COLOMBO: Bandula Warnapura, who played in two World Cups and led Sri Lanka in their first cricket Test but later received a ban for participating in a rebel tour to South Africa, has died.

He was 68.

Warnapura led the country in its inaugural Test in February 1982, facing the first ball in that match against England at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo.

“He was an excellent cricketer, administrator, coach, commentator and, above all, a good person, and his passing away is a huge loss for the cricket community,” Sri Lanka Cricket President Shammi Silva said in a statement posted on Monday on Twitter. “I am sure his name and deeds will remain in our hearts forever.”

Sri Lanka’s former skipper Mahela Jayawardene paid tribute to Warnapura, who was one of his coaches as a young cricketer.

“He coached me at Nalanda [College] and was a steady influence in my growth as a cricketer and a person,” the 44-year-old tweeted.

Another ex-Sri Lankan captain, Sanath Jayasuriya, added that Warnapura would be missed.

“It is a sad day that the first Test captain Bandula Warnapura has played his last innings,” Jayasuriya wrote on Twitter.

“It was such a joy to chat to him on everything cricket. A good and gentle man. We will miss him. Our thoughts are with his loved ones,” another former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara said on Twitter.

Warnapura played four Test matches as an opening batter and military medium bowler between February and September 1982, including two in Pakistan and one in India. He also played 12 One-day Internationals, including the World Cups in 1975 and 1979 before Sri Lanka was elevated to cricket’s highest status.

His decision later in 1982 to join a tour to South Africa, who were in sporting isolation because of their apartheid policies, resulted in 25-year bans from Sri Lanka’s government and the national cricket board.

Warnapura was one of three players from Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test XI who received life bans, which were lifted after several years. The lowering of the ban was too late for Warnapura to return to the game as a player, but he worked as a broadcast commentator and was a cricket administrator at the national and domestic level.

Warnapura was a special guest during Sri Lanka’s first Test against Pakistan in Rawalpindi in December, which saw return of topflight cricket to Pakistan after more than 10 years.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2021

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