Asanka-HB

Born September 16, 1966, Asanka Pradeep Gurusinha is a former Sri Lankan batsman, who played a key role in the island country’s victorious World Cup campaign in 1996. A complete cricketer — Gurusinha, or Guraa, as he’s fondly known is Sri Lanka, could bat, bowl and keep wickets — he was the anchor around which the Sri Lankan batting revolved from the mid-80s to the mid-90s. On his 49th birthday,Chinmay Jawalekar looks at 25 facts from the life of the burly batsman, who left midway amidst problems with the board and the team management.

1.  Alma mater: Gurusinha first studied at Isipathana College and then moved on to Nalanda College. The foundation of his cricket career was laid at these places.

2.  Early mentors: A gentleman by the name Raja Athukorala trained and disciplined Gurusinha right from his childhood. Later on, Nelson Mendis took him under his wings in school, and that was when he improved a lot.

3.  Childhood heroics: Gurusinha started playing cricket at seven and was soon captaining the Under-11 side, of which his good friend Hashan Tilakaratne was the vice captain. Gurusinha scored his first hundred at the age of 10 and was also involved with Tillakaratne in a massive 200-run opening stand for their school. Both still cherish their friendship, which is now of over 40 years.

4.  Radio lessons: During his growing up years, there was no television. Like thousands of other fans, Gurusinha too followed the game on Radio. He used to listen to the cricket telecast on radio, a practice that helped him develop his batting.

5.  Debut: Gurusinha earned his Test cap during the third Test of the series against Pakistan at Karachi after the regular keeper Amal Silva was injured. He played as a wicketkeeper and scored 17 and 12 in the match, which Sri Lanka lost by 10 wickets. His ODI debut was even worse. He was run out without scoring.

6.  Youngest Sri Lankan centurion: Gurusinha became the youngest Test centurion for Sri Lanka when he scored a fighting 116 not out against Pakistan during the third Test at Colombo in 1986.

7.  Record stand: During the course of his maiden Test ton, Gurusinha and Ranatunga batted out the entire day, adding 240 runs, which was then a new record for any wicket for Sri Lanka. It was also the first time two Sri Lankans had batted throughout an entire day.

8.  Chandigarh epic: During the lone test match against India at Chandigarh in 1990, Gurusinha scored a gritty unbeaten 159-ball 52. Sri Lanka’s score in that innings was 82. He thus ended up scoring 63.41 per cent of the total runs scored, which was third on the list after Charles Bannerman (67.34 per cent) and Gordon Greenidge (63.50 per cent). Michael Slater (66.84 per cent) and VVS Laxman (63.98 per cent) have gone past him subsequently.

9.  Twin tons: In February 1991, Gurusinha scored 119 and 102 against New Zealand at Hamilton, in the process becoming only the second Sri Lankan after Duleep Mendis to score two hundreds in a Test.

10.  Gurusinha the turtle: In 1994, he scored the third-slowest hundred of all time against Zimbabwe at Harare, reaching the landmark in 535 minutes, falling short of the 557 set by Mudassar Nazar. He eventually ended up scoring 128 in 461 balls and 607 minutes.

11.  Adaptor: Gurusinha was an aggressive batsman right through his childhood days. But he adapted brilliantly after coming into the national team and then later on when he was asked to bat at No. 3.

12.  Most productive years:  Gurusinha scored heavily in the late 80s and early 90s, having himself established firmly at number 3.

13.  Unsung hero of the 96 batch: Gurusinha was that unsung hero from the 1996 World Cup win whom Sri Lanka forgot. Today, all his teammates from that victorious campaign are at prominent positions in Sri Lanka and world cricket, but the country has sadly forgotten the man who anchored the mercurial batting line-up. Gurusinha finished the World Cup with 307 runs at 51.16 and a strike rate of 75.24. He scored three fifties in the six games played and had hit 11 sixes in all. Among Sri Lankans, only Jayasuriya (four times) has hit more sixes in a single ODI tournament.

14.  Last hurrah: Gurusinha scored a fine 88 in his last Test innings against Zimbabwe and a 32 against Pakistan in his last ODI. Sri Lanka won both the games, but Guraa never played for the team again.

15.  Retirement: His career ended abruptly when he announced retirement after his differences with the skipper Ranatunga and the Sri Lankan Cricket Board. He was only 29 and peaking in his career when these developments took place. At that time, only Aravinda de Silva had made more Test hundreds, with eight compared to Gurusinha’s seven.

16.  Move to Australia: Gurusinha moved to Australia after retiring and signed a three-year contract with North Melbourne Cricket Club. He played for them as captain and coach, and there was a short while when Darren Berry pushed for his inclusion in Victoria’s one-day team. But soon it became clear that an overseas player would not be allowed to represent the state, ending Gurusinha’s hopes of a cricket career in Australia.

17.  Switching profession: Now a resident of Melbourne, Gurusinha worked as group sales manager for Trader Classifieds, a company that publishes niche magazines and websites around Australia.

18.  Role model: England batting great David Gower was Gurusinha’s role model.

19.  Hard hitter: Despite playing a perfect foil to the aggressive players like Sanath Jayasuriya, Romesh Kaluwitharana and Aravinda De Silva, Gursinha remained an aggressive cricketer at the core. Ranatunga had once famously referred to him as the hardest hitter of the cricket ball he had seen. During the World Cup game in 1996, he clobbered the Zimbabwean attack for a 100-ball 86 with five fours and six sixes, thereby equalling Jayasuriya’s Sri Lankan record of six sixes in an ODI innings.

20.  Bearded look: Gurusinha’s bearded look always distinguished him from the others and also made him look like a serious person.

21.  Contact lens: Gurusinha had problems with his eyesight and was forced to play wearing the contact lenses for most part of his career. In a funny incident, his lenses popped out during his greatest innings, the 143 against Australia at the Boxing Day Test of 1995-96. He was down on his knees trying to locate them on the pitch with 75,000 people watching.

22.  Career stats: He made 41 Test appearances for Sri Lanka, scoring 2452 runs at a healthy average of 38.92. He went past 100 seven times in his career. His First-Class average of over 43 from 124 matches is even better. In ODIs, he scored 3902 runs in 147 appearances at an average of 28.27.  A decent medium pacer, he also picked 20 and 26 wickets in Tests and ODIs respectively.

23.  When Gurusinha cried: The first Test between Sri Lanka and Australia in Colombo from their 1992 series was heartbreak for the Lankans. They came very close to beating Australia for the first time in Tests. After dominating the game for the most part, they gave it away in a session, losing by a mere 16 runs. Chasing a low total of 181, Sri Lanka bundled out for 164 with Gurusinha staying unbeaten on 31. He was left stranded as his partners kept getting out. Gurusinha couldn’t handle his emotions and cried after the match.

24.  Not Warne’s bunny: Gurusinha cherishes the fact that he is not amongst Warne’s 708 Test victims. Warne could never dismiss him while he went on to score two hundreds against him.

25.  Calls to return not answered: A lot of water has flown under the bridge since he retired. The Sri Lankan Cricket Board has since made several requests to him to return back and take up either a coaching or an administrative role. Gurusinha, however, has turned them down citing politics as the reason. He does want to return to Colombo some day and plan to help develop the game in the country…

26. A chance, and biscuit ban: However, the moment to serve Sri Lankan cricket finally came. Sri Lankan cricket hit its rock-bottom in 2016, Gurusinha found himself the manager of the side. During this phase Sri Lanka lost a home ODI series to Zimbabwe and were whipped 0-9 across formats at home, by India. He found himself in an unwanted controversy after he banned sweets and biscuits from the Sri Lankan dressing room to encourage his players with protein-rich diet.

Players weren’t happy and even the sports minister wanted the former cricketer to step down. He later cleared the air, when he clarified, “Just like other teams, our physio and trainer are managing the dietary requirements of the team. One of the things they don’t want are sweets in the dressing room. At the game they have high-protein foods. That’s the change that has been brought about. But it was done before the Champions Trophy. Whatever the food that is coming into the dressing room, is handled by the physio and the trainer. Myself or Sri Lanka Cricket never gets involved in that. Even the head coach doesn’t get involved in that.”

Inputs from Abhishek Mukherjee

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is senior content writer with Criclife. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed at @CricfreakTweets)