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Sunday, 14 February 2010





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Doctor C.H. Gunasekere:

Bedrock of our cricket

Dr. C.H. Gunasekere - did a lot for cricket

CRICKET: In the year 1920, a solitary cable to Dr. Churchill Hector Gunasekere from Dr. John Rockwood which read "contact the Marleybone Cricket Club and request a game in Colombo" may well have paved our way to eventual stardom in Lahore eight decades later. Dr. C.H. Gunasekere was stalking Lord's cricket ground and the Middlesex National Hospitals brandishing his bat and scalpel with gay abandon when the message hit his letter box.

Dr. John Rockwood for his part was a cultured and capable man, a practising physician in Colombo, oozing with intent and resolve to elevate our cricket to greater heights. Prior to that wire, our cricket was of a very good standard and yet was cloaked in anonymity, hardly known beyond the barriers of our reef.

Doctor CH for his part lost no time in contacting the kingmaker as it were of English cricket, Ex-England captain and President of MCC Sir Helham Warner. The knight no doubt bowed by the steep he held for our good Doctor, virtually diverted the vessel carrying the English cricketers to New Zealand in the year 1920, the ship unleashing its precious cargo consisting of Jack Hobbs, Walter Hammond, Wilfred Rhodes, Percy Fender and Patsy Hendren among others, on the lush meadows of Maitland Crescent. The first time flowering of our cricket had emerged, the dawn of our development so to speak.

Dr. C.H had won for us the right to prove ourselves. At the Maitland Crescent grounds, All Ceylon scored 122 all out of which Dr. C.H. notched 29 to which MCC replied with 108 for 9 when bad light stopped play, surely heralding our rise to power.

Our cricketers could shed their insecurities and uncertainties riding on the doctors accomplishments at Cambridge University and Middlesex, he being the first Ceylonese to play county cricket, the first Ceylonese to date to have played in a championship winning county side, first Ceylonese to be honoured with a membership of the utterly prestigious MCC and the first Ceylonese to add a hard to grab county to his cricket coffin. In addition to his ability with bat and scalpel he was perpetually hobnobbing with the English nobility and gentry, all within the easy ambit of his aristocratic stride, haughtily stubborn jawline and dark brooding eyes, besides his great sense of style and ceremony.

CH senior had good backing

He was resolutely aided and abetted by Dr. John Rockwood and subsequently by D.L. de Saram and Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu in reinforcing the resurgence of our cricket, with the formation of the Ceylon Cricket Association. The good Doctor laid the base entrusting the brickwork to the artistry of F.C. de Saram, Sargo Jayawickreme, Mahendran Sathasivam, C.L. Gunasekera, Michael Tissera, Anura Tennekoon, Duleep Mendis, Roy Dias, P.I. Pieris, Neil Chanmugam and Ranjan Madugalle among others and leaving it to Arjuna Ranatugna to climb the pinnacle at Lahore.

Dr. C.H. was a man of wide horizons. In addition to his passion for cricket and the study of medicine, he indulged in his passion for horse racing and tennis, his Cabinets bursting with trophies and was a highly accomplished pianist as well. He also turned his hand to play-writing, penning some eloquent prose of immense depth and beauty.

Having scored shoals of runs for Royal College, he led his beloved school in 1912 and then took the single sterling step of sailing to London in pursuance of his cricket and studies. He played for Middlesex from 1919 to 1923, scoring 664 runs in 70 completed innings. Sadly his career was smudged to a large extent by World War I which deprived him of a coveted Cambridge Blue. His batting could be as crisp as anyone's and he could so elegantly step inside to whip it off his hips past square and would drive with a lovely swing of the willow, and could be classed as an accumulator.

He bowled slow curvy seam, snaring 75 county wickets for good measure. It was his fielding that caused a flutter across the British Isles with cover point being his strong point, being bracketed with Sir Learie Constantine as the best in the business. He could cover expansive territory picking up just about everything in his path with such oriental brilliance. A single swell swoop and he was all poised to rip up the stumps. Lurking around the pads he would wrap his palms around the merest whiff of a chance.

Captain of SSC

On his return to Sri Lanka in 1924, he captained Singhalese Sports Club and subsequently Ceylon in two priceless stints. Initially from 1926 to 1930 and then again from 1932 to 1934. He rightfully had the honour of leading Ceylon in the first unofficial Test against Indian opposition in 1932. Between wielding the bat and scalpel, with such dexterity, he also wielded the tennis racket with much elan winning the country's mixed doubles in 1928 and 1930 and the doubles partnering O.L.M. Pinto from 1924 to 1929.

Further, he represented Ceylon in the Davis Cup, locking horns against Australia, England and New Zealand. Professionally he was attached to the Colombo Municipality as their Chief Medical Officer. He did write a splendid book on the nuances of the game in 1950 titled what every cricket should know.

In the year 1947, Dr. CH retired from active sports at 47 years of age, having chalked up 22 'ton' in club cricket as against F.C. de Saram's 63 'tons' and M. Sathasivam's 45 centuries which maybe used as yardsticks. After retirement he made a stray appearance for SSC putting on 200 for the first wicket with Sargo Jayawickreme, both batsmen notching 'tons'. It was obvious though that his legendary electric soles and telescopic arms were reduced to all but a flicker by then.

Never sought honour

He gave so much and yet had so much more to give Dr. CH never sought honour in our committee rooms, as stooping to flatter authority was not a part of his make up. Alas his immense knowledge on the nuances of the game should have received much wider respect.

As the shadows darkened the proud and principled man, who would lean into his booming drives, began to lean so heavily on his only child Channa Hemasiri. Only Shanthi's charm could breach this self made aristocrat sturdy independence as he pursued what was left of his life.

Dr. Churchill Hector Gunasekere passed away peacefully in the year 1969 aged 74 leaving Channa and Shanthi with a melancholy and imperishable blend of memories. Channa, Dr. C.H. Gunasekere's only offspring passed away following a prolonged illness in 2008. But not before he had filled his fathers heart with immense pride, having established himself as one of the fines batsmen that stalked this land in the 1950's and 1960's. Had the good doctor lived a little longer he would have been prouder still of his only grandson Chanaka who is a reputed geotechnical engineer domiciled in Sydney. On Channa Hemasiri Gunasekere, another bulky page, another day then surely, for it is a regrettable tradition of our game that those who paved the way are so flippantly swept aside, to be forgotten. My ramble over and done, lets bow our heads in reverence to the memory of this monumentally incomparable son of the Lankan soil.

LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)
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