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Saravanamuttu Stadium - back to life again !

The oft 'forgotten' stadium - the Saravanamuttu Stadium, affectionately known as the Oval in the past, is once again in the limelight with the staging of the Second Cricket Test between Sri Lanka and South Africa.

This is a historic occasion as this match marks the silver jubilee of Test cricket for Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka are one-up in the present two-Test series, having won the First Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club by an innings.

But if cricket fans go down memory lane, it was the Saravanamuttu Stadium that staged Sri Lanka's inaugural Test against England which England won by seven wickets, the scores being Sri Lanka 218 and 175 and England 223 and 171 for 3 wickets.

A fact that will soothe the hearts of cricket fans is the fact that Sri Lanka's first ever Test victory was also staged at this venue and that was in September 1985 when we beat India.

Test matches and ODI's were played at the Oval till around August 1994 and thereafter there has been a continuous man-made drought of Internationals at this venue.

Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club is the owner of the Saravanamuttu Stadium, has its origin with the Lanka Sports Club formed on November 2nd in 1885 with Price Park as their grounds. The office-bearers in 1898 (the first available) were President D. Muthuswamy, Secretary C. N. C. Ponnambalam, Cricket Captain W. Duraiswamy (later Sir Waithalingam Duraiswamy, MP representing Kayts electorate in Jaffna and the Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1947). The club changed its name to Tamil Sports Club in 1899.

Another Tamil club named the Tamil Cricket Club was also formed as this time with Campbell Park as their grounds. These two clubs amalgamated on 2nd December 1899 and the Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club was formed. Another Tamil Club called 'The Campbell Park Cricket Club' existed in another section of the park as their ground.

The President of the new club was T. Thirunavakarasu, Hony. Secretary John Rockwood (later a doctor and the first President of the Ceylon Cricket Association) and Cricket captain S. S. Navaratnaraja.

Upto the 1942's two cricket grounds existed at Campbell Park occupied by the Tamil Union C and AC and Bloomfield C and AC and a football ground opposite the prisons building. With the formation of Tamil Union C and AC the Club obtained the lease of their grounds and paid a rental of Rs. 50 per year to the Colombo Municipality. The club spent much money levelling out the grounds and laying out a matting wicket (this is the present Wesley College grounds).

A tent served as the clubhouse until 1916 when the present Pavilion was built (now the Wesley College Pavilion). The Pavilion, costing about Rs. 15,000, was declared open by the Mayor of Colombo, Hon. R. W. Byrde on 2nd November 1916.

Athletic meets

The club had regular athletic meets and made many cricket tours to South India between 1911 and 1937. The club had a football team which participated in the Colombo league tournaments and a first rate hockey team with many National captains.

The first century for the club was by A. S. Eliyatamby against Rockhill CC in 1907. He was also first Tamil to represent All-Ceylon at cricket vs MCC Amateurs (1908). In 1907 Eliyatamby scored over 1,000 runs in Club Cricket. Two of the best young cricketers the club produced around the First World War period were S. R. Titus and R. Aiyadurai, both of Trinity College. Titus who came into prominence with 174 against Royal in 1907 died at early age of 32 years while Aiyadurai, about the same vintage, made the supreme sacrifice in World War I while serving the British Army at Bologne, France in 1917.

The architect of the Colombo Oval was P. Saravanamuttu who turned the abandoned marshy land at Wanathamulla to a pleasant playing field. A small zinc roof structure was the pavilion. There was another whose help was invaluable in building the Oval. He was General H. E de S. Wetherall. Commander in Chief of the British Forces in Ceylon who at the height of World War II (1940-1943), helped in many ways. But for these two personalities, Colombo would not have been able to stage the Unofficial Tests from 1945 to 1955.

On 12th December 1939 the venue came into use when Lady Waithalingam Duraiswamy, wife of the Speaker of the State Council graced the occasion for the formal takeover. Two months later in the year 1940, the formal opening took place on 27th February 1940 with a match between "Old Crocks of the Tamil Union C and AC" and the "Ceylon Cricket Association Old Crocks". Sir Waithalingam bowled the first ball to the Governor H. E. Sir Andrew Caldecot. D. S. Senanayake (then Minister of Agriculture) was the Wicket Keeper.

The Colombo Oval was maintained in an immaculate condition due to K. C. Rasiah, Ground Secretary for 20 years (1939-1959). The pitch was laid out by W. S. Flindall of the Colombo CC. The first inter-club match (Daily News Trophy) was on 3rd March 1940 between the Tamil Union C & AC and the Notts C & AC. A few got their names in the record books in this match. Brothers G. S. Hubert (127) and A. R. Hubert (76) put on 119 runs for the 5th wicket. The others responsible for laying out the grounds were R. Kumaranayagam (Municipal Engineer) and Shirley Alwis, Architect who designed part of the stadium and the main Pavilion was built in 1943.

Chief personalities

Before proceeding to the subject of cricket, mention has to be made of two of the chief personalities who have done much for the club. The first, Dr. John Rockwood, a founder member and first Hony. Secretary. He organised many tours to South India, the next would be P. Saravanamuttu, President of the Club in the late 1940s, President CCA and the first President of the Board of Control for Cricket (1948-1950). He was a good batsman and his name still appears in a record 5th wicket partnership in the Government Services Cricket Competition.

P. Saravanamuttu toured Bombay in 1919 with Dr. John Rockwood's Ceylonese Team. Dr. Rockwood himself was a good left-arm medium pace opening bowler. He was solely responsible for the inauguration of the Ceylon Cricket Association in 1922. No one personality in Ceylon will ever match his sponsorship efforts. He sponsored almost 45 whole day cricket matches between his teams and leading clubs from 1919 and four tours to Ceylon W. E. Lucas, team 1926 and J. D. Antia's team (1929 from Bombay, then the centre of Indian cricket), Maharaja Kumar of Vizianagram's Team (1930-31) (which included Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe and C. K. Naidu) and the South Indian team in 1917.

Cricket in the 1940s was dominated by M. Sathasiwam who was an elegant right & hand batsman and a prolific scorer from 1940 to 1950. His finest innings was 111 against all India in 1945. S. Somasunderam an off spinner of an earlier period dominated the bowling. S. Coomaraswamy, C. T. A. Schafter, C. Dharmalingam, A. J. D. N. Selvadurai, G. S. Hubert, were some of the other outstanding players.

The first Unofficial Test at the Colombo Oval was in 1945. The Oval was renamed P. Saravanamuttu Stadium in 1977. Sri Lanka's Inaugural Test was played at this venue on 17th February 1982.

The names of some prominent officials of the club, past and present are Dr. G. Wignarajah, I. Rasanayagam, W. M. Selliyah, Joseph Perumal, W. R. Chanmugam, J. A. R. Felix, T. Murugesu, T. Kunaratnam, A. A. Virasinghe. However, this may not be a complete list. Any inadvertent omission is regretted.

The club has won 8 trophies in tournaments organised by the Ceylon Cricket Association and by the Board of Control for Cricket. The Tamil Union C and AC has had an unique record, winning trophies that have been offered for the first time the P. Saravanamuttu Trophy (1950/51 Division I), the Donovan Andree Trophy (1960/61) and the GTE Trophy (U.23 Limited Overs) in 1990/91).

Board XI 736/4 dec

Some statistical data follows (1) 1950 Frank Worrell batting at the Press Box end made an off drive of Stanley Jayasinghe over the scoreboard and Ramiz Raja made a hit which alighted below the clock, as did Tony Greig (1977). The highest total is 736 for 4 (d) by the Sri Lanka Board Presidents XI vs Malaysian CA 1972 (not first class) (3) 549 for 8 (d) by the West Indies. The highest individual scores are 285 by Frank Worrell, Commonwealth XI vs All Ceylon (1951). Another good effort was 212 by C. I. Gunasekera for Ceylon Cricket Association XI vs Madras (in 1959). The best bowling performance is 10 wickets for 36 by L. Aloysius for Tamil Union C & AC vs Catamarans SC (1983)- most probably the only 10 wickets in an innings performance in the world limited overs cricket.

This club, over a century old, has had the privilege of having the presence of some of the greatest cricketers ever to get involved in the bat and ball game. The exploits at the Oval of England's batting legends - Len Hutton, Peter May, Tom Graveney, Dennis Compton and the unforgettable trio - Laker, Lock and Loader will surely bring nostalgic memories. There was also speedsters "Typhoon" Tyson and Brian Statham on this ground.

On the Australian side, there were the exploits of the great Sir Donald Bradman himself and so has the exploits of Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, Neil Harvey and Normal O'Neill.

The Oval drew record crowds when West Indies visited this ground - giants like Worrell, Weeks and Walcott are three names that doesn't escape anyone's mind, then there were mercurial spinners Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine. Fans cannot forget Gary Sobers who later on was Sri Lanka's coach. There was also Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Alwin Kallicharan, Roy Fredericks, to name quite a handful of cricketers who thrilled cricket fans.

The local cricketers too have contributed much on this ground. The players of yesteryear that come to mind in a flash are: M. Sathasivam, Stanley Jayasinghe, Clive Inman, F. C. de Saram, C. I. Gunasekera, Mahes Rodrigo, Gamini Goonesena, A. C. M. Lafir, Michael Tissera.

The ground has been overlooked for some reason or other in the recent past. Let's hope the game that is being played right now will bring about a change of attitude of the officials and the Saravanamuttu Stadium will be a regular venue for Test Cricket in the coming years.


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