Originally Published on the Daily News (17th January 2017)
I had the privilege of meeting Anura Tennekoon at the local Mecca of cricket at the Sinhalese Sports Club, recently. He was my captain when Ceylon Schools played against the All India Schools, in Colombo in the mid sixties. Anura went on to captain Sri Lanka with distinction where as I went to UK looking for greener pastures. It is interesting to note that the Indian Schools team included players in the caliber of Eknath Solkar and Surinder Amarnath who went on to represent India. Dyan Pathiravithane (a fellow scribe at present) of Ananda College also participated in that match.
Anura captained S Thomas’ Mount Lavinia in 1966 and I was the captain of Ananda the same year. I can vividly recall how the last man and I saved the day for our College. Tennekoon and Sriyantha Rajapakse, both top class spinners in school cricket those days were hell bent on breaking our partnership, but we survived in spite of the mildest form of sledging confined to words to the effect of “Oh Hell.” In that year I scored only one fifty and that too against Dharmapala Pannipitiya. In this instance against the Thomians I set my stall and it was difficult for Sriyantha and Anura to dislodge me.
This match was played at Vihara Maha Devi Park on a matting wicket in Colombo 7. The Thomians rattled us for 81 in the first innings, in reply they scored 228 for 7 wickets, Anandians scored 198 for 9, Subhash Sumanasuriya still a close friend of mine scored an elegant 51. (These scores came to me through the kind courtesy of Dr Harendra Kularatne who participated in the 1963 Ananda College cricket team.)
After saving the game for Ananda, my partner the last man and I sauntered into the pavilion, dog tired. It was a hot day and we were itching to quench our thirst with water, but to our surprise we were confronted with a couple of crates of beer which was smuggled into the dressing room by some enthusiastic old boys. Our glee was short lived because our coach at that time All Ceylon cricketer, dashing Dhanasiri Weerasinghe made a quickstep to the proceedings and one of our reserves who was clean as a whistle, was given the task of emptying them one by one to a gutter next to the pavilion. The enthusiastic members of our team who were used to the brown coloured frothy liquid even at that tender age were naturally crestfallen. Three cheers were raised by the two teams after the match, with the aroma of beer emanating from the gutter nearby which everybody in the dressing room could whiff but no action could be taken. The aftermath of the proceedings was to leave Anura and Co gnashing their teeth with frustration causing their Thomian grit to end up in dust.
As a schoolboy in 1965 Anura was selected to play for Ceylon against Mike Smith’s Englishmen in a whistle stop game in Colombo. His latent talent was spotted by none other than the late D.D. Jayasinghe. From then on he went on to adorn Sri Lanka cricket, not only as a brilliant batsman, whose on driving to me was on par with Peter May, but also as the manager of the Sri Lanka Test team till recently. If Anura Tennekoon was born a few decades earlier we would have had the equivalent of Sunil Gavaskar in our Test team. His technique was water tight. He mentioned to me that he preferred to play more on the onside, thereby cutting the risk of opening the face of the bat and being vulnerable in edging towards the slips. Budding young batsmen who are up against it in South Africa at present should make a note of this
Anura had the good fortune of facing the ”crème de la crème” of the Indian spinners of his era, the likes of Bishen Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkatraghavan. In comparison Anura stated that Bedi was the best out of the lot, his action was fluid, to watch him approach the wicket and roll that arm over was a sublime experience stated Anura. He recalled that Prasanna gets the mantle of being the craftiest off spinner he had faced, due to his subtle variation of flight and spin. I can recall that Prasanna could let the ball hang in the air due to the top spin he imparts to it so that the ball dips and drops about a foot shorter than the batsman expect it. Anura recalls that Venkat used his height to get bounce and was also a prodigious spinner of the ball. As regards Chandrasekhar, Tennekoon was of the opinion that he was freakish and temperamental.
If we had a batsman of the caliber of Anura Tennekoon and of course Kumar Sangakkara, it would have been a different ball game in South Africa where we were whitewashed in the Test series. This harrowing experience will serve us as a good learning curve for the talented young batsmen from whom much is expected in the future. As for the pace bowlers they have been toe to toe with their South African counterparts, which is commendable.