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A galaxy of former and present Sri Lanka Test and one-day international players will line up at the R Premadasa International Stadium today to pay homage to the late Anura Ranasinghe, former Nalanda and Sri Lanka cricketer. They will participate in a day-night encounter between Ananda and Nalanda - leading Buddhist institutions and alma mater of sorts to so many of the island nation's top cricketing talent.
The fact that all these prominent cricketers have agreed to break away from their busy schedules to play in this 40-overs a side contest bears testimony to the character of Ranasinghe. Arjuna Ranatunga, the former Sri Lankan captain, has agreed to lead the Ananda team despite his official duties as deputy minister of tourism. Two past Nalandians Asanka Gurusinha, who appeared for the country in 41 Tests and 147 ODIs, and Keerthi Ranasinghe , who played in four ODIs, are flying across from Australia and England respectively to play in this match.
Ranasinghe was the very epitome of a modern-day Keith Miller, fearless and a fighter to the core. His never-say-die attitude is what drew so many cricketers and friends around him. That he was lost to Sri Lanka cricket after just a handful of appearances (2 Tests and 9 ODIs) was due to the poor financial situation that prevailed at the time, when the players received only a pittance compared to what they get at present.
The situation forced him to seek greener pastures, but instead of going to a country that his board would have been comfortable with, Ranasinghe took the wrong turn and went to South Africa, who at that time were banned from international cricket because of their apartheid policies. In that period it was anathema for sports teams to tour South Africa. The repercussions were so harsh that it virtually meant the end of the road for any sportsman defying the ban.
Ranasinghe, who was 26 then and at the prime of his career, found the 25-year-ban imposed by the Sri Lanka Cricket Board too harsh and his life simply disintegrated from there onwards. Cricket was his life and for Ranasinghe there was no life without cricket. He passed away at the prime of his life four days before his 42nd birthday on October 9.
It was a pity that the best years of his cricket were confined to the school and Under-19 level. Those who were fortunate enough to have seen him in his formative years saw the emergence of an allrounder of immense potential. But his career was, oh, so brief in the international sphere that cricket was the ultimate loser. They say the good die young. So it was with Ranasinghe.
At today's match the two schools will also honour three other former stalwarts who shaped Nalanda cricket - Gerry Gunaratne, Sunil Jayasinghe and Roshan Guneratne. The match will be telecast live by Rupavahini's Eye Channel and live commentary will be broadcast by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
The event is organised by the Nalanda Junior Old Boys' Association jointly with the Past Cricketers' Association. Tickets priced at Rs.2500 have already been sold out, according to the organisers. Still available are tickets priced at Rs.350 (for family of five), Rs.300 and Rs.50. All proceeds are towards the Nalanda College gymnasium project with part of it going to the family of Ranasinghe.
Ananda (from): Arjuna Ranatunga, captain (93 Tests/269 ODIs), Sidath Wettimuny (23/35), Ajith de Silva (4/6), Brendon Kuruppu (4/54), Marvan Atapattu (85/231), Chandika Hathurusingha (26/35), Sanjeewa Ranatunga (9/13), Avishka Gunawardena (4/60), Dinuk Hettiaratchi (1/0), Tilan Samaraweera (30/15), Thilan Wijesinghe, Oshadi Weerasinghe, Nishantha Ranatunga (0/2), Hemantha Wickremaratne (0/3), Akalanka Ganegama (0/2), Thilina Kandamby (0/4), Muthumudalige Pushpakumara.
Nalanda (from): Bandula Warnapura, captain (4 Tests/12 ODIs), Lalith Kaluperuma (2/4), Roshan Mahanama (52/213), Asanka Gurusinha (41/147), Gamini Wickremasinghe (3/4), Kumara Dharmasena (31/141), Mahela Jayawardene (71/184), Shantha Kalavitigoda (1/0), Jayantha Seneviratne, Hemantha Devapriya, Keerthi Ranasinghe (0/4), Susantha Karunanayake, Sudharman de Silva, Ishara Amerasinghe, Shammi Silva.
Umpires: Asoka de Silva and Ranmore Martinesz TV umpire: Sagara Gallage