Neil Chanmugam –

A distinguished cricketer of yesteryear


by Mahinda Wijesinghe

Celebrated alumnus of S. Thomas’ College Mt.Lavinia, cricketer, Neil Chanmugam (1940 – 2014) who passed away on the eve of celebrating his 74th birthday, first made his mark as a fresher in the Royal-Thomian cricket encounter of 1958.

S. Thomas’ having been dismissed for a modest 192 runs was in danger of letting Royal amass a comfortable total but Chanmugam coming on first change dismissed 3 of the top 4 Royal batsmen with his wily off-spinners and restricted the Royalists from running away to a big total, and eventually the match petered out to a tame draw. Neil played for S.Thomas’ College in 1958 and 1959.

Though capable of academia, from then on cricket was his forte. Not in Engineering studies nor a stint at Accountancy took his fancy. His interest lay in the King of games, at least as it used to be known so in those times. Neil was a devoted student of cricket. That was his undying love. He lived as a thinking off-spinner and a hard-hitting middle-order batsman and who was a good fielder as any. Neil represented the Tamil Union and the S.S.C. with great distinction in the Saravanamuttu Trophy when unfortunately we did not have first-class domestic status.

Later, he naturally played for Ceylon and was a key member of our bowling attack in the unofficial ‘Test’ matches Ceylon played during this period. The high point in his career was the five -wicket haul (5/43) he captured against England led by Ted Dexter at the Colombo Oval in 1962, helping dismiss the tourists for a meager 159. Two years later, he played a major role in the victory against Pakistan ‘A’ at the P Sara Oval. Chanmugam scalped 4 for 28 off 12.3 overs as Pakistan were dismissed for a paltry 99 in the first innings in reply to Ceylon’s 152. Neil, though not being part of the XI, was in the squad and must have really enjoyed watching Ceylon beat India at Ahmedabad in 1964 by six wickets, the first occasion Ceylon recorded a win against a Test-playing nation.

However, how can one ever forget the last-wicket partnership against the mighty West Indies in the early ‘sixties? Their bowling attack comprised Hall, Sobers and Gibbs. Partnered by another Thomian, P.I.Peiris , this duo put on a magnificent 100+ partnership in less than an hour to take Ceylon to a respectable 400 runs. Neil’s contribution was a belligerent 72 runs while P.I. not to be outdone, contributed 46 runs. That was Neil, gutty to the last. I was a lucky spectator at the Oval when this drama unfolded.

Neil was also the Manager of the Sri Lanka team to England in 1984 when in the sole Test played at Lord’s all the honours was surely earned by the tourists having declared both their innings closed with centuries by Wettimuny, Mendis and Amal Silva, and winning all the kudos in the drawn game. He also was the Manager to Australia in the following year.

Neil took on to golf with his usual enthusiasm and as expected became a more than competent player until a debilitating illness took over. Neil leaves behind Oosha who looked after him with loving care during his illness, and children Anouk, Deepika and Devin.

May the turf lie gently over him.

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