Dhanasiri Weerasinghe passes away in Melbourne

ONE: Elmo Rodrigopulle in Daily News, 15 July 2020

The death of any outstanding personality in any form of life saddens many as was the passing away of Dhanasiri Weerasinghe a cricketer who in his own unique way and style contributed to make cricket what it is in the country today.

DHANASIRI WEERASINGHE passed away last week in Melbourne, Australia after an illness bravely borne. Cricketers of an era gone by – the 1950s and the 1960s – will mourn Weerasinghe who made his bat talk and his intelligent captaincy brain tick with great efficiency.

‘Dhana’ as he was fondly called was an outstanding cricketer and captain at Ananda College where he learnt the rudiments of the game under that famous coach P.W. Perera. After excelling in school cricket he threw in his lot and joined the Police as a Sub Inspector in 1958 where his cricket began to blossom and he played for Board X1 and also in the then famous trophy match – the Gopalan Trophy – which was most looked forward to. Where is that trophy match now? Ask cricketers and fans.

‘Dhana’ played and excelled as a big hitting right hander and leg spinning googly bowling allrounder when the country was not playing in the elite league of Test cricket. Had he been born in the present era he would have dominated any international bowling attack with his fearless and damaging stroke play.

It has been said that he was invited to play for the Sinhalese Sports Club in ‘Sara’ Trophy cricket, but preferred to sport the colours of Bloomfield which was then a club perched on wheels in Borella. He captained Bloomfield.

Not being a cricket statistician I am not in a position to enumerate his school, club and country deeds with bat and ball and as a coach. But from what I can gather from some of his former teammates and opponents, he was one who played the game hard, to win in the true spirit of the game, because for him the game was the thing.

Hearing of the demise of his former colleague who was also in the Police force former DIG Sumith Liyanage who was a fast bowler in inter-school cricket at Nalanda when Weerasinghe was captain of Ananda and was a dear friend and who preferred to box for the country instead of playing cricket and who was tagged the ‘Black Panther’ for his excellence in the ring, spoke highly about ‘Dhana’.

Calling him a true friend Liyanage requested me to pen the two teams Ananda and Nalanda which played in the ‘Battle of the Maroons’ in 1955 which had a galaxy of inter-school cricketers for posterity.

The teams: ANANDA – Dhanasiri Weerasinghe (C), Parakrama Molligoda, Palitha Premasiri, Sarath Wijesinghe, Daya Amarasinghe, Anurudha Polonowita, Mahinda Jayasinghe, Nimal Tammitta, Ranjan Leckamwasam, Bertram de Silva and Bradman Ratnayake. Coach P.W.Perera.

NALANDA: Amarasiri Gunesena (C), Chandrasiri Weerasinghe, Yasapala Dissanayake, Nalin Perera, Sumith Liyanage, Mahanama Premaratne, Arthur Silva, Ranjith Vitharna, Nihal Vitharna, Terrence Samarawickrema, Tuton de Silva, Edmund Jayatilleke . Coach Gerry Gooneratne. The ’battle’ ended in an exciting draw at the Oval.

It will also be of interest to recall that Weerasinghe was the bodyguard of the first Minister of Sport V.A. Sugathadasa who was also the Minister of Nationalized Services in the UNP led Dudley Senanayake Government of 1960. In Weerasinghe, Sugathadasa had a ‘Ready Reckoner’ to consult on sport affairs and unbiased opinion.

Incidentally, it must be recalled that two of the most efficient Sports Ministers that the country had and will ever have were Sugathadasa and later K.B. Ratnayake in the Sirima Bandaranaike led Government. Both were top sportsmen in their time – Sugathadasa for my old school St. Benedict’s College as a footballer and boxer and Ratnayake surprisingly for a school in Jaffna as a classy footballer.

Both Sugathadasa and Ratnayake who had a real and active understanding of sport, unlike Ministers of today who are appointed who do not know a bat from a ball, did their duties always offering a straight bat, as they also did in life and when they made a crucial decision when it came to any controversy in sport, it was well received in all quarters in sport because it was done with fairness to all and malice towards none.

And in Lionel Madugalle, father of former Royal College, NCC and Sri Lanka captain and now Chief Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle, was the best ever secretary that the Sports Ministry had and will not be fortunate to have again.

Lionel served under Ratnayake and steered the two pilots in the turbulent sports ship of that era, especially the two stormy petrels of cricket Abu Fuard and J.S.N. Anandaraja of football in that glorious era. with great understanding. Lionel was and will be a LEGEND.

I will be failing in my duty if I don’t mention how Madugalle captained my ‘Schoolboy cricketer of the year Panel’ for several years in the 1970s with great dexterity and also helped me among much difficulty to send me on my first trip abroad – the Munich Olympics- in 1972 when the dreaded ‘Black September’ group murdered some innocent Israeli sportsmen in cold blood.

TWO: ?? “Dhanasiri Weerasinghe–An Outstanding Strategist” in Daily News 16 August 2016

Around three decades before Sri Lanka obtained Test status in cricket two brilliant cricketers broke the shackles and represented All-Ceylon. The first to do so was the dashing batsman from Bloomfield Cricket and Athletic Club. He was none other than Dhanasiri Weerasinghe. The other was Anuruddha Polonowita, the canny left- arm leg-spinner.

I had the fortune of being coached by both of these legends. They were my childhood heroes as well.

I managed to interview Dhanasiri Weerasinghe who is domiciled in Australia, when I was in Melbourne a few months back.

He invited me to his plush residence in Tourak, Melbourne. By the way Tourak is like Cinnamon Gardens in Colombo. He looked well preserved smart and handsome. Apparently he is the oldest living cricket captain of Ananda College.

He started his cricket career at St John’s College Panadura as a 13-year-old leg-spinner playing for the first eleven.

At 14 years he was playing for the Panadura Eagles, in a national competition. Dhanasiri wanted to join S Thomas’ College Mt Lavinia but his father preferred him to join Ananda and he did so.

At that time hockey was in his blood and he was playing at Campbell Place, close to the matting wicket where the senior cricketers were practicing. Then suddenly the ball was cover driven towards Dhanasiri, who was running with his brand new hockey stick playing hockey. In a flash he swooped on the cricket ball and in one moment brought the stumps down.

The famous coach late P.W. Perera was a witness to this fascinating incident, and Dhanasiri was immediately invited to attend practices. Dhanasiri refused the offer since his father was against it. P.W. realizing the potential of the boy went all the way to Panadura to convince the father. P.W succeeded, and Dhanasiri was roped into the senior team to play as a leg-spinner. His batting talents were not unearthed at the time; as a result he was to be the last man. This was in 1951. The late Bonney Wijesinghe was his captain then. He went through the mill and in 1954, against St Anthony’s; Ananda was in dire straits at 45 for 4. Dhanasiri states that he got the shock of his life when he was asked to pad up to go to bat and stop the rot. Not only did he do so but he cracked 88 not out with magnificent strokes all round the ground lofted drives, taking pride of place. That innings was the turning point of Dhanasiri Weerasinghe’s glittering career.

In 1955 Dhanasiri was the captain at Ananda and hit a purple patch where he churned out 650 runs. He got 100 against S Thomas’, 96 against St Peter’s, 163 against Mahinda and 70 odd runs against Zahira. That year Ananda College was adjudged champions by “The Times of Ceylon” newspaper and Dhanasiri was chosen as the best All-rounder.

In spite of all those accolades under his belt, when the Combined Schools team was selected, he was not chosen. He categorically states that it was pure discrimination, which was rampant at the time. Ananda and Nalanda bore the brunt of it, admits Dhanasiri.

After his school career in 1957, the late F.C. de Saram invited Dhanasiri to play for SSC, but he opted to play for Panadura instead where he was given the pride of place, to showcase his talent.

Panadura were playing the ‘Suddhas’ and they were 4 down for 5 runs. Their pace bowlers were cutting the Panadura batting to ribbons. Then Dhanasiri walked in. Arenhold, the CCC pacie welcomed him with a bouncer which nearly decapitated him. Dhanasiri then nearly knelt down and prayed to “Lord Buddha” with that courage, which fortified his mind Dhanasiri plastered all the bowlers round the park to get to 96. At this juncture, Arenhold was brought back into the attack and he hooked him for six to bring up his hundred.

Bloomfield became his next club and he pitched camp there. In 1957, the under 25 team to tour Singapore and Malaysia was selected; the selectors F.C. de Saram, G.P. Schoorman, D.W.L. Lieversz were in the panel. Dhanasiri was cold shouldered again for no apparent reason. He categorically states that he never cowed down to the so called “White Sahibs” saying “Yes Sir, No Sir, Three Bags Full Sir”. Weerasinghe lamented at that time, because even when his bat did the talking, the speakers were turned off.

Dhanasiri recalls in spite of all the harassment he went through, he fought his way into the Ceylon team as follows:

1958- Played for the Board of Control for Ceylon, in the Gopalan Trophy.

1962-Represented Ceylon against Richie Benaud’s Australians.

1965-Toured India under Michael Tissera’s captaincy.

1968-The controversial tour to England was cancelled by the Minister of Sport. Dhanasiri lost his place in the team as a result.

1969-Played against England and Australia.

Captained the Ceylon team for the Gopalan Trophy and won. He made 94 runs (the year unable to locate).

1970-Met with a motor cycle accident and had to retire from cricket.

When requested to name the best 15 cricketers our country has produced, he came out with the following names:

1.Marvan Atapattu, 2.Sanath Jayasuriya, 3.M. Sathasivam, 4.Kumar Sangakkara, 5.Stanley Jayasinghe, 6.Aravinda de Silva, 7.Mahela Jayawardene, 8. Michael Tissera, 9.C.I. Gunasekera, 10.M.Muralitharan, 11. Chaminda Vaas, 12. T.B.Kehelgamuwa, 13.Daya Sahabandu,

14. H.I.K.Fernando, 15. Lasith Malinga, 16.Abu Fuard, 17. Anuruddha Polonowita, 18. Fitzroy Crozier

On Sri Lanka Cricket, he said they were on the right track, comprising a pool of young and talented cricketers. Dhanasiri singled out Sunil Wettimuny as the most talented cricketer he has coached. Finally he pointed out that his family has 3 internationals.

1 .Dhanasiri Weerasinghe

2. His son-in-law’s grand uncle, Carl Snyder who played with Sir Donald Bradman

3. His grand daughter Ashari Gill who represented Australia at rhythmic gymnastics at the age of 13 years.

It was a pleasure meeting my Guru, who coached me from 1963 to 1966 at Ananda College.

THREE: Item in Ft/Lk, July 2020

Weerasinghe, a product of St John’s College, Panadura and a former captain of Ananda College, is infamously remembered for selecting himself for the tour of England in 1968, when he was the Chairman of Selectors. Due to the furore that followed the selections, the tour never took place, and many were of the view had Sri Lanka gone on that tour, they would have gained ICC Test status earlier than 1981.

An aggressive right-handed stroke-maker, Weerasinghe somewhat set the record straight when he scored a match-winning 92 as Captain of the Sri Lanka team against Madras (now Chennai) in the annual Gopalan trophy fixture played at Chepauk in 1969.

He migrated with his family to Melbourne in 1975 and lived there ever since, along with his four grandchildren. (CSJ)

****  ****

ALSO NOTE https://www.elanka.com.au/death-of-dhanasiri-weerasinghe-funeral-oration-by-dr-ranjith-hettiarachi/

Death of Dhanasiri Weerasinghe – Funeral oration by Dr. Ranjith Hettiarachi

also note https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2018/05/06/dhanasiri-weerasinghe-enters-the-fray-stormy-currents-in-ceylon-cricket-in-the-1960s/

 

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Filed under cricket and life, performance, player selections, politics and cricket, Sri Lanka Cricket, unusual people

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