Former Sri Lankan first-class cricketer and All Ceylon Captain Conroy Ievers Gunasekera, famously known as 'CI', died in Colombo on Thursday at the age of 90. Born on July 14, 1920, he learnt the game when Sri Lanka was under British rule. He was known to be one of the hardest hitters of the ball of his era, and also bowled right-arm legbreaks.
Gunasekera played for Royal College, but drew notice with his performances for Singhalese SC. He won his first national cap at the age of 27 against Don Bradman's 'Invincibles', and represented his country against international teams until 1964, with his last appearance also against the Australians, led by Bob Simpson.
He was belatedly handed the national captaincy in 1960 at the age of 40, and is remembered for a quickfire cameo he played against Richie Benaud's touring Australians a year later. He plundered three fours and two sixes in an over from left-arm spinner Lindsay Kline, looting 24 in all, before finishing with 28.
Another of his famous knocks was against the MCC at the P. Sara Oval in 1952 while he was playing for a Commonwealth XI. He beat allrounder Keith Miller to his hundred. Gunasekera scored 135 and Miller 106 in a fourth-wicket partnership of 107. The Commonwealth XI went onto amass 517, and beat the MCC by an innings. His highest first-class score was 212 for Ceylon v Madras in the annual Gopalan trophy match played at P. Sara Oval in 1958-59.
Gunasekera, who lived alone in his Colombo home, was devastated following the death of his wife a few years ago and became a virtual recluse. His son lives in England.
In a recent interview with a Sunday paper, Gunasekera said, "I was a dreadful smoker, at 2 cents a cigarette; I could afford it for 50 years. That's why my lungs are shrunk. No one knew that it was bad. Even doctors were offering you cigarettes. At the time they didn't know medical science."
Gunasekera's uncle was the famous Dr CH Gunasekara, who became the first Sri Lankan to play for a county side - Middlesex (1919-1922). Gunasekara also excelled in tennis and athletics, but he is remembered mainly for his cricketing exploits.