Bashful batsman and articulate architect
CRICKET: Perpetually anchored at number eleven, bolstering the
batting at the bottom, ten-year-old Mano then was raising dust for the
Thomian hopefuls. The little chap eventually stroked his way to the top,
to open the batting for S. Thomas' College, Colombo University, Tamil
Union, Cambridge University and Ceylon.
Given life on the third of May 1942, his doting dad Mr. R.E. Ponniah
an Edinburgh educated agricultural officer and mum Jane enroled Mano, at
Ladies College, Colombo. Subsequently rolled him over to S. Thomas'
College, Mount Lavinia.
Sandwiched between the sea, the chapel and Lassie Abeywardene,
ten-year-old Mano, cloaked in defiant determination, dour reliability
and infinite patience for one so young, coerced his way into contention,
to perch himself askance his beloved niche, that of opening the batting
for the school by the sea. Batting so well for the school he annexed the
coveted F. L. Goonewardene batting prize in 1962 having found his feet
the previous year under the leadership of M. L. Idroos.
Tall, erect and angular, his batting ran along text book lines as he
entered the portals of Colombo University to pursue his love for the
text books, to wind up plumed in an engineering degree in the year 1965.
Between the years 62 and 65 he rubbed bats and pens with the likes of
Carlyle Perera, M. L. Idroos, Buddy Reid, Nihal Gurusinghe and Cyril
Ernest in assisting the star-studed intellectuals to annex the coveted
plum, the Sara Trophy in 1963.
Ceylon 'cap' 1964
Capped for Ceylon in 1964, Mano coupled up with his classmate and
buddy T.C.T. Edwards to rout the Pakistan Test side in Colombo. Picked
again for Ceylon in 1965 under Tissera's rule to thrash Pataudis' India
in their own den at Ahmedabad. A feat not repeated to date, despite all
the hype and ballyhoo. Mano also represented Ceylon against Bob
Simpson's Aussies under C. I. Gunasekera.
Ponniah did not make huge scores for the country, perennially the
20's and 30's, defiantly denting the new-ball with time and occupation,
paving the way for the flamboyance to follow, that of Tissera, Inman,
Reid, Jayasinghe and Lafir among others.
In 1966 abandoning his international career, Mano followed the
passage to prosperity aboard the S.S. Strathbourne, anchoring at the
immaculately fertilised Cambridge University for an engineering degree.
Drafted into the Cambridge eleven in 1967, county cricket stiffened his
sinew and resolve. Mano chipped in at this point to quip that he had
worked darn hard at practices, till the last weary net bowler turned
home for supper, often in grim light and near arctic weather.
In the year 67 the stoic opener missed the batters dream of a
thousand runs in a county season, notching 800 odd runs with 102 n.o.
against Lancashire as his highest and finishing above Sir Colin Cowdrey
in the county averages.
Those runs were carved against the likes of Trueman, Statham, Lever,
Brown, Snow, Shuttleworth and Higgs who were dynamiting cricket stumps
across the British Isles. He would roll his arm over for a tad bit of
leg-spin as well boasting of his 5 for 20 against Tony Lewis' Glamorgan
as his best. Mano donned Cambridge colours in 45 first-class matches,
rubbing biceps with the likes of Mike Brearley, R.D.V. Knight and our
own Vijay Malalasekera. The architect assiduously modelled himself on
his hero and idol Mike Brearley. Readers will be pleasantly surprised to
know that Brearley's daughter Lara works and lives in Sri Lanka.
With the lines for membership winding for miles, Mano Ponniah was
embraced with a life membership and trusteeship of the prestigious
Marleybourne Cricket Club on the recommendations of Sir Colin Cowdrey
and Roger Knight.
Besotted by the lovely Indian lassie Radhika, the architect wooed her
and wrapped the knot in 1971 and his two boys Rahul and Mohan quickly
followed. Mano is proud of his two sons and is even prouder of his two
grandchildren little Amy and Yogi. Grandad is absolutely certain that
Yogi has the makings of a first class batsman. The little chap is only 7
Mega building contracts
British recession brought Mano back to Sri Lanka in 1990, his buddies
P.I. Pieris, Kumar Boralessa and R. Sivaratnam armed the architect with
mega building contacts at Arpico, Magpek and Aitken Spence. Floating and
spearheading his company, Mano Ponniah Associates, He specialised in
floating water bungalows in the Maldives for which he won a highly
prestigious international award. This man of quite charm and much
intelligence, also annexed the much sought after world travel award and
three Sri Lanka Institute of Architect Awards.
He has of now enlarged his domain by taking on the Maldives,
cementing his trade and his trademark smile for miles.
It's often forgotten that the exploits of Ponniah, Malalasekera,
Inman, Jayasinghe, and Piachaud had a profound effect on the evolution
of our cricket. They dared to bare their wares where it mattered most.
Truly they carried our cricketing pride with them atop their country
I for one was enamoured by their emboldened names across the country
cricket score sheets. Come dusk, the phlegmatic right-hander who hardly
ever swept for his runs now sweeps the floor at the dancing school of
Prins Ratnam, indulging in his pet passion for ballroom dancing, boyish
disposition still intact, enthusiasm for life undimmed.