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Two tributes to C. I. Gunasekara

August 4, 2010

I — by Neil Perera, courtesy of the Island, 4 August 2010

The demise of C. I. Gunasekera recently, removes a colossus from the Sri Lanka cricket arena. Those of us who saw him playing in his heydays were richer by that experience. In an article which appeared in another newspaper about three years ago, Channa Gunasekera referred to the massacre of innocents by C. I. about 60 years ago, in Panadura. This article brought back nostalgic yet painful memories of this match in which I participated, playing my first season for Panadura Sports Club and being one of the ‘innocents’ who was massacred by C. I.

 

The Sinhalese Sports Club team had in their ranks nine cricketers who had played for Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then known) and Panadura S. C. were the minnows, lying at the bottom of the table. This match is firmly etched in my memory mainly for two reasons. Firstly, with my limited experience in the big league, I was able to snare two of the best batsmen in the country, namely F. C. de Saram and Mahes Rodrigo, to err in their judgment and offer simple catches to the fielder at extra cover.

The second reason was a most unpleasant one, as it was the occasion where I received the worst pummeling in my entire cricket career, spanning nearly 20 years. Being a youngster just out of his teens, I was jubilant after taking the wickets of two of the best batsmen in the country. But this jubilation was very short lived, as the first ball I bowled to the next batsman, C. I. Gunasekera, was hit with such brute force and superb timing, that it was lost in the skyline till a loud thud indicated that it had landed on the pavilion roof damaging two tiles in the process.

The over ended with another three fours and a two. I was relieved that the over had ended and was hopeful that I would be changed after this pummeling, but to my consternation, my captain, the late George Karunaratne, threw the ball back to me for the next over, more in hope of a miracle, than in conviction. Wasn’t I petrified to see C. I. ready to face me again? The over ended with a flurry of sixes and fours, conceding 20 runs in all.

Over the years, I have seen the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Duleep Mendis and other blasters of the red cherry, but to my mind, C. I. was not only a great batsman, but he was the greatest hitter of them all.

A few years later, I saw C. I. blast Lindsay Kline, the Australian left arm spinner for 22 runs in the first over he bowled to him, providing me with some comfort, that an international player has been hit for more runs in an over than I was.

It is a pity that limited overs cricket was introduced after C. I. had retired from cricket. He would have reveled in this format and would have no doubt surpassed the feats of the master blasters of the present era.

One of the many remarkable batting feats of C. I. is worth mentioning. An M.C.C. team, virtually an England Test team, which included Donald Carr, Tom Graveny, fast bowlers Shackleton and Ridgeway etc. visited Sri Lanka in 1952 and played a match against a Commonwealth X1, which included the following international cricketers, namely, Vinoo Mankad, Imtiaz Ahmed, Neil Harvey, Keith Miller, C. I. Gunasekera, Graham Hole, Polly Umrigar, F. C. De Saram, E. C. Kelaart, Ben Navaratne and Fazal Mahmood.

The Commonwealth team scored 517 runs with C. I. Gunasekera top scoring with 135 runs, Keith Miller 103, Neil Harvey 73, Imtiaz Ahmed 42, Ben Navaratne 32 and V. Mankad 24. Miller and C. I. put on 207 runs for the fourth wicket. C. I. got his century under two hours while Miller took over three hours for his hundred. This feat by C. I. will give an indication to those who had not seen him playing as to what a brilliant cricketer he was.

The M.C.C. team was bowled out for a paltry 103 runs, with Fazal Mahmood taking 4 wickets for 18 runs and Mankad 2 wickets for 16 runs.

It was indeed a travesty of justice that with outstanding cricketers of the likes of F. C. de Saram, M. Sathasivam, C. I. Gunasekera, B. R. Heyn, Ben Navaratne, E. C. Kelaart, R. B. Wijesinghe, S. Coomaraswamy, Makin Sally, Gamini Gunasena, Stanley Jayasinghe among many others over 50 years ago, we were not able to obtain Full Membership of the ICC due to the unfair manner in which England and Australia controlled the ICC, using their veto powers at will.

C. I. Gunasekera will be long remembered not only as a cricket genius but also as a tennis player of repute and above all as a gentleman of the highest calibre.

                                                                                          ***********

II — by Maxie Kariyawasam, courtesy of the Sunday Times, 31 July 2010

Conroy Ievers Gunasekera, better known as C.I. the original master blaster is no more. This legendary figure in cricketing circles expired in the early hours of 29th July after becoming a nonagenarian and celebrating his 90th Birthday on July 14th. Great indeed were his exploits as a batsman. Who can ever forget his twin 72’s in the 1st and 2nd unofficial Tests against the West Indies in 1949, a side that had bowlers of the calibre of Prior Jones and John Trim. C.I. actually made his debut against the visiting Australians led by the late Sir Donald Bradman in 1948 although he did not bat because the match had to be abandoned because of rain.

 

Who can also forget the merciless pounding of Australia’s Lindsay Kline in 1961 whom C.I. hammered for 28 runs in one over or the fact that C.I. outpaced Keith Miller of Australia to record his century with a six when both played for the Commonwealth XI in 1953. Miller duly got his century while C.I. top scored with 120 in a stand of 250 between the two for the 3rd wicket Vs England in 1953. Another memorable milestone was C.I.’s power packed century against Pakistan in 1949 and his equally outrageous double century in a Gopalan trophy match or the 70 odd he tore into against England captained by Ted Dexter. Also the fact that C.I., one of the hardest hitters of the cricket ball, scored as many as 36 star studded centuries in Club and Mercantile cricket must surely be a thing of beauty in the minds of all cricket connoisseurs who were present to behold the gigantic achievements of Conroy Ievers Gunasekera.

In tennis too CI, partnering his brother Dallas, won the men’s doubles title at the Nationals when he was still a schoolboy. He followed this up when he represented the country against India and thus became a Double International, having also played for the All Ceylon Cricket team and captaining the side at 45 years of age when most players think of retirement. This no doubt, speaks volumes for his fitness.

Personally to the writer the late C.I. was much more than a friend or neighbour or someone who worked with him at Walker Sons & Co Ltd. I used to visit him almost every Sunday evening especially after his loving wife Doreen pre-deceased him about 3 yrs ago. We used to chat till late evening and one of the things he reiterated over and over again while treating me lavishly was “when you come to my house, you’re my guest and when I come to your place you are my host.” Endless are the cricketing anecdotes that C.I. related to me.

Among them was one involving Keith Miller and Ben Navaratne who played for the Commonwealth XI in 1953. When Miller was about to open bowling for the Commonwealth XI he signaled for Ben to stand further back as wicket-keeper. Ben who obviously did not like being dictated to shouted back, “I know where to stand”. The first 3 balls that Miller bowled flew over Ben’s head and went for four byes apiece. This no doubt convinced Ben, that he ought to stand further back to a bowler of Miller’s pace, which he did.

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