Pakistan in Sri Lanka 2012 June 15, 2012

The myths and realities of the Josephian Mafia

Think of Sri Lankan school cricket rivalries, and the first thing that comes to mind is Royal-Thomian annual clash, now 133 years old. Another rivalry, though not as steeped in history, is the Battle of the Saints, between St Joseph's College and St Pete

Think of Sri Lankan school cricket rivalries, and the first thing that comes to mind is Royal-Thomian annual clash, now 133 years old. Another rivalry, though not as steeped in history, is the Battle of the Saints, between St Joseph's College and St Peter's College. Think of school cricket heroes, and it's hard to forget Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli sharing a world-record 664 for their school Shradashram Vidyamandir, a record which stood nearly 19 years. Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera may not have shattered the record books as a pair, but they were fearsome enough to earn the popular nickname 'The Josephian Mafia'.

Both allrounders are pivotal to Sri Lanka's limited-overs teams' success; they're impact players, capable of turning matches around. Darley Road, in bustling Maradana, was where it all began. Both players helped St Joseph's break their jinx in the Battle of the Saints, which lasted nearly 36 years. Harsha de Silva never experienced victory as a player for St Joseph's, but is proud to have tasted it nevertheless through two of his most famous wards, Mathews and Perera.

De Silva, who now coaches the Sri Lanka Women's team, recalls Mathews as a talented teenager who made the Under-19 side at just 15. He remembers spotting Perera's potential in a match against St Joseph's. The young big-hitter had done enough to convince St Joseph's to offer him a scholarship. The 'mafia' was starting to take shape. Contrary to popular perception, the nickname was born only after they started playing for Sri Lanka.

De Silva says the players' character and strengths weren't very different from the present. Being two years senior, Mathews was the 'leader' who Perera sought to emulate. The rivalry, de Silva says, was friendly and productive for the school.

"Being fast bowlers, Angelo and Thisara put a lot of fear in other players. When they bowled it at 120-130 kph, the batsmen found them a handful," de Silva says. "One year we had a record season where we won nine outright wins, and our record was phenomenal mainly because of these guys. Between 2002 and 2010, we won four national championships."

De Silva singles out Perara's temperament during the big games. "When we won the Saints match after 36 years, we were rewarded with a trip to Australia. It was jointly organised by the (St Joseph's) Old Boys in Australia and those here in Sri Lanka. Thisara couldn't make the tour because of a family commitment I think and the Old boys in Australia were really looking forward to meeting him. So when he finally made it to Australia with the national team years later, some of the Old Boys were really happy to finally meet him."

Both players, he says, were rarely up to pranks and mischief, save for one famous incident involving Perera.

"Once, Thisara didn't show up for the second day of a match. Being a Catholic institution, the priests wouldn't tolerate any indiscipline. I think he was suspended for two matches. It was the same year we won the Battle of the Saints and this was a crucial game for us. We were doubtful if he would play the big game. Then, Chaminda Vaas (an alumnus of St Josephs) pleaded with Fr Rector to allow Thisara to play. As the games are played on Friday and Saturday, the team usually stays together from Thursday at the college. Chaminda spoke to the rector at around 5.30pm. One of the Old Boys fetched Thisara from his house and so he was a last minute inclusion and it paid off."

Did they buy Perera's story? "Back then security was tight around the country, and Thisara claimed he was stopped by a cop and was made to turn back because he didn't carry a valid ID card. But, till this day, we've always had our doubts about it," recalls de Silva with a chuckle.

Was de Silva more than just their coach? "I believe so. I knew there was a fine line that either of us wouldn't cross," says de Silva. "But there have been instances where I've advised them on their personal issues. I've seen Thisara especially undergo the hardship of having to travel every day from the outskirts of Colombo. I think he had to wake up at 3.30-4am to get to practice and then head for classes."

While Mathews is being groomed for the Sri Lanka captaincy, de Silva feels that Perara is equally capable of taking on a leadership role. "Everyone sees Thisara as a playful character. But if you speak to him, he has very good ideas and I think he's good captaincy material."

De Silva also busts the myth that he was ever nicknamed 'The Godfather' with peals of laughter. No, we're not talking guns, Brando or Sicily here.

Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on September 7, 2012, 21:27 GMT

    5caHI WHAT IS THE JOKE? Sanga was 33 , but he informed to we need young cancapty for our team but 34 age Dilshan is less young sanga.Why you have give chance to Tharanga. he was good player oid & test . but Selection committee only not given to him Test. foolish cricket. many youngust are there . Lahiru. Chandimal. Nuwan preedp. Banuka. Schitra . than what happan to them.please get some example from india. they are givan chance. riana. v, koli. aswin also in w. c /but our cricket .?kk- ksa (0)

  • testli5504537 on July 25, 2012, 16:21 GMT

    Wow, This is one sensational article to be honest. I cannot agree more on the info provided. I Remember going to battle of the blues(Royal-Thomian) also known as Royal-Thora. I use to go their with the intention of scoring few girls phone numbers. But the passion towards cricket by those school boys keeps us going solely focused towards cricket.It was really good to part of. I m assuming all the battles are of the same intensity.

  • testli5504537 on July 6, 2012, 10:39 GMT

    Great Riaz, as you said this is not a comparisum of schools or valuving one about the others. We all know the contribution from most of the schools to the Sri Lankan Cricket. These artical is about two future heros of Sri Lanken cricket, hope some body will write about Ananda-Nalanda as well. I am from a village school and in that case for all the cricketers are from my school. The jelousy about Anjelo and Perera is seems to be racially based. While wishing both of then best of luck pray somebody will write about Annad-nalanda as well to i will enjoy that too

  • testli5504537 on July 4, 2012, 18:12 GMT

    Good for St Josephs to have two players in the national team together.Anand-Nalanda can list two teams with substitutes who have played for Sri Lanka at Test Level.Crowing is for the sissies!

    Schools are irrelevant nurseries, its for the country you must play.

  • testli5504537 on July 2, 2012, 17:53 GMT

    Very nice can you tell me, how many Peterites made the first official test team for Sri Lanka.

    thank you, Ken

  • testli5504537 on June 22, 2012, 7:56 GMT

    Dear pradip chelliah - Hope you stand corrected now. Roshan Mahanama and Asanka Gurusinghe were selected to represent SL from school XI. In fact when Gurusinghe represented SL, he was in year 13th (weeket keeping in PAK tour) and just 18 years old.These two were the 'most outstanding schoolboy cricketer' award winner from 1983,1984,1985. Mahanama won it twice and Gura once. They were a tremendous players for SL thereonwards and played for SL for 13/12 years consecutively. Gura was SL's 'concrete' one down batsmen. another duo who are still there are Mahela and Thilan who were captaining both schools at the same time. Mahela went on to represent SL in 1997 and Thilan little later. We wish Anjelo and Thisara well but they have a long way to go and all the best to them

  • testli5504537 on June 21, 2012, 11:58 GMT

    I loved my Almamatar Zahira College which also produced talented cricketers like Namiz,Irfan (toy),Rasif, Amanulla(cricket & soccer) but unfortunately they couldnt make it to the national team. Fortunately Amanulla lead the national soccer team. I can remember when toy visited us from France he said he is sad when he is watching young men like Sanga playing because he couldn't make it to the national team. When you are reading an article you should concentrate what the article says. As someone said it is about two guys played for school at the same time and now they are playing for the national team that is what mafia is. One such mafia i can remember was Guru and Roshan.

  • testli5504537 on June 21, 2012, 10:41 GMT

    Dear Pradip Chelliah,

    Let me tell you a combination of three layers who represented same college team and proceeded to represent the country at the same time. They are Roshan Mahanma, Asanka Gurusinghe and Gamini Wickramasinghe who played fot the same Nalanda team and represented Sri lanka in Test Cricket in late 80's and early 90's. A particular series which come to my mind in which all three participated in playing XI was 1992 Kiwi's tour in Sri Lanka. Gamini Wickramasinghe i think is the least known but was a very capable wicket keeper batsman. Another probable world record from Great Nalanda.

  • testli5504537 on June 20, 2012, 20:08 GMT

    A very good read. The article I meant. Most comments following the article are just pathetic and displays the inability to comprehend what the article is about. The school cricket system in SL was great but bow I think is deteriorating. Simply because the T20 style approach by the school cricket teams are just killing talent at a younger age. Special credit to all the great institutions for extending scholarships to the cricketers from lesser known schools. Ex; Thisara Perera from St. Anthony's wattala, Dinesh Chandimal from Dharmasoka Ambalangoda, Jeevan Mendis from Susamyawardena, etc cos that surely have helped their careers. How ever at the end, all boils down to the individual players brilliance and committment towards excellence. About, Angelo Mathews,..he certainly is great player and has immense potential and a very calm player under pressure, which is a rare talent not seen recently on any other players. The last was may be Russel Arnold after Arjuna Ranatunga.

  • testli5504537 on June 20, 2012, 11:11 GMT

    This article is purely elaborating the merits of two young Josephian cricketers who played together for the same college team and their current electrifying performances at the national level. Interestingly, it also represents reminiscing of their coach and a bit of banter. Without exception, the century plus school cricket system has produced outstanding products. In that respect every school has contributed to the national interests at large. Here the limelight is on Angelo and Thisara, so lets be gracious and not deny them that.

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