Legends - CI Gunasekara
Nation pays tribute to one of Sri Lanka’s greatest
cricketers CI Gunasekara who passed away on Thursday
at the age of 90 by reproducing an interview he had
with the newspaper in the ongoing series ‘Living
Legends’ which appeared on February 14, of this
year. CI in fact was the first to be featured in the
At 89 years Conroy Ievers Gunasekara
would easily qualify to be the oldest living Sri
Lanka (or All-Ceylon when he played) cricketer along
with his team-mate Bertie Wijesinha.
‘CI’ as he was fondly called was taught the game
during the British Empire when the country was under
British rule. Born on July 14, 1920 he played in an
era when a cigarette was just two cents and a match
box cost 25 cents.
“I was a dreadful smoker at 2 cents a cigarette I
could afford it for 50 years. That’s why my lungs
are shrunk,” said Gunasekara speaking to The Nation
from his Dickman’s Road home. “No one knew that it
was bad. Even doctors were offering you cigarettes.
At the time they didn’t know medical science.”
“I live alone here in this very big house. What is
interesting is it is the only thing that is older in
Dickman’s Road than me. It’s over 100 years and its
60 years since it was brought.”
Gunasekara was keen to focus attention more on
the game of cricket rather than on himself. “In
those days cricket was played in silence. The only
inimitable sound was bat on ball, a lovely noise,
and an occasional hardly audible appeal by one man.
Today the exercise is a little different more
boisterous, not necessarily words. They hug each
other and jump in the air.
“In the old days bowling a bumper at a batsman was
not on. They had fast bowlers like (Harold) Larwood
never mind the names and there was no technique to
measure their speeds. They could have been faster
than those of the present age,” said Gunasekara.
“If a man bumped a ball and it was in slightest
danger of the batsman he would say ‘I am sorry about
that’. Today if they can’t bowl you out in an over
or two then they go for your body. That’s a new
technique, everything’s changed.
“We only played cricket for love, there was no
money involved and the game was not so seriously
taken. You go to the ground and played for the love
of it. Money, by my standards, is a great incentive
for people to misbehave. Because of modern science
too much of cricket is played and people get huge
money from it,” continued Gunasekara.
“Modern science has made so many differences to
cricket. If you have got the efficiency our players
have got there is plenty of money to become
millionaires and billionaires if you are good. It is
a very profitable enterprise rather than going to
work and getting a monthly salary. The whole ball
game of cricket has changed. It has something to do
Moving deeply into the game, Gunasekara who kept
referring to himself as ‘Old Man River’ after the
famous Paul Robeson song of the 1920s, said: “The
game is just the same as far as the distance between
the wickets and the distance to the boundary line.
It’s only the techniques that have changed. The
technique of the modern era has changed life.
“When I was young the village boys used to play
‘gudu’ and ‘elle’. Then came the introduction of
television and only the rich had sets in their
homes, now everybody does. When we used to go on our
rounds outstation we see a huge television set in
the village and all the boys and women watching.
They decided that they will go for cricket too –
tennis ball cricket for a start. Today I would say
the whole of the country is cricket oriented.
“The local games of ‘elle’ and ‘gudu’ they gave it
up in favour of cricket. That is the reason why
there are no audiences for five-day Test matches and
other matches too because everybody’s got a
television at home and they can put their legs up
and have a drink and don’t have to go to the matches
and sit on uncomfortable seats or stand. There’s so
much of cricket now. I watch on television but it’s
the same, a repetition,” Gunasekara opined.
“The only thing that’s changed is the lbw rule. At
some point in time the old rule was the ball had got
to pitch on the wicket to wicket rectangle. They
said an off-spinner can pitch outside the rectangle
and if it is going to hit the stumps you are out
lbw. If you played during my time they would have
said you were not out because the ball didn’t pitch
on the rectangle.
How did players of his era keep fit to play
“You can do a 100 or 1000 press-ups on the boundary
line and you are very fit but ultimately it’s a
question of whether you can bring bat to ball at
that instant. I am not talking about a second I am
talking of a fraction of a second how to bring bat
to ball. That’s where the runs come not from your
press-ups. We never had any exercise that’s why we
were so bad and that’s why they are so good now. We
played for the love of the game.
“The fielding standards are much better now. Fitness
of your body in movement is obviously a great
advantage. The players of those days had no time for
fielding maybe half an hour. I don’t think the game
has anything to do with it. It’s a question of the
individual’s exercise. With tongue in cheek I won’t
say there weren’t more brilliant catches in my day.
When asked to recall the best innings he’s played
in his illustrious career, Gunasekara replied: “My
personal innings I can’t remember anything. There is
nothing profitable to record.”
“The best innings I’ve seen was a remarkable one
from a double international called Mahes Rodrigo who
is much younger than I. He scored 135 runs when he
was 19 years old in 1948-49 when those West Indies
giants came here. The three W’s (Worrell, Weekes,
Walcott) and the two fast bowlers both six foot four
inches tall John Trim and Prior Jones. He opened the
innings and carried out his bat. They couldn’t get
him out. For a man of 19, I’ve seen a lot of
innings, but this is the one of the finest. I played
with him in that match and got a few runs.”
Gunasekara was renowned as a hard hitting
right-hander who also bowled right-arm leg-breaks.
His performances at Royal College hardly raised any
eyebrows. “I was never coached. There was a system
of nominal coaching in school not like today. The
game was played because you loved it. The whole ball
game has changed and it has changed for very good
reasons. If you get to the top you are a multi
Gunasekara started to make waves only after he
joined SSC and began scoring hundreds at a rapid
pace. He won his first Ceylon cap at the age of 27
against Don Bradman’s Invincible Australians in 1948
and represented his country against international
teams till Bob Simpson’s Australians in 1964. He was
belatedly handed the national captaincy in 1960 at
the age of 40 when most sportsmen are past their
prime and it was in this capacity that he played a
cameo innings which everyone still talks of. He
plundered 28 runs in less than two overs against
Richie Benaud’s Australians in 1961 helping himself
to 24 (3 fours, 2 sixes) in one over from left-arm
spinner Lindsay Kline.
Gunasekera’s uncle was the famous Dr CH
Gunasekara, who became the first Sri Lankan to play
for an English county side – Middlesex (1919-1922).
He also excelled at tennis and athletics, but
everyone remembers him for his cricketing exploits.
What about Twenty20 cricket? “Twenty20 cricket is
keeping the game alive. Without it no one will watch
cricket because they don’t have very much time. Time
is a very big factor today. There is no time for
people to go and watch matches. They do that because
they want to see bat on ball quickly. They don’t
have time to go to the grounds and watch and hope
that there will be a good six.
“Like in the old days you haven’t got leisure
time. The globe has shrunk and it is one helluva
rush as I see it. As I go to Kanatte I can see the
whole situation because I was born in the heart of
the British Empire days. I can see the world
emerging,” Gunasekara concluded.