By Agnes Thambynayagam
Vavuniya, Sri Lanka born Francis Alphonsus Jayaraja was indeed chosen by Italy to lead it’s national team long before England chose the Chennai, India born Nasser Hussain to lead the MCC in 1999.
Francis Alphonsus Jayarajah, an all round athlete from St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna, Sri Lanka, simply followed his passion for life and sports. He left Sri Lanka in 1968 and became a pioneer in his own right: he became the first Sri Lankan, if not, the first man ever from the Indian subcontinent, to captain the national cricket team of a European country. In 1984, Jayarajah was selected to Captain the Italian national cricket team. The Vavuniya, Sri Lanka born Francis Alphonsus Jayarajah was indeed chosen by Italy to lead its national team long before England chose the Chennai, India born Nasser Hussain to lead the MCC in 1999.
Jayarajah, who studied at the University of Rome and then worked for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, played for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cricket Club against British and Australian Embassies winning the Rome Ashes in 1975. In 1978, Jayarajah founded his own Cricket Club along with his then girl friend Franca Beranger and some of his friends. They named it ‘Commonwealth Wandering Giants Cricket Club’.
In 1980, Jayarajah co-founded the Associazione Italiana Cricket (Italian Cricket Association) with the help of his good friend Simone Gambino and with his cricket club players Massimo Da Costa, Desmond O’Grady, Sam Kahale and others. At this time, they changed the club name to Doria Pamphilj Cricket Club. The Roma Villa lawn of Princess Orietta Doria Pamphilj and her British cricket fan husband Admiral Frank Pogson was used to play Cricket in the sixties and seventies in Rome. The club won the first Championship organized by the Italian Cricket Association.
In 1983, Rome’s Capannelle Hippodrome granted a large ground on lease in the center of the racecourse in Southern Rome. At this time the club changed its name to Roma Capannelle Cricket Club. It is in this new large ground, the Roma Capannelle Cricket Club, under the shepherd ship of Jayarajah and Da Costa rose to prominence in the international stage. Jayarajah and Da Costa who alternated as the Captain of their team, Roma Capannelle Cricket Club, had nurtured many home grown Italian players. In 1988, Jayarajah’s wife Franca Maria Beranger became the President of Roma Capannelle Cricket Club.
Roma Capannelle Club is the Italy’s oldest cricket club that competes in the premier league (Series A) and fields 3 adult men teams, 4 juniors and a women’s team that started in 2009, which won back-to-back Series A titles in 2009 and 2010. They have over 100 playing members and have several programs aimed to introduce cricket in the Italian schools as they had been doing for the past 30 years. During the past four decades, Roma Capannelle Club has given many talented cricketers to the National team.
In 1984, Jayarajah captained the first Italian National Team that toured UK. He captained the National team every year thereafter until 1992. Italy kept pushing and knocking on ICC’s (International Cricket Council) door and soon Italy became the first ever Affiliate Member. In 1997 Italy finally became an Associate Member of the ICC after changing its name from Italian Cricket Association to Italian Cricket Federation. Considering the fact when Jayarajah left Sri Lanka in 1968, the formidable Ceylon team was only an Associate Member; this achievement of Italy under his stewardship was a momentous and poignant moment in Jayarajah’s life.
Today, Italy is one of the leading non-commonwealth cricketing nations, and has been ranked as high as number 17 in the world out of 105 playing countries. In 2011, Italy hosted the Division 4 Championship and finished second, and consequently, earned its place in Division 3. The finest hour, however, in international cricket came for Italy and Jayarajah in the 2012 World Twenty20 Qualifier in the UAE. A stellar performance by the Italian team at this tournament included wins over Oman (9 wickets) and the United States of America (8 runs). Italy has won the European Championship in 2013 and now competes in the World Cricket League Division 4.
Jayarajah had been a committee member for the Italian Cricket Association from 1984 to 1987 and Vice President of the Technical Committee for the Italian Cricket Association from 1988 to 1991. Jayarajah retired from the Italian National Team after receiving the ICC Trophy in Malaysia in 1997, in which Italy competed for the first time. He was the Vice President for the Italian Cricket Federation from 2008 to 2012 and an active committee member for the Italian Cricket Federation since 2004 to present. Jayarajah and his friend Simone Gambino, the President of the Italian Federation are the only two Italians who hold the Full Membership of the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club- the holder of the Laws of Cricket) with voting rights.
The torch has now been passed on to the next generation. Jayarajah’s son Leandro Mati Jayarajah plays cricket for Roma Capannelle Cricket Club in the Series A since 2001 where he has been the Captain of the team since 2005. Leandro played his first game for the Italian National Team in August 2010 during the European Cricket Championship against Holland. He is also a qualified cricket coach and currently he is involved in coaching the Italian Under 17 team. Jayarajah’s daughter Francesca Maria Suriakumari is also a keen cricketer and plays for the women’s cricket team since its start in 2009.
Jayarajah’s best friend and beloved wife Franca Maria Beranger, President, Roma Capannelle Cricket Club 1988—2014 and a staunch advocate of Italian cricket, passed away peacefully after a brief illness on January 1, 2015.
Jayarajah was born on 18 June 1947 to Ligory Francis (Master) of Mirusuvil, and Mary Regina Vanderkoen Francis of Rambaikulam, Vavuniya, Sri Lanka. He is the brother of the author of this article Agnes Thambynayagam who lives in Texas, USA. Jayarajah began playing cricket at St. Patrick’s College Jaffna, Sri Lanka in the sixties. He continued to play cricket in Rome, Italy after he moved there for higher studies in 1968. Jayarajah captained the Italian National Cricket team from 1984 to 1992. He is currently a Committee member for the Italian Cricket Federation and represents the Federation at ICC meetings. Jayarajah continues to play for Roma Capannelle Club in Series A that won titles in 1988, 1990, 1991, 2000 and 2013. Jayarajah himself won eight Italian Cup Titles. Today, the Roma Capannelle Cricket Club founded by Jayarajah is an Internationally recognized cricket club for boys and girls who aspire to play for Italy. Jayarajah is the president of the club since January 2015.
This article was first published in Sri Lanka guardian. http://www.slguardian.org/2016/04/italian-cricketer-francis-alphonsus-jayarajah/
Agnes Padmini Thambynayagam is the author of The Gentiles, a History of Sri Lanka 1498-1833. She is currently the Liaison officer, St Anthony’s college, Oxford for Antonians in Texas, USA.