Monday, 18 October 2004  
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Life and times in sport:

D. S. de Silva - A man who gave life to a dying art

by Premasara Epasinghe

He hails from a family of cricketers, from South - Unawatuna, Galle. There are six brothers and a sister. With his brothers and friends in the neighbourhood, as a child, he played tennis-ball cricket. He preferred to play cricket to having meals. That's how he started his career.

He was undoubtedly one of the best leg-spinners that Sri Lanka produced. After gaining Test status, he was the best leg-spinner that this country witnessed so far.

His name is DANDENIYA SOMACHANDRA DE SILVA. He is popularly known as D. S. de Silva. DS is a fine all-round cricketer, a gutty fighter. His motto is to put the team and the country before self.

His parents are Simon de Silva and Mrs. Saminona de Silva. Two of his illustrious cricketing brothers D. H. de Silva, who played for the University of Ceylon and later captained Nomads and D. P. de Silva too represented the country. DH and DP played for Mahinda College, the leading Buddhist seat of learning in the south.

D. S. de Silva played for Prince of Wales College. It was his brother Sugathadasa Dandeniya, who admitted him to Prince of Wales. From school days, he showed promise. He played cricket for the college as a junior and senior player under the captaincy of W. G. Fernando.

Fielding - major part of cricket

Fielding is something that a player can teach himself, develop on his own and improve through practice. It is a major part of cricket. As a schoolboy, DS, enjoyed fielding. He showed promise for a very bright future as a fine fielder, bowler and a batsman.

There is a basic principle in any ball sport: Keep your eye on the ball. For example, it applies in golf, tennis, table tennis, soccer, and equally in cricket. It is essential, both, batting and unless you obey the golden rule you have no chance of success. DS followed these principles to the letter.

D. S. de Silva played for Moratuwa SC, Nomads SC and the Municipality of Colombo, for number of years. He represented Sri Lanka for over a decade. Captured 5 for 40 in 25 overs against the MCC in the 1970s, and scored a pleasing 36 not out for Sri Lanka. His hour of glory was when he had a match bag of 10 for 156 against the mighty West Indians in the SL-WI clash in Colombo.

He was a member of the first official Test team in 1982. Later, he represented Sri Lanka in three World Cups - 1975, 1979, 1983.

Foreign exposure

D. S. de Silva excelled as a professional cricketer in England for many years. He played for Middleton, Linconshire in the Central Lancashire League and played for Minor Countries under Don Wilson. He was preferred to be their professional player for Shropshire. They preferred DS for West Indian Vanburn Holder.

With determination, commitment, courage and application he reached the top and became a master in his own trade - the art of leg-spin bowling. He mesmerised and kept at bay many a batsman.

Prized wicket of Boycott

"Premasara, my most prized wicket was that of Geoff Boycott, who was a very difficult customer to dislodge. In a league match, Yorkshireman Geoff Boycott, was cleaned bowled by him. "I was really thrilled," stated D. S. de Silva.

D. S. de Silva played in Australia after the 1984/85 world series competition. He captained and coached Northshire, Melbourne Club for 3 years and led them to victory.

DS's 200th first class wicket, Duleep's twin centuries

I still remember, when I commentated for Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation the Indo-Sri Lanka Test match played at Madras (Chennai) where Duleep Mendis scored the twin centuries and Sunil Gavaskar scored 155 in the first innings. D. S. de Silva, reached a milestone in his illustrious career when he claimed the 200th first class wicket, when he sent Gavaskar to the pavillion.

His first 50 wickets he captured in 15 matches and in the next 29 matches he claimed 150 wickets.

Landmark in the history of SLRC

Incidentally, year 1982 marked a landmark in the history of Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation. Indo-Sri Lanka Test match recorded live and ODI played at Bangalore were viewers in Sri Lanka. This was the first time a match was covered in a foreign soil. Renowned commentator Palitha Perera and I had the distinction of commentating at Madras and Bangalore.

Coaching career

After DS gave up playing cricket, he took up to coaching and he was first in charge of 'spinners clinic' for few years, which was the brainchild of Thilanga Sumathipala, when he functioned as the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (BCCSL).

Thilanga Sumathipala's vision in promoting the game in the outstations is bearing fruits now. Further, he appointed Rumesh Ratnayake for the 'fast blowers clinic'.

I personally, feel, that Sumathipala's thinking of constructing concrete wickets and indoor cricket nets in the outstations helped the up and coming young cricketers in a big way to blossom their talents.

The dying art of leg spin

The basic grip to bowl leg-spinner - from which the googly or wrong un also is bowled - is to hold the ball so that it settles into the first three fingers. The first two fingers lie across the seam with the top joints taking most of the pressure.

The third and little fingers are curled below them, so that, top joint of the third finger, lying along the seam, presses hard upwards against it. The third finger is the lever for the spin. The wrist is locked and brought over at delivery, while the third finger propels the ball forward in an anti-clockwise direction.

The 'googly' or 'wrong un' is bowled with the same grip. However, the wrist turns over earlier and is bent back, so that, at release, the back hand faces the batsman and the ball comes out from over the top of the third and little finger spinning in a clock-wise direction.

Buy a wicket

The leg-spin bowler must always try to 'buy a wicket'. Invite the batsman to hit you, if possible, against the spin. There are many other 'ploys' that a skilful leg-spinners will use to winkle out the opposition.

Never ever on any account, bowl short, this is a golden rule that should be maintained by all leg-spinner. The half-volley is much better ball than a long-hop.

The role of the leg-spinner is essentially to attack. He must bowl straight, preferably at the leg-stump or just inside the pad, for most batsmen are vulnerable there, and he must always keep the ball up. On a really difficult pitch, accuracy is everything. Leg-spinner must concentrate on the length and direction, and his normal spin and the wicket should do the rest.

D. S. de Silva related to one, an interesting episode about a club match he remembers well.

"When I was playing for Prince of Wales, I had the good fortune of meeting Nisal Senaratne, who was one of the most outstanding wicket-keepers in the 1950s. He was a Cambrian. Just after school, Nisal Senaratne enrolled me to play for Moratuwa SC. I can vividly remember it was Moratuwa versus SSC match. This match was played at the SSC grounds.

The maestro C. I. Gunasekera was batting at his brilliant best partnering, Nalanda College your opening partner (Sarath, and I opened for Nalanda in 1957). Sarath Silva - dashing, brilliant left-hander. I was fielding at covers. CI drove powerfully to covers, and the ball came like a bullet.

I picked it cleanly and in a flash returned it to wicket-keeper Senaratne, who made no mistake and Sarath Silva was run out. CI was so impressed with my fielding he had told Nisal Senaratne, that I will play for Sri Lanka in the near future." His prediction came true.

His contribution as a coach is highly impressive. Shelly Wickramasinghe, a greater promoter of the game assigned him to coach Bloomfield Cricket Club. As a coach, he was highly successful and won the premier titles on number of years.

Presently, D. S. de Silva is the national coach for the under-19. He is employed at Sri Lanka Cricket.

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