Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Free Town Boys

PLEASE MEET MY COUSIN OF FREE TOWN BOYS

Francis lived in a big house down a narrow road, between Kinross Ave and Castle Lane in Bambalapitiya. He was always my favourite cousin, friend, mentor, and guiding light during those early days of my childhood. I always looked up to him for guidance and knowledge. He taught me both the good and bad things in life, and still earned my respect, as he would radiate a great feeling of love and kindness whenever I was around him, that made him more like a brother to me than a cousin.

Francis had many skills, one of which was being Secretary of the Free Town Boys Cricket and Athletics Club of that narrow road he lived in. He was a third generation member of a well known family, and so enjoyed the privilege of this office. As the club name suggested membership was free and the only qualification was that you had to be a resident of this road.
In my case, the requirements were ignored , for after all, I was the cousin-brother of the Secretary. He ran this club successfully with no financial backing, and the Club did not even seek a donation from anyone. May be this was a good thing in a way, as the only beneficiary could have been “ Saraswathie Lodge”.

Some one had to only come up with a cricket ball, and out when a host of written letters inviting other clubs to participate in a game of cricket. Some of the names of these clubs that come to mind are “Dead End Kids C.C.”, “The Golden Eagles C.C.”, “ Silver Arrow Sports Club” and “ Royden Cricket Club”. I remember very well the opening paragraph of this letter ……Quote “ We the members of the above mentioned C.C. challenge you to a game of cricket on this day the…….in month of…….. in the year of our Lord 19……., notwithstanding, the terms and conditions herein stated.” Unquote. This document sounded more like something coming out of the Attorney Generals Department than from a club of meagre means.

On the morning of the match, Francis would be up with the birds for there was work to be done, firstly the venue had to be booked, by this I mean stumps put in place and someone of authority (in other words a toughie) left at the grounds to ensure all went well when we arrived ,by then other clubs too would have arrived and there were more stumps planted, more than even crosses found in Kanatte. At times you really did not know whether you were batting against or bowling to the right opponents. ".

Some of the grounds we played at were St. Peters, the Golf Links down Greenlands Rd., the park next to the BRC, Kotalawella Gardens, Shruberry Gardens and the Seminary grounds with all but five hundred coconut trees.

Francis had still more work to do…... like visiting the homes of all the players confirming availability, as at times some would be grounded for domestic reasons, then there was cricket gear to look for, this was easly solved by picking a rich kid with plenty of gear and no cricketing skills.

Makeen S was captain, and our opening bowler was a demon called Johnny R., he had a slinging action, and every ball he bowled was a thunder bolt, but sadly accuracy was not part of his repertoire. The first ball could be aimed at the batsman’s throat, the next would sail over the wicket keepers head, and the next would have third slip running for cover, but whenever he got it right, he either broke the stumps or the batsman leg, for we wore only one pad. It was regimental, that after every over J.R. would reach for his comb and rearrange the “ Yankee Puff “ that fell half way down his forehead.

John M. was wicket keeper, and got the job as he owned one and a half wicket keeping gloves. We shared equipment with the other teams and vice-versa,and in days gone by “Helmets “ were not even worn in Toobruk..

Raju was our umpire , and the very sight of him was enough for the opposition to summon the ICC. However with a promise of fair play he was allowed to take his place.

If in anyone today thinks Darrell Hair is biased and controversial, then Raju set the bench mark.

Faleel, was a important player in the side and whenever we could not get a batsman out he was sent to the position of short leg to taunt and frustrate the batsman into loosing his wicket. The plan always worked.

Some of the other members of this honourable side were, Allister B. (Francis), Hamza S., Haig K., Guy M., Farooze, and Ian H.

At the end of the day the game of cricket was played as only gentleman will , and maybe the time has come for of our international sides to learn how the game should be played from our humble beginnings.

Finally, it is with great sadness that I have learnt that some are no longer with us, and although some of us have moved to alien climes, I hope that when the time comes for us to abide, our souls will return home to rest in better places in better times.

I.H.

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