The colourful tale of Mahadevan Sathasivam
When you visit the Tamil Union Club house at the P Sarvanamuttu Stadium, a huge portrait of Don Bradman walking out to toss in 1948 with a Sri Lankan legend, Mahadevan Sathasivam, welcomes you.
Sathasivam is revered by the old timers in India for the 215 he made in just over four hours at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, considered one of the best knocks played in Chennai. The local legend here talks of a 96 out of a total of 150 on a sticky wicket against the visiting Commonwealth team. Frank Worrell, who played in that game, and Garry Sobers hailed Sathasivam as a great batsman. Ghulam Ahmed, that wizard of an offspinner who bowled to the likes of Everton Weekes, Sobers, Len Hutton, Rohan Kanhai, Denis Compton and Hanif Mohammad, also named Sathasivam as the best batsman he had ever bowled to. For the cricket history buffs, Sathasivam would breeze into a World XI from the non-Test playing era.
Enough about his batting. It's the man we are interested in. He apparently was a flamboyant figure with a penchant for the good life. The Keith Miller of Sri Lanka. Historian Michael Roberts plays killjoy though. "And subsequently Neville Jayaweera has confirmed this speculation: "Satha was a hopeless fielder, never chased a ball, dropped catches and all because for most of the time he was drunk," Roberts wrote. I am beginning to like Satha even more.
However the point Roberts, who also rates Sathasivam as a great batsman, raised is that you have to be careful about setting bad examples to the current generation, when talking about tales of past cricketers hitting hundreds after drinking through the night. For what it's worth, his fielding might have suffered, but Sathasivam did hit hundreds after partying through the night.
There is one more twist in Sathasivam’s colorful story, though. He was charged with murdering his wife with an 'ammi kal', a cylindrical grinding-stone, and was put in jail, where he was met by a visiting West Indian team that is said to have included Sobers and Worrell. After a widely followed trial where Dr Colvin R de Silva, a high-profile attorney, proved that it was a servant in the house who was the culprit, Sathasivam was released and carried from the court on the shoulders of his fans.
Sathasivam’s friend, Alfred Gogerly Moragoda, a distinguished civil servant, gives us a glimpse into the character of the man. While in jail, Sathasivam asked whether Alfred's wife thought he was the murderer. Alfred confessed that his wife and her friends did think Sathasivam was guilty. When he was leaving, Sathasivam asked him to pass on a message to his wife. "Tell her she is next on the list!"
Sriram Veera is a former staff writer at ESPNcricinfo