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Tikiri Banda Kehelgamuwa:

Prince of pace



Tikiri Banda Kehelgamuwa in full flight

CRICKET: Either he was splitting stumps with sheer pace or guiding the city's riotous traffic to peace. That's Tikiri Banda Kehelgamuwa for you. Born on the 9th of December, 1942 a quietly courteous man from the humble village of Kehelgamuwa, Gampola.

Seneviratne Amaranayake, a schoolmaster attached to Dharmaraja Kandy, airing his lungs on the footpaths of Gampola, was stopped in his tracks by a spindly child, aged about 8 raising dust and disarray with a Slazenger, tennis ball and knocking down a tin can, with uncanny pace. The boy was being weaned at Walhagoda Central, a tiny mixed school on the outskirts of Gampola. The little pacie was poached by Amaranayake for Dharmaraja College, Kandy and the rest is a rich slice of our cricketing history.

At Dharmaraja, Kehel came under the astute eye of the redoubtable Sonny Yatawara. Amidst the salubrious climes 'Kehel' blasted his way to the top. At 17 years of age, he was picked to tour India, with the Ceylon Schools, the teenager marking his territory as the quickest bowler in the land with an outstanding return of 8 wickets for 8 runs against Indian schools all 8 of them clean bowled. In fact he hit the stumps 11 times, being no-balled thrice amidst the blitz.

Arguably the fastest arm since D. S. Jayasundera stalked our meadows in the 1920's. On his return to the Island, he devoured the hapless schoolboy batsmen reserving his best blitz for a return of 7 for 21 against Nalanda with veteran politician Jayawickrema Perera amongst his victims. It is a little known fact that Kehelgamuwa won the much coveted Best Schoolboy Bowler award in 1961 and 1962.

Niel Weerasinghe, one of the finest cricketers produced by St. Joseph's College Colombo, aided and abetted by that other redoubtable old Joe Felix Perumal, lured the lad to Police Park in 1963. Unleashed on the seamers dream at the park, the fledgling policeman set a murderous pace, spreading fear across the country, to be capped by Ceylon for her international shindig, against Colin Cowdrey's MCC in 1968, conversely, 'Kehel' stalked and capped pretty. Schoolmistress Miss Hemamalee Wettasinghe attached to St. John's Panadura, eventually tying the knot in 1971. 'Kehil' was a handsome officer attached to the Panadura Police at that point of time.

Beauty and brains

The children followed quickly, three girls of beauty and brains, Sonali, Lasanda and Buddika, graduated from Universities as far apart as Kelaniya, Colombo and Texas (USA). The wickets followed quickly as well. In Ceylon's encounters against Indian opposition for the Gopalon Trophy, Kehelgamuwa ripped through top notch Indian batting consisting of the likes of Wadekar, Buddi, Kunderam, Salim Durrane, Milka Singh et all.

In Sara Trophy Cricket, Kehelgamuwa captured over 500 wickets over a period of 15 years.

The International games were so widely spaced. In 1968 against Joe Listers Xi a veritable English Test Team, TBK captured 6 for 67, Against MCC in 1969 : 1 for 28, Against Australia in 1972: 1 for 15, Against Australia in 1974 : 4 for 19.

Such profuse talent, so pathetically starved of a stage to bare their wares.

Kehelgamuwa also recollected with justifiable pride, the issue of having clean bowled two of England's finest products Geoffrey Boycott and Tom Graveney. A lad under 5 feet 8 inches, he would ram 125 lbs plus his broad chest and big heart in to each delivery, pounding in off a lengthy 30 yard run. He loved to swing the bat like most tailenders do and would oblige with a couple of beefy blows if need be. Not all brawn though. It is a little known fact that Kehelgamuwa led police for 3 years from 1969 to 1971 propelling them from 3rd division Donovan Andree Trophy to 1st division Sara Trophy.

On the national stage, he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Mike Tissera, Ranjith Fernando, Stanley Jayasinghe, Anura Polonowita, Neil Chanmugam, Abu Fuard and new-ball buddy Daya Sahabandu. Police Park was no less colourful. He was in good company, with likes of Niel Weerasinghe, Felix Perumal, S. Sivaratnam, Franklyn Burke, Jayantha Paranathala, T. B. Werapitiya, G. S. Ratnayake and H. C. Perera.

Fling with Nomads

Somewhere in the mid 60's Nomads, floundering at the bottom of the heap, wooed the "hurricane" and Kehel played a large part in helping the lads to annexe the much coveted Sara Trophy in 1965, 'Kehel' recollected with warmth the wily leadership of D.H. de Silva of Charity Commissioner Fame. During an opposition run blitz, D. H. Feigned dizziness following a nick to the keeper being controversially turned down, collapsing in a heap at mid on. It took the umpires, players, spectators, a few buckets of water and well nigh 20 minutes to revive the maverick skipper. By which time the opposition had lost all focus, precipitating a calamitous middle order collapse. 'Kehel' waxed eloquent on the divine artistry of Sunil Wettimuny, simply the best, the murderous batting of Ranjith Fernando the wily yet affable arm of Daya Sahabandu and the articulate leadership of Michael Tissera.

Having joined the police force as a sub-inspector in the year 1962, he sprinted up the ranks, from Senior Superintendent of Police to Director Transport and eventually handing up his beloved khakis as Deputy Inspector General of Police (Head-Quarters). His innate sense of decency, duty and diplomacy, no doubt a key to his success.

The legend has also put more than 'something' back into the game. A National selector for over 10 years, pinnacling as the Chairman of selectors in the year 2001, he managed the National Side for quite a number of years and recollects with warmth and pride his stewardship of the side during the 1966 World Cup.

The 'hurricane' from hell has aged angelically. Face creased in affability, crowned by a silvery mane. Presently he is attached to Maliban (Pvt) Ltd. as their chief security officer. He loves to be around his five grandchildren.

The man that de-planted cricket stumps, bides his time planting his precious vegetables and feeding the birds that frequent his backyard.

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