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Sunday, 19 October 2008

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Channa Gunasekera - end of a solid cricketing career

CRICKET: One of Sri Lanka's foremost cricketers of an earlier generation - C. H. (Channa) Gunasekera jnr. said a final 'goodbye' to all his cricketing friends with his death earlier last week. There was a large gathering at his funeral last Monday at the Kanatte Cemetery.


Channa Gunasekera - followed in the footsteps of his illustrious father late Dr. C. H. Gunasekera (snr) and played cricket for Royal and also for Ceylon as the country was then known.

It was something of a coincidence that when Channa was born on 23rd June, 1931 - the same day - one-time England captain Len Hutton celebrated his 15th birthday. Hutton was Channa's role model, and his batting, particularly the drive through the covers bore the master's stamp.

Channa was the son of the illustrious Dr. C. H. Gunasekera (snr) who was the first Ceylonese to play in the English County Circuit, representing the then champion county Middlesex soon after World War I. Channa (jnr) followed in the footsteps of his father by captaining his alma mater, Royal College and the Singhalese Sports Club. He was an automatic choice as an opening batsman for his country in the decade of the 50's.

Channa was a versatile sportsman and once broke the then Public Schools High Hurdles record. In addition he played as a centre forward at soccer and as a speedy winger at hockey for his firm whilst being a competent tennis player as well. He was a qualified coach in both cricket and tennis.

However, it was at cricket that he came off with flying colours. In the early years, he had tremendous strength. It is on record that one Friday he ran a lap of the 4x110 yards relay for his firm in the Mercantile Championships, on Saturday he scored 73 not out for the Sinhalese Sports Club in a tournament game vs University; then on Sunday, he won a gruelling tennis match played between 7.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. in a Mercantile Championship game before rushing to the University College grounds at Thurstan Road to continue his innings making 125 not out, thus securing his place in the national side against a visiting MCC team.

A solid right-hand batsman, he did national duty from 1951 to 1958 and played against England, Australia, India and touring Common Wealth team of 1953.

It was in 1947 that Channa started his cricketing career at Royal College. He played for the school until 1950 - that's four years. His best knock was when he made 56 when he opened the innings with T. L. Pereira (who made 86) and the Royal openers put on 101 runs in their opening partnership and this stand helped Royal to make 322 in their first innings in the 1948 encounter. S. Thomas' made 221 and 119 for 6 wickets and the match ended in a draw.

l Bowler too

Not many may remember that Channa was a bowler too in his early days. He had the magical figures of 5 for 38 in the first innings of the 1947 'Battle of the Blues' - the 69th encounter against S. Thomas' at the Saravanamuttu Stadium and 4 for 40 in the second innings to have eye-catching match figures of 9 for 78.

He had the opportunity of playing alongside the versatile Gamini Goonesena in the Royal team in 1947, 1948 and 1949.

Channa Gunasekera will long be remembered during his playing days at Royal for the sporting spirit that he displayed in the 70th 'Battle of the Blues' against S. Thomas' in 1949 at the colombo Oval - now the Saravanamuttu Stadium. Royal who won the toss and batted, made 242, scoring at the rate of over a run-a-minute. The S. Thomas'. innings began that Friday at 4.40 p.m. and the Thomians were soon in trouble with three wickets down for 45. The Thomian captain P. I. Shantikumar was at the wicket and the score moved up very slowly. At 56, C. Chellaraj was run out - and correctly given out by the umpire. While he was leaving the field, Royal skipper C. H. Gunasekera called him back to the wicket because he felt the batsman had inadvertently bumped into a fielder, fielding close to the wicket. The gesture nearly cost Royal the match. But it was a fine example of sportsmanship.

l Fine gesture

The Ceylon Observer of 20th March 1949 in its editorial said "The Royalist Captain's gesture last Friday in calling a Thomian batsman back to the wicket after he had been run out on the umpire's ruling, was true to the best traditions of cricket.

The captain had good reason to believe that the runner had unfortunately been obstructed. The incident must have warmed the heart of all sportsmen at the Oval and particularly the old boys of the two schools engaged in the friendly conflict. This is what is meant by the stirring phrase, "playing the game and the game's the thing."

For the record, after being poorly placed at 45 for 3 wickets, the fourth Thomian wicket fell at 126 on Saturday, and the innings closed at 225. The Royalists made 101 in their second, innings, leaving the Thomians the task of making 119 runs for victory in about 65 minutes.

Gamini Goonesena was bowling for Royal and it was the last over of the match, the Thomian score stood at 113 for 4 wickets with 6 runs to get, six balls to go and six wickets still intact.

Then it boiled down to 4 to get in the last ball. However, Shantikumar of S. Thomas' was able to get only a single and the match was drawn with the Thomian score at 116 for 4 wickets - what a finish to the match.

Like his father, Channa was elected a member of the MCC (proposed by R. W. V. Robins and seconded by none other then Sir Pelham Warner himself, both England captains) - a father and son record for this country.

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