Almanac Cricket (and Food): Finding Duleep Mendis in Colonel Light’s Cafe

A gentle waft of the trade winds has blown into our suburb in the form of the Café De-Mendis’.

It is run by Meneka Mendis whose philosophy is: ‘family – food from the heart – culture’.

It’s a welcome addition to Colonel Light Gardens. A heritage listed suburb ten minutes south of Adelaide’s CBD.

The suburb was created by New Zealand town planner Charles Reade. He was at the forefront of what was known as the garden city movement in the early 20th century. The loose idea was to avoid slums by building affordable houses for working people in green belts on the edges of cities.

The shopping areas Reade dotted throughout the suburb have transformed over the generations.  The clutch near our place now includes a butcher (Power supporter), second hand bookshop, post office, second hand record shop, no-appointment-necessary-cash-only barber (Crows man), a TAB and some take-aways.

Now there is Meneka Mendis and with her the taste of her family’s home of Sri Lanka. Many recipe ideas come from a book she keeps under the counter which belonged to her maternal grandmother.

Her grandmother was Phyllis de Zoysa and when she wasn’t cooking she was playing cricket for Ceylon. There is a photo of her in a scrapbook displayed in a glass cabinet in the café.

There are also signed bats and photos of the greats of men’s cricket such as Sachin Tendulkar, Dennis Lillee, Viv Richards, Richard Hadlee, Shane Warne and her father Duleep Mendis.

There is a dramatic shot of Mendis being carried off unconscious after being felled by Jeff Thomson at the Oval in the 1975 World Cup. According to the caption Mendis was approached by a police bobby who had heard the Sri Lankan had been assaulted by an Australian although he missed the bit about it happening during a cricket match. He is alleged to have asked if Mendis wished to press assault charges against Mr Thomson.

Another photo shows Mendis as captain of his country on its inaugural tour to Australia in 1985-86 where Sri Lanka was the third corner of the World Series one day triangle. They offered a welcome change from the howitzer attack of the West Indies.

Their schedule was a couple of warm up games and then the ODIs, however for some reason after being eliminated from the tournament they stayed in Australia playing a mini exhibition series in Victoria.

Over ten days Sri Lanka played one day matches against Central Highlands at Maryborough, Murray-Goulburn at Shepparton, Upper Goulburn at Yea, South Gippsland at Leongatha, Gippsland at Morwell and Mornington Peninsula at Hastings.

I was working at a radio station in Bendigo at the time and Maryborough fell within our broadcast reach and so I was dispatched to cover the international fixture.

I wish I could say I was dazzled by the teenage Aravinda De Silva, impressed by the classic form of Roy Dias or acknowledged the power of Arjuna Ranatunga but I don’t recall.

The one I do is Duleep Mendis. When the captain came out he was stocky and seemed to be carrying a bat belonging to a bigger man. He then just lit up the match. There was something elastic about the way he bounded toward the ball and clouted it. The game went into overdrive. I recall big straight sixes back over the bowlers head. It seemed almost unfair an international batsman of this power against country blokes.

At a time when 220 was considered a winning score off 50 overs, the Sri Lankans went over 300. It was giddy watching it because they played with such verve.

Off the ground kids chased the ball that clattered the fence while farmers huddled together muttering in admiration at this exotic display.

I checked the scorecard on line and saw Mendis was the last wicket to fall in an innings of 8/313. He made 71 – Ranjan Madugalle also made 71 and Brendon Kuruppu 72 which shows the fallibility of memory. I can’t remember the others in any role other than support for an innings by their captain.

What I also remember is that Mendis was open and spoke to everyone who approached him.

Mendis retired in 1989 and is currently coaching the national side in Oman. His family are Australian citizens and his children scattered around Brisbane, Melbourne and now Adelaide.

Meneka Mendis played cricket while studying marketing and commerce in Melbourne and later working for Cricket Australia but in opening the café she is answering the call of both her grandmother’s passions – food and cricket.

She says her father will be in town for the Test match in December and will likely be holding court in a new corner of an old suburb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a journo working for the ABC in SA. His scribblings include "1964", "Fos Wiliams on Football" and the biography of Neil Sachse.

Comments

  1. As one who gre up in lower mitcham Col light gardens was a most confusing suburb when navigated by tredley.
    Wednesday night 23rd before test would be prime time unless jth is doing the Lutheran thing.

  2. Great read as always,Mike Mendis was a v v good player I remember him being hot by Thommo what exactly is the name of the business ? Will def check it out thank you

  3. James Grapsas says:

    Great article. Thanks for sharing these anecdotes.

    A small point: the season was 1984-85, not 1985-86. After the World Series Cup tournament finished, my guess is that the Sri Lankans stayed in Victoria and played matches in provincial venues to tune up for the World Championship of Cricket tournament played (mostly at the MCG) from mid-February to mid-March 1985.

  4. Dave Brown says:

    It’s a fascinating suburb (not too many “working people” to be found anymore, mind) as the frontages remain heritage listed and the occupants work their way ever further back on their blocks. The Café De-Mendis sounds like a great addition.

  5. Michael Sexton says:

    588 Goodwood Road

  6. Lovely Mike

    Nice coincidence in that when I was over for the ASSH dinner (which I really enjoyed) John Kingsmill took me for a drive through Colonel Light Gardens explaining the town planning philosophy and history of it. It reminds me of Canberra – in appearance. We were making our way up to Lynton.

    I recall that tri-series.

    Came to really enjoy the Sri Lnakans, especially Aravinda de Silva. But many others as well.

  7. My father was the youngest of ten children living in a workers bungalow in Colonel Light Gardens. His father was a Plumber. They lived opposite CLG footy club. Many Daly’s on the honour board at the club. Lovely suburb.

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