SPORTING PERSONALITIES: Amidst the green hills and misty mountains of the 'cleansing' climes of Kandy, it was the 'gentleman's game' of Cricket that captivated the hearts of many schoolboys, their parents and a wide circle of fans, to joyfully gather at the picturesque Cricket grounds and watch their 'Cricket Heroes' with intense interest.
Among them was a scintillating batsman of 'real class' and elegance whose techniques of 'twists and turns' of wrist and graceful use of feet were 'out of this world'!
He was a real treat to watch, whenever he was at the batting crease, bashing the little shiny 'cherry coloured' ball to all parts of the ground - and on numerous occasions - out of the grounds!!
It was in the 1950's that a dashing young cricketer, A. C. M. Lafir 'sprang-up' to dominate the batting scene, tearing the best of bowlers apart and entertained his numberless fans with brilliant stroke-play.
This was the 'real class' of a batsman, whose techniques and methods of play were meticulously perfected - with tremendous toil 'practice makes one perfect'!
What an incredible record 'A.C.M.' has established along his glorious pathway in Cricket, which began at St. Anthony's College, Kandy (Katugastota) in 1949. It was in an under 14 Inter-school cricket match that the famous, fabulous 1st XI SAC Coach, John Halangoda (an Old Trinitian) spotted Lafir's great talents, when he scored a splendid 60 runs.
With great gratitude to John Halangoda, from 1950 'A.C.M.' was picked to play for the 1st XI of St. Anthony's and went on to captain the college team for two memorable years! Through his consistency and excellence in batting during the season, he was selected to play for the Combined Colleges, skippered by Kenneth Serpanchy of St. Joseph's College.
Perhaps it may be simpler to 'find a needle in a haystack' than to list out the numerous centuries and half centuries scored during his 17 (seventeen) fascinating years of college, club and Sri Lanka representative cricket. Lafir's 'fantastic fifties' and 7 years of the seventy's, saw him 'notch-up' over 50 (fifty) centuries, 2 (two) double centuries and a number of scores past the '50 run' mark.
To briefly 'breeze' through his 'lengthy' list of achievements:
(1) in 1954, he was the first schoolboy from St. Anthony's College, to play for Sri Lanka, whilst yet in school, against the M.C.C. led by Sir Len Hutton.
(2) His distinguished service to the country, continued for a long 8 years period from 1954 to 1962.
(3) He scored the 'fastest 100' in 60 minutes against Ananda College Colombo, in 1954.
(4) A schools record for an opening stand of 266 runs by A. C. M. Lafir (176) and Ronnie Stephens (103) was established against Trinity College, which 'stands' to this day!
(5) Lafir was the first player on either side to make a century in the Gopalan trophy between Madras and C.C.A. President's XI in 1961.
(6) He led St. Anthony's in 1954 to become the unbeaten Inter-school Champions
(7) At the 'Big Match' he won four awards - Best Batsman, Best Bowler, Best all-rounder and Highest scorer.
(8) He scored over 1000 runs in '54 with an average of 108.06, breaking the record of 92.6 set in 1918 by the legendary Jack Anderson.
(9) He was the first batsman to win the Macan Markar Trophy awarded for the highest score of 256 not out, playing for Nomads vs University in 1966. He beat the previous best of 236 by Makin Salih.
(10) In 1954 A.C.M. Lafir won the Sri Lanka schools Best Batsman Award.
(11) A. C. M. skippered the Kandy schools and led them to victory over the powerful Colombo schools XI with a Captain's knock of 151 not out.
(12) His Mercantile record score of 236 against Rowlands.
(13) There are many more but space does not permit the listing to carry on!!
A. C. M. Lafir captained a strong, all-round Anthonian team who were unbeaten in 1954 and were 'unofficial' Inter-school cricket champions.
This 'mountain moving' team from the hills of Kandy, consisted of Ranjith Doranegama a good batsman, J. Sivananthan a master spinner of the ball, Ronnie Stephens a superb opening batsman, T. M. 'Tom' Deen fastest bowler in the schools in 1954, Cutbert Pereira School's Best Wicket-keeper, Saliya Doranegama an effective opening bowler, W. Premaratne an all-rounder (who was later elected the first 'Daily News - Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year' in 1956), Guy Fernando, J. Abdeen and Nihal Fernando, together with reserves Cecil Rodrigo, Adrian Berenger, C. Pamunuwa, Dicky Macky and Fred John.
This team was coached by Maurice Perera, a former Peterite and superb cricket commentator, who took over the coaching with the demise of John Halangoda in 1953.
On leaving College at the end of 1955, A. C. M. joined the police force as a sub-inspector. After a short period of service he got a 'break-through' in employment with an American Oil Company - Esso in 1957.
When Lafir played for Colombo Esso in a Stanvac '50 overs cricket tournament' in Bombay, he scored 60 runs out of a total of 62 (one run was a buy and Chinniah scored the other run and 'held the fort' until Lafir hammered 60 runs!!) to defeat Calcutta and win the Sinclair Trophy.
In 1962 he joined Lever Bros. Ltd. and played some match winning innings for the company. He did justice for Lever Bros. with a hurricane 121, which included 14 fours and 5 sixes, enabling Levers to regain the Lister Challenge Trophy from BCC in the 'Battle of the Soaps'!
A.C.M. also enrolled himself to play for Saracens Sports Club and established his place in the Sri Lanka team, with an impressive batting record, which had 27 centuries and 2 double centuries in the 'Sara' Trophy tournaments.
His batting performances for Sri Lanka were also outstanding, particularly his enterprising knock of 107 against Madras in 1955 and another century 132 runs, in the following year.
Some of his team-mates of the Sri Lanka side, captained by V. G. Prins, were C. I. Gunasekera, Dr. H. I. K. Fernando, Brian Claessen, Stanley Jayasinghe, C. T. Schaffter, Dooland Buultjens, P. N. Schokman, G. P. Schoorman, P. A. T. Kelly, N. Ponniah and M. Makkin Salih, who won the Gopalan Trophy.
In 1958 he was selected to play for All-Ceylon (Sri Lanka) team against the MCC, which was captained by Colin Cowdrey and had great England players of the past, like Tom Graveney, R. Subba Row, Peter Richardson, Trevor Bailey, Peter May, Frank Tyson, Jim Laker, Brian Statham, C. A. Milton and 'fiery' Freddie Trueman. Sri Lanka was captained by Vernon Prins, with co-members C. H. Gunasekera, A. C. M. Lafir, Michael Tissera, C. I. Gunasekera, A. Sethupathy, Dr. H. I. K. Fernando, Clive Inman, C. T. Schafter, Tony Buhar, Malcolm Francke, 12th man Lasantha Rodrigo.
In 1960 the Pakistan Eaglets visited Colombo and played a three day match against the CCA led by C. I. Gunasekera which included Lafir and in the following year he played against India and scored a brilliant 55 runs. He also toured Malaca and Singapore in 1956 and 1957.
In 1961 the first consignment of Norm O'Neill cricket bats "Hydromatic Driver" was manufactured in Australia and imported by Dr. Subash Chawla's Sports firm Chands Ltd. At a special function to launch these new bats, an award to the first batsman to score 500 runs was made to A. C. M. Lafir by the Australian Trade Commissioner in Sri Lanka Desmond Mc Sweeney.
Once again in 1962, A. C. M. Lafir was selected to play for Sri Lanka against the MCC led by Ted Dexter in which Ken Barrington scored 93 runs before been dismissed by Abu Fuard, just 7 runs short of his century.
Dr. H. I. K. Fernando was named the Best Wicket Keeper in Asia by the Reuter's special correspondent Leslie Smith, for his splendid performance behind the stumps.
For his 84 runs in the test against the MCC, the British Trade Commissioner J. F. Saunders, awarded a prize for Sri Lanka's highest scorer to A. C. M. Lafir.
In 1975 Lafir opened his Cricket Coaching School at the Nomads grounds and conducted classes only on Saturdays, for boys between the ages of 12 to 15 years.
He recalled the names of some talented players who were coached by him, like Roshan Mahanama Asanka Gurusinghe, Nigel Fernando and many others who reached Sri Lanka levels.
In 1981 he decided to sojourn 'Down under' - to Melbourne Australia, with an intention to obtain employment and explore the possibilities of bringing his family over.
While he was there he took the opportunity to attend Frank Tyson's Coaching School at Monash and was awarded an intermediate coaching certificate registered with the Victorian Cricket Association.
Lafir also played cricket for the North Club on the invitation of Merril Gunaratne a former Anthonian Captain of 1969, who scored a brilliant 139 against St. Josephs and more than 10 half centuries in his cricketing career. He is presently the active President of the Old Boys' Association in Melbourne, Australia.
By 1982, A.C.M. was back in Sri Lanka and glad to reunite with his family in his 'homeland'! His 'longest innings' has been with his charming wife Carmini (nee Ratnam) who is an English Graduate and continues in a Teaching profession.
They married in 1962 and 'bat-on' after 44 years of a happy and blessed 'partnership'! They produced a son Aashiq Cader Mohamed (ACM) Lafir jnr; (40 yrs.) who is today an accomplished Accountant with a double Degree and is working Director at United Motors. He is married to Lamina (nee Sameer) and has two daughters, Raahya (12) and Taahira (8).
In addition, ACM and Carmini have two daughters, Nirala (32) who works as an Executive Secretary and Mehra a Chartered Secretary, married to Mithila Mendis a Director of Airstan Telecommunications, who completed his degree in Electrical Engineering at Cambridge University, UK.
After his return to Sri Lanka his intention was to continue coaching and be active in the Cricket Fraternity.
However with the 1983 ethnic problems in the country ACM took up a two-year assignment in Saudi Arabia and when he came back in 1985 he had a great offer of employment in Bahrain, which he took and 'flew away' - until 1994!
He is presently Chairman of the Selection Committee of the Colombo District Cricket Association (CDCA), since June 2004, which covers approximately 65 Clubs. ACM has been a Match Referee for the Premier League matches and continues actively to this date.