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Sri Lankan Cricketers in Australia

Whatmore was not first Ceylonese to represent Australia 

By Mahinda Wijesinghe  - Sunday Leader Feb 15 2004

The first Ceylonese to play in the Australian first-class circuit, namely the Sheffield Shield tournament, as it was then known, was P.C.D. (Pat) McCarthy who captained Royal College in 1938. A surveyor by profession who lived in Hambantota, the dashing right-hand batsman played for Ceylon in 1945 before emigrating Down Under and made his debut for Western Australia in the 1950-51 season.

Leg-spinner turned double centurion

The next to follow McCarthy was another alumnus of Royal College, Gamini Goonesena. Having played for his school in 1947 & 1948, he went on to lead Ceylon as well, in 1956. The right-arm leg-spinner had a brilliant cricketing career at Cambridge University leading them to a memorable win in their traditional fixture against Oxford University at Lord's in 1957. Though better known as a bowler, Goonesena's contribution to this victory was a double century (211), the highest by any Cambridge batsman in the series, the best bowling figures (5/52) by any bowler in the match, and a record partnership (289) for the seventh wicket resulting in the worst drubbing - innings and 186 runs - Oxford received since the series began in 1827! Having played for Nottinghamshire in the English county circuit in the 1960's, Goonesena then went on to represent New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield tournament when professional duties took him to Australia.

Francke nearly played

Malcolm Francke, another right-arm leg-spinner, this time from St. Joseph's College Colombo, then went on to play for Ceylon. He was the third Ceylonese to play Sheffield Shield cricket when first picked to play for Queensland in the 1971-72 season, and played with great distinction for six seasons. Contemporary news reports state that he was indeed unfortunate not to have been picked to play for his country of adoption.

Whatmore on coaches

Davenell Whatmore migrated to Australia as an eight-year old in 1962 and became the next Sri Lankan-born to play Sheffield Shield cricket - for Victoria. A solid right-hand batsman and brilliant slip-field, he then went on to represent Australia in 7 Tests during the Packer crisis. Later as coach, Whatmore played a crucial role in assisting Sri Lanka win the World Cup in 1996 but recently left his second stint as the Sri Lankan coach not too happily. No wonder, currently coaching the Bangladeshis, the 50-year old Whatmore when questioned by a journalist about the role of an international coach, said: "There are only two types of coaches. Those who are sacked and others who are about to be!"

The Colombo-born Bailey

However, the first Sri Lankan-born to represent Australia was George Herbert Bailey (1853-1956), a member of the first Australian team to visit England, in 1878. Born in Colombo and educated in England, Bailey migrated to Australia where he took up appointment with a Bank and finally settled down in Hobart. As Jack Pollard, eminent Australian cricket historian commented in 'Pictorial history of Australian cricket' (J.M.Dent Pty Ltd 1983): "Before they left, the first Australian team to visit England bought an enormous canvas bag and had 'Australian Eleven' painted on it in bold letters. The players drew lots to decide who would carry the bag from match to match... six of the team were from New South Wales...four from Victoria..and one from Tasmania - George Bailey, the Colombo-born Tasmanian banker batsman." The state of Tasmania began as a jail for surplus convicts from New South Wales - known as Van Diemen's island - and being the poor relation of Australian first-class cricket had to fight hard for recognition along with Queensland and Western Australia. It was in the 1977-78 season that Tasmania was first given restricted entry into the Sheffield shield competition and accepted as a full member five years later. All of this makes the selection of Colombo-born George Bailey, over a century ago, most creditable. However, Roger Woolley was the first Tasmanian Sheffield shield player to represent Australia when the 28-year old wicket-keeper made his debut against Sri Lanka in April 1983 at Asgiriya. Current skipper Ricky Ponting is the first Tasmanian to captain Australia.