Anura Tennekoon… Spirit of Cricket


By Rohan Wijesinghe

Dainty elegance on the field, unassailable dignity off it. Winning was fine, but losing gracefully was even finer. Inspite of that  philosophy we didn’t lose much during his reign. 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 thoroughbred stride to his unbridled charm and his exquisite stick work at the crease.

Anura PB 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 boy lost no time in being bewitched by the wizardry 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, BertieWijesinha, 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 St. 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.

Anura captained Sri Lanka in 16 unofficial Tests  and  For the record he scored 1792 runs in those unofficial tests averaging 48.8 in  25 matches with 5 centuries which includes a game against Bangladesh as well.

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  twice to his knees to sweep ace medium pacie Madan Lal, against the ivy that sheathed the famed Oval scoreboard, in stroking 145 of the loveliest runs. To buttress the point  further he notched an 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, off the smattering of international contests that were tossed at him.  The classy right hander also notched 18 and 54 n o against the West Indies in 1967, 42  against  Cowdreys Englishmen in 1969, an epic 221 against Malaysia in 1972, and 48 against Chappells Australians in 1975.  To add to the misery, players of that era had to contend with long arduous tours, travel by road or train, clumsy politics, selectorial lunacy, pedestrian administrators and a tiny coin pressed into their palm for their  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  and contented 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 winning Test Status in the year 1982. That Tennekoon nurtured and motivated young exotics such as Warnapura, Mendis the Wetimuniys,  Dias, Kaluperuma, Mahes Gunatillake, 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 virtuoso, 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 traveling 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.

Thus ideally equipped, Anura has been elevated to the mantle, that of manager of the Sri Lankan cricket team. I cannot think of a better trinity at the top of our dugout ,Anura, Kumar and Mahela. A boquet then to Sri Lanka Cricket for  bringing the  heady mix together.

  • Rohan Wijeyaratna

    My contribution to this tribute to Anura Tennekoon is admittedly late. It was only today that I browsed and discovered this website more intently. Having noticed the subject, I couldn’t stop myself from adding a few thoughts of my own, as a mark of appreciation of a cricketer and batsman who gave me and thousands of others a lot to be proud of, while doing service for his team and Country with a bat.

    Quite simply put, Anura Tennekoon was the finest technician Ceylon and Sri Lanka cricket ever had; batting in that pivotal position of No3. If Michael Tissera was all elegance, grace and culture combined, he lacked the solidity of Tennekoon. It would fit the bill to say that Anura Tennekoon was the “Bank of England” in the side.

    Predictability can sometimes be boring. Not that Tennekoon’s batting was ever a bore to watch, but with his gilt edged technique he eliminated so many errors from his game, you could assuredly take leave of your seat, go somewhere and return hours later, safe in the knowledge that he would still be there, assiduously denting the bowling when you got back. He was that kind of a player. Once in, you had to prise him out, and it usually came at a very high price.

    Tennekoon will be well remembered by all who grew up in the 1960′s as the cornerstone around which All-Ceylon batting line ups of the ‘60s and the ‘70s were built. He proved his mettle both at home and away, against the fiercest and wiliest of attacks. This bears testimony to his wonderful copy book technique, guts, resolve and concentration. A very gentle sort in personality, he was the fiercest scrapper with a bat in hand and hell bent on selling his wicket very dearly. His innings’ were built up in brick by brick fashion, but never in an ugly, ungainly sort of way. He was a delight to watch; plying his polished craft often against heavy odds and yet often emerging triumphant while engraving his name upon every playing strip on which he performed. He was quietly unassuming, he was dignified and he was honourable. And when it came to reliability and performance, his was the first name any worthy captain would put down on his team sheet.

    Tennekoon never seeked higher office but captaincy was thrust upon him at a time when there were better men around. His forte was technically correct batting of the highest class, not captaining sides. This was a trick the dull minds who were selectors at the time missed by a long mile. As captain he was adequate than inspirational; doing his job solidly if colourlessly. A successful captain must be in part, also a gambler. Tennekoon didn’t know the meaning of the word. He was a honest to goodness plier of his trade, a high class journeyman in the rich tradition of technically correct, immovable batsmen, when set. If I were to find parallels elsewhere, I would settle for Boycott and Barrington without batting an eye. The only difference being they were far less pleasing to watch than Anura Tennekoon. Had he been born either in England or Australia instead of Ceylon, he would have filled many a volume of Wisden to the brim with his deeds.

    Among the many peerless innings he played were two which have somehow escaped mention above. Both these(if memory serves me right ) ended in centuries. They were against Lloyd’s men in 1976 (?) and Greig’s Englishmen of 1977. The West Indian attack consisted of Boyce, Roberts, Holder and Julien, and the English attack had Lever, Woolmer, Cope, Miller, Greig and Willis. I believe if an assessment was made of those ‘greats’ before Test cricket, A.P.B. Tennekoon’s name would head the list in terms of batting accomplishments with consummate ease.

    As a man and player, he was renowned for playing within the rules; observing to a fault the unwritten ones, and wending his way after yet another sterling performance without the attendant fanfare or fuss. At the time he hung up his boots, he had much cricket still left in him and should have by right been Sri Lanka’s first ever Test captain. But that was not to be, as he had already thrown it all away a short while before. And like all good thoroughbreds he wasn’t coming back.

    He was never, that sort of a man.

  • Suraj Ranasinghe

    Brilliant. As a teenager I was immensely proud to have lived in Templers Road, Mount Lavinia within a few hundred yards of two all time greats – Anura Tennekoon and Roy Dias…

  • Ajith Abeygunawardena

    The epitome of sheer class and artistry that Sri Lanka Cricket produced during an era where we were trying hard to get test status.It was so unfortunate that Anura missed out on a long career adding value to test match cricket worldwide with his batsmanship.
    I was also fortunate to work with this unassuming gentleman at CTC and Sri Lanka Cricket and of course the SSC during a long period of time.
    I wish him all success in his capacity as the Manager of the National Cricket team.

  • Kishore

    Sorry, In my posting there are some faults – ** Spin bowling of Ajit De Silva. In the last line it would be **NOT FOR MONEY**. I am sorry for the mistake.

    Sir Anura, would you be pleased to send me an e-mail to my personal mail id “lahirykk@gmail.com”.

  • Kishore

    I feel myself lucky to get a chance to write something for one of my earlydays’ heroes. Though I am from India still I remember the graceful leadership of Anura Tenekune in the un-official tests against India player in India. I used to play cricket in school level and was always afraid of fast bowling as there was no helmet, chest guard, thigh pad, etc in those days. Being an worm of cricket I sticked to Radio to swallow the ball-by-ball commentry by Rajan Bala, Beri Sarbadhikary, etc. They were all stalwarts and now at 56 years of age feel that I am missing Umrigarh, Nadkarni, Durrani, Borde, Ramakanta Desai and also Anura Tenekune, Roy Dias, Ajit De Silva’s speen bowling. May I get the luck to be in touch through e-mail with these stalwarts who played cricket for their as well as our entertainment BUT DEFINITELY FOR MONEY AND PRIZES AND ADVERTIZES.

  • Ramindu

    I have learn lot of cricket following Mr.Tennekoon’s performances. I hope that you could bring the real talanted players, To the game of cricket in SriLanka. I know it is difficult due to the political and other issues.
    Anyhow do your best to train our players to do best in the next one day internationls.

    All the best to you and cricket in SL.

    Ramindu Caldera
    Berkshire
    UK

  • kamal

    good stuff

  • reporter

    what about his 101 against clive lloyd’s WI ?
    one of his best
    no mention ??

  • LH

    A Gentelman Par Excellance.Anura Sir finally someone has seen the your value.

    I was a kid when I was told by my Dad a Cricket “Tragic” watch Anura he is the Text Book batsman.

    Yes indeed he was and had a great delight in watching the Little Master(Sachin was not even thaught off) but as I watched from Close it was his leadership and command that had a impact on my life.

    I was not blessed to wield the willow around the time this Gentelman did.

    But circumstances had it that this great gentelman became my boss in my first job.Slowly I moved up the Corporate ladder and at one point succeded him into a Role.

    However we both went in different paths after a while but it was great to meet the man when ever we bumped in to each other.

    Last year I walked in to SLC offices on my short working holiday to Colombo and was heading to meet another collugue of ours when I heard someone call my name.I was speechless for a while … it the MAN Anura Punchi Banda T.

    Cricketer,Salesman,Markerter,Administrator, APBT has done it all.

    I only hope that SLC will maintain these standards for all the Teams.

    Some Managers may be good Cricketers but not Managers and administrators.I had that great dissapointment to experience such a person recently.

    With Trevor,Kumar and Anura at the Helm lets see the WORLD CUP back in the Colombo shelves.

    ALL THE BEST SLC
    L

  • piyal

    I have seen him playing
    Unspoilt thats the word I should mention
    A true sportsman – no money no poitics

  • MOHAMED FAREED MOHAMED IQBAL

    PLS SEND ME SRI LANKA CRICKET NEWS.I AM FROM SAUDI ARABIA

  • MOHAMED FAREED MOHAMED IQBAL

    pls send csri lanka cricket news.i am from saudi arabia

  • Zaharan

    I always felt that, Anura is a good administrator than a selector and the SLC have taken the right decision to place the gentleman in the right place.

    With Brendon’s good knowledge of the game plus considering his tenure as a manager with the national team can all contribute in a big way, if he is offered the seletor’s role.

    All the best to Anura in his new role.

  • Navi

    Great Cricketer of the past……..