Living Legends – Anuruddha Polonowita

Polons - dedicated servant of cricket

By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
Anuruddha Polonowita is unique in the sense that unlike most of his contemporaries and those before him he has dedicated his life not only to playing cricket but has continued to be involved in the game now for over half a century. That is one record that should be included in the Guinness Book of World Records for dedicated service.

Seldom do you find a cricketer continuing for so long and be still in the business enjoy his work so thoroughly that it is rather difficult to fathom that this is the same individual who played five years of first eleven cricket for Ananda College, a further 10 years for his country when it was referred to as Ceylon and the rest in various capacities with Sri Lanka Cricket. You name it and Polons, as he is widely referred to, has been part of it. The only position he admitted he has not held in cricket is the post of president of the cricket controlling body.
Polonowita completed his golden anniversary with the game last year and his list of achievements are endless – chairman of umpires, tournament and selection committees, vice president, ground secretary, manager of national teams, and qualified cricket coach. His present position as national curator sees him involved in helping Sri Lanka Cricket upgrade the R Premadasa Stadium, and the construction and completion of two new cricket venues at Sooriyawewa and Pallakele to host 12 matches of Cricket World Cup 2011 next February-March. That is only with the Cricket Board, further he was coach of Ananda College for 38 years and worked in the Colombo Municipality for 40 years.

At 71, it is simply amazing that Polonowita finds time and energy to bask under a hot sun and devote his life to cricket whereas others would have preferred to relax and spend the rest of their life in the comfort of their homes. Despite all his chores he still finds time to be with his family and takes them out marketing and on holidays.

“I would put discipline, commitment and application towards success. If you gear yourself to them things will automatically fall into place,” Polonowita told The Nation. “I am married for 42 years and I always come home and attend to my home needs whatever the work I have to do. If you plan properly there is enough time on your hands to attend to all the needs. In the mornings you must see how you are going to fit into the day’s programme.
“When I was in the Colombo Municipality I had to attend to the Cricket Board requirements, to Ananda College where I was the coach and to my family. I never neglected anything. My wife Chitrangini looked after the children’s studies (2 daughters and a son) and I looked after their sports,” said Polonowita who resides with his family at Rosmead Place.

Two great individuals from whom Polonowita learnt a great deal were the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa and former Colombo Mayor Sirisena Cooray. “One good advice I got from President Premadasa was ‘don’t try to advice anybody unless they ask for advice’. That’s very true. I learnt a lot about planning from the President. You had to plan them early morning and gear yourself to the task. Sirisena Cooray was another dynamic man he always knew how to get things done. Working under them gave me immense experience at planning projects.”
When President Premadasa built the Khettarama Cricket Stadium (now named after him) he sent Polonowita on a three-month course to Australia to study curatorship. “I undertook the challenge to qualify in that field because it was one of the most neglected areas in cricket. No one talked about pitches those days today it is the centre of talk. In those days it was the ‘meenachis’ and ‘natamis’ who looked after the preparation of pitches under the supervision of the ground secretary. There wasn’t any organised form of preparing pitches.”
Polonowita has used his international experience to conduct workshops for groundsmen in the Premier division and today he boasts of seven graduates trained with a degree in agriculture where they know all about soil and grass. “Even if I leave today everything won’t collapse. Curatorship is in good hands.”

Knowing the history of cricket politics in the country it is unique that Polonowita has survived it all and still continues to serve. “Actually I was never interested in people or places I was interested only in what I was doing. I have served under 13 Cricket Board presidents and all interim committee chairmen. My intentions were for cricket and I was never concerned about the politics. Even in the Municipality I served under 13 Mayors and worked very closely with two Presidents, Ranasinghe Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapaksa. Whoever was in the chair I served them. I served three of my students of Ananda College when they were Cricket Board presidents – Upali Dharmadasa, Mohan de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga. Whoever it was, I respected the chair because that person is there because of his capabilities and I had to serve him.”

Ananda College has been in the forefront of cricket for many decades and it is individuals like Polonowita who have made the school what it is today. “I never had any interference from anybody. I told the principal if anybody was going to interfere with my coaching I was prepared to go. It was a challenge which I undertook. Even selection of the team was left to the captain and vice-captain with the master-in-charge. If they made any blunders they had to explain why. They also learnt the subject and they became thoroughly knowledgeable. We had organised centre wicket practice where the main batsmen got one hour batting and then joined the rest at fielding where everyone had to take 100 catches. No one was left to idle.”
Apart from practice what made Ananda College a strong team was the formation of the Old Anandians Sports Club (OASC) by Polonowita. The OASC played in the Cricket Board’s division III and then division II tournaments and comprised boys of the first eleven Ananda team.

“We didn’t have Third Term matches, playing for OASC was their practice matches. The competition was high because other teams didn’t want to lose to a school side. That’s how the boys became tough. We won division III and then won division II playing with schoolboys and gained promotion to division I. There was a lot of opposition against me for playing schoolboys in Board tournaments,” said Polonowita.
Speaking of the level of school cricket today, Polonowita said: “We had 9 matches and with the ‘Big Match’ we had 10 matches for a season and they were played at the end of the week. Today what has happened is there is no time for the players to practice or rest. The Sri Lanka Schools CA has increased the matches to 17 and when you play that number of matches you are playing right throughout the week Monday-Tuesday and then Friday-Saturday. There is no time for the coach to correct the mistakes. The level of school cricket has degenerated mainly because of this.

“There are too many schools playing and they cannot get grounds. Very few schools have grounds and as a result they play during the week. The boys have no rest and no time to study. Then they messed around with the age group. It was under 20 during our time and then they brought it down to under 19 to suit certain individuals which meant the boy missed one year of his cricket at school. Now it’s back to the under 20 age,” observed Polonowita.

Polonowita was a highly talented cricketer who bowled left-arm leg-spin. It was proved when he played for the Ananda first eleven at the age of 14. He represented them for five years captaining in the final year in 1958 when he won the Best Bowler’s prize taking 80 wickets in 9 matches. “Unlike today every match was very competitive and most of the players of that era went and played for the country straight from school.” What was so exceptional about Polonowita’s bowling was that he had a high arm action and a good follow through. His presence kept another similar bowler Annesley de Silva out of the Ceylon side for the next ten years. De Silva was always the 12th man although he could bowl, bat and field equally well as Polonowita.

What made Polonowita join SSC was the fear that he wouldn’t be selected to play for his country if he didn’t’ belong to an elite club. He played for SSC for four years and although he didn’t come from an affluent school as Royal or S Thomas’ at that time, he recalls he was given VIP treatment at the SSC. “A lot of people helped me like FC de Saram, Ben Navaratne CI Gunasekara, Bertie Wijesinghe, Chippy Gunasekara and Dr CH Gunasekara. The best part was that my entrance fee and club fee was paid by a Royalist LDS Gunasekara.”

When BA Jayasinghe, the Municipal Commissioner wanted to start their own club to match clubs like SSC, Polonowita helped him form the Nomads Sports Club in the sixties. Within two years of their formation Nomads won the division I Sara trophy with Polonowita captaining the side which was unbeaten. “I always thought of raising the standards of whatever field I undertook. Even at the Municipality during the 40 years I was there as sports officer and then Director of Sports I increased the number of community centres and playgrounds from 10 to 40. During that time 80 percent of the national football players came from my playground. Today it’s not the case.”

Polonowita’s greatest moment as a cricketer was to be part of the Ceylon team that won their first home ‘Test’ against Pakistan in 1964 and the first overseas ‘Test’ against India at Ahmedabad in 1965. In both unofficial tests he made important contributions that paved the way for those historic victories. Against Pakistan at the P Sara Oval he took three wickets for 45 off 16 overs in the second innings to bring Ceylon victory by 41 runs. Against India he made a half-century (53) in the first innings sharing a valuable 85-run seventh wicket partnership with HIK Fernando and then went onto take three wickets for seven runs off 3.4 overs in addition to latching onto three catches as India were bundled out for 66 in the second innings. He had the honour of being at the wicket with his captain Michael Tissera when the winning runs were scored with Ceylon completing a four-wicket win.

Polonowita is of the opinion that the cricket world should thank the late TV moghul Kerry Packer for the success of ODI and Twenty20 cricket today.
“Professionalism has come to the sport in a big way. In those days we spent our own money and for the sake of the game we played. It’s a good thing the game has become professional because the players sacrifice a lot of time and their family life and for all that they must be compensated. Now what has happened is every time they are thinking of money more than anything else. Even sponsorships overall has become a big money spinner,” said Polonowita.

“Technically a lot of areas have improved especially the fielding. In our time fast bowlers couldn’t bend. They were picked only for their bowling. Today the game is more competitive. People say shorter games will kill cricket. ODI games brought in capacity crowds now T20 has come to stay. IPL is like football because people don’t have the time. They go there to enjoy and have a good time not to just watch the cricket. Those days we can remember each and every Test match played and we can even mention the names of the players. Today it is not so because of too much cricket. In our time we waited to go outside and earn some dollars today you can stay at home and get the money because of television. You have to thank Kerry Packer for changing the whole outlook to cricket,” he said.
Polonowita’s biggest achievement is starting 23 pre-schools for the less privileged children in Colombo under the guidance of former Mayor Sirisena Cooray and training 45 pre-school teachers for this purpose.


FIFA says 53,000 tickets sold in 8 hours

JOHANNESBURG: FIFA says 53,000 World Cup tickets were sold in the first eight hours of the final phase, and blamed “high demand’’ for the technical problems that caused delays.
FIFA said 23 of the 64 World Cup games are sold out after match tickets went on sale on Thursday at ticket centers and banks across South Africa.
Match, the company employed by FIFA to run the ticket process, apologized for the glitches which led police to be called to ticket centers in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria to calm frustrated fans.
Match chief executive Jaime Byrom said they “identified the challenges’’ and thanked fans for their patience.
About 500,000 seats were made available to local fans, the first time 2010 tickets could be bought for cash. – [Agencies]