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)

West Indies tour of India, 2014

Oct 20, 2014 (14:30 IST)   at Kolkata

Pakistan vs Australia in UAE, 2014

Oct 22, 2014 (11:30 IST)   at Dubai

West Indies tour of India, 2014

Oct 22, 2014 (19:00 IST)   at Cuttack

Zimbabwe tour of Bangladesh, 2014

Oct 25, 2014 (09:30 IST)   at Dhaka

South Africa tour of New Zealand, 2014

Oct 27, 2014 (03:00 IST)   at Hamilton

More

South Africa tour of New Zealand, 2014

Oct 24, 2014  at Mount Maunganui

South Africa won by 72 runs

South Africa tour of New Zealand, 2014

Oct 21, 2014  at Mount Maunganui

South Africa won by 6 wkts

West Indies tour of India, 2014

Oct 17, 2014  at Dharamsala

India won by 59 runs

West Indies tour of India, 2014

Oct 14, 2014  at Visakhapatnam

Match cancelled

Pakistan vs Australia in UAE, 2014

Oct 12, 2014  at Abu Dhabi

Australia won by 1 run

Photos

Pakistan vs Australia, 1st Test at Dubai

Videos

Amla feels Proteas more acclimatised to conditions

Live Cricket Score Duleep Trophy Central Zone vs North Zone, semi-final at Mohali Day 4: Naman Ojha out for 40

Live Cricket Score Pakistan vs Australia, 1st Test, Day 4: Openers extend lead on fourth morning

Live Cricket Score Bangladesh vs Zimbabwe, 1st Test Day 1 at Mirpur: Zimbabwe lose Sibanda in first over

World Cup 1992, England vs Pakistan: Three hours of rain changes course of tournament

David Warner’s transformation into a dependable and effervescent batsman

Australia Australia tour of UAE 2014 Australia vs Pakistan Australia vs Pakistan 2014 Duleep Trophy India New Zealand New Zealand vs South Africa New Zealand vs South Africa 2014 Pakistan Pakistan vs Australia Pakistan vs Australia 2014 South Africa South Africa tour of New Zealand 2014 South Africa vs New Zealand South Africa vs New Zealand 2014

Haroon Lorgat expects WICB to sort out issue before South Africa tour

Yasir Shah delighted by Shane Warne’s tweet

Zimbabwe reach 77/2 at lunch against Bangladesh on Day 1 of 1st Test

VVS Laxman: Would love to watch ISL match during my stay in Kolkata

Wasim Bari likely candidate for Pakistan chief selector, team manager

Strangers, Brothers and Cricket— the English novelist CP Snow’s lasting passion for the game

World Cup 1992, England vs Pakistan: Three hours of rain changes course of tournament

David Warner’s transformation into a dependable and effervescent batsman

Pakistan vs Australia 2014: Spin hunt continues for visitors

Sarfaraz Ahmed may have trumped the Akmals as Pakistan’s wicketkeeper-batsman across formats

Fan of the Day

Suraj Gowda

Suraj Gowda

642 Posts | 9 Fans

Virat Kohli's Family Meets Anushka Sharma

अभिनेत्री हुमा कुरैशी ओरिफ्लेम की ब्रांड एंबेसडर

Has Bigg Boss 8 made Karishma Tanna the most hated person?

Pranab Mukherjee returns home after visit to Norway, Finland

Revealed: First look of Amitabh Bachchan-Farhan Akhtar’s Do!

7 reasons why having sex during pregnancy is great for your health

Videocon Infinium Graphite with gesture control feature launched, priced at Rs 10,499

Rupee up 19 paise against dollar in early trade

Twitter introduces Audio Cards to listen to music directly from your timeline

Also on cricketcountry.com

Play Fantasy Cricket & Win

Cash Daily! Click here