Home > Features > Moments in history >

Ashantha de Mel: A fast bowler who also represented his country in bridge

Asantha de Mel: A fast bowler who also represented his country in bridge

Kumar Sangakkara (L) with head of Sri Lankan selection committee, Ashantha de Mel during a practice session in Adelaide in early 2012 © AFP

On May 9, 1959, one of the finest Sri Lankan fast bowlers named Ashantha Lakdasa Francis de Mel was born at Colombo. He was the torchbearer of the Sri Lankan attack when the country played its first Test match. He picked up 59 wickets in 17 Test matches at a time when Sri Lanka played few games. Sarang Bhalerao revisits Asantha de Mel’s cricketing days.

Cricketing history is replete with players who have excelled in other sports as well. Ashantha de Mel is one such, who also presented Sri Lanka in Bridge at the Commonwealth Games. “My father’s sister Manel Trepte is a bridge teacher. She taught me the basics and the finer points of the game,” de Mel told in an interview to Daily News in 2004.

de Mel was one of the torchbearers of Sri Lankan bowling attack in the 1980s who had a high arm action who bowled quality outswingers.

Early years

He was part of Royals College cricket team. The college had one of the best cricket teams in the island. In 1979, he joined the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC). He worked extremely hard on his physical fitness and developed tremendous control over his swing. He had the ability to bowl fast for long periods. He had the heart of a fast bowler and soon emerged as one of the country’s finest bowlers.

Sri Lanka became Test cricket’s newest entrants in 1982. Bandula Warnapura won the toss and chose to bat first in his country first-ever Test – against England. Wisden had this to say about Sri Lanka’s fast bowler who bowling got quick attention: “Asantha de Mel, 22, a strongly-built computer programmer, average height, is currently the best fast bowler on the island. And in his fifth and sixth overs he ‘did a Lillee’ by prompting a lame steer to gully by [Geoff] Cook, yorking [Chris] Tavare second ball, and winning a dubious lbw claim against [Graham] Gooch. Yet when England lunched at 44 for three, de Mel was close to tears of frustration, not elation, for [Keith] Fletcher had flicked him to short-leg only for the diving Somachandra de Silva to miss his last, frantic grab for the ball. This was the big ‘if’ of the match. England, batting last against three spinners, would have been four down, 174 behind, with a long tail.”

Ashantha de Mel picked up Ian Botham when a benign long hop was bottom-edged onto the stumps and ended up with four for 70. Although Sri Lanka lost the match they had unearthed a potential bowling superstar in de Mel.

Sri Lanka’s tour of Pakistan 1982

De Mel’s picked up 11 wickets in the three Test matches against Pakistan. The wickets were flat and unresponsive; albeit with the new ball De Mel often generated extra bounce. That accounted for Manzoor Akhtar in the first Test match at Karachi.

Maiden five-for

In September 1982, Sri Lanka came to Chennai for a one-off Test match against India. India were eyeing a victory, but de Mel and Somachandra de Silva killed time with their defensive ploy. When India managed to get rid of the tail; it was probably a little too late for the home team. India, needing 175 off 28 overs, went for the target, but de Mel’s incisive bowling thwarted their plans. At 78 for two, India looked heading for victory, but de Mel dismissed the dangerous Kapil Dev, while Sandeep Patil was run out. de Mel took five wicket in the innings and had played his part well.

1985: Sri Lanka’s first Test win

In the first Test match at Colombo, de Mel picked up five for 64 against India, which included the wickets of Ravi Shastri, Dilip Vengsarkar and Kapil Dev. The first Test match ended in a draw. de Mel played a pivotal role in Sri Lanka’s first Test win over India at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, Colombo on September 11, 1985 in which he bagged five wickets in the match.

Injuries and an early retirement

A year later, against Pakistan at Karachi, he picked up the first six wickets. But de Mel’s international career was riddled with injuries, though he was a big asset when fully fit. Slowly his bowling lost the zip and within the next two years he hung his boots. A knee injury curtailed his promising career and at 28 de Mel played his last international game.

Life after cricket

Later, he was on the Sri Lankan selection committee and often received flak from former players for calling spade a spade. He had called the Marvan Atapattu-led Sri Lankan team “selfish”. Atapattu’s team won the tri-series final in Pakistan and Atapattu said de Mel’s comments had motivated them. He also went on to say that he had lost respect for the national selectors.

De Mel was sacked as a national selector in 2010 amid claims of political bias and favouritism, but was reappointed as chief selector by the Sports Ministry in January 2012. The move generated uproar from journalists of several independent English dailies on the island.

De Mel, however, will be remember as a fast bowler who did much for the team in their formative years in international cricket.

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)

Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka, 2014

Aug 23, 2014 (10:00 IST)   at Hambantota

India tour of England 2014

Aug 25, 2014 (15:00 IST)   at Bristol

Bangladesh Tour of West Indies, 2014

Aug 25, 2014 (00:00 IST)   at Basseterre, St Kitts

Zimbabwe Triangular Series, 2014

Aug 25, 2014 (13:00 IST)   at Harare

Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka, 2014

Aug 26, 2014 (14:30 IST)   at Hambantota

More

Bangladesh Tour of West Indies, 2014

Aug 22, 2014  at St George's, Grenada

West Indies won by 177 runs

South Africa in Zimbabwe, 2014

Aug 21, 2014  at Bulawayo

South Africa won by 7 wkts

Bangladesh Tour of West Indies, 2014

Aug 20, 2014  at St George's, Grenada

West Indies won by 3 wkts

South Africa in Zimbabwe, 2014

Aug 19, 2014  at Bulawayo

South Africa won by 61 runs

South Africa in Zimbabwe, 2014

Aug 17, 2014  at Bulawayo

South Africa won by 93 runs

Photos

England Women vs India Women 2014, 1st ODI at Scarborough

Videos

Morgan talks upcoming ODI series and World Cup

Sri Lanka vs Pakistan Live Cricket Score, 1st ODI at Hambantota: Fawad Alam and Sohaib Maqsood steady Pakistan innings

India look to regain confidence in warm-up match ahead of ODI series against England

India tour of England 2014: Visitor’s recent record in overseas ODIs a cause for concern

India tour of England 2014: Is county cricket really the answer for Indian batsmen?

India vs England 2014: Ideal opportunity for Sanju Samson and other youngsters to shine

England England vs India England vs India 2014 India India tour of England 2014 India vs England India vs England 2014 Pakistan Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka 2014 Pakistan vs Sri Lanka Pakistan vs Sri Lanka 2014 Sri Lanka Sri Lanka vs Pakistan Sri Lanka vs Pakistan 2014 Zimbabwe

IS Bindra’s career in cricket administration comes to an end

Charlotte Edwards creates world record of most centuries in Women’s ODIs

Sohaib Maqsood, Fawad Alam take Pakistan to victory against Sri Lanka in thriller

Charlotte Edwards’s century guides England Women to dominating total against India Women in 2nd ODI at Scarborough

Sri Lanka vs Pakistan, 1st ODI at Hambantota: Fawad Alam completes half-century

Virat Kohli’s knock against Middlesex could be start of his resurgence ahead of ODIs against England

India vs England 2014: Alastair Cook, MS Dhoni, pigeons and pressures — the demands on cricket captains

When Devon Malcolm made South Africa ‘history’

Sri Lanka vs Pakistan 2014: Younis Khan’s ODI comeback brings hope to Pakistan

India tour of England 2014: India among teams losing three tests in a series after being 1-0 ahead

Fan of the Day

Niharika Shah

Niharika Shah

660 Posts | 6 Fans

Funny Cricket Wonders and Blunders

Sony invents unique perfume bottle camera for a perfect selfie

Why bad feelings at work can actually be good for you

Priyanka Chopra took 90 days to attain a boxer’s body – view pics!

Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa 7: Priyanka Chopra and Sophie Choudry croon together!

Also on cricketcountry.com

Play Fantasy Cricket & Win

Cash Daily! Click here