Australia vs Ceylon at the Colombo Oval in March 1953 … and Constantine-by Michael Roberts
In focusing on Learie Constantine’s spell as a coach in the island in 1953 I was prompted initially by his report on the one-day encounter between the Australian cricket team led by Lindsay Hassett and a Ceylon team, a “whistle-stop game” as it was known then because the Aussies played such matches on their way to England by ship on several occasions dating from the early decades of the 20th century.
The details of this encounter were presented in 1998 in the book Crosscurrents. Sri Lanka and Australia at Cricket, by Michael Roberts & Alfred James under the cover of Walla Walla Press. I was able to present such reports because of my convivial interaction with one of Sri Lanka’s star batsman, CH ‘Channa’ Gunasekara,
whose scrapbook was a goldmine of news cuttings.
These details include reviews of the one-day match by Bill O’Reilly, Jack Fingleton and Learie Constantine. Fingleton and O’Reilly were former Aussie cricketers become journalists. Constantine was reporting on the performance of a team he had trained and possibly had a voice in selecting. Such an intervention would be unusual today; but it suggests that Learie’s standing was such that no one considered it strange to have his assessments.
I have reproduced these details, inclusive, of photographs, in another spot in Thuppahi. Here, I set the scene for a focus on another fascinating exploration that focuses on Constantine’s stay in Ceylon. What coaching efforts did he engage in within the island? Many contemporaries and most of those who participated in that match have passed away. But there are a few still around and many young cricketing schoolboys from the year 1953 who could provide information on Constantine’s impact within the island ….. among them Stanley Jayasinghe, Chandra Schaffter, Michael Tissera and Michael Wille.
Constantine visited Galle and Kandy as well in his coaching duties; and KK De Silva’s special skills in researching has generated some striking details about his visit to Galle and to St Aloysius College.
The results will be presented in a Compendium of Titbits on Learie Constantine’s Far-reaching Forays in Promoting Cricket in Ceylon in 1953. I add, here, that this visit was before Learie was knighted by the British Royalty in the year 1962. So, my final act is to doff my battered cricketing cap in the direction of his grave….. and to ask Lord Superior to fashion a “Ballad” in his memory.
 The Walla Walla Press was presented by the Cricket reporter and writer Richard Cashman of Sydney. Alfred James is also from Sydney—an Australian with a remarkable body of information who kindly provided me with all the details of Australian cricket teams’ visits to Ceylon up to Sri Lanka’s receipt of ICC status in 1981.
 My interactions with Channa were extremely fruitful and I pinch myself for failing to record the moments and retain all items received. Channa’s life-span was from 1931-2008: see ……………………….