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Old 22-02-12, 10:10 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default Grand Old Man of Uva, one short of a century

Grand Old Man of Uva, one short of a century

by Lalitha K. Witanachchi

Artie Lankatilleke, the oldest living Thomian cricket captain, who will be 99 years old on July 30 celebrated the occasion yesterday with a pinkama and party with family and friends at Lily Valley Estate, Uva Hingulwala where he is spending the evening of his life with his daughter Vin and son-in-law Tissa Bandaranayaka.

He has not missed a single Royal-Thomian match for 78 years. Every March this smart, silver haired gentleman would board the nightmail at the Bandarawela railway station and with boyish enthusiasm head for Colombo to watch the Big Match for which he first played in 1920. However he has been unable to watch this match for the past two years as he is rather feeble but for an occasional lapse of memory he can recall the past with precision.

Artie Lankatilleke is my mother‘s brother and he is Artie Uncle to all his nieces and nephews.

In 1993 I interviewed him on the occasion of his 90th birthday. I was amazed at his prodigious memory. He gave me a detailed account of his life which I reproduce here.

‘I was born on July 30, 1903 at Hela Walauwe in Mailagstenna, Badulla. My father was John Christopher Lanktilleke, Ratemahatmaya of Wellawaya. My mother was also a lady from Badulla. I had my education at S. Thomas’ College, Mutwal which I entered in 1910.

I am grateful to my father and also to Rev F. H. Winton and the Government Agent C. R. Cumberland who found me a place at S. Thomas where I received my schooling and also learnt the qualities of sportsmanship under the great Warden Stone. I went from Winchester dormitory to Winchester House in Mount Lavinia. I played soccer, tennis and cricket. I was coached by Edward Navaratnam and Leonard Arndt. In 1918 I graduated into the second eleven. Our captain was Bernard Aluvihare. We were all vying for places in the first eleven and in 1920 I was selected. It was a great day for me. Bulankulame was our captain. I was the youngest player and small built so I was not allowed to wear long trousers which was rather a disappointment for me.

The big match was a terrifying test for me. There were vast crowds. My parents and my sister Gunaseeli, your mother, came all the way from Uva to watch me play. They put up at the Galle Face Hotel where I’ll be celebrating my 90th birthday, 73 years later! We crumbled in both innings for a paltry score. The match was a disappointment for both players and spectators.

The next morning the ’Morning Herald’ which gave an account of each player said this of me: A Veddah boy plays for S. Thomas!’ I couldn’t understand why they said this. But my father told me it was no insult. He was Ratemahatmaya of Bintenna at the time, the place known as Veddah country. He assured me it was some sort of praise that I had come so far!

He chuckled as he recalled this and then continued:

The 1921 match under the captaincy of C.E.L. de Silva was a low scoring one ending in a win for Royal which was the better side. The 1922 match on March 16 was very exciting. Many watched the match from their coaches and a few from their cars. Girls and boys were sporting rival colours. It was impressive. We had a good batting side and we won comfortably by 56 runs.

The ’Daily News’ reporting on that match brings back memories of my school days. It was complimentary to me for it reported ’The dismissal of Lankatilleke came as a welcome relief to the Royalists. For the second time in the match he played delightful cricket.’

’On the results of this match I was awarded 7 prizes: The F. L. Goonewardena batting shield, Dr. Scharenguivel bowling prize, Gate Mudliyar Edmund de Livera batting prize, The Rajamuttu Memorial prize for batting, also a bat, Harrow size Gradidge Imperial presented by Mr. Cyril Perera and a purse of Rs. 300, a very handsome prize indeed in those days.

The next term in January 1922 it was a very pleasant surprise to me when at dinner time Warden Stone announced that I was elected captain. I got up from my seat immediately after dinner and thanked the Warden. After that it was a case of felicitations from my friends, teachers and of course from my parents in Uva.

I realised I had great responsibilities. The 44th encounter with Royal was played on the SSC Grounds on March 13 and 14. My team was composed of Ashmore Pieris, Rudolph Jayatilleke, C. F. W. de Saram, C. H. Udulagama, Arnie Koch, Aelian Toussaint, C. V. Cooke, Karl Van Sanden, Cooke, R. Kumaranayagam and T. Sabanyagam. Noel Grataien, the late Privy Counsellor was our scorer and the coaches were B. T. Jansz and Leonard Arndt.

The Ceylon Observer in a report by Authentic had this to say of this match: The Thomian innings saw all the thrilling incidents that are associated with the match. The Thomian captain was batting with most refreshing enterprise all the time. He was not depressed by his side’s collapse and he certainly showed them how to bat.’

‘All this was so long ago’ reminisced this veteran cricketer, who as long as he could, did not miss a single match.

Artie married Sittamma Wanduragala, sister of Ernest Wanduragala, the Thomian captain of 1916. Her other brother who were also Thomians were Richard, Charlie, Fisher and Caesar.

Artie is the father of six daughters, one of whom, Malkanthie predeceased him a few years ago. ’It’s a pity I had no sons for I would have liked to see them play cricket for the college. However his grandson Ajith Abeygunawardena played for the 1st Eleven and was vice captain whilst his other grandson Milinda Morahela a was Head Prefect in 1975.

I asked Artie uncle the secret of his long life. His answer was quick, have a good heart, don‘t be a hindrance to anybody. Control your diet. I smoke a pipe or a cigar, more as a companion for the lonely life I lead. The bracing climate of Bandarawela is another reason for my good health. For years I used to walk about four miles a day. I take a small stimulant in the evening. My best drink is whisky. What I cherished most was a sip of Bulldog Stout or Guiness Stout. But I can’t afford it now unless my daughters bring me a whisky which is very expensive now, So I am satisfied with local spirits in moderation.

As a Buddhist I observe the precepts and offer flowers as well as alms. I listen to Maitri Chintawa, and read the ’Daily News’ and ‘The Island’ and on Sundays the ’Times’. My first love of course is cricket and it is Thomian grit that has helped me along.’ ’Thank you Uncle’ I said and my birthday wish for you is good health, happiness and peace of mind.
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