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Kaluperuma was rated the best off spinner of his time

Lalith Wasantha Silva Kaluperuma was born on June 25, 1949, in Colombo. He was educated at Nalanda College, Colombo – an institution which has produced many Sri Lankan cricketers. He played with distinction for his school and had the honour of leading the First XI in 1969.

Under his leadership, Nalanda remained unbeaten in the year 1969 and became school champions. In the same year, Kaluperuma was selected as the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year. He captained Nalanda in the 40th Ananda-Nalanda ‘Big Match’.

After his school career, Kaluperuma played for Bloomfield and had the honour of leading the club. Kaluperuma was in the team which won the premier trophy for the club in 1980/81. In 1970, Kaluperuma performed a rare feat when he took four wickets off consecutive balls when playing for his club.

One of the spinning trio who played in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test match, Kaluperuma was rated the best right-arm off-spinner in Sri Lanka during his time. He was a capable lower order batsman and a brilliant gully fieldsman.

Kaluperuma first played representative cricket when he represented the Sri Lanka Board President’s XI against the Indian University team in 1970. He also toured South India with the Sri Lanka team in 1971 and 1973.

Kaluperuma was in the Sri Lanka team led by Anura Tennekoon which toured Pakistan in 1974. Kaluperuma took 8 for 50 against North West Frontier Province which till then was Sri Lanka’s best bowling performance overseas. He also fielded brilliantly in the slips. After bowling in the first innings of the match against the Pakistan Under-19 team, Kaluperuma had to return home due to his father’s death. Kaluperuma took 17 wickets on this tour at an average of 20.88. Sri Lanka’s performance on this tour was highly appreciated by the Pakistan Board President A. H. Kardar who stated that Pakistan would propose Sri Lanka for full ICC status.

Kaluperuma’s first appearance in a ‘Test’ (unofficial) for Sri Lanka was when he played against India in 1974. Kaluperuma performed a rare feat when he dismissed the Indian captain Ajit Wadekar with his first ball in ‘Test’ cricket.

Kaluperuma was in the Sri Lanka team which played in the inaugural World Cup held in England in 1975. He played in that famous match against Australia where Duleep Mendis and Sunil Wettimuny had to be hospitalised. Australia made a huge total of 328 but Kaluperuma got the prize wicket of skipper Ian Chappell – clean bowled for 4.

Sri Lanka played some first class matches on this tour in which Kaluperuma took 19 wickets.

In 1976, Kaluperuma toured India with the Sri Lanka Board President’s XI. Playing in the Gopalan Trophy encounter against Tamil Nadu, Kaluperuma captured 8 wickets for 43 in the first innings and 2 for 36 in the second innings – a match bag of 10 for 79.

Kaluperuma was able to prove his abilities as a fine all-rounder when the Pakistan team toured Sri Lanka in 1976. Sri Lanka was able to record a great victory in the first ‘Test’ played at the Colombo Oval (Sara Stadium) mainly due to the outstanding performance of Kaluperuma. In the first innings he scored his career-best score of 96. Kaluperuma, who normally bats at No.8 was sent in as nightwatchman at the end of the first day, when Sri Lanka were reeling at 19 for 4.

He carried on the next day till an hour before the close, batting for 248 minutes. In the second innings, he went on to score another half century (50) putting on 80 runs for the 7th wicket in an unbroken partnership with Roy Dias who made a valuable 24. Dias in a sporting gesture, played down one over without scoring to allow Kaluperuma to reach his half century and also hit the winning run. In the next over from Wasim Raja, Kaluperuma hit the winning run and also reached his second half century of the match. In the first innings too, Kaluperuma was involved in a 59-run partnership for the 7th wicket with Dias (29). Kaluperuma also took 3 for 37. Sri Lanka won by 4 wickets and Kaluperuma was the Man of the Match.

Kaluperuma was overlooked for the England tour of 1979. He was also not included in the Sri Lanka team for the first one-dayer against Australia in 1981 when Australia led by Kim Hughes toured Sri Lanka. However, Kaluperuma made his presence felt in the second one-dayer played at the SSC Grounds which Sri Lanka won.

Bandula Warnapura, leading Sri Lanka scored a magnificent century and was involved in a record partnership of 170 with Sidath Wettimuny (46). Australia won the toss and batted first making 188. The highest score by an Australian batsman was 48 by Graham Yallop. The best bowler for Sri Lanka was Kaluperuma who took 4 wickets for 35 in his 9 overs. It was a fine bowling performance In the third and final one-dayer played at the SSC Grounds, Sri Lanka came within seven runs of pulling off a sensational win over Australia, which would have sealed the series in favour of Sri Lanka. Warnapura won the toss and sent Australia in. Australia were sitting pretty at lunch when the scoreboard read 152 for 3.

Martin Kent (62) and Allan Border (63) were in total command. Both batsmen were dismissed, clean bowled, by Kaluperuma, just before lunch. On resumption, Kaluperuma took the important wicket of skipper Hughes, but Australia put up a respectable score of 242. Kaluperuma was again Sri Lanka’s best bowler taking 3 wickets for 38 in his 9 overs. He also made a quick fire 17 in 9 balls when quick runs were needed. Ranjan Madugalle (55) ad Anura Ranasinghe (61) put on 96 priceless runs in 16 overs, but finished on 236 – six runs short.

Sri Lanka’s performance in the only unofficial ‘Test’ against Australia was praiseworthy. They restricted Australia to 124 and 178 in the two innings with Kaluperuma taking 3 for 35 (24.1- 11-35-3) in the first innings and 5 for 74 in the second innings. Needing 129 for victory, Sri Lanka’s victory bid was thwarted by rain.

Kaluperuma claimed his 100th wicket in first class cricket by dismissing Allan Border for a ‘duck’ in the Australian second innings.

Lalith Kaluperuma had the honour of playing in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test match in February, 1982. He was included as one of the three spinners playing for Sri Lanka but had very little bowling to do as it was the other two spinners D. S. de Silva and Ajith de Silva who had to do the bulk of the bowling. Kaluperuma bowled 9 overs in the first innings and 12 overs in the second innings and failed to get a wicket. However, he won the award for the Best Fielder of the Match.

Kaluperuma was in the Sri Lanka team which toured Pakistan soon after the inaugural Test to play three Tests and three ODIs. Kaluperuma did not play in the first and third Tests but played in the second Test. However, he failed to get a wicket.

That second Test in Faisalabad was the last Test Kaluperuma played. In his short career Kaluperuma played in only two Tests and four one-dayers but failed to make any impression.

In October, 1982, Lalith Kaluperuma toured South Africa with the Sri Lankan ‘rebel’ team led by Bandula Warnapura which put an end to his cricket career. He, like the others had to face a ban of 25 years. The ban was lifted in 1990.

The Sri Lankan ‘rebel’ team known as AROSA played seven first class matches of which they lost five. The other two were drawn. Kapuperuma took 5 for 123 in a match against the South Africa team.

Those who went on that tour of South Africa were accused of chasing Kruggerands. But Kaluperuma, in an interview with ‘The Sportstar’ in 1993 straightaway rejected such accusations. "Money was not an attraction. We might have made some money for a good living, but there were other compulsions then, which prompted us to go to South Africa. And we did not go to South Africa to play politics. We went to play cricket and coach." said Kaluperuma

Kaluperuma was appointed a national selector and in May 2005 and was appointed Head of the Selection Committee in place of Ashantha de Mel. Kaluperuma was the centre of controversy on several issues that came up during his tenure as Chairman of the selection panel.

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