Mahinda Athulathmudali brilliant off-spinner of the 1950’s
If someone poses a question to me, “You have been a custodian behind
the stumps for more than three decades, 1957-1987, school, university
and club level. Whom do you consider as the most effective and best
off-spinner, that you have kept wickets to?”
My answer is simple. It is Mahinda Athulathmudali - Nalanda and
He is undoubtedly the most lovable and jovial player that I have
played with Athu, keeps us going. There is never a dull moment with him.
He is full of life. He keeps you on your toes. I enjoyed every bit that
I played with him.
Bowling is a delightful art
Mahinda represented Nalanda College with distinction from 1956-1958.
He was one of the best off-spinners that Sri Lanka produced. Cricket was
his life. He had a unique record, as a player.
Except for SSC, he represented all the leading Clubs - Saracens,
Bloomfield, Colts, NCC and finally Adastrians, when he was attached to
the Air Force.
Those were the days that we played cricket for the love of the game
and not for any monetary gains. We fought hard in the field. Outside we
were best of friends. We had lot of fun.
As players we respected each other and at the end of the day, we
became life long friends, Mahinda Athulathmudali was crowned as the Best
Bowler among school in the year 1958.
He captured more than 60 wickets in ten matches. I still remember a
headline in Daily News sports page on the day of the Ananda-Nalanda Big
Match 1958 - ‘Anandians beware of Athulathmudali - the freak bowler’.
Freak is defined in the dictionary, as a person considered abnormal,
because of his behaviour or appearance. With all due respect to him,
this fine unassuming gentleman, was not abnormal at all.
In the good old days, this pencil slim bowler was only an unorthodox
bowler, who tormented many school and club cricketers in Ceylon. He
deceived many star batsmen, with his wily spinners.
Athulathmudali was no freak. He was a cricketer of high calibre and
an ornament to the game. He always put his team before self. If the side
is failing in batting, Athu will lift the game with ‘Aspiyan Sixers’. He
always comes to the rescue. He is a complete cricketer.
Born on 12th January 1939 in Colombo, he hailed from a highly
respected family from Warakagoda - Matugama/Agalawatta. Aladdin
Athulathmudali and Celina Padmaperuma were his parents.
Later like Aladdin and his magic lamp, Mahinda became a great
magician with the red-cherry.
He played for many years for Saracens. The team was skippered by his
‘Guru’ Gerry Gooneratne, which included Abdul Lafir, Chandrasiri
Weerasinghe, Sarath Silva, Nihal Amaradasa, James Perera and pace
bowlers of the calibre of Roy Perera, Sonny Yatawara, Dooland Buultjens.
The off-spinners were Mahinda Athulathmudali and Premaratne Mahawatte.
The main spin combination of that team was Mahinda Athulathmudali and
Thomian Annesly de Silva.
“My guru - Gerry Gooneratne was the best captain that I have seen. He
is like ‘Papa Saram’, a great tactician, who captained with distinction
for many years. We learnt a lot from them. It was a pleasure to play
under Gerry Gooneratne, who produced dozens of national cricketers from
Nalanda,” stated Athulathmudali.
It reminds me of a saying of Sir Garfield Sobers who described who a
good and successful captain is.
“Captain has to be half a dozen men, all rolled in one. He has to
have a nerve of a gambler, the pose of a financier, the human
understanding of a psychologist; ten years more cricket than he can
possess and patience of a Saint.” Gerry Gooneratne possessed all these
Most memorable match was against Bens
I asked Athu, for his most memorable school and club match. He
replied it was against St. Benedicts. They were a champion outfit, which
included players like Neville Casiechetty and that brilliant right-arm
leg-spinner, who captained St. Benedicts Elmo Rodrigopulle.
In 1960, Elmo was definitely a very intelligent bowler and he used to
flight the ball well. It was difficult to get runs against his bowling.
I captured 8 for 31 and a match-bag of 12 for 65 in 1958 against Bens.
“While in school I played division one club cricket from 1957. I
captured 8 for 21 against Colts. In a Sara match, I returned the figures
of 8 for 40 against Moratuwa. I still remember the late D. D. Jayasinghe,
sarcastically making a remark, when he saw me at the Saracens pavilion
questioning about my bowling ability.
“When he walked into bat, I told Lafir, who was captaining that match
for Saracens that, I like to have a bowl at D. D. Jayasinghe to show my
class as a bowler. Believe it or not I sent a straight ball and DDJ
could not read it. He played for the spin. Result was that his middle
stump was rooted. I taught him a good lesson.”
In 1960s SSC-Saracens encounter was like Greek meeting a Greek. This
was played at Rifle Green the present Air Force ground in Colombo. My
idol C. I. Gunasekera majestically walked into the crease. Gerry
immediately summoned me.
“Athu, chap, I want you to bowl line and length. Fourth one put it
slightly outside the line of off-stump. CI will try to hammer you out of
sight. I was shivering in my boots, as I had to bowl to master blaster,
C. I. Gunasekera, I just carried out my captain’s orders. Fourth ball he
hammered to square leg boundary.
It scooped up, and Chandrasiri Weerasinghe took the catch. We were
all on cloud nine. That wicket gave me tons of confidence in my career.
I stunned SSC by capturing 7 wickets in the first innings.
Great F. C. de Saram approached me and said in his inimitable style,
“Young man, join SSC and earn your Ceylon cap.” I smiled and replied,
“Sir, I am sorry I can’t betray my beloved coach Gerry Gooneratne.”
Mahinda Athulathmudali paid a glowing tribute to his beloved teachers
and coaches at Nalanda - Gerry Gooneratne and Stanley Jayasinghe,
Prefect of Games T. Kandaswamy and Stanley Munasinghe.
“Another memorable incident that I can remember was the day that I
bowled to Clive Lloyd, West Indies captain in mid-1960s at a practice
session at the NCC grounds. It was Stanley who invited me to bowl to
Clive Lloyd. He hammered me for three sixers in one over. One to the
road, another one to the SSC car park. The other one took the aerial
route to D. S. Senanayake grounds.
Lloyd hammered me for three sixes
Clive Lloyd after hammering me for three sixes said, “Son you are a
fine bowler. Only thing the batsman happened to be Clive Lloyd.”
After playing for NCC in the 1967/1968 season, Athulathmudali
migrated to Canada. He was in Hamilton Toronto and played for Toronto
Cricket Club. He was the first Sri Lankan to play for the prestigious
club and later for many years for Grace Church Cricket Club, with
distinction with Malsiri Kurukulasooriya, a Trinitian.
They say that behind every man’s success, there is a woman. On 15th
October 1965, he married Yolande Boyagoda, an old girl of Ava Maria
Convent, Negombo. She played netball and was a fine athlete. Yolande was
the wind behind his wings. She was a trained teacher at Maharagama
English Training College.
In Canada she taught at St. Bridgets School in Hamilton. After
retirement she is at present teaching at Good Shepherd School, Beverly
Hills, California. They have three wonderful children. Rukshi, Milinda
and Inoka, son-in-law Mike, and two grand daughters Nina and Monique.
Mahinda Athulathmudali did his post graduate studies at the
University of McMaster in Hamilton, Yolande too did her post graduate
studies in the same university.
A few months ago Athu came to Sri Lanka and established Waquis (Pvt)
Ltd. He is presently the Managing Director of Waquis (Pvt) Limited a
Back Office Processing Company (BOP), situated at Gothami Road, Borella.
This company processes mortgages of American residents.
“My President, Mr. Joe O’Neil and his team of sales staff gets
contracts from banks and we do the processing of loans. He is very fond
of Sri Lanka. My objective was to generate employment for Sri Lankan
youngsters. Therefore I formed this branch in Sri Lanka.
There is another branch in Bangalore. During the past six months I
have provided employment to about 40 young educated kids. These
youngsters work at night. Because there is a time difference between Sri
Lanka and America.
We have to cater to their needs. I must tell you frankly these kids
who work with me are wonderful. I have the pleasure of being the Leader
and the Managing Director of Waquis for the Far East region.