12 Sub-District centuries for Moorabbin, five DDCA centuries for Buckley Ridges, and that’s in Australia alone. Susantha Pradeep boasts an impressive CV, and an acute understanding of how to score runs.
His secret: simplicity.
“I’m not thinking a lot, I’m not thinking to get 100 or 50, I’m just thinking about the next ball,” says Pradeep.
“In the morning when I wake up, I’m just thinking about my best innings. I’m not planning lots, if you plan too much you will struggle, you will put pressure on yourself. Just take it ball by ball, switch on and switch off.
“I’m also shadow batting, just going in front of the mirror shadow batting, thinking about whose bowling.”
It’s a process that’s held him in good stead, the roots of which can be traced back to Nondescripts Cricket Club in Sri Lanka.
Having begun his first-class career at the ripe age of 15, Pradeep journeyed through Kalutara and Colombo before landing at Nondescripts.
It played a significant role in shaping him into the cricketer he is today.
“Nondescripts had around 11 or 12 national players, and lots of Sri Lanka A players as well,” explains Pradeep.
“I played that year throughout the (1999/2000) season, and I’m the only one person who didn’t play national team! We had Hashan Tillakaratne, he was the captain; and Aravinda De Silva, Kumar Sangakkara, Russel Arnold, Naveed Nawaz. Lots of older national players.”
When quizzed on whether the calibre of talent surrounding him had an impact on his development, Pradeep replied: “Yes of course, I leant lots and lots.”
During that same 1999/2000 season, Pradeep was trying to break into Sri Lanka’s Under 19 set-up.
He’d featured in the Under 19 World Cup squad the previous season, but didn’t play any games. And with his 20th birthday beckoning, time was of the essence.
“(In) early 2000 I played another trial for the Sri Lanka Under 19’s. We had a tour to England, we had 250 players play the Under 19’s trials, and I was selected to the final 22 players,” recalls Pradeep.
“In one of the trials I got 88 and three wickets, but I didn’t make the tour, I was a stand-by. I was really upset because I did really well and I didn’t get the chance. I was travelling one and a half hours by train to every training session.
“I’d had enough of playing cricket at that time, I didn’t get the chance and my head was spinning, and I couldn’t work out what am I going to do.”
MORE INTERVIEWS: 'It feels like home': Travis Tuck comes full circle
MORE INTERVIEWS: Ravi Ratnayeke: The story of Sri Lanka's 12th Test cricketer
MORE INTERVIEWS: Tragedy and triumph: The tale of Darren Berry
Somewhat disenchanted, Pradeep was desperate for a change of scenery.
England was his salvation.
“I had a connection with an Englishman, he taught at a school in Kalutara, and I had a chat with him and I told him ‘I want to go to England and play club cricket over there,’ and he said ‘why not?’… I got the contract in Surrey Championship and I went there.”
A 15-year career was born.
“First year I was 20, and I wanted to go back home,” he laughs.
“It was cold and I couldn’t understand what they were talking about because the language was different… English was my second language, I could kind of speak it at that time but their accent was different so it was hard to understand.
“I had a good time, I played three seasons in the Surrey Championship and 15 years in (total). I also played in Middlesex, Leeds, and last five seasons I played in the Lancashire Leagues.”
From England stemmed another opportunity for Pradeep, and an unconventional one at that.
“When I was in the UK I played eight seasons in Italy as well,” he says.
“I played Saturday in England, then I’m travelling to Rome every Sunday morning, catching a flight at 6 o’clock.”
The foray into Italy came about through a friend of Pradeep's, who happened to be promoting cricket at a school in Rome.
“He told me ‘come down and come help me’, I was thinking ‘why not?’. I just had a chat with him and then when I was in the UK he e-mailed me and said ‘if you’re happy to come down I can send you the documents and you can apply for an Italian visa.’ And I did.
“I went there and played eight seasons; it was like a holiday. I had a free ticket, free accommodation, a taxi was coming to my house which they were paying for.”
As for the cricket itself, “It was alright, there was a lot of Asians playing – Pakistanis, Indians – plus some Pommies, South Africans. Some Italians played; they had a rule that every team had to have at least one Italian.”
“It was a bit of fun at the time,” he concludes.
Of course, all of Pradeep’s European ventures took place in the Sri Lankan winter, as he continued to pursue his first-class career simultaneously.
Sticking with the star-studded Nondescripts, he would encounter success during the summer of 2002/03, taking home both the one-day and four-day premierships.
“I was playing the one-day final with 10 national players and two national players on the bench. I didn’t take five wickets and score 100 runs, that wasn’t my role. I bowled tight lines, took two or three wickets, scored 20 or 30 runs, and saved some runs in the field.”
“We had some stars at that time, when all the national players weren’t touring I’d bat six or seven, but when they’re touring I’d bat at three or four. You had to capitalise when they were gone because otherwise you didn’t get a chance to bat.”
A seasoned campaigner, Pradeep is about to embark on his 18th season in Australia, and he now resides in Melbourne’s south-east.
Once he knew the national team was out of his reach, he made the move down under, and he speaks passionately as to why.
“When I was young, I would’ve loved to play in Australia. Sometimes at 5 o’clock in the morning I was watching Test cricket in Australia and I just loved Australia,” he says.
“I had a dream when I was young, that’s why I came to here.
“I’ve been playing since 2005. I first played in the Ferntree Gully Comp… but I didn’t enjoy it because it was synthetic with a two-piece ball, I was struggling. In the first three games I got three ducks. I couldn’t work out how to play the two-piece ball on synthetic.
Enjoying this interview?
Click here to subscribe to our newsletter and get the best of The Sporting Landscape straight to your inbox!
“Then I moved to Moorabbin after that, I played Subbies 10 years for Moorabbin Cricket Club. I had a great time, good people and really good cricket. Subbies is good cricket.”
And Pradeep was good to Moorabbin, plundering 12 centuries, each oozing with his trademark class.
Two knocks in particular stick out in his mind.
“I scored 156 against Brighton, on that day it was a really green wicket and we didn’t want to bat. They had a big South Afrcian fast bowler too, and it was a little bit sticky,” he says.
“We lost the toss, got put in to bat, and we were about 2/10. That South Afrcian, he was quick, had a good pace, I was hanging around for a couple of hours and then the sun came out. I got 150, and it was a shock.
“I had another one, I got 120 against Caulfield… I flew Sri Lanka to Melbourne on Friday, I landed on Saturday morning. We played at Caulfield, I came straight to Caulfield’s cricket ground, had a shower and got changed in the dressing room, and I got 120 on that day. They told me ‘go back and fly over again next week’,” he laughed. “Some days when you’re more tired you focus more.”
By the time he departed the club in 2015, Pradeep had established himself as a Moorabbin champion, collecting eight club championships over his decade-long stint with the Binners.
His next stop was Buckley Ridges.
And while Pradeep enjoyed his time there, describing it as “a nice club, very good, very friendly, family club,” his love for Sub-District cricket never wavered.
It’s what ultimately led him to sign with Endeavour Hills this season, joining the likes of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Lahiru Thirimanne in hoping to take the Eagles from 14th on the VSDCA 1st XI ladder last season to finals and beyond – a fanciful prospect turned tangible by a plethora of big-name signings.
“I love playing Sub-District cricket, I’ve played 75, 77 games, something like that and I want to get to 100 games. I’m not far from Endeavour Hills too, it’s only 10 minutes away from my place,” he says.
“I had another year with Buckley because I signed for three years, but Nav (De Silva – a fellow Endeavour Hills recruit) convinced me to come down, he chased me everyday,” laughed Pradeep.
“So I had a chat with Buckley and said I wanted to play Sub-District cricket again, and they said ‘that’s alright’.”
As for his persona on the field, Pradeep describes himself as a “different person,” one driven by a desire to win.
“I’m aggressive, and if someone’s doing something wrong I can’t hold my mouth. When you put the whites on you are a different person, and I want to win, otherwise we are wasting our time,” he says.
For all the runs scored and club championships won at Moorabbin, Pradeep has never tasted Sub-District finals.
It’s why his goals for this season are so simple.
“I want to get 400 or 500 runs, get top-six and play finals.”