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Sathasivam as Ebullient Maestro

May 16, 2013

Sharm de Alwis, in The Island, 16 May 2013, where the title is “Mercurial Mahadevan Sathasivam: Simply the best”

sobers and sathaMahadevan Sathasivam (R) chats with Sir Gary Sobers. …Pic from Roberts, Essaying Cricket (2004)

Mahinda Wijesinghe has a tale of yore. When F. C. de Saram was playing for Oxford University in 1934 and was in matchless form, as he annihilated Gloucestershire and would laugh hilariously as he plundered boundaries on his way to a century, the umpire asked what the matter was and could he be of help. “No, no,” answered de Saram, “I have a chum back home and I was just wondering what he would do with this bowling attack.” F. C. had in mind the mercurial, magnificent and majestic Mahadevan Sathasivam. A century was his for the asking. If he got only a half-century, he would go before his mentor, the mirror and get the century in the second innings. He was our finest bat and certainly the best in the world, in his era. Mahinda has considered Satha the equal of Ranjitsinghji.

His record breaking 215 not out at the Chepauk grounds has never been equaled for grace and panache, even though Worrell and Sobers, Bradman and Miller, Compton and Graveney have played there. Ghulam Ahamed, the Indian off-spin wizard of the ‘40s said that Satha was “the best batsman I have bowled to. Next to Satha are Worrell and Weekes. Other great batsmen I have bowled to are Compton, Hutton and Keith Miller.”

His 96 Vs West Indies, which included Prior Jones and Trim on a sticky wicket was regarded by the West Indies captain, Goddard “as the gem. I have never seen anything like it by any cricketer in any country.” He never bludgeoned. Instead, he stroked the ball. There was the Satha patent on every stroke he played.

 Satha had the touch of arrogance that marked Viv Richards – the similar saunter with cap at a rakish angle and the disdainful assessment of the field placing.

A field could never be set for Satha. There was not even a good length. He would, like Compton, get his feet moving and get to the pitch of the ball and hit it in any chosen direction, or move back for his panther stroke – the cut.

Often would he have to be motivated. His 160 for Wesley in 1936 against S. Thomas’ who had Bertie Wijesinha, Shelton Thabrew and Shelton Anthonisz, Donald Fairweather, Caldera, Weeratunge and Cotelingam. Lucien de Zoysa has said that the Royal team had gone to Mount to study the strength and weaknesses of the Thomians, in preparation for the Big Match. “We ended up watching a ‘spiflicating’ innings by Satha.” It is said that that massacre of the Thomians was because his application to join STC had been rejected!

It surfaced again when A. J. D. N. Selladurai vied with Satha for the captaincy of the Tamil Union. In his next innings, Satha piled up 200 with the end result that AJDN was dropped from the team. When Sargo Jayawickrame egged him by saying he would never cope with George Perera, Satha hoisted GP for a series of sixes, until the bowling was changed.

He would love to gamble, and better still, to carouse. In the former, he was like Miller and in the other, be the soul companion of Tita Nathanielsz. He would introduce to Tita a beaut of a girl, born and bred in Bombay, “Turkey, meet my cousin sister,” then go on a spree and next morning face Rangachari at his menacing best and get 86 not out. Rangachari had figures of 0 for 87. Donovan Andree would always pay the bills the two totted up and there was this Australian lass he would romp with before getting his 100 next morning. He would times without number arrive at the grounds directly from the night club and explain sweetly, “Baba, we went dancing.” And he would dance down the wicket and score at will.

It has been my pride and privilege to have seen Satha score a double century for Rest Vs Mercantile at the NCC. Mercantile had in their ranks nine All-Ceylon players and the bowlers were none other than Bertie Wijesinha, Stanley Jayasinghe, Vernon Prins and Schaffter. Satha would cut unerringly for four. The rival captain would plug the gap. Next delivery was dispatched even finer to where the fielder originally was. That was Satha in his element, acknowledging his captain’s gesture of dicing his water with whiskey. All his captains, from Sargo to Sathi to Derrick, gave him diced water.

Penalty Percy Perera as re-christened by Gama Fernando of the flashy tongue was known to be as tight fisted as a Scot. And here, at the CR&FC bar, when he was President, was none other than Mahadevan Sathasivam of the flashing blade. He was dressed to kill in cream flannels, cravat, All-Ceylon blazer and a straw hat at a rakish angle on his head.

 “Hello, Satha,” greeted PPP, but Satha seemed dejected. PPP ordered a scotch and a few angled inquiries and Satha pleaded, “Don’t make it worse for me, Percy. I am getting the hell out of the country. I am on my way to the airport.”

A few more drinks and number five had been ordered. PPP thought of the clock and of his purse. “You’ll miss your flight, Satha,” to which Satha pulled off his cravat and blazer. “I am not going anywhere. I just had a bet I’d take five drinks off you.”

Touche! As good as a century.

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