The Sunday Leader

Daya Sahabandu: King Of Vihara Maha Devi Park

By Rohan Wijesinghe

Dayananda Sahabandu

The caption is truly appropriate – Dayananda Sahabandu was by no means the ‘King Of The Road’ – but he was by all means the King of Vihara Maha Devi Park…. the park that he adorned with such majesty…. so many moons ago – destroying batsmen after batsmen with that ‘oh so’ sensuous left arm of his.
A quiet man – whose character was in his bowling, Daya Sahabandu was a priceless asset, a genius of a bowler in his time, extending from the ‘60s and well into the ‘80s. In the pelting rain I sought refuge at the legend’s hideout at Wellawatte for a revival of dusty memories. Betwixt claps of thunder and cups of tea, the golden arm trolleyed in his precious scrap books, not having lost a scrap of his boyous zest – for this his beloved game of cricket.

Neighbours In A Spin

Daya Sahabandu and his legendary skills were born on the 28th of March 1940 at 28 Charleymont Road, Wellawatte. The Sahabandu clan originated from Balapitiya in fact.  By six years of age the scrawny little chap had caught the cricket bug, and thence honed his fledgling skills on his hapless little neighbours down the lane. His long tapering fingers, had ceaselessly tweaked his mantra – from dusk to dawn… till the last weary toddler turned home for supper. The sweet summer sweat beside the seaside was not wasted.
By the year 1958, the hawk-eyed Gammy Goonasena had earmarked Sahabandu’s arm, for certain glory. The trailblazing New South Wales, Nottingamshire and Cambridge University spinner was utterly impressed by the youngster, fairly humming the ball off his knuckles for Royal College, as he led schoolboy batsmen a merry dance – under the baton of skipper Michael Wille. Daya won that school’s bowling trophy in the years 1958 and 1959.

Thousand Sara Scalps

Initially marking his run for Sinhalese Sports Club in the Daily News Trophy from 1960 to 1963 – a change of clubs in 1964 transformed his cricketing fortunes. At Nomads that craftiest of skippers, D.H. de Silva…. licking his chops gave Sahabandu a fair crack of the whip – 6552 overs in fact…. over a span of 20 years or so. Bandu repaid his skipper in full measure, with a whopping haul of 1048 Sara Trophy wickets, at an average of 14.11 in 3650 overs.  The left armer plugged 1919 of those overs with priceless maidens. Only the laws prevented ‘DH’ from bowling Sahab  – simultaneously from both ends.

D.H. De Silva’s Trump

Like a doting nanny with a wayward child – D.H. De Silva – armed then with the destructive ‘Left Arm’ of Bandu, and with a wicked glint in his eye, made a successful assault on Ceylon’s plum cricket title – the Sara Trophy in 1965. A proud moment for Bandu, the Nomads and the Colombo Municipality, who so large heartedly gave refuge to so many hugely talented cricketers, from the less fashionable schools.
If I may digress…. a couple of those who did the Municipality proud come to mind; they being Leslie Piyasena, W.L. Withanage, S.B. Senanayake, Daya Boteju, Granville Hamer, Jayalath Aponso among others, who brought the required ‘bubble’ to the dressing room, whilst the likes of Stanley Jayasinghe, Anura Polonowita and D.P. de Silva provided the ‘fireworks.’ They were a menacing lot those park street boys, what with D.H. de Silva – Charity Commissioner – and the ‘grand-daddy of sledging – yapping besides your ‘buttocks’…. aided and abetted by Granville Hamer from behind the sticks. Besides which those young turks fielded like dogs… fresh off a leash.

Maharajah’s Benevolence

Runs and wickets did not pay Bandu’s bills. Certainly not in that particular era. The Board of Control paid Bandu a paltry Rs. 200 per International as ‘Smoke Money,’ in those far-off less-lucrative days…. as against today’s highly inflated financial rewards, with players wallowing in wealth. But then again they thoroughly enjoyed themselves – oh yes they did – that’s for certain. Bouquet to the ever-benevolent R. Maharajah, for employing Sahab for well nigh 30 years, ensuring that our country was not deprived of a priceless asset. Besides which Bandu earned a penny or two as a playground instructor attached to the Colombo Municipality.

Fruity Character

Our left armer was a priceless character as well…. in a game so rapidly running out of personalities. My own fruity collection of charismatic characters – who plodded the planet in the ‘60s and  ‘70s are made up of – in batting order – Graham Hamer, Russel Hamer, David Heyn, Sritharan Jeganathan, D.H. de Silva [self appointed skipper], Mumtaz Yousuf, K.M. Nelson, Mevan ‘Holmang’ Pieris, Dennis Chamnugam, Daya Sahabandu and Vijay Mahendran.
NCC team-mate Mahendran – is a case in point – in his bell-bottomed flannels, Humperdinck sideburns, Beatles haircut, perpetually unbuttoned cuffs, and his flamingo-dance of a run-up. Such resplendently rich colour, epitomizing the very essence…. of the joyous   spirit of cricket.
My second IX team of  ‘Characters’ is equally fruity – with the likes of Carlton Bernadus, Granville Hamer, Hariharan Jeganathan, Kumar Ramanathan, Sylvester Dias, Jayananda Warnaweera, Nimal Ranchigoda, Nirmal Hettiaracchi, Vernon Caldera and Amaresh Rajaratnam, taking up the seats.  I could pen a page or two, or even more on the colorful mannerisms…. of each one of them. Bandu himself – contributed to so much humor in the dressing room with his delightfully wacky mannerisms.

Purgatory For Batters

An inch taller than six feet, painfully lean in the hips, tousle haired and dusky skinned – Sahabandu’s fistful of wiles consisted of his stock orthodox left arm leg spin. His ‘armer’ was a beast of a ball, so evilly disguised amongst his slower deliveries. ‘Hell’ would arrive early in the day; if and whenever Bandu happened to take the ‘new’ ball. Loping in from eight paces or so, he would whip it into the right-hander at a sharp slant, and with such a steep dip in flight. Thence without a visible change in action, he could ‘ram’ in a howling bouncer. Oh yes, he could make the best of them look ruddy ridiculous – pretty often.
Pathetically the ‘mountains of accolades’ at home only fetched him a handful of International hustings…. none of which were squandered by the erstwhile spinner though. Rushed ‘interview’ in full swing – Bandu recollected his exploits so modestly – almost apologetically.
Debuting in 1969 against England at the Sara Oval, Bandu had Fletcher and Graveney in the bag for figures of 2 for 90 in 45 overs. Later that year he had Chappell, Redpath, Stackpole and Irvine against Lawry’s Aussies. Come Tony Lewis’ English in 1970, and our left armer bowled a lovely loopy off stump line to grab 5 for 86 in 37 overs and 1 for 33. Touring India in 1975 Bandu had 3 for 54.
He was never really collared…. in the handful of International games he was bestowed with.

Graveney’s Headache

The heaps of wickets – reaped in Gopalan Trophy Fixtures and for the Board President’s IX against visiting Internationals, were deemed first class scalps, and for the record Bandu’s first class career spanning the years 1968 to 1976 fetched him 87 first class wickets in 18 games.  Batsmen of the caliber of Graveney, Cowdrey, Walters, Hunte, Chappell, Gavaskar, Vishwanath, Edrich and Boycott were among the batsmen he had to contend with…. and that he asserted himself is patently clear.
Tom Graveney arguably the best English ‘post war’ Test batsmen contended that Daya Sahabandu was the best bowler he had faced in 20 years of ‘big time’ cricket.  Hence, comparison with England’s ‘Deadly’ Underwood was wholly justifiable. In fact he was fondly referred to as ‘Banduwood’, following that particular game. Bandu conversely heaped loads of praise on the Captaincy of Tissera…. the Batting of Tennekoon…. and the Pace of Kehelgamuwa.

Indians In A Spin

A sudden tumble of wickets in the lower middle order would bring Bandu, seemingly reluctantly to the middle, dragging an ancient twine bound bat behind him. Bandu rarely ‘chalked’ his guard…. for that nervously fidgety stance of his. He reminded me with immense pride, whence he carved, swatted, snicked and bludgeoned his way to a heroic 32 n.o. – wearing the night watchman’s ‘bonnet’, and holding the fort for four-and-a-half-hours, putting on 76 runs for the 8th wicket with Tony Opatha, against the wiles and curves of Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Bedi in an Unofficial Test against India in 1975.
The only chink in his edifice, was his ponderous fielding. Loitering perpetually at mid on – Bandu could be delightfully detached, happily remote and even gloriously laid back, as he plotted the demise of the batsman, who had just then ‘whacked’ a couple of boundaries – between his ‘legs’ at long on.
His lazy, lumbering, loping, somewhat ‘gawky’ elegance on the field was adored by the crowds, as they broke into rapturous applause, whenever the legend dropped a dolly…. or even misfielded a gentle drive. Certainly not a captain’s prayer on the field – this Bandu of ours.

Rare Humor

In a rare flash of deadpan humor the maestro recollected as to how the peanut vendor, the pineapple seller, umpires, scorers, ground boy, spectators and the players – would all travel to a game in a ‘Ceylon Transport Board’ carriage  – even for International matches…. public conveyance being the primary mode of transport available, during those austere times. Just a couple of  ‘well heeled’ opponents would rip past ‘his’ bus in their swanky autos…. the Volkswagons, Mini Mokes, Bug Fiats and Morris Minors…. only for their wickets to be ripped up by Bandu – later in the day.
Daya Sahabandu; characteristically guileless, delightfully eccentric and perpetually boyish, remains utterly incapable of making an enemy. Lean frame wobbling a bit now, he has mellowed much. At 69 years of age he exemplifies the joy and pride of having been part of the great game.  Single minded…. he lives cricket and thinks and talks little else…. as he struts in retirement among his souvenirs and memories.
Having tied batsmen in knots, Bandu then tied the ‘knot’ on his beloved Swarna – in 1983, at 45 years of age. The legend is lovingly tended to by his gracious spouse and son Janaka, 25 years of age…. who incidentally is a passionate banker by profession.

Wicked Routine Of A Genial Genius

As I bade goodbye…. the shadow of a once great bowler…. tugged at his frayed right sleeve so ominously, dug in his left heel, licked his gangly index finger, and flicked an imaginary ball skywards. A ‘wicked routine’ that fired heaps of fear…. into the hearts of heaps of batsmen – so many moons ago.
(Rohan Wijesinghe is a former St Joseph’s, Sri Lanka Schools and NCC opener.)

3 Comments for “Daya Sahabandu: King Of Vihara Maha Devi Park”

  1. Please note that when Sahab played for Royal in 1958 the team was captained by E, L Pereira and 1959 by Sarath Samarasinghe. My brother played for Royal along with Sahab from 58-60. Derryck Hall who played for Derbyshiire in the 60′s had told my brother that late Colin Cowdrey considered Sahab to be the best left arm bowler at that time . Sahab could have played for SL more often if not for his association with the Nomads cricket team.

  2. Ravana

    I remember Sahab bowling at the Nomads grounds. I used to watch as a little boy and you have omitted two things :

    (1) His illustrious and now powerful team mate SIlva. I hope D.S. extends a benevolent hand to his team mate now that he wields so much power !

    (2) Sahab one held a blinder of a catch fielding at silly mid off I think in an international against the MCC at the oval. The fielder seemed genuinely shocked that the ball was in his hand and the crowd LOVED it. Does anyone else remember that ?

  3. Chinthak

    When will we see another “dual – purpose bowler in the SL team?

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