Constantine’s Coaching Spell in Ceylon in 1953: Assorted Notes-by Michael Roberts
Following my decision to present the accounts of the Australian cricket team’s whistle-stop match in Ceylon in March 1953 as presented in Crosscurrents, I ventured on a search for more data on Learie Constantine’s stint as a coach in the island. Several friends and acquaintances have responded in fruitful ways. So, what you will see here is a compendium that is the product of several hands: titbits that are as enticing as revealing.
In the manner typical to him, my Aloysian schoolmate KK De Silva receives pride of place because he has pointed to an entry in Ferguson’s Directory which pinpoints Learie Constantine’s arrival in Ceylon on the 4thJanuary 1953 to assume his tasks as cricket coach. KK’s data, as well as titbits from many others, indicate that his tasks were not confined to the leading club cricketers, but extended to some schools and included visits to Galle and Kandy. It is these reports that are assembled here. The picture, nevertheless,is incomplete.
A Note from KK De Silva
Michael, The following. Info is from the 1953 Ferguson’s Directory.….
page.31 …………Principal Events …..1953 Jan 4 ………….. Mr. Learie Constantine, world famous West Indies Cricketer, arrives in Colombo, accompanied by his wife, as cricket coach for Ceylon.
page. 853: Sports & Recreation – Cricket: …………. Last year Learie Constantine, famous West Indies all round cricketer, visited Ceylon and did quite a lot of valuable coaching of our young cricketers.
I can remember clearly his visit to Galle. I was one of many from SAC (along with others) who attended the coaching sessions, which took place at the esplanade for about a week. During one session, fielding at point he picked from the air a remarkable one-handed catch which surprised us all. I cannot remember who the batsman was. I cannot remember the others who attended the sessions, but you too must have been there. That year we played an Under 16 match against Richmond at the Richmond College grounds & I think all members of that team took part in the sessions.
I cannot remember whether he coached the Galle CC cricketers, but he must have done so. However, he did coach the Ceylon team in their match against the Australians in March 1953.
A Note from Michael Tissera (in Lanka)
Hi Mike, Re Constantine I can only remember him coming twice to S. Thomas’ first XI nets. I believe he was impressed by Ian Pieris’ bowling and he probably had something to do with Ian playing for SL against Australia in the one-day game. ………………….Kind Regards, Michael
A Note from Lam Seneviratne (in Lanka)
Dear Michael, …………. Further information about the visit of Learie Constantine to Ceylon, but not about his time in Galle. He visited Royal College and addressed the boys at Assembly on 13th February 1953. Later he had a coaching session with our cricketers where he batted and bowled.
A Note from Michael Wille (in Australia)
Hi Michael, …………Those matches played in the era when the Australian and English teams used to travel by ship and before TV was introduced to Ceylon were eagerly looked forward to by cricket lovers in the Island because it gave us a chance to see cricketers that we had only read about or heard about from the cricket broadcasts.
I remember Hassett’s team visiting, but I don’t remember this match in particular and I cannot recall anything controversial about the selection of the Ceylonese side.
Learie Constantine held some coaching classes. I was fortunate enough to attend a couple along with other boys from Royal. I remember that he showed us how to throw the ball using a overhead action like throwing a dart. He was pretty impressive ….. hitting the stumps about 8 times out 10 from 20 meters or so. Maybe modern cricketers can take a leaf out his book because they don’t hit the stumps very often.
He was a pretty impressive guy overall…………… Mike
A Note from Johnny De Silva (in Australia)
Noel Edema was one of those selected to be coached by Constantine. As far as he can recall, M H Gunawardane and may be PS Vedamuttu were chosen. Unfortunately, Noel was injured at our Inter Collegiate match against St Sebastian’s and could not play. He thinks that Ranjith Samaraweera took his place. Learie addressed a gathering in the College Hall on one of the days. That is as much as he can remember.
Johnny De Silva, Memo II:
Hi Michael, delving into copies of The Aloysian pertaining to that time, I was able to extract very general information.
According to the College Notes it was noted that he visited Galle on February 2 and gave a talk in the College Hall on 11 February. In the same issue, The Aloysian Volume 7 Number 3, in the article on College Cricket R Samaraweera, the Hony Secretary, had this to say: … “I must not fail to mention the in-between coaching five of our men received by the famous West Indian Leary Constantine. He took much pains to teach them the salient points of sound batting and bowling, besides initiating them into the First Class cricket scene. We extend to him our heartfelt gratitude.” (pg 313 of the same magazine)
I find it strange that no mention was made of the names of the cricketers who were chosen from College!
In an earlier email giving you Noel’s recollections, I referred to PS Vedamuttu. That was the great teacher. This was his son Freddy who was PF Vedamuttu.
I too had the good fortune of meeting the great man. My father was in the 15 chosen to play for Galle and he introduced me to Sir (not then) Leary on the balcony of the old stadium (or GrandStand!). I recall taking a photograph of him, scurrying back to the College developing the film and getting a few prints. I hurried it back to the grounds and through my father was able to get a photograph autographed by Sir Leary. He was astonished at what I had done and remarked to my Father that I had the makings of a good Reporter!!! Alas, I do not have that photograph!! We were too young to realise the value of those items. I am sure someone pinched it from my desk in the Study Hall!!
In the background of this photo one sees the Grandstand which serviced all sporting events on the Galle Esplanade in the 1930s-to-1990s …. the spot where Learie Constantine supervised the cricket coaching
…. with these other photos presenting the 19th century landscape prior to the moulding of an oval -shaped sporting field hemmed in a by a verdant green hedge