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Sport  


 

Living Legends - David Heyn

Dashing David a top-notch left-hander

By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
Dashing, debonair, flamboyant are some of the words that were used to describe the batting of David Heyn who was an integral part of the Ceylon and Sri Lanka teams of the sixties through to the seventies. Heyn, a left-hander was a high-class middle-order batsman whose consistency made him an automatic choice for the national side along with Anura Tennekoon, the former Sri Lanka captain. He was also an outstanding fielder in the covers and he bowled right-arm seam even opening the bowling for his country.

“From 1966 to 1976 when I left, Anura and I were never dropped. We were two consistent players and we played all 20 unofficial tests,” Heyn told The Nation. “I missed two of them due to injury one with a dislocated finger in the third test at Karachi in 1966 and the second in 1974 when India’s fast bowler (Pandurang) Salgaoncar broke my finger off the second ball I faced in a match played up in Kandy between the first and second tests. The injury healed fortunately for me to go to Pakistan the following month. Despite my brazen nature and everything I was never dropped.”

From a batsman who loved to entertain the crowd with a quick and short innings Heyn developed into a solid middle-order batsman as his cricket progressed so much so that he was a feared left-hander whom many opposing teams wanted to see the back of as early as possible. He sometimes proved to be a thorn to other sides as Sri Lanka fought against all odds to raise their standard of cricket internationally in order to convince the ICC that they were worthy of Test status.

“I was fortunate to play in an era where we played a lot of intensive cricket and that helped us gain full Test status. I see the era of the seventies a crossing over from amateur cricket to professional cricket once we got full Test status,” said Heyn. “My father’s era of the 40s, 50s and the early 60s was sort of whistle-stop matches and matches were few and far between. The seventies were more intensive if you look at the stats myself and Anura, the amount of first-class matches we played compared to the guys before us. Only matches against foreign opposition were counted as first-class here. We enjoyed it and we were fortunate that some of the companies were very generous and we were almost going to be professional cricketers. We were sort of the launch pad for the professionals who came later.

“The big sides like England, Australia, West Indies and New Zealand never came here. They only popped in when they went to India or Pakistan. We were able to get them over with only a small amount of money and looking after them here. That’s not what the ICC wanted. If we were going to achieve full Test status we were able to pay them a guaranteed amount. What I knew of the situation then, because of various exchange control sanctions and things like that, it was never going to happen. So the ICC was reluctant to give us full Test status even though they knew our standard was high,” he said.

Despite the ICC ignoring Sri Lanka, close neighbours India and Pakistan, who were sponsoring Sri Lanka’s cause, played a lot of matches, India even going to the extent of extending the Gopalan trophy match to a mini-tour by including two or three additional matches. “It was hard conditions, matting wickets, bad outfield but good opposition. We were playing sides that had invited players like Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath, Abid Ali. You name it all the Indian Test players at some time or another played against us. Some of them like Vishwanath were totally unknown when they played against us. They made their names after that. It was a good grounding for us.

“It was hard. Travelling to India was by plane but there were very few internal flights and we travelled by train. The good thing about that was that the first-class carriages we travelled were air-conditioned, there was a coach for us alone and we were treated well that way. Accommodation was mainly good, where there were hotels they put us up in them. Because we were playing so much of cricket we got a settled side. By the time I left in 1976 we had the nucleus of the side that played in 1982 in the first Test match. Only a few of the older guys were replaced by very good younger guys like Ranjan Madugalle, Arjuna Ranatunga, Ashantha de Mel and Sidath Wettimuny those are the four new names that came into that side for the very first Test,” Heyn said.
Undoubtedly the highlight of Heyn’s career was the 1975-76 tour to India where he was in his element as a batsman, bowler (right-arm medium-pace swing) and fielder. In 8 first-class matches he aggregated 647 runs (avg. 43.13) and hit two centuries one of which was in the first unofficial test played at Hyderabad where he scored 104. He missed out on a century in each innings when he was dismissed for 84 in the second innings.
“Obviously in the lead up to that tour I was hitting a peak. I did well in 1974 when we went to Pakistan, then the same year when India came to us. The World Cup tour in 1975 was not the greatest. It was a mixture of matches and in 1975-76 the Indian tour was the highlight of my career,” said Heyn. “If I had continued playing I don’t know how well I would have performed whether I was reaching my peak or whether I had reached my peak I don’t know. I gave up in 1976 because we were not getting full Test status. It was going to be decided in June 1976 but the indications I got was that we weren’t going to get it. I was 30 at the time and could have been at my peak.

“It was a fantastic experience playing India in their own conditions against a bowling attack comprising the world best spinners at the time – (Bishen) Bedi, (Erappalli) Prasanna and (Bhagwat) Chandrasekhar. They also had two good seamers in Madan Lal and Mohinder Amarnath and they were good fielders as well. It was an experience getting a hundred and 84 in the first unofficial test against them. I was disappointed I didn’t get a second hundred. The ‘nightwatchman’ Daya Sahabandu outlasted me. I was supposed to look after him. We almost saved the test match for Bandu and Tony (Opatha) put a good partnership after that as well. Two things really if I had got a second hundred it might have saved the match but that wasn’t to be,” he said.
Sri Lanka lost the test by eight wickets. They also lost the second test by 64 runs but fought back to draw the third. Heyn not only excelled with the bat he also opened bowling for his country with Opatha sharing the new ball and seaming it around. He took nine wickets on tour at a cost of 22.33.

“What happened was we had Dennis Chanmugam on tour. He played in the first two matches against Central Zone and North Zone and looked to be ineffective on those two pitches. So what was decided was that we would play the three spinners DS (de Silva), Ajith (de Silva) and Lalith (Kaluperuma), Tony of course was a fantastic bowler. Then it was the question of whether it was me or Sahabandu who was going to share the new ball with him. We played four bowlers plus the batsmen. It was very successful so we did the same thing for the three tests and for the two tests against Pakistan that followed,” said Heyn.

If the 1975-76 Indian tour was the most memorable in Heyn’s career then his maiden overseas tour to Pakistan in 1966 proved to be bad experience. “We had a hard time in Pakistan. The ground was brown and the umpiring was not the greatest. We started quite well in the three warm-up matches. We had three unofficial tests and the first test was controlled by Hanif Mohammad in every which way. Both my decisions in the first test were dodgy (he was give caught behind in the first innings and lbw in the second innings).
“The Pakistani umpires were notorious for giving batsmen out. I was really disappointed the first time I was given out caught behind when I wasn’t. In the second innings Stanley (Jayasinghe) and I were batting well. We had put on 52 runs in almost two hours. I had one scoring shot for two runs in the partnership. We got up to tea time and there was only 1½ hours play after tea. We were going to save that match because we were only five down. But they picked me first ball after tea. I was given out lbw outside the off stump off Saeed (Ahmed). The moment the ball hit my pads the finger went up straight. There obviously was some planning done during tea time. That’s why I was disappointed,” said Heyn.

“After that Herbie (HIK Fernando) was caught and bowled off a bump ball. They just took care of the tail pretty quickly in that last session. They had seven overs to get 40 odd runs and they got it in 3 overs. They were 8-ball overs and we didn’t stand a chance. That wasn’t good for morale really and the next two tests we sort of didn’t compete. There must have been an element of fear and eagerness to please the Pakistan hierarchy by the umpires. The standard was very poor,” he said.

“We knew it was going to be hard in Pakistan but this made it harder for us. We felt that had it not been for the poor decisions we could have saved the match and our mentality would have been different for the next two tests. The guys were not 100 percent for the next two matches. That was a bad tour in 1966. But when I went in 1974 I was very pleased the umpiring standards had improved tremendously and I could safely sweep a bowler like Intikhab (Alam) when he bowled outside the leg stump. They constantly appealed but the umpires never gave me out. You could see that it was a totally different scenario.”

Apart from the bad umpiring that tour was unique in the sense that David was selected to represent his country at cricket and his brother Richard (who was no mean cricketer having played for St Peter’s College and BRC) was picked in the Sri Lanka hockey team for the Asian Games in Bangkok in 1966.
“I’ve no idea how I got to play cricket but my brother and I played cricket down the lane. Dad didn’t have any big influence over us but we used to go and watch matches at the BRC. We just picked up the game naturally playing tennis ball cricket on the road,” said Heyn whose father the late Major-General BR Heyn was a former Ceylon cricketer and later a cricket administrator in the Sri Lanka Cricket Board.

“I was playing under 12 cricket when I was eight for St Peter’s. My first year with the first eleven team was in 1961. I played for St Peter’s for four years (captain in 1964) but I never got a hundred and I didn’t get a fifty in my first and last years because the way I played my cricket. My batting was bright and breezy knocks and the public liked it. The last two years I bowled a lot more and got a lot of wickets. Even in junior cricket I was a good fielder, it came naturally to me and I liked fielding. I wanted the ball to come to me. It progressed as I went up the ladder. I did field in the slips as well but cover was my favourite position because you could dive and fall around and run after the ball and throw it in.” At the end of 1964 Heyn was picked to play for Sri Lanka Board XI against the Pakistanis and he was twelfth man for the unofficial test.

One of Heyn’s main complaints during his time was that there were hardly enough matches to learn from one’s mistakes. “To learn from your mistakes the only way was to take it back to your club matches. I put my head down and batted curbing my natural instincts. I started building an innings more than trying to hit the cover off the ball. My batting matured and it came latterly from playing against good bowling. Our club scene was getting more intense and we were playing better grade cricket. The Sara trophy was getting more competitive and I went from BRC to NCC. I was playing with better cricketers and on turf wickets than on matting and that also helped. The older guys were fading away from the sixties era and the new guys were coming through. Overall, things like a jigsaw puzzle were coming through. Up to the late sixties it was all disjointed, it was only from about 1972-73 that it all started coming together and we were playing better cricket and more cricket and more talent was coming in from other sources not Royal and S. Thomas’.

“If we were given Test status at the time we would have been a strong force in international cricket no doubt. Calling off the 1968 tour to England may have set us back. There was a lot of intrigue behind the selections and they tried to reselect the team unofficially but the net result was that we decided to call the tour off. The MCC never forgave us for that. I don’t know the ramifications at that time and I don’t think exchange was an issue. We might have swung it then but we had to wait another 14 years to get ICC Test status,” he said.
Right throughout his career Heyn was in the buying and shipping industry firstly with Freudenbergs and then with Browns. After he migrated to England in the mid-seventies he continued the profession working for one of the biggest shipping companies there for over 20 years. His mother was English and he had an automatic right of entry to England. During that time he also played for Richmond CC in the Middlesex and Surrey league. He retired from the company five years ago and is taking life easy travelling most of the time to watch cricket played in Sri Lanka and in Australia.

“My trips to Sri Lanka are centred round the Josephian-Peterite Big Match where I am guaranteed to meet friends of mine and the other trips are geared round Sri Lanka playing,” said Heyn. “The amount of people I have met is amazing. I’ve come more for the socialising. Once they know the name it rings a bell but I have some of my Sri Lankan team-mates not recognising me. By and large so because there was no television exposure like today. Now the guys are all over on billboards and into sponsorships.”

Heyn has an English wife Sue who lives and works in London. They have two girls Alexander the elder one is 28 and Jordina the younger is 26. “I was partly disappointed when I produced two girls because I wanted a son to come and play cricket but as it turned out my younger daughter swam for Great Britain she is a full-time swimmer now. The elder one is more studious she is a chartered accountant.” The Heyn family has a house in Twickenham, a short distance away from the home of England rugby.

“I am pleased cricket here has evolved the way it has over the years. Sri Lanka is now on the map because of cricket. Everyone knows about us. Especially the England supporters they love coming here because they get a good game and they can have a good time,” said Heyn who was in Sri Lanka recently for the West Indies Test series. “We are respected around the world. We can make our demands in cricket which we couldn’t do in the past. Some of the team’s who were looking down at us know we are a feared team, nobody takes us lightly. It is remarkable for West Indies to say that drawing against Sri Lanka is an achievement. In the old days they would have hammered us 3-0. You can see how things have changed and the regard that world cricket has for us.”

“One glaring thing in the game today is that there is no short running between the wickets anymore. Even during the time of Michael Bevan he used to just tap and run, we used to do that. You don’t see that even in the fifty-over matches. You just hit hard at the fielder and don’t run at all when the ball doesn’t penetrate the field. It was a technique and a tactic. Trying to build an innings and steal runs to me was part of the game especially in limited-over cricket. Another innovation we didn’t have is the bowling variations, slow balls and things like that. We never thought too much about that. If we had done that it would have enhanced our game,” he said.