Interviewed by Ramith Dheerasekara
All of you know Uncle Percy well if you are a cricket fan. This World Cup season is the best time to have a chat with him. So, we did.
I’ve heard one story where you had a dream about Mohammad Azharuddin, then Captain of India.
What exactly did you see, Uncle Percy?
This was in 1982. Azharuddin came to Sri Lanka after scoring three consecutive centuries against England. Unlike the present team, it consisted of Ian Botham, David Gower, and a lot of good cricketers. Before he came to bat, I looked at him.
I thought I could do something to get him out! He looked very tentative. Just as he was going to bat, I told him: “Azhar, I dreamt of you getting out in the third ball.”
The world’s best batsman at that time, and he actually got out in the third ball.
Did you actually see that dream?
No, I pretended. This was nothing dishonest.It was all for the sake of my motherland. It’s not like throwing bottles or anything similar to that.
Speaking of throwing bottles, could you also share the incident that happened during the semi-finals in the1996 World Cup?
When I went to the stadium, all of them – about 120,000 people – were very friendly with me. When they were losing, they were like devils. They started to throw pineapple, grapes, and a lot of other things at me and my t-shirt was something like a fruit salad.
Ultimately, when Vinod Kambli was coming back to the pavilion crying, one spectator came and pulled my flag. I didn’t let it go. Then it tore.
Arjuna Ranatunga and Asanka Gurusinghe saw that I was having a problem. From a distance, they asked me to come. If we went full on, I don’t think we would have been living today. It was so bad. Then I was escorted to our court by the Police.
Then the following day, the news headline of many newspapers read: “One against one lakh!”
I also found out that you’ve been a good cricketer back in your day. Under you captaincy, the company AMW,
which you still work for, won the G Division cricket tournament. Could you recall some of those memories?
I was the Captain and we beat Lake House at the Rifle Green. Rifle Green is the present Air Force Ground. The Army
Ground was called the Echelon Square.
The names have changed over the course of time. Lake House had a better side.They had bought Man of the Match trophies for them, but at the end, they had to give them to us.
Then there is another good story I need to tell you. This was while I was at Aquinas.
I think I know what you’re going to say, Uncle. It’s the C.I. Gunasekera story, if I’m right.
We had an exam for economics history. This was after the lunch break. My good friend, a Mr. Jayathilake, told me: “Machan, C.I. is hammering like nothing!.” I have never seen a hard-hitting batsman like C.I., and I would say he isn’t second to Sanath Jayasuriya.
When C.I. goes to bat, people don’t keep the cars in the car park. They take it out. All are smashed. It was that type of strength and hitting. In my over 50 years of watching cricket, he has been the hardest hitter I have ever seen.
The best part of the story is when the Australian team was on tour here once. He hit Kline for three sixes and three fours, and that was the last time we heard of Kline.I think C.I. was not out on 70 runs that day, and we didn’t have doubts about what to do.
Could you tell us something from your past as a cricketer?
Actually, when I was 10 years old, my hobby was collecting pictures of cricketers. From the time of Don Bradman, little by little, I started playing cricket. In fact, when I was 12 years old, as I was mad over cricket, two of my brothers took me to the Oval to watch a match.
We went by train, and we walked to the Oval from Maradana, as there were no tuk tuks at that time. The ticket cost 25 cents. Bradman and Sathasivam were the two captains. Back in the day, cricket fans used to say that Sathasivam was the best batsman in the world.
During your days as a cricketer, were you a batsman or a bowler?
I was an all-rounder. A left-hand batsman and a right-arm off-spin bowler. A little bit like Arjuna Ranatunga, but Ranatunga used to bowl at medium pace and I was a spinner.
What was the highest number of runs you scored?
At one mercantile match I scored 149 runs.
What about the highest number of wickets?
Seven wickets for 35 runs. This was in a southern province tournament against the Old Soakians.
They were represented by Nelson Mendis and Lionel Mendis. I captained Balapitiya Crusaders. Under my captaincy, we won all the matches. I took the wickets of Lionel and Nelson Mendis.
Could you also recall the incident at the Borella Police Station?
There were about 1,500 spectators outside the Police.
Please tell us that story.
Asitha Jayaweera was on 46, batting alongside Fabian Aponso. I said I will congratulate Asitha if he got his 50. I went and asked for Asitha’s bat.
There were no stadiums like today; the spectators were on trees and on the roofs of houses, and the crowds were up to the boundary line. And then the wicket-keeper, Wayne Phillips, came. He asked me to get out. I asked him to get out. This went on for some time.
A police inspector held my hands. The crowds started hooting. The more they hooted, the harder he held my hands. They then took me to the police station in Borella in the police jeep.
Sathasivam had called the Police and asked them not to harm me but by that time, the damage had been done. Finally, at 11 p.m., Sathasivam had sent Rs. 100 to bail me out.
Sri Lankan batting legend Mahadevan Sathasivam sent Rs. 100 to bail Uncle Percy in the year 1972!
Yes. There were more than 1,000 spectators outside the police station. They were clapping and all that. Then, some friends of mine took me to Havelock and we enjoyed the draw till three in the morning.