Cricket grounds, St. John’s College, U19 trial match for SLC
D. S. de Silva entered the administration of Sri Lanka Cricket several years back at President Rajapakse’s behest, being tasked with the extension and improvement of school cricket throughout the island. From personal knowledge I can assert that this was a role he pursued assiduously. An Excel chart (collected by me in May 2010 from SLC admin) showing the distribution of cricket kits and provision of side-nets and various types of wickets to schools in the period 2009-early 2010 confirms that SLC has reached far and wide.
Elevated subsequently by Presidential choice into the position of Chairman, Sri Lanka Cricket, it is no surprise that de Silva has continued to foster school and provincial cricket. During a brief visit to SLC headquarters Anura Ratnayake provided me with a cluster of images displaying tamashas at Habarana and Trincomalee where de Silva and board officials were involved in the distribution of cricket material (with some fanfare mind you).
But my more significant body of evidence comes from a chance finding. I visited Jaffna on a fact-finding mission in June 2010 directed towards a partial survey of local NGO activity of a welfare kind: namely, the Jaipur foot programme for amputees and the work of Sewalanka and other organisations caring for Tamil IDPS.
But, I also decided to contact the Principal, St. John’s College, in connection with the charity work of an Adelaide outfit, namely, “We are One Lanka.” He was away, so I was told that I should meet Vice-Principal Anthonypillai at the cricket ground that morning. I assumed that St. John’s was playing a school match. Arriving there I was surprised to be hailed by Malcolm Perera, against whom I had played cricket in the 1960s in Kandy and Peradeniya. As a Director, Coaching, at SLC he was watching Under 19 cricketers in the Jaffna Peninsula participating in a trial match that would assist SLC in spotting talent for further nurturing.
With Perera was Ravindra Pushpakumara, a former Sri Lankan paceman, who had been trained in coaching at the Madras Pace Academy and received further coaching certificates in Australia.[i] A few photographs depict the scene around the ground, including “backyard cricket.” But it is this concrete evidence of SLC’s outreach programme that I highlight here.
A critical aspect of this reaching out is Pushpakumara’s new position as Coach, Northern Province. Pushpakumara himself is a product of the Panadura locality, and his father, Karuppiah is from a “Plantation Tamil” background. He does not speak Tamil; but I believe he is an ideal choice because of this background and a readiness he expressed to learn Tamil. His English, incidentally, is now excellent – proof of his capacity to learn. Capacity to learn suggests a capacity to teach.
I was hoping to break this uplifting tale to Sri Lanka’s cricket-lovers. I have been beaten to the news-wire by GS Vivek of the Hindu Express. No matter: his pitch is inserted within my web-site as a separate article with further detail; but I mark a significant error in his history: Murali and Arnold are not the only Tamils who have played for Sri Lanka in the Test era from 1981 onwards. As far as I can ascertain, Angelo Mathews is Tamil (though he may not speak the language). Again, the Peterite, Vinodhan John, who still participates as a Match Referee on occasions, is definitely Tamil and represented the land in the 1980s; while Pradeep Jayapashdharan was selected out of nowhere for the ODI squad in one home series in 2005 and played one match before disappearing into the wilderness. Primed by a phone call (28 June 2010) from Nirgunan Tiruchelvam that supplemented my failing memory, I add here that Brian Rajadurai, Mario Villavarayan and S. Jeganathan were in some of Sri Lanka’s squads, with Jeganathan being part of the ODI fifteen participating in a signature event, the World Cup in 1987.
Indeed, if one takes note of the minute number of Tamils playing domestic cricket at the highest level over the last thirty years, the Premier League, Tamils have been over-represented in the Sri Lankan squads despite malicious claims propagated by LTTE sympathisers in recent years.[i] In some ways this fact is testimony to the qualities displayed by Russel Arnold and Muttiah Muralitharan. But a further sidelight is provide by an incident in May 2009: at a felicitation function to Bertie Wijesinha, CI Gunasekera and Channa Gunasekera at the SSC grounds I approached Nishantha Ranatunga who had been Vice-President of Colts Cricket Club and asked him if Angelo Matthews, a Colts cricketer, was Tamil or Burgher. He said he did not know and added “we do not look into those things” — a truly capital attitude in political terms, though a trifle annoying for blokes seeking empirical facts.
It was pleasing to have Vivek referring to Muralitharan’s visit to the Jaffna Peninsula in August/September 2002. As the photographs Nos. 118-19 in Roberts, Essaying Cricket (Colombo, Yapa Publications, 2006) reveal, Murali did indeed receive a rapturous welcome. This visit was made possible by Chandra Schaffter and his Janashakthi Insurance Company. While furthering their marketing campaign, Schaffter had plans for the whole Sri Lanka team to play a charity match that was designed to encourage ethnic reconciliation. But he lost his position as Manager of the SL team (on returning from a tour of England) when a new SLC Committee headed by Hemaka Amarasuriya was appointed around April-May 2002. This vendetta was extended and the proposed visit to Jaffna by the team in an official capacity was vetoed by the new board. Only Ruchira Perera and Romesh Kaluwitharana accompanied Muralitharan to play for Janashakthi cricket team in this exhibition match. A wonderful opportunity was lost as a result. My information is that Jaffna cricket fans were as eager to see Jayasuriya on the field as Murali. We are, of course, speaking of Jayasuriya of the 1996-2005 vintage not Jayasuriya today.
[ii] See Roberts, Speaking for “Humanity” at Manuka Oval:Cricket Demonstration,” and Roberts, “Landmarks and Threads in the Cricketing Universe of Sri Lanka,” Sport in Society, January 2007, vol. 10 (1): 120-42; and “Wunderkidz in a Blunderland: Tensions & Tales from Sri Lankan Cricket,” in Nalin Mehta and Jon Gemmell (eds.) Sport and Society, sp. issue, due in early 2009.
[i] He etched his face in cricket history when he smiled cynically after a plumb lbw (Dean Jones? Steve Waugh?) was rejected by Steve Randall during an ODI match at the MCG. This reaction prompted Ian Chappell – who was presumably disgusted by such umpiring bias – to remark laconically, but approvingly, that Pushie was rather different from the average fast bowler. This was in early 1996 and we all know what travails the Sri Lankan tourists faced from the umpiring fraternity, other officials and media during this fateful tour in 1995-96, notably the ball-tampering charges at Perth and the no-balling of Murali at Melbourne and Brisbane. See Michael Roberts & Alfred James, Crosscurrents, Sydney, Walla Walla Press, 1998.