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