By Srian Obeyesekere
Sri Lanka cricketing Cheer Man Percy Abeysekera, who passed away this week at the age of 87, will go down in history as a celebrated off field figure in world cricket to have lit up the game. Strutting around cricket fields with a fluttering Lion flag held high matched by a sense of wit and humour matched by a rasping voice, Percy touched hearts wherever he went.
A lithe figure sporting a beard Percy was gifted with a natural hip hop flair of ambling about in gay abandon and an equally striking banter of choice words during the heated action between Sri Lanka and opposing teams. It was this all-round uncanny flair in the man of sheer simplicity in lighting up the game from the boundary line that catapulted Percy Abeysekera to a type of fame of a personality who hobnobbed the game to building a bridge between the cricketing fraternity across the globe.
Indeed, Percy covered his much-loved profession for nearly five decades with a passion that knew no bounds for the adroit verve the Sri Lankan cheer man imbibed in keeping cricket lovers entertained.
Many were the times Percy’s fierce but friendly banter rankled the ire of opposing players, but they ended up great friends. So much so that he would fondly recall moments when he ranted at former New Zealand captain and star batsman Martin Crowe using the pun about crowing. That finally Percy and Martin Crowe ended up great friends with the New Zealander gifting him a Player of the Match memento does manifest the large heartedness of both alike in striking a lasting bond.
The last time I saw Percy in action was during Sri Lanka’s success last year in winning the Asia Cup when he rode back to the Cricket Board headquarters from the Katunayake airport in an open motorcade with the champs with the great Cheer Man conspicuous in the forefront in a mock dance the flag proudly held high.
He was so witty that when we met, he would oft joke in the wisecrack, “Obeyesekere and Abeysekera.” Such was Percy, a cricket man well versed to evoking a laugh wherever he went not just at the cricket field. In that sense, indeed by his own right was a mighty colossus – entertainer par excellence who had the knack of enlivening life by the virtues that had enriched him by his passion for the game of cricket.
Indeed, Percy has left a lasting void in the game of cricket, but he has left a lasting flame by what he imparted to the game as a great Cheer Man.