Gerry, always went out of his way to help others
By Bernie Wijesekera
Sri Lanka cricket loses another of its finest gentlman cricketers, from our midst with the passing away of former All Ceylon cricketer Gerry Gooneratne. Gooneratne, one of the finest products to hail from St. Joseph's College, Darley Road was a complete cricketer on and off the field and thrilled the fans at home and abroad.

It was only recently that Sri Lanka lost a Prince among cricketers - old Thomian and former Sri Lanka and NCC captain Vernon Prins. Close on his heels was mild-mannered Gerry, the elegant left-handed batsman, a wily left-arm spinner and a billiant close-in fielder. He played for the SSC and later for Saracens and did much for the Rifle Green Club's uplift. He even got some of his talented pupils from Nalanda to play for Saracens.

I came to know Gerry when he took over coaching Nalanda in 1947 and moulded the players to be a complete outfit. There were some vociferous cricketers who came under his tutelege (with natural talent) apparently some of them not knowing that "first a gentleman and then a cricketer". With his charming ways soft-spoken Gerry nattily dressed, taught the skills by example. No harsh words. He treated them all alike. He played with the likes of F.C. de Saram, C.I. Gunasekera, Hector Perera, Bertie Wijesinghe and Ben Navaratne etc., for the SSC and later for the country was itself an achievement.

The likes of Stanley Jayasinghe, the Obeysekera twins, Ashley de Silva, Amarasiri Gunasena, Nihal Ameradasa, Chandrasiri Weerasinghe, Lincoln Perera etc., went places and climbed the cricketing ladder. But no will deny that his best product was left-hander Sarath Silva, whom he groomed at the age of 14 to play for Nalanda.

Coming from St. Joseph's , but taking over Nalanda coaching from 1947-82 - for 35 years and serving in a Buddhist institution - itself an achievement. He possessed loving kindness and compassion. Mr. Gooneratne was too well for his human qualities. He always went out of his way to help others in their hour of need - which included job opportunities.

As a coach he never went hell bent for material gains, but served the game for the right reasons. He was there at Premasara Epasinghe's launching of the book on Bradman (in Sinhala). Minister for Irrigation Jayawickrema Perera, one of his pupils paid a glowing tribute to late Gooneratne who moulded him like his father on and off the field..

Today if he is something Jaya said, thanks to cricket and Gerry's training. He firmly believed that via sport one could bring about reconciliation. It was during his era that Nalanda even went to the extent of playing cricket in Jaffna. Amiable Gerry believed in this saying, "God's gift to you is life. What you do with it is your gift to God". Malice to none. Lived a life of simplicity until his last breath, for his two sons to emulate.

The funeral took place yesterday (last morning) at the Borella General Cemetery before a large gathering to give a fitting farewell to a gentleman cricketer. A two-minute silence was observed on Thursday (September 25) before the Old Nalandians Past Cricketers Association media contab as a mark of respect to a legendary coach, who even handled the national team. May he attain Nibbana.

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