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Header image: Courtesy Prof. Rohan Jayasekara, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo (2011 - 2014).
(This is a modified version of an article that was submitted for publication in the souvenir for the third Annual East Coast Invitational Cricket Festival 2008 which was held on June 14th at the Tall Timbers Park, South Brunswick, New Jersey, USA. The event was organised by the Ananda College Old Boys Association East Coast Chapter. The article is being republished on this blog as we are presently carrying news, pictures and articles on the subject of sports personalities who excelled in their chosen professions.)
By Dr. Lakshman Abeyagunawardene
South Carolina, USA
Schoolboy cricketers who excelled in sports and studies
alike were hard to come by, even in years gone by. Today, with professionalism
creeping into the sport, they are virtually unheard of. But it is gratifying to
note that there are the likes of Kumar Sangakkara and Jehan Mubarak who still
have the ability to do this balancing act with some degree of success in today’s competitive world. One can only imagine how much more these
two gifted cricketers with precious brains would have achieved had they chosen
to concentrate on one, either cricket or their academic pursuits.
In the years gone by, we had cricketers of the calibre of
Doctors C.H. Gunasekara, Barney Gunasekara, Darrell Weinman, H.I.K. Fernando,
Ranjit de Silva, Brendon Gooneratne, Buddy Reid, Carlyle Perera, Lareef Idroos,
Nihal Gurusinghe, U.R.P. Gunatilake, C. Balakrishnan, V. Sivananthan, Cyril
Ernest, Harsha Samarajiwa, Sarath Seneviratne, Adiel Anghie, and Michael
Roberts, Bradman Weerakoon, George Rajapaksa, Malsiri Kurululasuriya, Maurice
Wanigaratne, Ranjit Dorenagama to name a few in the non-medical category.
Among the leading boys’ schools in Sri Lanka, Ananda College
had her own fair share of such “All-Rounders.” Arguably, the most outstanding
of this rare breed is Professor Tissa (U.T.) Vitarana – cricketer, scientist,
and politician. Today, he is best known as the Minister of Science and
Technology in the present Government and Chairman of the All Party
Representatives Committee. As an eleven year-old schoolboy at Ananda College in
the early fifties, I remember “big boy” Tissa Vitarana as a slim, moustached, bespectacled cricketer - a batsman who opened the innings. He was a regular in
the Ananda cricket eleven of 1952 that was captained by Bonnie (D.B.)
After qualifying as a medical doctor in the late fifties and
earning a string of post graduate degrees including a PhD, he soon established
himself as a Microbiologist of international repute. During his long
professional career spread out over five decades, Prof. Vitarana has served as
Director of the Medical Research Institute (MRI), Adviser to the Minister of
Science and Technology, Professor and Head of the Department of Microbiology at
the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, and even had a stint with the world
famous Pasteur Institute in France, before being appointed a Cabinet Minister. The author of
many scientific papers, he is considered to be an authority on viral diseases and
more particularly HIV / AIDS and Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever (DHF).
Prof. Vitarana is remarkably versatile. Whether playing
cricket donning his all-white cricketing gear, marching through Colombo streets
in a May Day procession with other red-shirted, slogan-shouting comrades of the
Lanka Sama Samaja Party, or addressing an international conference dressed in
his trade mark long sleeved tunic, he has been equally at ease. He has followed
in the footsteps of his maternal uncle the late Dr. N.M. Perera, himself
another past Ananda cricketer who achieved academic distinction in earning a
double doctorate in Economics and reached the pinnacle of his political career
by ending up as Minister of Finance in the Sirima Bandaranaike Cabinet of 1970.
With all these
achievements under his belt, Professor Tissa Vitarana has retained his quiet,
unassuming, humble nature to this day. Having associated with him
professionally over a number of years, I can vouch for the above
characteristics in the man. I found him to be the perfect team man when I had
the opportunity to work closely with him in 1990 in producing the well-known
booklet entitled “What Doctors Need to Know about Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever”.
He co-authored the booklet with Professor Priyani Soysa under a project that
was funded by UNICEF where I myself was a staff member at that time and
coordinator of the said project.
As I mentioned before, Professor Tissa Vitarana is not the
only Anandian cricketer to achieve success in the academic and professional
fields. But he simply had to be singled out for special mention, not only
because of his present eminent position, but also because of his versatility
and reputation as an internationally known scientist.
Of the older generation, Dr. Nandadeva Wijesekara (former
Commissioner of Official Languages) and P.M. Jayatillake (former Principal of
Ibbagamuwa Central and Thurstan Colleges) and A.R. Molligoda (Architect) need
to be mentioned. Among Professor Vitarana’s own contemporaries at Ananda and
teammates in 1952, were M.C.T. (Cecil) Fonseka (former Secretary, Ministry of
Higher Education) and Dr. Milinda Amarasinghe who qualified as a doctor and
later joined the Sri Lanka Navy. Both of them have departed this world and it
was just a couple of weeks ago that I read Cecil’s obituary notice in the
Ceylon Daily News.
My own classmate K.M. Ariyaratne (now known as Ari
Dassanayake) is a highly qualified Attorney-at-Law and Criminologist in
Toronto, Canada. He played first eleven cricket in the late fifties. A.P.
Jayasinghe, D.D. Somasiri, D.S.B. (Dhammika) Ratnayake, A.G. Perera, Duminda
Siriwardene, Sanjeeva Senanayake (grandson of a former Ananda Principal P.de S.
Kularatne and son of former IGP Stanley Senanayake) qualified as Engineers.
Other former Ananda cricketers who took to the medical profession include M.de
S. (Mahinda) Jayasinghe (now in Baton Rouge, Louisiana), late Kumar de Silva,
Mohanlal Fernando (now in UK), Sarath Wimalaratne (now in Sydney, Australia),
Gamini Karunanayake (who too passed away last month), N. Samahin, Nihal de
Silva (presently in New Jersey), and G. Ambepitiya. Mithra Wettimuny and Lakshman Hewagama are
Accountants. Former teacher at Ananda, Ragunath Weerasuriya, Army Officer S.P.
Ekanayake (science graduate) and in more recent times, Priyanka Seneviratne,
Priyal Perera and former BOI Chairman and MD of Forbes and Walker Thilan
Wijesinghe have also excelled in both cricket and studies. The last named
Thilan and Dr. Mohanlal are accomplished musicians to boot!
In conclusion, I must admit that I have written this article
without researching the subject and without any reference to records or
archived documents. It is for the simple reason that such facilities were not
available to me at the time of writing. The names, dates and other information
contained herein have been drawn entirely from my own memory. The chances are
that I may have made errors and left out some who deserve to be in this
company. Therefore, I wish to extend my humble apologies for any such errors
and especially to anyone whom I may have inadvertently omitted in compiling