By Sujith Silva
Though I have heard so much about Lareef Idroos and made references to this cricketer in the very first issue of Quadrangle Magazine back in 2014, I never managed to meet him in person until Michael Tissera got me an appointment meet the former Ceylon player when he was briefly in town. He is one of the best known ‘Leg Break’ bowlers produced by S. Thomas’ back in the 1950s. He mesmerised batsmen with his googlies not only in school cricket but also in Sara Trophy cricket. Dr Idroos is now a much sought-after specialist in California
‘I was in College from 1951 to 1961 and played cricket right throughout from under 13 to 1st XI. My first year in 1st XI was in 1957 when I played under Michael Tissera. I played under him in 1958 too and then in ’59 under Ferdinands. I captained the College 1st XI in 1960. Our best seasons were ’57 and ’58. My first coach was L.S. Gauder who was actually our master-in-charge. The year I captained (1960) F.C. De Saram was our coach. I learnt a lot from him. He had a wealth of knowledge and was a skillful master. I used to go to his place every Thursday to discuss match tactics. I started as a bowler but later on I managed to cement my place as a batsman too. When it comes to bowling, I was able to naturally bowl leg break googlies and I perfected this. Very few players bowled leg breaks during those days and I think Elmo Rodrigopulle (of St. Benedict’s College) was another schoolboy who bowled leg breaks.’
In 1957, S. Thomas’ beat St. Peter’s for the first time and Lareef Idroos claimed 6 for 48 in the second innings against the Peterites. Lareef fondly recalls how he, as a small-made 16-year-old boy bowled big-made Peterite Lakshman Serasinghe who was famous for big hitting, around his leg. The Thomians also managed to beat St Joseph’s College after bowling out the Josephians twice, with Idroos enjoying a match bag of 10 for 83 runs. S. Thomas’ also beat Trinity College the same year, the Trinitians having the likes of Malsiri Kurukulasuriya, Nimal Maralanda, Sene de Silva and Raji de Zilva, Ken de Joodt.
However, S. Thomas’ who were tipped as the favourites against St. Benedict’s, lost their encounter on their home grounds. St. Benedict’s College under L.P. Rayen went on to become the unofficial schools cricket champions in 1957. Lareef took 5 for 43 against the Benedictines in their first innings. At the Royal-Thomian Big match, Lareef could manage only two scalps for 56 runs as the Royalists were determined not to give him wickets, a fact confirmed by two Royalists who played in that game, Lorenz Pereira and Mahinda Wijesinghe. Thomians under Michael Tissera in 1957 played 10 games and won seven lost one, with two draws. They made amends the following year by remaining unbeaten and becoming unofficial schools cricket champions. During the champion season under Michael Tissera in 1958, Lareef took 49 wickets in six games. Lareef was picked for the Combined Schools Cricket XI in 1957, 58 and 59. In 1959 he went on to lead a strong Combined Schools XI.
Lareef recalls: “The only match we lost during the four-year period (1957 to 1960), was against St. Benedict’s in 1957. All other matches we managed to win or draw. At the same time we had some tough opponents, Royal College was always tough to beat. Michael Wille, Michael Dias, Lorenz Pereira and his brother Brian, Samarasinghe brothers, Nanda Senanayake, Daya Sahabandu and Mahinda Wijesinghe are some of the players that come to my mind. Then Ananda College and Nalanda College had some fantastic players like Anuruddha Polonnowita, Sony Yatawara, Premasera Epasinghe, Chandrasiri Weerasinghe, Wijepala Premaratne. St. Peter’s had Jayantha Fernando, Lakshman Serasinghe, Anton Perera, Premasiri Athukorale and Dr. Adeil Anghie.
“St Joseph’s had Raja de Silva, Keerthi Caldera, Claude Perera, Priya Perera, Tissa de Soysa, Zacky Mohamed, Ranjith Malawana. St. Benedict’s had L.P Rayen, Neville Cassiechetty, Cecil Waidyaratne, Elmo Rodrigopulle, Lionel Fernando, and Cyril Ernest
“I played with or against most of these players later on when I was representing Combined Schools, Universities and for Saracens. Some are to date very good friends like Cyril Ernest. That’s the beauty of cricket.”
Talking of specialising his leg break googlies, “Bowling leg break spinners is a tough art. Then to bowl googlies, you need to work really hard. I did practice a lot. All alone. I got lot of wickets though. My personal best was in 1958 when we became champs. First game was against St. Benedict’s College when we managed to beat them. Then we beat St. Peter’s College. I remember taking 10 wickets against Wesley College and also St Joseph’s College during that season. We also played against Prince of Wales College and I was amongst wickets. My personal best when it came to batting was the 91 runs I scored against Trinity College at Asgiriya. I was batting so well and could have gone on for a century. Unfortunately I was bowled by Eric Roles. Though the ball never rose, it kept really low and I completely missed it. I think in the same match, Malsiri Kurukulasuriya scored a century against us. Some of those memories are quite vague, hard to recall. As it’s more than fifty years ago. At the 1958 Royal-Thomian big match I couldn’t get wickets as I didn’t bowl well. The game was affected by bad weather too.”
Talking about the captains, he said: “Michael Tissera was a highly knowledgeable player. He knew about the game and also about each player. Then I played under Denis Ferdinands in 1959 and we again remained unbeaten. Also I played alongside the Reid brothers, Ronnie and Buddy, Nihal Gurusinghe, Neil Chanmugam, Michael Sproule, P. S. Kumara a former tennis player a good bat. He got a blistering 41 runs at the ’59 Royal-Thomian. Mano Ponniah who later went on to play for Cambridge and Ceylon. In the 1959 Royal-Thomian, I couldn’t still get any wickets. Royal College was the top side that year. However at the end of first day’s play (after S. Thomas’ declared at 257 for 6 wickets in 100 overs), the score card red as Royal College 0 for 2 as they lost two wickets without a run on the board. I managed to break the hoodoo in the 1960 Royal-Thomian with a five wicket haul in the first innings (Idroos got 5 for 47 in the first innings and followed it up with 2 for 54 in the second). The match again ended in a draw.
Talking about the 1960 schools cricket season: “It was a side packed with freshers. There were only three coloursmen left in the 1960 1st XI squad with myself, R.M. Fernando and Michael Sproule. Michael Sproule couldn’t play the entire season, he underwent an appendicitis operation soon after the match against Wesley College earlier in the season and returned only for the final match of the season, against Royal College.
“Keith Labrooy was our main strike bowler and Maurice Fairweather, Wanduragala and Marapone along with Mano Ponniah were our front line batsmen. We managed to remain unbeaten in 1960 too. Warden Davidson.
“Yet again, Royal College was the side to beat which included Sarath Samarasinghe, Nanda Senanayake, Michael Dias, Brian Pereira, Harsha Samarajeewa, Sunil Vidanage, Perayerawar and Daya Sahabandu. They were well experienced, well balanced. It was a great side. They were the favourites for the Battle of the Blues. I told the boys, let’s play our game and do the basics right. I didn’t have much options when it came to our bowling attack. We had to sparsely manage the resources. Maurice Fairweather bowled really well. We put up a good show on the field and despite the fact they had a very strong batting line-up we managed to bowl them out for a low score (all out for 157 runs).”
In their first inning, STC couldn’t drive home that advantage (all out for 131 with Mano Ponniah top scoring with 51 runs). Chief wicket takers were Daya Sahabandu (4), Nanda Senanayake (3) and Sunil Vidanage (3). In the second innings Royal College did better (194 runs for 5 declared. Lalith Senanayake with 69 and Brian Pereira 44 were the chief scorers) and set a target of 221 runs to win in little over two sessions. The game fizzled out to another draw as S. Thomas’ College ended the day with 138 for 6 wickets, with R.M. Fernando top scoring with 45.
“Senthinadan Sinniaha was captain of Wesley College, Premasiri Athukorale was the captain for SPC, Michael Sproule got a beautiful hundred against Peterites. When he was out of action due to an operation, it was a big challenge for me to find a replacement. Then Josephian Tissa de Soysa got a hundred against us”
“I was born in Hultsdorp and then we moved to Kollupitya. My father, Taufeeque was a big cricket fan and he used to take me to see cricket matches. I loved it and then schools cricket was big, something really enjoyable those days. To watch and also to play. I remember when playing against St Benedict’s College at Kotahena and St Joseph’s College at Darley Road, the crowd gathered in numbers. If the game is exciting, people from nearby areas, especially during the second day afternoon, would come and flock to the ground. So much excitement. In fact I still remember, when I got 10 wickets against St. Joseph’s (in 1957) and when we won the match, I had to remain inside the pavilion for some time until the crowd disperse.. But the game was played in the best spirit. The comradeship and, sportsmanship were at their best.
Soon after College, I entered University of Ceylon to follow Medicine. I continued playing cricket, from 1961 to 1967. We had a fantastic side and created history in Sara Trophy and university cricket, by becoming the first and the only champion side (1962/63). All top club cricket sides like SSC, NCC, Bloomfield dreaded playing against us. We beat them all. We could’ve been the champions again the following year (1963/1964). We met Bloomfield in the finals. If we won it, we would become the champions. A draw will meant Bloomfield would become champs. I remember, Bloomfield wa
s down eight wickets and they still needed to get 80-odd runs. I was bowling to Norton Fredrick. He went for a big hit and miss-cued it. The ball went straight up and Carlyle came under, and alas he dropped it. He would’ve taken it nine out of 10 times. It was not to be on that day. Then with about fifteen minutes play remaining, it started to rain and the umpires called off the game. The match was drawn and Bloomfield won the Sara Trophy in ‘64 by a very thin margin (as per the points table, the difference was 0.04 points). Ceylon University side ended as runner’s-up.
That champion side was led by former Josephian cricketer Carlyle Perera. Vice-Captain was Buddy Reid (Thomian). The side comprised including myself and few other Thomians who played along with me Mano Ponniah, Nihal Gurusinghe and U.R.P. Goonetilleke. Then there were Royalists Harsha Samarajeewa, Nanda Senanayake, N.J.S. de Mel and K. Wimalaratne, two Peterites Merril Guneratne and Adiel Anghie, Benedictine Cyril Ernest, Anandian Mohanlal Fernando, Sebastianite Kingsley Fernando and only outstation schoolboy from Jaffna to join the University team (from St John’s College) V. Sivanandan. This team was a talented bunch. Some went on to represent Ceylon in cricket and some in various other sports such as tennis, table tennis, hockey and football.
“I was a member of the touring squads when Sri Lankan sides toured India for Gopalan trophy and to Pakistan between 1963-1965. Though I could never play in any of the Unofficial Test matches, I managed to play for the Board President’s XI at Colombo Oval when Pakistan team toured Sri Lanka. I graduated from Medical School in 1967 and then worked here for couple years before leaving for the USA in ‘71. Before that, I played for SSC and played as the vice-Captain under Anura Tennakoon’s captaincy. I also played along with P.I. Peiris, Sunil Wettimuny, Nihal Kodituwakku, Sriyantha Rajapakse, and Neil Chanmugam. Once I went over to the US, I first settled down in New York and I specialised in nephrology and became a nephrologist. After almost five year stay in New York, I moved to California. There I managed to play some cricket. In fact, I represented USA in cCricket along with Cyril Ernest and Balakrishnan during the late ‘70s. It was an annual encounter, USA used to play against Canada. I really enjoyed playing cricket along with Cyril and Balakrishnan.
“Then I was involved in forming the biggest medical assistance group, Kaiser Permanente (California) for which I’m still attached to. I also started the very first Old Boys Association in California back in the ‘80s and was the president of the Old Thomians Association during its first two years. I still maintain ties with the college and with Old Thomians. I settled down permanently in California with my wife Nabila and our three daughters Shireen, Sabrina and Samira.
“I’m also involved with the Sri Lanka Medical Association (California, USA) where I was the president for six years running. This was formed after, some of the doctors including me got together, those of us all benefited from free education and we (as the professionals/Doctors) felt we needed to give something back. We carry out lot of charitable and fundraising activities supporting medical faculties, those who need assistance in medical studies back home in Sri Lanka. During my tenure as president we’ve assisted the Jaffna Medical Faculty, Jaffna Surgical ICU and we also donated three million rupees worth of books to the Medical Library. Then about two years ago we donated and equal amount of goods and equipment to the Cancer section in Kurunegala Hospital. This year we will be donating US$ 25,000 worth of drugs to Pediatric section of the Cancer Hospital and another US$ 15,000 worth goods to set up a Mental Institution to further enhance the studies and research on this subject.
“All these were done by a small group of doctors. Then there are people who are not doctors or not coming from the medical profession working with us and helping to raise funds. They are really committed to the cause. We spend a lot of time, with regular meetings, events and a lot goes on behind the scene. Happy to see our efforts baring positive results. This gives lot of satisfaction.
“Looking back I am still grateful to all the teachers who taught me at S. Thomas’ and fellow Thomians. Back in the days, we never had issues with language, caste or religion. We all got a long with Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese. It was a wonderful experience and taught us many lessons too. I cherish those memories to date.”