A tribute to Anura Tennekoon


Former  Sri Lanka  captain Anura Tennekoon’s autobiography – Passionately Cricket – was launched at Sinhalese Sports Club Wednesday evening. Tennekoon,  who captained S. Thomas’ and SSC was Sri Lanka’s captain in 1975 and 1979 Cricket World Cups. Tennekoon’s former  school mates, his SSC and Sri Lanka team mates, some of the leading players produced by the country and leading figures of the business world were present at the occasion. The key note address was given by his contemporary cricketer S. Skandakumar.

Today we reproduce the speech that Skandakumar, Sri Lanka’s former High Commissioner to Australia, former Chairman of George Steuarts and a fine cricket commentator, delivered during the occasion.

"Icon cricketers past and present , distinguished guests Ayubowan ,Vanakkam, Asalam Alekum Good Evening.

When I accepted Anura ‘s invitation, I was not expecting to address such an awesome audience. I now know what he must have felt like when he took guard against Joel Garner for the first time!

Anura thank you for inviting me to speak today. I am truly honoured.

If there was a single line that describes this remarkable gentleman cricketer, I will fall back on an eminent Thomian’s statement to me. ‘If I had to name someone to bat for my Life It would be Anura.’

I played against Anura in the Royal-Thomian matches of 1965 and 66 and in 1969 I had the opportunity to play under his captaincy in the Gopalan Trophy encounter at the Colombo Oval, now the P. Sara Stadium.

The Colombo University had a great season in the premier domestic tournament that year heading the league and so Mevan Peiris, Sarath Seneviratne and I found places in the team.

Mevan took five wickets in the first inning, I chipped in with four and Sarath made a sterling half-century and we were proud of our contribution that enabled the Board eleven to retain the Gopalan trophy that year.

Over three days I got to know this gentleman cricketer better and my admiration for him has never waned since.

It was Neville Cardus who once wrote, ‘The majestic stroke maker makes music and spreads beauty with his bat.’ He must have had Anura in mind!

There were no helmets, chest, arm or elbow guards in his time. Only a gentle protector of his manhood which yielded willingly to external pressure. With the likes of the Garners, Roberts, Marshalls , Lillies and Thompsons pace was by no means any slower than what we see today while spin was far more challenging on account of uncovered pitches that led to viciously turning strips whenever there was overnight rain. Batting required not just courage but also perfect technique and our Icons of the past displayed both.

The game has been transformed dramatically since then. In fact it was in 1990 that I represented our Cricket Board at a special session of the ICC at Lord’s in London chaired by the late Sir Colin Cowdrey to discuss among other matters the commercialization of the game which took shape in the ensuing decade.

So from the gentle voices of the likes of John Arlott, Brian Johnston, Alan McGillivray, that brought the game to our living rooms on Radio and Richie Benaud on TV we moved to the more aggressive ones that reflected the changing trends.

In the ICC World Cup of 1975 at Lord’s Gary Gilmour destroyed England in the semi-final. A week later, Australia met the West Indies in the final . Clive Lloyd played a majestic innings and was particularly harsh on Gilmour which prompted Arlott to sigh and comment ‘How life can change from Saturday to Saturday.’

Now we hear comments like ‘Warner crunches another boundary.’

‘Buttler  smashes a six.’

Yes Neville Cardus’ vision of ‘poetry in motion’ for the game has given way to Freddy Mercury’s version of the Bohemian Rhapsody: both equally enjoyable!

Anura’s book is almost like a Tennekoon innings.

It starts gently with his early life and if he would pardon me for saying so a rural boy born in Anuradhapura who was boarded at the age of six at this awesome school by the sea S. Thomas’.

Settling in posed its challenges but also by his own admission moulded him.

There are two important incidents in his early years I should mention.

Their supervisor Rev. Barnabas took up a major part of the limited time allocated for evening practice and Anura worked out a way to get him out by hiding behind a tree and encouraging the bowler to bowl a bouncer. The Reverend fell for the bait and was caught by Anura . The Reverend was  understandably furious and called the author a cheat.

Anura confesses in his book that he learnt that day that even when the end was justifiable, the means to it had to be credible.

In fact when Don Bradman was asked in retirement what he would like to be remembered most for his reply was spontaneous. ‘My Integrity’.

Indeed so would be Anura’s.

The other incident involves a challenging decision Keith Labrooy as Captain had to make for the eleventh place for a Royal-Thomian. It was between the 15-year-old Anura and Keith’s brother Robin. Keith picked Anura in keeping with the needs of the team demonstrating credible leadership.

Anura along with Paul Selvadurai pulled S. Thomas out of the mire with a seventh wicket stand of almost a hundred from a dismal 80 for six and so began a remarkable career.

Anura in his early years in boarding school received a princely weekly allowance of Two rupees. Had he been born forty years later that allowance may well have been two million rupees!

His book then increases in tempo as he recalls his many international challenges.

The hardships endured on the many tours to India and Pakistan in particular, the long uncomfortable train rides, the sleepless nights, the meager allowances and tough playing conditions while the host teams travelled by plane.

In the first ever ICC World Cup, in 1975 at Lord’s he had the nightmarish experience on his way to the crease of having to cross Duleep Mendis felled by a Thompson bouncer being carried off the field by Mevan Peiris and Dennis Chanmugam, only to see Sunil Wettimuny retire a few overs later with a toe fractured by a brutal Yorker.

Joined by Michael Tissera, the pair batted on with great courage to take us to a respectable 270 for four against Australia’s 320 when the overs ran out.

Then in 1979 he led us to the next World Cup with no masseur as funds did not permit the luxury. As he was nursing an injury he took with him a ray lamp only to be advised on arrival that sports medicine had turned to ice packs for cure!

The allowances again were so meager that Anura had to get his clothes laundered privately by a relative to be properly attired for the games and this applied to the whole team.

Against these immense odds our cricketers laid a solid foundation for the Hon. Gamini Dissanayaka to make a strong pitch at the ICC meeting in London in 1981 for our admission as a Test playing Nation which was successful and we never looked back.

Life has little meaning without appreciation and gratitude. Anura’s book is therefore a must for all interested in the game and in particular our emerging cricketers so they know the hardships and challenges endured and courage shown by our cricketers of the past to lay the foundation for the enormous opportunities they enjoy today.

I saw for myself during my tenure in Australia the benefits that can accrue to a Nation when the values of the game are embraced by the people themselves.

By this I mean mutual respect and the inflexible application of the rule of law whereby no one is above it.

A Prime Minister gets fined for not observing safety rules while the leader of the opposition is similarly treated for a speeding offence. They both apologize and make payment!

Let us embrace these values ourselves!

Anura thank you for your immense and selfless contribution to our country through the game of cricket. We wish you light in your twilight years , the same light you shone on us from the centre in your many years as a cricketer.

In conclusion, I wish to quote to all of you lines from a much respected American playwright and journalist on his retirement.

 "Allocate time to be by yourself, to listen to your inner silences, to find the true meaning to your life on Earth, and never give up on your struggle for peace, decency and standing up for the truth "

Thank you and May God bless you All."

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