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Anura Tennekoon - spirit of cricket



Anura Tennekoon - cricketer and a gemtleman in the widest sense of
the phrase.

CRICKET: Dainty elegance on the field, unassailable dignity off it. Winning was fine, but losing gracefully was even finer. That's Anura Tennekoon for you, epitomizing the very spirit of cricket. Anura, a cricketer and a gentleman in the widest sense of the phrase is a class act by any yardstick indeed, from his thorough bred walk to his unbridled charm and his exquisite stick work at the crease.

Anura P.B. Tennekoon, born on the 29th of October 1946 at Anuradhapura, followed the scent of success to Colombo and surfacing at Mount Lavinia was swiftly booked in at the Thomian hostel aged about 6 years. With his tiny bunk bed within arms length of the hallowed dressing room, the boys lost no time in being bewitched by the wizardry of the likes of Michael Tissera, Mano Ponniah, P.I. Pieris and the Reid brothers, who were turning out for the schools first eleven.

Besotted by cricket, the spindly colt was honed on the nuances of the game by that redoubtable quartet of Thomian super gurus, Lassie Abeywardene, Lester Gauder, Orville Abeynaike and the doyen of them all, Bertie Wijesinha, who guided him for a large part at the SSC.

Saturated with Thomian Grit that wafted in from the "Thomian Sea" and lacing his cricketing philosophy with a good deal of commonsense, Anura by the year 1958 was well on his way to stardom. Whilst captaining S. Thomas' College in 1966 he was whisked off to the Colombo Oval, garbed in his Thomian cap, to bolster Ceylon against Ted Dexter's Englishmen, to be subsequently poached by SSC, for whom he scored a torrent of classy runs. In first class cricket for Ceylon, Ceylon Board President's Eleven and subsequently Sri Lanka, Tennekoon stroked approximately 4,000 runs in 61 outings and wrapped his palm around 60 catches, fielding besides the bat.

Elevated to the country's leadership in 1974, his blade continued to carve runs and carve them with a flourish. The relatively small build, dancing feet, exquisite timing and ramrod straight bat, Anura, batting everything except his eyelids, established supremacy over the bowlers within seconds of having scratched out his guard. His cover drives held one transfixed and he could clip a ball off his ankles with that wristy authority of his.

I remember Anura prancing down the pitch with leisurely insolence to hammer the Indian spinners into a giddy spin, an attack led by the legendary Venkatraghavan, no less. For good measure he sank to his knees and swept ace medium pace Madan Lal, amongst the ivy, that sheathed the famed Oval scoreboard, in stroking 145 of the loveliest runs. To buttress the point he notched and even better 169 runs in the Second Test of that series against Ajith Wadekars celebrated Indians in 1974. Tennekoon collected memorable hundreds off England and the West Indies as well, against the smattering of international contests that were tossed at him. To add to the misery, players of that era had to contend with long arduous tours, travel by road or train, clumsy politics, sectorial lunacy, pedestrian administrators and a tiny coin pressed into your palm for your troubles.

That the little man's big heart considered those travails as trivial, is obvious, judging by the exemplary trail he left behind. One cannot recollect Anura being impaled by critic, colleague or opponent for well-nigh four decades or more.

We were fortunate that on appointment to the leadership, Anura slipped so sweetly into top gear, as Tissera did before him and CI did before that, continuing where they left off, to add charm, dignity, elegance, honesty and even a measure of innocence to our game, the type of cricket the purists and romantics ached for. Adopting an utterly democratic brand of leadership and forging a happy dressing room, he gave his players the freedom to flourish and flourish they did, winning by a canter, among many accolades, the all important ICC Trophy in 1979, comprehensively paving the pathway to Test Status in the year 1982. That Tennekoon nurtured and motivated young exotics such as Warnapura, Mendis, the Wettimuniys, Dias, Kaluperuma, Mahes Gunatillaka, Anura Ranasinghe and Ajith de Silva, among a host of others, who were instrumental in our elevation to that exalted grouping, is cruelly forgotten.

The virtuos, now 63 years of age relaxes with a good book or soft music. He has made a graceful transition from tossing a coin to cricket administration, managing our `A' Team and travelling around the nation picking fresh talent in his capacity of a national selector. He remains genial company, sought by many and retaining as yet that twinkle in his eye even in adversity, unassuming and almost apologetic, disarmingly modest, a precious slice of our cricketing history, beside having been one of the nicest gentlemen to have swung a willow.

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