By Ranjit Fernando He never suffered fools gladly he threw caution to the wind; he was completely upfront, even to the extent of being blunt and abrasive. At times, he took issues head-on and never passed the buck, passionately loyal and expected the same. At the same time he was god fearing and had a [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Abu the man who dared for Sri Lankan cricket


By Ranjit Fernando

He never suffered fools gladly he threw caution to the wind; he was completely upfront, even to the extent of being blunt and abrasive. At times, he took issues head-on and never passed the buck, passionately loyal and expected the same. At the same time he was god fearing and had a heart of gold, never feared challenges, and would have gone to any lengths to help someone in need, without asking too many questions. In some ways, he was an enigma. That was the Abu Fuard, I knew.

Abu passed away recently, after a long illness. He had two kidney transplants and due to the affects of the strong medicines he took, over a period of time, lost his sight, some years ago. Although his movements were severely restricted, never did I hear him moan about it. His wonderful wife Fouzie, despite her very busy schedule, with an office in the home, looked after him with care and love, to the very end. It was Abu and his telephone, and he knew all that was going on, particularly when it came to Cricket, to the extent that the Colombo District Cricket Association, had Abu on it’s Committee, even up to his death, just to pick his brains and use his enormous knowledge on Cricket.Admirers and detractors

He had a number of admirers and also his share of detractors, quite understandably, because there were no half way measures with him. Some did not understand his style, others found him too difficult to deal with and left him alone. There were however no exceptions when it came to acknowledging the service and contributions Abu made to the game of Cricket in Sri Lanka, even very grudgingly at times, people gave him the huge credit that was due. This was very evident from the large gathering of people, from all quarters that attended his funeral.

He was one of the finest sportsmen produced by Wesley College, but one of his biggest disappointments was that he was not given the opportunity to captain his school at cricket. He felt that he was unfairly deprived of the honour. It was very difficult to coax Abu to forgiving them, but I know that he had softened a lot, later in life. The school of course, always looked upon him as a hero, and the fact that they were there in full force at his burial, was a tribute to the man.

Abu Fuard was arguably one of the best finger spinners in Ceylon in his day, if not the best. There were a surfeit of top class spinners in the country at that time in Ives Gunasekera, Neil Chanmugam, Anuradha Polonowita, Fritzroy Crozier, Annesley De Silva, Cyril Ernest, Victor Mahendran, Lareef Idroos, B.W.R. Thomas, Michael Tissera, to name some, and Abu was in the forefront. On many occasions captains of England and Australia, passing through and seeing him in action, in the whistle stop games, commented that it would have been an asset to take him along. Abu had a classical off spinner’s action. With a high arm, perfectly poised and balanced, and his wrist cocked and head still, he mesmerized and teased batsmen with wonderful flight and a loop. With high revolutions, he made the ball dip, and even the best players of spin, despite using their nimble feet, found Abu, to be a very difficult customer to handle. Abu was a master even on the dry, perfect batting strips.

It was in 1964, just out of school, that I made my acquaintances with Abu, being picked to tour India, with the Ceylon team under Michael Tissera. In those days national teams had no luxuries of today with five star hotels and business class travel. Our first leg was in Madras, and I was allocated to share an apartment of sorts with Abu and Sylvester Dias.
Despite being just a boy straight out of school, these two senior cricketers, made me so comfortable and at home, that I quickly felt happy and welcome, and quickly adjusted to playing in the senior league. Since that tour, we have been very close friends, and have hardly had a harsh word said between us.

Tour of India

India did not take that tour lightly and pitted their best men against us. In the first two tests we were beaten, with the strong Indian batting of Jaisimha, Pataudi, Borde, Hanumant Singh, Durrani, Baig, Engineer, and Surti, making plenty of runs on perfect batting pitches. We were however not completely outplayed, with some superb knocks by the skipper Michael Tissera and Stanley Jayasinghe, and the rest of the batting also making attractive contributions, but our eagerness to make runs quickly, and the marginal decisions going against us, caused our downfall.

In the third test in Ahmedabad, it rained heavily, in day one and two, and the game was reduced to two days. The pitch was soaked and with the sun coming out, it was expected to be a glue pot. Pataudi won the toss and batted, and our seamers Norton Frederick (4 wickets) and Stanley Jayasinghe (6 wickets), using their experience and the conditions, had them bundled out for 189.

We batted with plenty of determination and guts, defying the Indian attack, and in the next morning Michael Tissera, playing a master stroke, declared at the overnight score, behind India at 144 for 7. Polonowita and stumper HIK Fernando, batting usefully. India looked to attack, with the hope of a declaration, in the second essay, and collapsed miserably for 66, against the seam of Jayasinghe and Frederick, and the spin of Polonowita, leaving us 116 to win. Trewlyn Edwards our regular opener was hit on the eye while fielding, in the first over of the match, and took no further part in the game, so Abu played the role of opener. With his hard textured, khaki polo hat, he defied the Indian bowlers more with guts rather than with the bat. The pitch by now was a mine field, with ball bouncing awkwardly and turning almost at right angles. Ball after ball, Abu was either leaving deliveries or getting hit on the body, because the less you made contact, the chances of survival were greater. It needed skill, but more grit and it was Abu, battered blue and black who dropped anchor and top scored with 40 runs. With the support of useful knocks from Ponniah and Tissera, after many anxious moments, we went past the post, losing 6 wickets. It was a memorable victory by 4 wickets, against a full member, and paved the way for associate membership in the International Cricket body. Just before this, he was also a part of the national team that beat Imtiaz Ahmad’s Pakistan team to Ceylon, which thrashed Pakistan, and the Pakistan captain’s parting words were “Everything in Ceylon is uncertain, the weather, pitches and umpires”.

The late Abu Fuard risked his own popularity to push Sri Lankan cricket to the international stage.

Joe Lister brought a star studded team of International cricketers to Sri Lanka in 1968, and a representative eleven played them at the Colombo Oval. On a shirt front, beauty of a pitch, Abu Fuard with some magnificent off spin bowling, taking six scalps, completely bamboozled the visitors and had them for around 160. Of course it rained overnight and without covers, the pitch was saturated with water, and that master of wet pitch bowling, Derek Underwood, on a wicked, deadly pitch had the local team completely at sea for around 50, Abu’s bowling effort was raved by the critics.

Club cricket

Abu first played club cricket for the Moors, and then moved to the Colts, where he thrived as a spinner and a very competent middle order bat. He finally turned up for the Colombo Cricket Club, when this club opened its doors to the locals and played in the first class cricket competition.

With many more years of Cricket left in him, Abu surprisingly hung up his boots at the age of 31 years, and embarked on a singular crusade. At that time Cricket in the country was administered by the elite, and the sole property of a group of clubs and schools, which had the best facilities. Abu was determined to break this stranglehold and set about his campaign and quickly made an impression.
Over the next few years he was taking on the heavy weights and cricket soon started to spread, and was within reach of many more. The administration began to attract fully committed people, with the game at heart. If there is a person to be singled out for the revolution to make cricket what it is today, that would be Abu Fuard, who made a tremendous sacrifice for the sake of the great game. The hundreds of schools in the outstations playing cricket today, is evidence of this.

In those early days, the coffers of Sri Lanka Cricket were just enough to make ends meet, with no great means of generating funds, and administrators worked from their homes, paying expenses out of their own pockets. I recall Abu, when in charge of the under nineteen’s, dipping his hands into his own pockets, and giving the last few rupees in it, to buy ice cream for the young schoolboys, at the end of practice.

According to Abu, who was a selector during the 1979 world cup, interference in the selection of the squad came to the fore, from influential forces, and the selectors were not allowed to pick the team they favored. At the same time, funds were short for the tour, since Sri Lanka was going earlier than the official programme to the UK, and Abu who was in charge of cricket could not leave with the team, as he had to collect more funds for it. Administrators had to use all their personal contact for sponsorships, as the game had hardly any commercial benefits, and Abu played numerous roles. Sri Lanka beat India despite the drawbacks, and Abu always claimed that if the selectors were given their way, Sri Lanka would have created many more upsets, and probably been recognized, earlier.
In order to give the game, the same stature as Cricket had always enjoyed, KMT Perera of the NCC and Abu, coaxed Dr. N.M. Perera into the job of President of the Board of Control for Cricket, and after Dr NM’s death, he played his trump card in cajoling his close friend and immediate neighbour Gamini Dissanayake, at the height of his power as a politician, to give leadership to cricket.

They were a formidable pair, with nothing seeming to be impossible, and soon set eyes on full membership of the International Cricket Council. Upto then, Sri Lanka’s admission had been vetoed year in, year out for the flimsiest of reasons. Gamini Dissanayake and his team, mapped out a strategy and at the decisive meeting, the President with his brilliant eloquence made sure that Sri Lanka got the nod. His plea was, “Make us a full member, and we will give you the infrastructure that would be worthy of it”.

Mr. Dissanayake was certain that with administrators like Abu, who was the catalyst, Neil Perera, Nisal Senaratne, S.S. Perera, B.R. Heyn, Nuski Mohamed, S. Skandakumar, Leo Wijesinghe, Michael de Zoysa, Daham Wimalasena, Rajasingham, nothing impossible.As soon as Sri Lanka was elevated in 1981, the work on infrastructure development started in earnest, from virtually scratch and limited resources, once again with Abu very much in the forefront.

The Asgiriya Stadium

His hands were full, as he was a hands on worker, and not someone merely passing down instructions. The upgrading and development of the Asgiriya Stadium was the Board’s first goal. With Dakshitha Thalgodapitiya and Gamini Kannangara who were working with Mr. Gamini Dissanayake, providing support. Abu lived for months in Kandy working on the grounds side by side with the labour force, joining them in the planting of grass on the ground, plant by plant.

Despite some of the ailments he developed, he stuck to this tedious and laborious task which was successfully accomplished. He had an in depth training and knowledge of pitches, and its construction, and again the pitch at Asgiriya was his baby too. Trinity College became the only school in the world, where Test matches were played on its ground, and served Sri Lanka Cricket admirably, after full membership, until Pallekelle came to being. He did all this for no remuneration. In today’s context in may seem unbelievable, but it is true. That’s how cricket administrators worked then, and there were no employees.

When Gamini Dissanayake mooted the brilliant idea of the Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation, it was Abu who convinced the NCC that it should consider offering a space in their premises to them, to set up an Indoor practice facility, for national players. He later on, again coaxed the NCC to provide practice pitches for the Cricket Board’s national and representative squads. These facilities have served Sri Lanka Cricket, throughout its journey as a top cricket nation, and do so, even to this day. The role Abu played in getting these set up, cannot be forgotten.

Abu, together with WAN Silva, Polonowita and I, handled the cricket in the early days since our elevation, and under him when he was the manager, we won our first test victory against India before long, much quicker than any other member receiving full membership had accomplished their first Test victory. The biggest challenge at that time, was to change a bunch of amateurs who were playing cricket mainly in the weekends, mixing it with their full time employment, to think and play like complete professionals, or at least semi professionals, in keeping with Sri Lanka’s newly acquired status. It was a tough task. The players had the talent, technique and understanding of the game, but to change attitudes and the work ethic overnight was not easy. Again the man for the job was Abu Fuard. He drove the players as hard as he could, at times risking his own popularity, as being a hard task master. There was no turning back and someone had to do it. In a short space of time, Sri Lanka was producing results.

Abu continued playing a very important role in Sri Lanka’s Cricket administration and was greatly involved in setting up the national coaching structure, and educating our coaches, and having them certified. His close friendship with Les Lenham, from Susex, who was a master in coaching coaches, helped a great deal. He was not interested in high position, but it was the involvement, that was the driving force in him.


After Gamini Dissanayake, it was Abu who talked ex cricketer and politician T.B. Werapitiya to take over the Presidency, and by then, he had earned a reputation of being the kingmaker in cricket.

I recall the time, when every Wednesday afternoon a number of us gathered at his home during lunch time to talk cricket. Initially the numbers were five or six, and he used to treat us to a crab lunch ordered from a leading Chinese restaurant, close to his home. The cricket conversation was so good and the food equally palatable that word got around, and the numbers started to grow. It began to be called the “Crab Club” and Abu always footed the bill, with numbers rising to between 15-20. One dared not offer to share in the payment, as he would feel terribly insulted.

May his soul rest in peace.

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