Tamil Union C & AC

Excellence Since 1899

M Satha

Satha at the wicket evoked the ambience of Theatre. Nothing was more dramatic than his emergence from the underbelly of the Old SSC pavilion at Maitland Crescent Like a knight to to a joust. The bat cradled on his left forearm blade up, his shirt worn three quarter sleeve fluttering gently in the breeze and his unique cap of annulated terra cotta and brown on a Cambridge blue background representing no one but himself, tilted tauntingly in a gesture of challenge. His air was condescending and as he reached the wicket and takes guard he would press home his psychological domination by inquiring from his partner at the other end who the bowler was. “All Ceylon eh?” to the reply, with mock trepidation, and the stage was set for yet another display that would send the crowd into raptures.

How can one describe an innings by Satha.? Robertson Glasgow on Frank Wooley as quoted by Derek Birley in his wonderful book “The Willow Wand “ writes “…easy to watch ,difficult to bowl to, and impossible to write about. When you bowled to him there weren’t enough fielders ;when you wrote about him there weren’t enough words……….you have to go carefully with your adjectives….In the first over there had been an exquisite off-drive followed by a perfect cut, then an effortless leg glide. In the second over the same sort of things happened and your superlatives had already gone. The best thing to do was to assume your readers knew how (Satha) batted and use no adjectives at all.

This would not do alas for the generations who have not seen him bat but have heard about him as a legend. Imagine then that here was a batsman with perfect hand and eye co-ordination as an adjunct to a classical technique who saw the ball early and played it late; to which add the great George Headley’s evaluation-quick movement of the arms and hands..

How early? the famed India off spinner Gulam Ahamed learnt at a cost of 215 runs at Chepauk ‘that he does not allow the ball to drop …you cannot bowl to him; with wonderful footwork he treated space and spin alike with disdain.”. In fact Satha seemed to mesmerise bowlers to bowl where what and how he wanted.. He batted a la Victor Trumper on the adage that the closer you play the ball the less it matters which way it is going to turn

How late? as to spivel a ball from out of the hapless wicket keepers gloves to send it speeding to the third man boundary and to caution him about the dangers an early take exposed him to. Quick arms of course, so necessary on turning wickets and the special need to play as late as possible.

It was a memorable innings on a devil of a wicket at the Colombo Oval that had Mike Marquassey in his book on the world cup 96 (War without Shooting) quoting Sobers quoting Worrell “My boss says he is the best batsman in the world “ as Gulam Ahamed had earlier averred in the Indian magazine the Sportstar “he was the best.”

It would be trite to say that Satha had every shot in the book and many more. The fact is that he could play more than one stroke to a good percentage of the balls he received. He would make a forward movement to drive and in the same motion shift his balance to cut the ball late as it seemingly passed him, with panache and poise leaving the slips flatfooted. The late cut he made his very own. It was told me that he had watched Bradman bat in England in the thirties and noticed how he conjured up a treasure trove of runs playing the stroke making use of every inch of space available behind the popping crease. Satha cut with a silken grace and charm and no one in public view has ever played it with such artistry and finesse. Vijay Merchant chopped ,Keith Miller thumped but Satha caressed, still with a high backlift and unsuspecting wrists of steel.. Whether in front of the wicket or behind, Satha’s placement of the ball was a feature of his batting Then too he would take his singles at will when warranted rolling the ball like a golfer on the putting green with precision and control so as to enable him to amble the first ten yards and walk the balance without sweat. Consequently he was a master at farming the bowling.

On one occasion going in at no 7 he joined an anxious opening batsman who had held the fort with a valiant 49 not out and left him at the same score after flaying the bowling for over sixty runs and offering a simple catch to a fieldsman he nominated, as Compton was wont to do. Who knows but he may have been taking his youthful colleague, just out of school, through an advanced course in patience.

So there was a streak in him which did not endear him to his contemporaries, an arrogance born of supreme self confidence and mastery of his art. But no skin off his nose! And the crowds loved him for the sheer entertainment of his batting and flocked to see him in droves. He was to experience later the fickle nature of public adulation. He was booed and epithets hurled at him when he made his first appearance after his Trial and that on his own grounds. He replied as only he could with four consecutive fours to the first four balls he faced and a petrified silence erupted into a thunderous roar of acclamation.

He generally came in one down-the Bradman position, the pivotal position to take charge of the games course. But open he did when the need arose for quick runs and a match to be won .On one such occasion on the Police Park grounds ,he was pitted against the country’s demon bowler of the day and rampaged forty runs in three overs. It is said that the exasperated bowler threw the ball down and refused to bowl. On another occasion playing for the Rest team in a Quadrangular tournament F.C.(Derek) de Saram found a ready partner in Satha to open the batting against The Mercantile eleven which was a near All Ceylon side. Anecdotal stuff ;but it is told that Satha agreed on a bet that he would both out stay and out score Derek.It was the traditional Saturday afternoon –Sunday game and taking first lease of the wicket play ended that evening with Derek out in the mid seventies and Satha 163 not out.. The next morning the innings was declared to leave an hours play before lunch with Satha not out on 206.There were murmurs of disappointment by his fans that he might have been allowed to break the existing batting record of 238. Satha explored and demonstrated the full gamut of the batsman’s art and in the context of each innings he played.. One went to see him bat knowing that the brilliance was there and its aesthethic presentation but there was also an expectation of the dramatic born of a different circumstance of a hidden factor unknown to the public at large .But sometimes it was overt and the public was privy to the circumstance adding to the thrill of a challenge accepted . There was an innings he played in a Test trial in 1948 on the CCC grounds that captured forever in the mind the quintessential Satha.. With a visit of Bradman’s invincibles for the traditional whistle stop game in Colombo round the corner, a new batting star had appeared in the local cricket firmament which it was whispered was a threat to Satha’s place in the Ceylon team. Chosen to opposite sides the challenger scored a palpitating century in his broad sword attacking vein. Satha went into bat with the sword of Damocles more menacing than ever. Then for 3 hours he played what is best described as Test cricket. Percentage shots, occupation of the crease, singles interspersed with boundaries when had for the taking. He himself took no chances, either with his wicket or with the selectors and duly reached his century. Another day at the office albeit a subdued one. Then in a village green frenzy he broke his self imposed shackles and in a blistering attack on all that was thrown at him he raced to a second hundred in around forty minutes. It was a message the selectors could not ignore Thinking of dropping me were you? How do you want me to bat ? You pays your money and you takes your choice. !In the event not only was he selected to play but he was appointed Captain and the blown up picture of Satha at the toss with the great Bradman in the Tamil Union pavilion does poetic justice to his standing as a batsman of the very highest order. It was the conventional wisdom of the time that Satha was at his best after a late night at The Silver Fawn, then the only night club in Colombo .This he demonstrated over and over again. On one occasion he excused himself from an all week end game of Poker at Ratnapura,a haven for the Gentleman gamblimg fraternity in the war days, at circa 3 a.m., to snatch an hours sleep on the Sunday morning before driving to Colombo, to score the inevitable stroll in the park century and be back in time late evening for a climactic final session. On another occasion, our sling shot pacie Tita Nathanielz will tell you the story ,how he excused himself on the Saturday evening to motor up to Bandarawela for the night and cruise in at the stroke of 10 the next morning in his Jaguar CE 1053 and then light up the Colts grounds with as explosive a century of refined batsmanship as will ever be witnessed on that grounds . It was fatal policy to keep Satha at the bar on Saturday night till the wee hours if he had to bat the next day as certain SSC stalwarts realized on another occasion when the ploy failed to their chagrin. Satha defied all rules. Todays intensive physical training regimen would have bemused him. He would have considered it infra dig to wear all the contraptions that the modern game requires. In Pakistan when the whole Ceylon cricket team were falling over each other to get the good old topees or pith hats to confront the devastating pace of Khan Mohamed and Fazal Mohamed Satha was conspicuous by his absence.”. What do you have two eyes and a bat for?” He once said when asked how he was going to face Keith Miller. In the event against the Australian Services team on its way back from England after the end of the War he was caught at long leg by Christofani ,hooking .Never one to be over awed by name or reputation. It was on that wicket at the oval which had fast bowlers doing cartwheels and which Fazal Mohamed wanted to take with him where ever he went “It has grass, it has lift, it gives movement”. Satha got an impossible 56 on a virtually unplayable wicket against that great Pakistan duo on that Pakistan tour but he had to return to Colombo because of his father’s death. Detractors said he was vulnerable to real pace but the evidence to prove it is slender; a canard no different to the one about Bradman’s fallibility on a damaged pitch even though he scored 103 not out at Leeds against Verity “playing his sharpest spinners on a sticky wicket in the middle of the bat”. The fire in the Colombo Oval wicket has been quenched since as our International exposure increased and given “Normal” wickets covered in protection from the elements Satha was equipped both in mind and skill to deal with the fastest.”Brylcream” is what Compton replied to Mike Gatting in reply to what he would for head protection.satha and Compton and Satha were two of a kind. They played together in India in 1944for the Rest against the Muslims inin the Indian Quadrangular at Eden Gardens.Satha got a brilliant 101.Both Compton and R.T.Simpson a future England opening Batsman did not come off this time. They were in India on Military service along with Joseph Hardstaff.It was Hardstaff’s record of 214 at Chepauk ,Madras that Satha broke with that memorable 215 in the Gopalan Trophy match, still spoken of in awe by afficianodos of the game who are still alive.

A contemporary writing describes him as the D’Arteganan of batsman. To how many would it mean anything now? Nor would it mean anything to say that there were shades of The imperious Maclaren,The enigmatic and ebullient George Gunn or even the dashing and debonair Compton in his batting.Of batsman seen since on Television David Gower had his touch, and on the local contemporary scene Roy Dias had something of his fluency of style when driving and of the present players Mahela Jayawardene on his best days. But what Cardus wrote of Hammond would be true of Satha, that all contemporary batsman bore a look of toiling common place when seen in his company. Style was the man. An economy of effort that made effort, effortless. A high back lift and a languid follow through in a liquefaction of motion. A fusion of Science and Art. Of science, precision of art, beauty. Nothing ungainly, every movement lyrical and mellifluous as one stroke followed another with the balance and poise of a ballet dancer. The bat a magical wand weaving a spellas he cut ,drove, glanced hooked and pulled in a seemingly make believe world of fantasy where even the meeting of bat and ball was somehow soundless. Imperious, ebullient, debonair, graceful, silken, charming, ethereal and sublime. The scintillating clarity of Mozart in the wider context of of the magisterial grandeur of a Beethoven symphony. Evocative too of the best of romantic poetry as exemplified in the the poetry of Keats. Of beaded bubbles winking at the brim and batsmanship that charmed the magic casements of our cloistered world of cricket and opened its windows to a vision of greatness within. Mahadevan Sathasivam was the Batsmans’ Batsman. In a class all by himself.

- P.S.Duleepkumar.