Seven Sri Lankan cricketers who represented Sri Lanka in another sport

Mahela Jayawardena playing soccer during a warm-up session.

While representing a nation in so much as one sport is a cause for profound pride, there have been players whose transcendental corporal virtuosities have helped them quixotically push the limits of mortal human abilities. The double internationals- players who represent their nations in two sports internationally- are, no wonder, a rare breed. As far as cricketers are concerned, most of the double internationals’ second sport is rugby thanks to the monopoly both rugby and cricket have over the commonwealth of nations. However, Sri Lanka’s cricketing double internationals’ second sport runs the gamut from table tennis to hockey.

A notable feature among Sri Lanka’s cricketing double internationals is that most of them belong to Sri Lanka’s pre-test era. Perhaps, with cricket becoming a serious sport in the island following full ICC membership, cricketers may have hardly had any time to master another sport.

Jonty Rhodes, when he descended on the island for a brief coaching stint, remarked in the affirmative about Sri Lankan cricketers’ involvement in other sports like rugby and football. Historically, the multi-sports playing Ceylonese have been too good that they became involved in more than just one sport internationally.

Here, in this post, we shall take a look at seven of these players who represented Sri Lanka internationally in another sport in addition to cricket.

1. Mahesh Rodrigo

Mahesh Rodrigo was a wicket-keeper batsman who played first-class cricket for Ceylon from the late 1940s. Educated at Royal College, Rodrigo has the honor of having played against Don Bradman’s Australia.

A gifted all-rounder, Mahesh also had the ability to bowl fast. The presence of Ben Navaratne in the Ceylonese team freed Mahesh of wicket-keeping duties, which allowed him to open the innings for his country. The best of his innings came against the West Indies when Rodrigo fought hard with his back to the wall against the West Indies to score 135 unbeaten runs. His innings lasted well close to 400 minutes. C.I. Gunasekara, a hard-hitting, Ceylonese batsman, called it the best innings he had ever seen.

Rodrigo was also an adroit rugby player who captained Ceylon’s national rugby team. He was also the captain of both Royal College’s cricket and rugby teams. A skilled scrum-half, Rodrigo played in the Clifford Cup, the oldest Rugby tournament in Asia. However, he failed to play a Test in either of the sport.

2. Buddy Reid

An alumnus of the University of Colombo, Barclay Gordon “Buddy” Reid is a doctor by profession. Having been educated at St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, Buddy made his first-class debut in the MJ Gopalan Trophy in 1964 against Madras. He was a consistent member of the Ceylon team for the following six years and went on to captain the national team in the absence of Michael Tissera.

He was also a transcendental table tennis player who not only lead Ceylon but also Australia, once he migrated to Australia.  A three-time winner of the national table tennis championship in Sri Lanka, Reid is currently the over-75 table tennis champion.

3. Ishak Shabdeen

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A product of both St. Sylvester’s College, Kandy, and St. Thomas’, Mt. Lavinia, Ishak Shabdeen represented Sri Lanka in cricket and hockey. Shabdeen first broke into the Sri Lankan under-19 cricket team in 1976. Even though many news sites and biographies claim that he had represented Sri Lanka in cricket, while some have even gone insofar as claiming he was a Test cricketer, his Cricinfo profile and Cricket Archive profile claim he has not represented Sri Lanka in an officially recognized match.

As a hockey player, Ishak captained Sri Lanka against Singapore in 1985. While still a schoolboy, he played against the visiting West German team and represented Sri Lanka in the Asian Games.

Ishak Shabdeen is also a decent snooker player.

4. Chandra Schaffter

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The founder of Janashakthi Insurance, Chandra Schaffter represented Sri Lanka in both cricket and hockey. An old boy of the St. Thomas’, Mt. Lavinia, Schaffter was a sublime fast bowler who played for Ceylon in the 1950s.

Having had a tragic childhood, losing both his parents at a tender age, Schaffter’s rise as a businessman is both inspiring and monumental.

Once his playing days were over, Chandra held key administrative positions in both cricket and hockey.

5. Vernon Prins

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Another product of St. Thomas’, Mt. Lavinia, Vernon Prins was an all-rounder who started playing for Ceylon in 1944. A police inspector by profession, Prins was the captain of Ceylon from 1955 to 1960.

An eye candy for spectators, Prins footwork and drives impressed many. Being a prolific cricketer for both Ceylon and NCC, Prins also excelled in hockey and represented Ceylon internationally.

6. C.I. Gunasekara

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A raw, homespun talent from Royal College, Gunasekara was the crowd’s favorite during his time, thanks to his entertaining innings. A hard-hitting batsman by trade, he is best known for hitting the Australian spinner Lindsay Kline for three sixes in an over in 1961. Gunasekara was also a leg spinner who was very effective with the ball throughout his career. He went on to captain Ceylon in 1960 at the age of 40.

The other forte of Gunasekara was tennis. C.I. Gunasekara won the men’s doubles national title along with his brother Dallas and went on to represent Ceylon against India.

7. Darrell Lieversz Jnr.

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Darrel Lieversz was a household name in sports and athletics during his time owing to his expertise in cricket, athletics, and rugby, so much so that there was so much debate about which sport he should make a career out of. An alumnus of Royal College, Lieversz was once the spearhead of Ceylon’s bowling attack.  He played a pivotal role in Ceylon’s first-ever win in an unofficial Test against Pakistan in 1964.

In athletics, Lieversz represented Ceylon in the fourth Asian Games in Djakarta in 1962, participating in 100m, 200m, and 400m sprinting events.