves in having delivered that unbeaten season for Trinity – Ravi Balasuriya

“The day before the Bradby, we used to come and stay at Royal. There was a diehard Royal supporter called ‘Kadalaya.’ Anyone from the older eras knows him. That year the Royal team refused take him in their bus. This guy came to me and asked whether we can give him a lift to the ground. Without hesitation, I asked him to get on. We took him to CR and he was so grateful that he cheered Trinity that day.”

The last creature, Trinity led by the Rugby Lion Ravi Balasuriya pictured to be on their side before their defence of the six point lead gained from the first leg at Kandy would have been, the guy they gave a lift. Such was the magnanimous gesture; even he began rooting for them.

As Ii visit his company Delmon Holdings at Colpetty where he’s the chairman, Balasuriya welcomes me in the most hospitable way. While I was expecting to sweep the dust from those memories dating more than 35 years, the head start of him assures me that it needs no dusting of any sort. It is entrenched.

“There were only three coloursman. Last year Royal thrashed us and they were gifted with nine couloursman in 1977 too. So normally we were expected to be beaten again. But although we had 12 freshers, we were a very determined side. For example at the beginning of the season, we didn’t even have a coach. They got rid of Berti Dias, and the new coach was to be overseas for the first two matches and I coached the side.”

Trinity had lost the Bradby for two consecutive years and if not for the golden year of 1977, the shield could have been unfamiliar for Kandy for Royal relinquished it again only in 1981. The sequence was too much and someone had to step up.

If Trinity had lost in 1977, that would have been a record in Royal’s history. “We were united. We never had that junior, senior boundary. Those days it was a common thing that the freshers bring a pack of chocolates. That was kind of like a practice at Trinity. In my year we changed that. After a match we used to have a get together, it could be a thosai feed, a cup of tea whatever, we were so together. So much so that when the Muslim guys in the side went to mosque on Friday, we followed them. When I was selected for the Sri Lankan pool, the practices were in Colombo. At least five members accompanied me.”

After planting the side’s motivation as the biggest factor for the success inside me, while changing the addressing from my first name to ‘putha’, he delves into the support given to the team by the principal. “Irrespective of what people would say, I was blessed to have the best principal (Lionel Fernando) any rugby captain would have wanted. When he appointed me in 1977, he was to leave school at the end of that season. At Trinity, behind the principal’s table you have a huge cupboard where all the trophies are kept and the centre is for the Bradby. During the assembly, he called me-he used to call me ‘Bala’-and said ‘Bala, I’m leaving Trinity this year. When I arrived, the Bradby Shield was behind my head. Somehow make sure it is returned when I leave.’

That was motivation. The encouragement weren’t only in expressed terms either. “Before the first leg, he put all of us in a Bungalow in College. And he said ‘breakfast, lunch, dinner in school. Have the team united.’ And for the second leg, we came to Colombo on Tuesday with couple of old boys and we trained. We knew we had to acclimatize ourselves to the heat.”

The proudness in his voice speaking about wearing the Trinity jersey is immense. Being a No8 and the place-kicker of the side, the little secret he tells me about how a kicker absorbs the pressure answers lot of pending questions inside me which I always wanted to unloose about how they withstand it. “It’s unbelievable. All the tensions are there until you start warming up. The trinity colours, the contrast in the red and yellow, it’s special. For any Trinitian, wearing that jersey is the ultimate thing. It never gets exchanged and they’ll do whatever it takes to win the shield. You may think how the players cope with the shouting, booing, hooting and stuff from the crowd, believe me Ii was the place kicker and you don’t hear a thing after you enter the field. It doesn’t even register on you. We now know the sound of hooting because now we are spectators.

“When it comes to Bradby Shield, whatever is your pre-season form, it is a totally unique situation. It’s the way you perform on that day what matters. There are such a lot of things at stake on that particular day. I’m happy to say that Bradby has always been played in the true spirit of rugby.”

Trinity won the first leg in Bogambara 12-6 in front of a full house though pre-season expectations had Royal as the favourites, Balasuriya’s side with the righteous way of positive results had eaten away those. There was one incident that was memorable in which Royal tied the scores 6-6 with a controversial try. A whistle had blown but Royal vice captain Ajith Gunawardena passed the ball to scrum half Raba Gunasekara, who sped away to post a try under the post.

“Ball was kicked by one of the Trinitians and it went out. And someone blew. So we stopped playing, And in actual fact, Gunasekara took the ball and he ran and scored.” What a difference a mock whistle from a referee in disguise in the crowd can make.

On to the second leg, and the visitors had their troubles. “On the day of the match, our regular hooker fell sick. At three o’clock we decided to replace him with another fresher-J.Allegaratnam. I spoke to my vice captain (J. Kiridena) and K. Deen asked them to talk to the guy because the irony was that it was his first XV match. He did his part admirably and we won the match 10-4.”

“As a skipper who has gone the whole season unbeaten, I want to win everything. We pride ourselves in having delivered that unbeaten season for Trinity. Richardson was only 16 years old, and Rahiman (Boxing captain) who later left Trinity and played for Royal, Ravi Ratnayake who played Test cricket for Sri Lanka was our second-row, Y. Wong, Karadena were the flankers while I played at NO8. It was funny that if you take the records that year, most of the tries were scored by the third row. Two Tissera brothers were the halves-combination. Two centres were Kemal Deen, who is a professor in Medicine now and Lain Sourjah (athletic captain). We had M. Bibile and H. Gunasekara with S. Vethanayagam (Basketball captain) on the wing and A. Saheedeen (hockey captain) played at fullback. As you can see, most of the team was filled with captains of other sports but they were all freshers.”

After the Bradby the only hurdle left for Balasuriya’s side was the Thomians who were also unbeaten up to that point. “Our final game of the season was against S.Thomas who were also unbeaten but we beat them easily. The significant thing that year was for the first time ever in the history of Sri Lanka rugby, two school teams were invited to take part in the Asian schools tournament in Bangkok. Trinity and Thomians had booked their tickets after finishing the season at the top.”

Such was the staggering feat they staged last year he was again offered the captaincy. But our story teller had his best friend in mind. “I was under-age for 78 and I was offered the captaincy whichI declined because if I did, my best friend Karadena wouldn’t have got his due of captaining the side. I played the first three matches and later I left for India for my studies. The Bradby first leg finished in a stalemate and I wanted to come back and play in the second. But the Royal principal protested against it saying I was not eligible since I left school but technically I was not.”

“We were not on the mark at start where we had scrap through Wesley. Thomians hammered Wesley and so arrogant were they, spurred by that result they brought in the Canon De Saram Trophy. My flight to India was on Sunday at 2pm in the afternoon. But I took the challenge and played the match on Saturday. I had a brilliant game and we clinched first-ever Canon R.De Saram trophy.”

Leisurely talking about the subject of the crowds, Balasuriya points out that the venues are depriving lot of spectators of their beautiful throb of watching a shield match. He says though the atmosphere could be lost to an extent, the crowd that bemoans missing out on the match should outgrow the other factors. “Look at the interest. As far as me, Royal Complex and Pallekele should not host Bradby. Every day the population who attend this game is increasing tremendously. Bogambara should be permanent venue for Kandy and either R.Premadasa or Sugathadasa stadiums should host the Colombo leg.”

His recollects that his side were the sevens champions and it has a touch of sadness in eyes since according to him it was the last year Trinity had won the abbreviated form’s title. This reminds me the last captain I visited, Sampath Agalawatte of Royal who’s side was incidentally the last of his school to grab the sevens title. Was it not a coincidence, I begin to wonder. Surely not.

Balasuriya’s scrapbook tells me that cameras weren’t privileged enough take a single capture of this warrior but thankfully there’s the group photograph. During the final moments he again reiterates me the obvious. “At Trinity, if you play Rugby that is it. With all due respect to Kumar Sangakkara and others, if you are a rugby player you are more recognized. When you bring the Bradby Shield back and hand it over to the principal the next Monday at the assembly, you feel like you are in cloud nine.”

As I leave I could see the same sense of pride in his smile as he was during the assembly that day.

Trinity 1977 Squad- R. Balasuriya (Captain), M. Richardson, I. Rahiman, K. Congreve, R.Ratnayake, C. Ellepola, J. Kiridena, Y. Wong, J. Tissera, A. Tissera, L. Sourjah, K. Deen, M. Bibile, H. Gunasekara, A. Saheedeen, S. Vethanayagam, J. Allegaratnam, K. Raghavan, S. Rodrigo, T. Omar.

The Island Link- When Ravi Bala’s Trinitians Ran Away With The Shield

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Memoirs Of The Bradby Shield-The Unstoppable Royal Side Of 1984

Trinitians still curse me for the intervention-Royal Captain Sampath Agalawatte

“For a schoolboy, going to Bangkok was everything. The promise was given by the coaches that if we win every match and the Bradby that we’ll be granted a trip to Bangkok. We won the Bradby interfering Trinity’s golden run and they haven’t still forgiven me for that.”

Royal had been offset of Bradby for three years ranging from 1981-1983. Had it not been for the year of 1984 which was sandwiched between the rasping onslaughts of Trinity Lions from 1981-1987, Kandy would have linked seven straight years of Bradby hegemony, a record in the series.

While I sit down gingerly, mulling over the fact of my memory bank’s hollowness about this tie, the demeanour of the man in front lends me hope. I wasn’t born when this historical analogy occurred and its best, my plan anyways, to let the narrator of the story, the captain of the unstoppable Royal College side of 1984 which swept all trophies on offer including the sevens, fly half Sampath Agalawatte swim into his recollection of the yore.

“We had nine coloursmen in that year and the same number of players from Royal played for the Colombo team that year. We were a unit and we believed in the theory that the fourteen players will help the fifteenth player. We played the best side at all times. Having said that, we had competition for places. There were 10, 15 guys who could walk in to the side in case of an emergency seamlessly. Those are some of the unseen things in our success that year. We had the best third row and halves-combination and all were equally determined to grab what was put infront of us with relish.”

“Our coaches were Udaka Tennekoon and Malik Samarawickrama. Malik was a master strategist. It is a known fact in rugby circles. He used to study other teams and he came up with separates plans for different teams which was the hallmark of our success.”

Just like that he provides the prelude. Losing the Bradby for two years would have greyed the hair of many not least him and he deepens into the previous year where the millstone around the neck could have provided nutrition for the writing of a different story.

“I missed one game in 83 which was the first leg because of an operation. But within ten days I recovered and there I was, playing in the centenary match. We won the match but unfortunately the lead was too much. I executed a drop goal and we were on our way but we missed it by a whisker. Last minute our captain almost scored but was tackled on the line. And both the captain and the tackler were carried off the field. They were hospitalized.”

Those half-baked dreams and the realization of the fact that this would be the last saloon to regain the Bradby had its imprints. “The effort that goes into a Bradby Shield match is something many people don’t associate with. I played Bradby for three years and won it in my last year. You have to win a Bradby to understand that feeling. As a schoolboy, it was out of this world for me. I’m very happy that I’m associated with winning the shield back while being the captain which is a great honour. I played my heart out that day. I couldn’t even walk, I was carried.”

As I learn methodically the not-so-easy and dedication fuelled route for Bradby, the words come flowing in. Even Tobacco sales suffered. “The preparation for the Bradby Shield for any Royal ruggerite is a moment to cherish. From a discipline point of view, training, eating, drinking, we never got things like what they get today. Whatever we had was from home and we enjoyed it. Our preparation was very clear and dedicated. And I can tell that there were teammates who used to smoke. They gave up smoking.”

“Playing a Bradby is special. Trinity being a reputed institution and they have continuously maintained their high standards in rugby. Say for an example, Royal or Trinity might have had a torrid time in the league, but when the bells for Bradby are heard everybody knows what’s at stake. There was one particular area I must tell you, Royal had lost the Bradby for three consecutive years. And we had a good season. There was hope in everyone within the school. After we won the first leg 6-3, lot of people travelled to Kandy and there was a major crowd. So all that attributed.”

The first leg was won by the home side 6-3 at CR&FC grounds and Agalawatte remembers it being not the cup of tea the spectators would have preferred. “It was sort of a ding-dong battle. Maybe for the spectators it would have been a boring game. As the flyhalf my intentions always revolved around kicking deep or into the box. Gain ground, go to their side and attack. But we missed some chances; it wasn’t a high scoring game.”

While the win gave satisfaction they were not about to let the winning spirit fly high though. There was unfinished business to take care of. “After we won the first leg, as you know there’s a break. But we prepared ourselves for the Kandy leg as if we didn’t have a lead. We were clear in our goals and every teammember played all out. It was raining in Kandy, soggy conditions. I remember our opponents punting the ball in the air and chasing it. I was always after the ball. I didn’t want to give the ball away because I knew, I was playing well.”

A scoreline of 0-0 may flatter to admire, which I fell into before the interview, it goes to show bare cuddling of the stats can isolate one into false visualizations. “But in Kandy it all changed. They worked the line, they basically got ahead of us and if not for a last ditch tackle by Krishan George near the corner flag, they would have been ahead. There were anxious moments when they had kicks, since I wanted to make sure to be where the ball is, I was behind the goal post for penalties waiting for the ball. And there was this penalty kick I remember from Jayanthasiri Perera (Trinity fullback) the way it zoomed in, I thought it’s was over. For our luck, it came under the post and I was there to collect.”

“From all the matches I have played the greatest game will undoubtedly be the 2nd leg of the Bradby in 1984. Feroze Suhaib at center had a cracker of a game. And our forwards in unison, Krishan George who was on double duty as he was our basketball captain too.”

While I rundown the black and white paper-cuttings in his possession and those lovely reports of well-known writers, they give me the impression the crowd did live up to the occasion. “The grounds were packed. And there was a very emotional moment too. When we were approaching the ground one by one after getting down from the bus the whole prefects section of ours gave us a standing ovation. Simply, there were lot of expectations with the form we were in and I’m proud to say we lived up to it. I can guarantee, winning a Bradby makes a big difference.”

And the predilection of the shield yielded some unforgettable moments of which I can feel the buzz even sitting in the couch of his house. “After the match, I didn’t know, I was dead tired; someone came and carried me on to the podium. Only After receiving the shield I knew that it was my brother. After coming back to Colombo, it was not a long walk from the school to Jawatta where I lived. Kuragama, Canegaratne me all lived in the same vicinity. From College to home we walked with Bradby Shield in our hand.”

As with any sportsman the guidance of the parents is a phase that’s scripted in golden letters and I turn the conversation into that. Quickly, I’m forced to regret it for he breaks down into tears. I contemplated the thought to apologise but he returns to conscience and speaks proudly about the linear impact his family, especially mother, have had.

“My mother was very strict. I was the youngest in the family and played lot of sports during school. They were very supportive of everything I did. As I said mother was the one who took decisions and she made one thing very clear. With school everything had to stop, she was strongly against me playing rugby after leaving school. Once I went to CR&FC practises without telling her and got slapped and that was the end of that.”

“And now I know the decisions she made at that time was right. I got emotional because I was attached to my mother in a very definitive way. I lost her in 2008 and if I am anywhere today, it is all because of the strict decisions she took.”

Now the CEO of TVS Lanka, Agalawatte credits rugby for the way it molded his career into the success-driven lane. “Rugby taught me lot of things in leadership. When you approach a rugby match as a captain you are only given 60 (then) minutes to make your decisions. There are no second chances. The leadership and decision making is something that have helped me immensely in my career.”

Finally what about the Bangkok tour? It was on. The promises were kept and while on tour two matches were played too. “I can remember on a lighter note, when the boys came to the dressing room in Kandy everyone was shouting ‘Bangkok Bangkok’ their lungs out. Basically it was like ‘now we have made it. It’s your turn to tell us when we are going.’” He concludes with an unfeigned smile and an aura of a man who had conquered the mission.

Royal 1984 rugby XV-Sampath Agalawatte (Captain), Lalith Samarawickrama, Sanjaya Sigera, Mahil Kuragama, Duminda Senaratne, Chiro Nanayakkara, Ajith Weeratunga, Janaka Lenaduwa, Mahendra Navaratnam, Jehan Canagaratne, Krishan George, Kimal Ousmand, Ajith Gunasekara, Feroze Suhaib, Ahamed Cader.

The Island Link- The Unstoppable Royal Side of 1984

England kick off new era with a bang

England unsealed their prospectus for limited overs cricket at Edgbaston to great effect with a stunning 210 run victory over New Zealand today.  For the World cup runner-up, this was a bringing back down to earth job on a pitch of devilish intentions for bowlers.

When Joe Root reached a century in the 24th over, it had to take something special to highjack that but Jos Buttler’s hurricane was just that. England batsmen tormented and crippled a startled New Zealand attack. The offerings were ordinary at best, hampered by the absence of Tim Southee and Corey Anderson, Mitchell McClenaghan delivering the first yorker of the innings in the 48th over. However, that can take nothing away from a helter-skelter parade of stroke play. For now, England has delivered on their promissory note to entertain.

The measure of the announcement was such that rewriting of records became compulsory. This was England’s highest ODI total, the partnership between Root and Adil Rashid for the 7th wicket, which yielded 177 runs off 111 balls, is a world record and Jos Buttler put himself in the second place of the fastest hundreds scored by a England batsman as he could not better his own record (off 61 balls) by 5 balls. Root’s effort off 71 balls stands at 4th. The victory margin is the largest in England’s history.

New Zealand, chasing a mammoth 409, put up a dispirited reply which was epitomized by the meek surrender of Brendon McCullum. Reproducing the lasting image of the World Cup final, he gave the charge to Steven Finn and was castled. Quite a contrast from Finn’s experience at Wellington. Martin Guptil and Kane Williamson kept the rate going before Guptill edged Finn for 22.

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My view from the press box

 

Ross Taylor, guilty of dropping a dolly which gave a reprieve to red-hot Buttler, fought in vein. Rashid followed up his pyrotechnics (69 off 50 balls) with four wickets, breaking the nexus of New Zealand’s middle order. Finn was back to his pacy best taking four wickets in the process.

However, everything didn’t go England’s way. Jason Roy was at the end of a nightmare start to his international career, slapping Trent Boult’s loosener, first ball of the match, straight to short cover. Root calmed the nerves and along with Alex Hales started a counter punch which shook the visitors.

Hales continued his agenda of impressing but not carrying on, mistiming a pull into the lap of short fine leg. Eoin Morgan, desperately in need of runs after an un-wealthy period at the helm, commenced shakily but was given a lift in life by Nathan McCullum who toss one up. Morgan took the liberty to get out of the sanctuary he was in depositing the ball over the stands thus entering a phase of error-free batting. Root survived a rare drop of luck edging the ball between Luke Ronchi and first slip Ross Taylor to reach his half-century.

When things seemed smooth, having rapped up ___ for the 3rd wicket, Morgan who moments ago reached a defining half century was trapped in front by Mitchell McClenaghan. Morgan’s review was more in hope than wisdom and replays vindicated Michael Gough’s initial verdict.

Root galloped to his century in the 24th over to the roar of an appreciative crowd gathered at Edgbaston to witness the new era of English limited-overs cricket. If the intentions were to be trusted, it’s bound to be entertaining. More of a polar opposite of Peter Moore’s school of building an innings for a late flourish. However, the flaws began surfacing soon. Maturity was tested when Root fell.

Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler had a rebuilding job at hand but Stokes instincts got the better of him. Boult got him to inside edge a delivery on to the stumps. To England’s credit and this could be a little leaflet on their long term approach from here on in, they never stopped playing their shots. Wickets falling around was felt as if an inconvenience rather than a mood of fear. Sam Billings lost the debutants battle to Mitchell Santner, who had him LBW for 3. But Rashid and Buttler went on.

If the carnival atmosphere inside Edgbaston was any indication, the England fans have already approved of the new lease of life. The popularity is England’s to lose.11351355_884027068309858_8848450073716565744_n