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Gamini Goonesena (1931–2011)

by Tony Stephens

from Sydney Morning Herald

Gamini Goonesena helped blaze a trail for Asian cricketers to make the game, formerly controlled by the white rulers of the British Empire, much more international.

Goonesena captained his homeland, then Ceylon, in an unofficial test against India in 1956 and later against Pakistan and an International XI before Sri Lanka gained full international status in 1981. He was the first Asian captain of Cambridge University and represented the Gentlemen of England XI, which included such notables as P. B. H. (Peter) May, M. C. (Colin) Cowdrey, E. R. (Lord Ted) Dexter, D. J. (Douglas) Insole and D. S. (Reverend David) Sheppard.

Working in Australia for the Ceylon Tea Board and as third secretary to the embassy in Canberra, Goonesena played in Sydney's first-grade competition for Waverley (now Eastern Suburbs) as an all-rounder and seven matches with the NSW Sheffield Shield team, usually as a back-up for Richie Benaud.

Goonesena, who died in Canberra last month at 80, would have been watching the current Test cricket series between Australia and Sri Lanka with more interest than most Australians.

Gamini Goonesena was born in Colombo on February 16, 1931, the second son of Kalehe Goonesena and his wife, Senadirage Perera. Named after Dutugemunu, the renowned ancient warrior and builder Sinhalese king, he spent his early years in Kenya, where his father worked in hotel management.

He attended the Royal College, Colombo, where the small boy tried bowling spin ''as a novelty because all the bigger boys bowled fast''.

He played his first internationals, against the West Indies and Pakistan, soon after graduating.

Intending to fly jet fighters, Goonesena went to RAF Cranwell in England and played county cricket with Nottinghamshire. He turned down the air force in 1954 for Cambridge, where he gained a law degree and led Cambridge to an innings victory over Oxford in the 1957 universities match, hitting 211 runs - still the highest individual score by a Cambridge player in the annual fixture - and taking 4-40 in Oxford's second innings.

For Nottingham, he reached the 1000 runs and 100 wickets double in the 1955 and 1957 seasons. His batting was marked by his back-foot play, particularly the square cut, and he bowled a well-disguised googly. He played matches for International Cavaliers and MCC, leading the MCC against Ireland at Lords in 1967. In another era, he might have played for England.

In 194 first-class matches, Goonesena scored 5751 runs (average 21.53), took 674 wickets (at 24.37) and 108 catches. He helped NSW win the Sheffield Shield in 1960-61 with 14 wickets in three matches and married Phillida Douglas-Robertson that season in Killara.

In 1966, he became Sri Lanka's representative on the International Cricket Council in London. When Sri Lanka achieved Test status in 1981, he represented them in Australia. He managed the Sri Lankan team in India, ran a spin clinic, wrote a book on bowling and a newspaper column, and became a broadcaster.

A charming, smiling conversationalist and storyteller, cooker of fine pork vindaloo for members of his Paddington tennis parties on Sundays, and loving father, he nonetheless did not always communicate well with family. After his first marriage failed, he married Carole Swan in Mosman in 1977. They separated in 1994.

Goonesena's achievements were recognised more in England and Australia than in his country of birth, although a Sri Lankan obituarist wrote: ''May the turf lie gently over him.''

He leaves David, Rohini and Simon, children of his first marriage, Krishni and Lilani from his second, and grandchildren Maya and Kiran.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Gamini Goonesena

Citation details

Tony Stephens, 'Goonesena, Gamini (1931–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/goonesena-gamini-15987/text27241, accessed 2 March 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Birth

16 February, 1931
Colombo, Sri Lanka

Death

1 August, 2011 (aged 80)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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