Sri Lanka news April 23, 2014

Former SL spinner Neil Chanmugam dies aged 73

Neil Chanmugam, one of Sri Lanka's leading offspinners of the pre-Test era, passed away on Tuesday aged 73 having lost his battle with cancer that affected him for the past four years.

Chanmugam was an integral part of the Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known then) cricket team that created history by beating Pakistan and India for first time in unofficial Tests in the sixties.

He broke into the limelight when he scalped five English batsmen for 43 runs to dismiss Ted Dexter's MCC team for 159 while representing Ceylon Cricket Association. Two years later, he he helped his country secure their maiden unofficial Test victory, over Pakistan A at the P Sara Oval in 1964. Chanmugam took 4 for 28 off 12.3 overs as Pakistan were shot out for 99 in the first innings in reply to Ceylon's 152.

Chanmugam was also a member of the Ceylon team that recorded its maiden unofficial Test victory over India by six wickets at Ahmedabad a few months later, although he didn't make a major contribution. For a decade, he formed Ceylon's four-pronged spin attack, along with fellow offspinner Abu Fuard and left-arm spinners Anuruddha Polonowita and Fitzroy Crozier. International competition at the time was few and far between and the players had to look forward to matches to prove their competence.

"We were more or less starved of international cricket compared to today. Actually I don't know whether I could have coped with the amount of cricket our chaps go through today," Chanmugam had said.

Chanmugam is best remembered for scoring a half-century batting at No.10 against West Indies in a four-day unofficial Test at the P Sara Oval in 1967. Chanmugam slammed an aggressive 72 and shared a last wicket-stand of 110 in 53 minutes with Ian Pieris (46).

He played for St. Thomas' College, Mt Lavinia under Michael Tissera in 1958 and under Dennis Ferdinands in 1959 in the traditional cricket matches against Royal College.

Chanmugam's father-in-law was Col. FC de Saram, the former captain of Ceylon. Chanmugam married Oosha de Saram, a proficient swimmer and tennis player and they have three children Anouk (of golf fame), Deepika and Devin (both swimming fame).

Chanmugam was also a keen golfer, and served as the manager of the Sri Lanka team to England in 1984 and Australia in 1984-85.