Mahadevan Sathasivam

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A profile

The Times of India, Aug 22 2015

Devadyuti Das

Of a Sri Lankan legend and a murder mystery

Sathasivam remains a batting hero for all generations. but there is a twist in the tale...

The Oval Tavern is where all the old-timers love to hang out at the P Sara Oval. Everyone has a cold one as they appreciate Kumar Sangakkara's silky smooth off-drive. There is a huge portrait that graces the pub, of Sir Donald Bradman and Mahadevan Sathasivam, the captains of Australia XI and Ceylon XI respectively in a match played here in 1948. The latter is one of the biggest heroes in this part of the world, probably adored as much as Bradman is around the world.

Ask every old-timer about the greatest batsman they have seen, and instead of Donald Bradman's name, the answer you will get is Sathasivam. They say his grace, elegance and poise at the crease were unparalleled.

The record books say that he only played in 11 first-class games, with an average of 41.83 and a highest score of 215. But more than his runs, those who knew him swear by the fact that he was one of the greatest gentleman cricketers from this part of the world.

However, there is a stigma attached to Sathasivam as well. He married Paripoornam Anandam Rajendra, a granddaughter of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan in 1941, and was subsequently accused to murdering his wife in 1951.There was a protracted 20-month trial during his which he spent some time in jail as well, but it was thanks to his lawyer Colvin R de Silva that he was finally acquitted.

According to Sri Lanka's Sunday Times newspaper, “On the morning of October 9, 1951, a little after 9.30, the domestic help, Marambage William, was scraping a coconut for the midday meal when the master of the house came into the kitchen, seized him by the hand and dragged him upstairs to the master bed room. On the way up, the master said he had a job for the boy, and that was to kil his wife. Marambage William refused saying he would leave the house righ away without his pay.

“The master went up to the bed caught his wife by the throat with one hand, her hair with the other hand pushed her onto the floor and started to throttle her. He ordered William to grab the lady's struggling body. When the la dy had stopped struggling, the master went downstairs, closed the front door and returned,“ the newspaper said.

Sathasivam's lawyer De Silva clini cally took apart the above testimony o his servant. They flew down forensic ex pert Sir Sidney Smith from England and his testimony was what helped sway the verdict. “De Silva was a member of the Tamil Union Cricket Club. He knew Sathasivam and his family very well. He believed in his innocence and that's why he chose to defend him.

“Everything was special about Sath asivam. He was a classy man and a great gentleman. We used to have drinks together. But after the trial got over, he was never too interested in cricket. He chose to go into business and we helped him get his life together,“ 80-year-old Renil Iyer told TOI on Friday.

“De Silva used to be a politician but he lost his seat because he defended Sathasivam. But he had no regrets,“ Iyer added.

Percy Abeysekera, one of Lankan cricket's oldest fans and a well-known face, also remembers the trial well.“Sathasivam was one of the most popular cricketers of our time. I heard even Frank Worrell came to visit him when he was in jail. But everyone believed he was innocent,“ Percy said.

Sathasivam might have been acquitted but there are still some theories floating around about a `rocky' marriage and other woman by the name of Yvonne Stevenson, who he later married. Whatever the mystery , on the cricket field Sathasivam remains a hero for all generations.

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