Pavilion Parade by M V Muhsin
September 2nd, 2012 by Admin

Hilary Abeyratne-the Lion of Trinity Lions

With the passing away at the age of 89 in Australia of Hilary Abeyratne, who exemplified what the Trinity Lion is all about, many pleasant pages in my library of thoughts unfold as he was my Master and Mentor. He left behind a rich legacy as one of the finest educationalists that Trinity has seen. He stirred in many a young mind the fire of scholarship and the true spirit of sportsmanship.

When he was awarded the highest honour that the Kandy school could bestow on any of its products -The General Lion-the insignia for the highest level of excellence-this column had the privilege of pinning that Lion on his jersey during a celebration in Melbourne.

On that occasion, I recalled in lighter vein how as an 8-year-old I used to play cricket near the school chapel with my friends and I was spotted crying as Hilary passed by. He took me to a side and asked what the problem was. I could not respond, until one of the boys went up to him and said, “Sir he was our wicket! Hilary took one look at my pencil thin legs and said in his typical cryptic manner: “that seems reasonable boys, play on!”

He had no time for weaklings, I would add!

Fastest century in 1941

He was a fiery cricketer. It was in 1941 that he scored for Trinity that fastest century–111 against Royal, a record that he held for 27 years until his nephew Ajit Abeyratne -known more for his rugby fame- broke it in 1968.

It was in the mid 1960s that Trinity was beset with a cricket controversy. Glen Van Langenberg the versatile Ceylon Schools’ pace bowler was taking wickets as if the batsmen were grass and he was felling them with a machete!

He had taken 6 for 18 against Dharmaraja; 5 for 54 against S. Thomas’ in 1965. The Trinity Captain that year was MTM Zaruk and the coach was Hilary. Glen had built up a reputation.

Then in the 1966 match against Wesley at Campbell Park, Glen was called by leg umpire John Clifford John in the 2nd, 3rd and 5th balls for ‘throwing’. Trinity Captain Harinda Dunuwille, known for his composure, took this as a challenge and switched Glen to the other end and the umpire at the end did not have a problem.

The headline in the ‘Daily News’, our sister paper, screamed ‘Van Langenberg called for throwing-later bags 5 for 21’. The paper ran a series of photographs of ‘Glen in action’ and the controversy raged in Colombo. It shook Trinity. And aroused the interest of cricket fans.

Glen comforted

Hilary, as Prefect of Games, and Coach TB Marambe counselled the young Glen to stay unruffled and gave him the confidence that he should take up the challenge to prove his worth. Hilary supported the move to bring in two of Ceylon’s best umpires Herby Felsinger and JMC Jayasinghe to umpire at the following weekend’s encounter against S. Thomas’. The umpires had no problem and Glen continued with his rampage.

Even in the following year under the Captaincy of Himendra Ranaweera – the duo of Van Langenberg as paceman who took 6 for 35 Vs S. Thomas’; and Ranaweera as spinner took 8 for 23 in the same match- proved the worth and legitimacy of their school side. Behind this was the motivational counselling of Hilary Abeyratne.

Hilary as the Prefect of Games felt that it was grossly unfair to torment a young and talented cricketer with unfair accusations and took on the critics. He allowed special cameras to be brought in to film Glen as he bowled to debunk the theory of the critics. This, although at an international level is reminiscent of the case of Murali in recent time.

Hilary was a firm believer in getting good coaches who trained their team to play well and the players to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the game. Along with Cedric Oorloff the Principal, Hilary detested cheap publicity for the payers, Photographs of Trinity players were not allowed to be published.

Conveying his thoughts, Hilary once wrote “Cricket is not played by automatons whose controls are manipulated by coaches in the pavilion.

The game is played by young men in the middle on whom alone does the result depend. If there is failure, the real trouble must lie within them. There is need for application, individually and collectively. There should be that determination to play well and win or lose well.”

Trinity under 17 unbeaten for 15 years

If Hilary was a gifted cricketer, a cricket Lion, a coach and mentor he was equally adept in the field of rugby. His most enduring contribution to the storied dominance and history of Trinity Rugby is the amount and time and effort he devoted to bringing up the junior teams.

He championed what they called ‘set practices’, house matches for boys between 11 and 14 and under 17. Under his tutelage, the Trinity under 17 sides remained unbeaten for 15 years. His ability to spot talent, nurture it and help it grow into full-blooded rugby sides helped in a major way to provide a steady stream for the Trinity’s first XV; and a very fertile and organic setting to feed the All- Ceylon and All-Sri Lanka sides that we have seen.

Many of the Trinity ruggerites who ended up playing for the country in the late ’50s though the ’70s can trace a generic bond to the mentorship that Hilary provided them. Likewise the Kandy Sports Club record speaks for itself in regard to Hilary’s contribution to the KSC.

Many in the breed of sportsmen have a history of a brush with rules and with the authorities. Hilary, the mentor and counsellor, was there for them. He had the ability to take recalcitrant boys into his confidence, allay their fears and anxieties, build on their strengths and address their weaknesses, and turn their rebellious inclinations into something positive and wholesome.

Hilary was there everywhere

At Trinity there was no facet in the school that he was not involved in-classroom, stage, and playing field. He was a pioneer in vocational guidance and paved the way for the careers of his charges, this writer included.

He tended the lamp of learning with much care and did so with integrity and forthrightness. He was honest to a fault and called a spade a spade.

There were some who did not see eye to eye with him and he was not altogether popular. But as time passed his detractors realized the sincerity of the man who did not trim his sails to the prevailing winds.

He looked at education -and sports which to him was an integral part of that ecosystem-and tradition and religion with a sense of his own conviction. He was an uncompromising enemy of hypocrisy.

At the time of his leaving Trinity to migrate to Australia, it was widely felt that the Governors of Trinity failed to recognize this talented all rounder-a Lion of Lions-as the rightful future Principal of Trinity. That failure proved to be at Trinity’s own peril.

It was hard to imagine Hilary without Trinity and Trinity without Hilary. The latter was truer.

Hilary Abeyratne – the champion sportsman in his young days