Wisden Obituary

Gamini Goonesena

GOONESENA, GAMINI, who died on August 1, 2011, aged 80, made a mark on cricket in three countries: his native Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, whom he captained in pre- Test days; in England, for Cambridge University and Nottinghamshire; and Australia, where he played for New South Wales. A genuine all-rounder, the diminutive Goonesena - "not much more than a flea's foreleg over five feet," wrote the Welsh journalist Alun Rees - bowled hard-to-read leg-spin, and was a batsman good enough to make three first- class centuries: his 211 at Lord's in 1957 is still the Cambridge record for the Varsity Match. One of Oxford's opening bowlers was Jack Bailey, the future MCC secretary, who finished a chastening second day with none for 146. "He was a small chap, a back-foot player basically, and I kept going for four," he remembered. "Mind you, he was dropped off me at mid-on by our captain when he had 99!"

Other batting highlights included a County Championship century against Northampton- shire - whose attack included Frank Tyson and the Australian spinner George Tribe - in 1955. And for Cambridge against Warwickshire that year Goonesena followed 118 with five wickets in each innings. Bowling, in fact, was his stronger suit: "He was a big spinner of the leg-break and had a decent top-spinner and googly," said Richie Benaud.

In one of his early matches for Cambridge, in 1954, Goonesena took eight for 39 against the Free Foresters, and he later claimed seven for 69 while captaining Ceylon against a strong Indian side in an unofficial Test in Colombo in 1956-57. Nottinghamshire used him primarily as a leg-spinner: he took seven-fors against Derbyshire in 1957 and against Sussex and Leicestershire the following year. His best season with the ball was 1955, the second of his four years as a Cambridge Blue, when he finished with 134 all told; he also passed 1,000 runs that year, and repeated the double two years later. He was still good enough in his final first-class appearance, for the Free Foresters in 1968 aged 37, to torment Oxford University again, with ten for 87 in their match in the Parks.

Goonesena had gone to Australia in 1960, as Third Secretary at the Ceylonese Embassy and deputy commissioner of the Ceylon Tea Board. He was buttonholed by Jack Fingleton, the former Test opener turned political journalist, who steered him towards his old Sydney grade side, Waverley, as "the only club to play for". Goonesena appeared on and off for them for more than 20 years (and his son David represented them too). He soon attracted the attention of the New South Wales selectors, but played only seven times for the state in the early 1960s, always when Benaud was away on Test duty. "It was tough going for aspiring spin bowlers at that time," recalled Benaud. "When Bob Simpson returned to Sydney from Western Australia, the NSW team had a strong spin attack - Johnny Martin bowling left-arm over-the-wrist spin, and Peter Philpott, Norman O'Neill, Simpson and Benaud all right-arm wrist-spinners."

Goonesena later worked for a variety of businesses in Sri Lanka, Australia and elsewhere. He became involved in cricket administration, as Sri Lanka's representative to the ICC, and also as manager for some overseas tours.

© John Wisden & Co