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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ananda’s Cricketing Intelligentsia

(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.) Wijesinghe.

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 S. Kularatne and son of former IGP Stanley Senanayake) qualified as Engineers. Other former Ananda cricketers who took to the medical profession include 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 this article.


  1. Thanks Lucky for that fine article about Sportsmen who achieved academic success. The article is a tribute to your excellent memory and love of cricket. It certainly brings back nostalgic memories of my schooldays and those glorious years spent basking in the tropical sun and the blistering heat.

  2. Lucky thanks for this excellent article on Sri Lanka's cricketing history and especially the part played by Ananda College 'products' which make us all admire your College and also make feel proud about Sri Lankan cricket in general. It speaks well of the writer too for presenting it in this way. Many thanks. from Zita

  3. Enjoyed reading your article Lucky. As you rightly say, the sportsmen you wrote about have to be admired for excelling in sports and studies. You mentioned the late Bonnie Wijesinghe who happens to be a cousin and also related to Roshan Mahanama. He was a tall and incredibly handsome and pleasant chap. I know only one person from my current associates who was also good at sport and studies and that is Vascular surgeon Mr Ajantha Jayatunga who lives in Birmingham and got colours for Royal in Cricket and Athletics. My cousin and our barchmate Sidath Jayanetti wasn't a cricketer but an accomplished Ruggerite who played for Royal and Combined Universities. Those Big Schools had the right kind of attitude and fostered sporting talent while promoting studies.

  4. Thank you Lucky. I always enjoy reading articles on sport , especially cricket. Mahendra, please check with Ajantha whether he was awarded colours for cricket at Royal.