In Percy, cricket will live

Source: RevSportz & Sri Lanka Cricket Twitter/X

It seemed like any other normal evening on a weekday. Just then a message came across that Percy Abeysekara, the ever-present Sri Lankan fan, had passed away. A mixture of emotions gushed forth. Only last month, this writer had met ‘Uncle Percy’ in Sri Lanka during the Asia Cup. Although Percy looked quite frail, there was still a glint in his eyes when he remembered those stories from the past. 

He even said in a light-hearted manner that at 87, he was perhaps a tad healthier than Garry Sobers, the great all-rounder and his good friend of many years. But time waits for none, and everyone has to leave this world at some point. 


There was a sense of excitement and then there was a wee bit of apprehension as we took a tuk-tuk from our hotel in Colombo to travel all the way to Kalatura. The plan was to have a friendly chit-chat with Percy. So why was there a little bit of fear? A jog down the memory lane to the early 1990s answers the vexed question. 

Whenever India took on the island nation, invariably a few editorials about a Sri Lankan fan casting spells on cricketers and his supposed sorcery would pop up. The legend of Percy and his mantras and chants had spread far and wide. So much so that even my mother and sister were interested to know more about his rather eccentric one-liners.

One of his sledges is so often repeated that thousands and thousands of ink fillers must have been exhausted to tell the tale — the way he haunted Mohammed Azharuddin during India’s tour of Sri Lanka in 1985. Even a tough cookie like David Boon couldn’t survive Percy’s magic mantra. So, before stepping into Percy’s house, the perception built around him was of a noisy fan. But in reality, it turned out to be an unforgettable experience. 

Garfield, Percy’s grandson, was the first one to greet us. Garfield, named after the great all-rounder, offered each one of us with a glass of juice. Somehow all that trepidation had disappeared into thin air.  Maybe everything associated with Percy was magic. Within a minute or two, Percy gently took a few steps and made himself feel comfortable on the sofa in the drawing room. 

Just a mere glance at Percy and the mind travelled through a wave of seismic shocks: He was a pale shadow of the hale and hearty man from his younger days. And then you reconciled to the fact that age catches up with everyone. 

In the subsequent confab, barring Azharuddin’s return of low scores, he recalled very little of all those famous anecdotes — not even the incident, where he apparently saved Sobers’ life during the July 1983 riots in Sri Lanka, or Percy dancing onboard with Sobers, the then Sri Lankan coach, as the team made its way back to Colombo. Sigh! Wish I could take a flight to a bygone era and listen to all those tales.

As the freewheeling conversation moved on, a few tears rolled down his cheeks. The reason was he had heard Rohit Sharma’s name. Percy has had his memorable moments with Indian players like Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli. But Rohit’s sublime batsmanship seemed to have touched his heart like nothing else in the cricketing world. Those tear drops indicated that beneath the rough exterior, here was a man who breathed cricket. As I stepped out of Percy’s abode, the perception of a fan who threw jibes at players had changed. 

As the world lost Percy on a day his beloved Sri Lankan team lost to Afghanistan in the 2023 World Cup, his indomitable spirit will echo in the minds of many more generations of cricket fans.

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