Remembering Neil Chanmugam. Two More Appreciations

Mahinda Wijesinghe: “Neil Chanmugam: A Distinguished Cricketer of Yesteryear”

Celebrated alumnus of S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia, cricketer, Neil Chanmugam (1940–2014) who passed away on the eve of celebrating his 74th birthday, first made his mark as a fresher in the Royal-Thomian cricket encounter  of  1958. S. Thomas’ having been dismissed for a modest 192 runs was in danger of letting Royal amass a comfortable total but Chanmugam coming on first change dismissed 3 of the top 4 Royal batsmen with his wily off-spinner and restricted the Royalists from running away to a big total, and eventually the match petered out to a tame draw. Neil played for S. Thomas’ College in 1958 & 1959.

23.Triumphant SSC side Neil in typical jaunty return to pavilion after a penetrating session of bowling

Though capable of academia, from then on cricket was his forte. Not in Engineering studies nor a stint at Accountancy took his fancy. His interest lay in the King of games, at least as it used to be known so in those times. Neil was a devoted student of cricket. That was his undying love. He lived as a thinking off-spinner and a hard-hitting middle-order batsman and who was a good fielder as any. Neil represented the Tamil Union and the S.S.C. with great distinction in the Saravanamuttu Trophy when unfortunately we did not have first-class domestic status.

Later, he naturally played for Ceylon and was a key member of our bowling attack in the unofficial ‘Test’ matches Ceylon played during this period. The high point in his career was the 5-wicket haul (5/43) he captured against England led by Ted Dexter at the Colombo Oval in 1962, helping dismiss the tourists for a meager 159.  Two years later, he played a major role in the victory against Pakistan ‘A’ at the P Sara Oval. Chanmugam scalped 4 for 28 off 12.3 overs as Pakistan were dismissed for a paltry 99 in the first innings in reply to Ceylon’s 152. Neil, though not being part of the XI, was in the squad and must have really enjoyed watching Ceylon beat India at Ahmedabad in 1964 by 6 wickets, the first occasion Ceylon recorded a win against a Test-playing nation.

However, how can one ever forget the last-wicket partnership against the mighty West Indies in the early ‘sixties? Their bowling attack comprised Hall, Sobers and Gibbs. Partnered by another Thomian, P. I. Peiris , this duo put on a magnificent 100+ partnership in less than an hour  to take Ceylon to a respectable 400 runs. Neil’s contribution was a belligerent 72 runs while P.I. not to be outdone, contributed 46 runs. That was Neil, gutty to the last. I was a lucky spectator at the Oval when this drama unfolded.

Neil was also the Manager of the Sri Lanka team to England in 1984 when in the sole Test played at Lord’s all the honours was surely earned by the tourists having declared both their innings closed with centuries by Wettimuny, Mendis and Amal Silva, and winning all the kudos in the drawn game. He also was the Manager to Australia in the following year.

Neil took on to golf with his usual enthusiasm and as expected became a more than competent player until a debilitating illness took over. Neil leaves behind Oosha who looked after him with loving care during his illness, and children Anouk, Deepika and Devin.

May the turf lie gently over him.


Michael Roberts: Esto Perpetua for Neil

Esto Perpetua, or “let it be perpetual,” is the motto and guiding light of S. Thomas’ College in Ceylon and Sri Lanka, a leading school dating back into British colonial times in the 19th century. Appropriately, this school also provided us in Ceylon and Lanka with a cutting edge in a field where the colonials were able to challenge the White order, embodied as it was in imperial England and the MCC, namely, the green fields of cricket.

This challenge commenced in the 1960s, assisted at times by friendly Englishmen, but also subject to the stonewalling of the colonel Blimps in the corridors of the ICC and MCC. It was made possible by (a) the support of administrators in the Test-playing nations of India and Pakistan and (b) by the prowess demonstrated by of a long line of cricketers from the 1940s. While such names as M. Sathasivam, FC de Saram, Mahes Rodrigo CI Gunesekera and Russell Heyn mark the 1940s generation whose skills were appreciated by touring teams, the penetrating thrusts in the 1960s were effected by (1) the prowess revealed in the English cricket circuit by Gamini Goonesena, Stanley Jayasinghe, Dan Piachaud, Ian Pieris and Clive Inman in the 1950s and 1960s; and (2) seconded by two generational cohorts of Thomian cricketers; viz,. P. Ian Pieris, Dan Piachaud, Ronnie and Buddy Reid, Michael Tissera, Lareef Idroos, Neil Chanmugam, Nihal Gurusinghe, Mano and David Ponniah, Ajit Jayasekera and, last but not least, Anura Tennakoon.

The Thomian input was no accident and highlights the importance of the grounding provided by schoolmaster coach Lassie Abeywardena at Under 16 level and the cumulative impact of age-cohorts transmitting good practice down the line.

Neil Chanmugan entered the Engineering Faculty of the University of Ceylon at Colombo in the late 1950s, but took to chartered accountancy after two years at university. Located as I was then at the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya, it was our misfortune to face his dynamic inputs in the blood matches between the Peradeniya and Colombo branches of the University. But we also played together in one team on a couple of occasions — one being at Galle in my faint recollections.

Neil was primarily a bowler, an excellent off-spinner. But he was also a superb fielder and a hard-hitting bat. It was as a bowler that he was selected to play for Ceylon in the 1960s at a time when Abu Fuard was perhaps first choice in this art. He represented Ceylon and Sri Lanka at various moments between 1960 and 1974.

As Sa’adi Thawfeeq has summarised developments, Neil “broke into the limelight in 1962 when he scalped five English batsmen for 43 runs to dismiss Ted Dexter’s MCC team for 159 while representing Ceylon Cricket Association. Two years later, he helped his country secure their maiden unofficial Test victory, over Pakistan A at the P Sara Oval in 1964. Chanmugam took 4 for 28 off 12.3 overs as Pakistan were shot out for 99 in the first innings in reply to Ceylon’s 152.  Chanmugam was also a member of the Ceylon team that recorded its maiden unofficial Test victory over India by six wickets at Ahmedabad a few months later, although he didn’t make a major contribution. For a decade, he formed Ceylon’s four-pronged spin attack, along with fellow offspinner Abu Fuard and left-arm spinners Anuruddha Polonowita and Fitzroy Crozier. International competition at the time was few and far between and the players had to look forward to matches to prove their competence.”

One moment of fame was when he partnered PI Pieris in a tumultuous last-wicket partnership of 110 runs in 63 minutes at the unofficial Test against West Indies at the P Sara Oval in March 1967.

I remember Neil for his dynamism and directness of approach. Others have spoken of his gentlemanly character and his debonair style. Richard Dwight refers to his lively contributions to celebrative social functions in ways that suggest the charm and dancing feet of a Compton, Miller and Sobers. These charms were captured in 1968, however, by another talented sportsperson, Oosha de Saram, after she returned from schooling in England. This event perhaps consolidated Neil’s bonds with the Sinhalese Sports Club where he was a cricketing stalwart for many a year in the style of FC de Saram, PI Pieris and others.

Few today will be aware of Neil Chanmugam’s contribution as a Manager of Sri Lankan cricket touring teams. Managers then were Selectors too and had to face the brunt of media attention at the same time as seeing to the knitty-gritty of touring arrangements. His sterling qualities were called to the forefront when Sri Lanka led by Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias toured Australia in the late 1980s and faced the on-field skills and aggressiveness of the Aussies in circumstances where Sri Lanka’s own bowling stocks were limited. I was present once at an informal strategy meeting, a crisis situation of sorts, between Chanmugam, Mendis and Dias in Neil’s room. One needed strong men in such circumstances.

That S. Thomas’ College no longer figures heavily in the ranks of Sri Lankan cricket — Kaushal Silva is its sole representative at the moment — is not due to any shortcomings in its personnel. Rather it is a positive indicator of the democratization of opportunity and the emerging provincial talents SriLanka over the last forty years.

This process too, began in the 1950s with Ananda and Nalanda in Colombo, Dharmarajah in Kandy, Mahinda in Galle and the Moratuwa Colleges St. Sebastian’s and Prince of Wales proving several competent cricketers who could match those emerging from Royal College and the Christian denominational schools. The democratization of opportunity, in my view, was due in part to the political processes sparked by the political turnover of 1956. It was seconded by Neville Jayaweera’s revolutionary step of towards radio reportage of the annual Ananda-Nalanda big match in Sinhala (a measure demanding the invention of a new language) when he was heading Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation in the late 1960s.

Coaches and lads from the “outstations” seized the opportunity. Samarasekera, Ramanayake and Chandana (Galle), Madurapperuma (Kurunegala), Labrooy (Chilaw) mark the second stage and anticipated the emergence of such players as Jayasuriya and Randiv (Matara), Tharanga and Chandimal (Ambalangoda), Malinga (Ratgama), Chamara Silva (Panadura) and Dilshan (Kalutara). Yet more recently we have witnessed the thrusts of Paranavithana (Kegalle), Herath (Kurunegala) Welagedera (Matale) and Lakmal (Hambantota/Matara).

MAY the regional extensions persist and reach ever wider. Neil would approve. It is a form of esto perpetua.

Chanmugam’s in CRIK ARCHIVE …


Full name: Neil Chanmugam
Born: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Bowling: Right-arm off-break
Relations: Brother: DR Chanmugam
Teams: Ceylon (Main FC: 1964/65-1969/70); Ceylon Cricket Association (Other FC: 1960/61); Ceylon Board President’s XI (Other FC: 1963/64-1965/66); Ceylon Prime Minister’s XI (Other FC: 1966/67); Hyderabad Blues (India) (Other FC: 1967/68); Sri Lanka (Other FC: 1972/73); Mercantile Cricket Association (Other FC: 1973/74); Sri Lanka Board President’s XI (Other FC: 1973/74); Sri Lanka Board President’s XI (Other ListA: 1972/73); Sri Lanka (Other ListA: 1973/74); All teams
Lists of matches and more detailed statistics
First-Class Career Batting and Fielding (1960/61-1973/74)
M I NO Runs HS Ave 100 50 Ct
Overall 22 36 0 607 72 16.86 0 1 13


First-Class Career Bowling (1960/61-1973/74)
Balls Mdns Runs Wkts BB Ave 5wI 10wM SRate Econ
Overall 3488 131 1509 55 5-47 27.43 1 0 63.41 2.59
List A Career Batting and Fielding (1972/73-1973/74)
M I NO Runs HS Ave 100 50 Ct
Overall 2 2 1 26 17 26.00 0 0 0


List A Career Bowling (1972/73-1973/74)
Balls Mdns Runs Wkts BB Ave 4wI 5wI SRate Econ
Overall 90 1 48 1 1-19 48.00 0 0 90.00 3.20










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