How the Scheduled Tour of England in the 1960s was blown apart from Within

Chandra Schaffter ….  with the title, footnotes and highlighting imposed by The Editor, Cricketique

My attention has been drawn to an interview given by Dhanasiri Weerasinghe, in regard to the aborted English tour in 1968. Since my name has been mentioned in a not too complimentary manner, I thought I would state my side of the story in order to put the record straight.

 Fuard Weerasinghe  HIK Fernando

Sometime around 1964 or 65 a new set of selectors were appointed by the Board.  They were D.D. Jayasinghe (Douggie Chairman),[1] Bobby Schoorman, K.M.T. Perera and myself.[2] We functioned for about three years I think, and at the risk of being accused of conceit, I would say this was among the best set of selectors Sri Lanka ever had. 

Sri Lanka played several international matches, and several young cricketers got an opportunity to represent Sri Lanka. Anura Tennekoon played as a school boy and this had nothing to do with him being a Thomian.[3] C. I. Gunesekera was Sri Lanka’s captain at that time, but we as selectors felt that while CI was one of the most outstanding cricketers produced by Sri Lanka, he was lacking as a Captain.  So. we took the somewhat momentous step of appointing Michael Tissera who was nearly 20 years his junior over him. It had nothing to do with seniority – it had everything to do with ability.[4] 

DWeerasinghe in batting pose Tissera bowling  Jayasinghe batting Tennekoon hooking

In fact, at the very outset of our term, we staged a trial game with Michael and HIK captaining the two sides. This was primarily to select one of these two as Captain, and Michael was clearly our choice. There was a great deal of rumbling at that time, particularly from the SSC, but we stood our ground.  Michael tisssera, to his credit, turned out to be a good Captain. Sri Lanka beat both Pakistan and India under his captaincy.

  Ceylon squad that beat India in one Test [at  Ahmedabad in Janaury 1965]  … after losing the first two

In 1968, a new selection committee was appointed and I am personally aware that the late Abu Fuard was largely responsible for this, because he mentioned his reasoning behind it to me. The selection committee consisted of Sam Abeysekera – Chairman, Dr. H.I.K. Fernando, Dhanasiri Weerasinghe and myself. I was the only selector from the previous set of selectors who was re-elected.

At the Annual General Meeting, when the selectors were appointed, someone raised the question that Dhanasiri Weeresinghe, who was present at the meeting, was also a player, and I distinctly remember him giving an undertaking that he was not available for selection (of course this was only honoured in the breach as it turned out eventually). 

Shortly thereafter, Joe Lister brought a team from England. When the team for Joe Lister’s match was selected, the first item before the Selection Committee was the appointment of a Captain, and to my shock, the name of H.I.K. Fernando was proposed. I was totally against it, but I was too shocked to take any action, but I told them clearly that if selectors selected themselves again, I would leave the meeting never to return. Tissera was replaced by Dr. H.I.K. Fernando as the skipper of the Ceylon Board President’s XI against Joe Lister’s team –even though Tissera had led Ceylon to its first victory in unofficial “Tests” at home (vs Pakistan 1964/65) and abroad (vs India 1964/65)

A few months later came the time to select the team for the UK tour.[5] This was naturally a much-awaited event and every player worth his name would probably have hoped that he would be selected. Again, H.I.K. Fernando’s name was proposed as Captain, I protested and stated that I had already said I would leave the meeting if selectors selected themselves. So, I left the meeting. 

The three selectors proceeded to select the team, which included Dhanasiri Weerasinghe as a player, and H.I.K. Fernando as Captain. Goonasena was also selected, but immediately he heard what had happened, and that Michael Tissera had been dropped as Captain in favour of H.I.K. Fernando, he withdrew from the team.

The team selected was:

Dr Herbert IK Fernando (Captain)       Michael Tissera (vice-captain)

Stanley Jayasinghe                              Dhanasiri Weerasinghe

Abu Fuard                                           Anuruddha Polonowita

Tikiri Banda Kehelgamuwa                 Daya Sahabandu

Dr Buddy Reid                                    Anura Tennekoon

Ranjit Fernando                                   Dan Piachaud

Mano Ponniah                                     Gamini Goonesena

Standbys: Sarath Wimalaratne, Nihal Samarasekera, Lionel Fernando, David Heyn

With the selectors selecting two of themselves, headlines such as the following were inevitable: “Selectors’ capers shock public” (Daily Mirror). “Call off this big farce now – our cricket is back where it started fifty years ago” (R.B. Wijesinghe – Ceylon Observer).  The Corner Flag (Sunday Times) wrote “the selection of Weerasinghe was the last straw – the one that broke the camel’s back”. Here was a straw no one could justify.” One commentator wrote: “Cricket, so far free and untainted by the squalid smear of politics, has now been smudged and a game universally revered as Emperor in the Kingdom of Sport has been dragged to the mud and mire of market square machinations.”

This so-called effort to bring in outstation players or players from lesser schools was [and is] total rubbish. Stanley Jayasinghe had been playing for Sri Lanka with distinction from 1951/52, Dhanasiri had also played earlier. Polonowita had played for Sri Lanka first in the late 50’s, Kehelgamuwa had already played in all Ceylon matches also a little earlier. All the other players were from the Colombo schools.[6]

The Selectors also selected Dan Piachaud, Gamini Goonesena and Mano Ponniah, whom I think they had never seen playing and as you will see, one was from Royal and the other two from S. Thomas’. So where was the attempt to right the so called tremendous wrongs of the past. It was sheer hypocrisy and a blatant attempt to ensure for themselves positions which they were not really entitled to. Not one player from the outstation schools was picked apart from those I have mentioned above, and they had already played more than once for Sri Lanka. There were no new faces.

V.A. Sugathadasa [the Minister of Sports], who was a close friend of mine, called me to his room one day, and pleaded with me to withdraw my resignation so that the tour could take place. I said I would do that on the simple condition that selectors do not select themselves. He was not willing to put that to the test, particularly since Dhanasiri was a part of Sugathe’s security team.

If only the Minister had got an undertaking from Dhanasiri and HIK that the selectors would not select themselves, or appointed a fresh selection committee without prospective players and captains in it, then the tour would have gone on.

It was extremely unfair to say that Derrick de Saram had anything to say about the selections.  He had long ceased to be a selector and had little or no say in Sri Lanka cricket.  His involvement was only with the SSC, and I can say as a selector, that he certainly never attempted to influence any of us, and having known Derrick very closely, I can say that was not his style. Incidentally, Sam Abeysekera was not a Thomian.  Peter May and Colin Cowdery, as far as I know, were selectors, but that was long after they had ceased to play.

One of the few instances I know of selectors playing in a test match, was when Cyril Washbrook was selected against Australia, but he was asked by the selectors to leave the room while his name was being discussed. He was a veteran of almost 40, but the selectors sorely needed him to tackle the might of the Australians. He did quite well in the match. I think Freddie Brown too was another instance, but none of them were present when their names were discussed.

What most of us did not know at that time, until it was raised by the President Mr. Robert Senanayake, was that the constitution of the Cricket Board was very clear – all four selectors had to be present for the selection to be valid.  So the selection became invalid, and turmoil reigned. 

The aftermath of this was that a 4th selector was added (Sathi Coomarasamy) and a fresh selection was done.  With that, problems began to arise, and if I remember right, Dhanasiri and HIK had differences, and I believe court actions were also filed by them in court. A letter was sent to the Board by Lucien V. Perera, a lawyer, on behalf of D.H.A, Weerasinghe, the chairman of selectors who had picked the team.  It said, among other things, “His client will resist all attempts by the Board from following an illegal course of action detrimental to the interests of the Board”.

The arch villain in this entire episode was Abu Fuard, who was competing with Neil Chanmugam for a place in the side. They were both excellent players, and it was always a dilemma for us as selectors to decide which one should play.  It was the same problem India faced with Venkatragavan, and Prasanna.  Sometimes, they played both in the same test.

Michael Tissera was the “sitting” Captain, and again, part of the plot was to move him out, but in fairness to HIK, I think he was an unwilling partner in this entire episode. The final word was a statement from the Minister which said that, “taking into account the agitation over Selectors selecting themselves,” Goonasena’s statement to the Press about the selection, and “the threatened injunction (by Dhanasiri’s lawyer) which at least would delay the team”, he “reluctantly” came to the conclusion that the atmosphere created was not conducive to sending the team.

The irony of this is that the so called clubs after the cancellation of the tour which was done by the Sports Minister, V.A. Sugathadasa, selected a fresh selection committee in the following year and who were they? The same old “villains” Douggie Jayasinghe, K.M.T. Perera, Bobby Schoorman “who had been keeping out players from the out-stations” and who were replaced in 1968 precisely because of that Sathi Coomarasamy was elected because I refused to serve again.  So it is unfair to say that the tour was cancelled because of me. If selectors had not selected themselves, the tour could have taken place.

I did receive a considerable amount of praise for what I did, but I also received an equal amount of brickbats from those who felt that their plans had been thwarted owing to my action. The plain and simple fact is that a second team was selected by the same selectors including Sathi Coomarasamy in my place, but internal squabbling commenced as would happen when motives are not clean.  The tour was cancelled largely due to lack of funds. There was little hope of collecting the money particularly after all the controversies.

I have stated the facts as I recall them. Most of those involved including my fellow selectors in the earlier selection committee are no more.  As I said, in the early part of this article, I think they were the best selectors Sri Lanka ever had.

DD Jayasinghe

***  ***

ADDENDUM

ADDENDUM: A Memo from Ananda Dias Jayasinghe, DD’s nephew, 23 May 2018

In his article in the Sunday Times Dhanasiri Weerasinghe unashamedly lets the beans out of the bag: that selected himself whilst being a Selector and installed HIK instead of Tissera!

DDJ[ayasinghe] was the Chairman of Selectors from 1962- 67 and again from 1968 to 1972 and it was his Selection Committee who chucked out CIGunesekera in 1962 and installed Michael Tissera as the Captain despite objections from Robert Senanayake, the President of the Board and the brother of the then Prime Minister and SSC stalwart [where CI was an institution].

It is true that Royalists and Thomians dominated that era and the cricket within the premier Sara Trophy which was confined to the Colombo Clubs. It is also true that the cream of Sri Lankan cricket during this period remained with these two schools and a few Clubs in Colombo due to the infrastructure which prevailed then.

To have deposed Michael Tissera who was a very successful Captain and to install HIK as Captain was indeed a disgrace. Sadly Sri Lankan cricket was put back by almost 10 years as a result of the cancellation of the Tour and the rumpus caused (all of which has been cleverly left out of his sponsored article) After this the Selectors were summarily removed and DDJ, KMTP, CTAS and Bobby Schoorman were re-installed as the Selection Panel.**

These disgruntled elements even in their dotage cannot rid themselves of the inferiority complexes in which they were mired.

To put the record straight, Michael Tissera was miles ahead of Dhanasiri Weerasinghe as a Batsman, Bowler, Allrounder and a Captain. There could be no comparison.

SELECT REFERENCES … Inserted by The Editor ADDENDUM

Anonymous Friend,: “The Mahindian who penetrated  the Colombo Domination of Ceylon Cricket,” 23 May 2015, https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/dd-the-mahindian-who-penetrated-the-colombo-domination-of-lankan-cricket/

SS Perera: “The Tour that did not go beyond the Boardroom,” 23 November 2017, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/11/23/the-tour-that-did-not-go-beyond-the-board-room-1968/, being a reprint from an article published in 2000S. Perera: The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 1832–1996. Colombo: Janashakthi Insurance, 1999.

Michael Roberts: “Sri Lanka: The Power of Cricket and Power in Cricket.” In Cricket and National Identity in the Post-colonial Age, edited by Wagg Stephen. London: Routledge, 2005, pp. 132–58.

Michael Roberts:  “The Cricketing Universe of Sri Lanka: A Short History written in 2007,”  26 November 2017,  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/11/26/the-cricketing-universe-of-sri-lanka-a-short-history-written-in-2007/

Michael Roberts: “Wunderkidz in a Blunderland: tensions and tales from Sri Lankan cricket,” Sport in Society Vol. 12, No. 4/5, May–June 2009, 566–57

Michael Roberts: “Cricketing Talents that were undermined from Within: Ceylon in the 1960s,” 19 November 2017, https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2017/11/19/10195/

https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2018/05/06/dhanasiri-weerasinghe-enters-the-fray-stormy-currents-in-ceylon-cricket-in-the-1960s/

Sa’adi Thawfeeq:“The cricket tour that never took place but changed national selection policy,” Daily News, 21 April 2018.

Saádi Thawfeeq: “Dhanasiri Weerasinghe enters the Fray: Stormy Currents in Ceylon Cricket in the 1960s,” 6 May 2018, https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2018/05/06/dhanasiri-weerasinghe-enters-the-fray-stormy-currents-in-ceylon-cricket-in-the-1960s/

Estelle Vasudevan: “Michael Tissera: Cricket Personified … A Leader To Die For,” 24 November 2017, https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2017/11/24/michael-tissera-cricket-personified-a-leader-to-die-for/#more-10268

 *** ***

 END NOTES BY Michael Roberts

[1] DD Jayasinghe was in fact a Mahindian from Galle and one of the early outstation cricketers in a field dominated by players from Colombo with a sprinkling from Kandy and Moratuwa. His brother MD Jayasinghe was my coach at St. Aloysius in the mid-1950s.

[2] Note that Schoorman became Chairman when the longstanding Chairman DWL Lieversz stepped aside because his son Darrell had reached a point where he was in line for selection as a paceman.

[3] When I queried this statement, Schaffter indicated that Tennekoon had indeed been selected in 1965/66 and was not part of the squad chosen for the tour of India in 1964/65 under Tissera’s leadership –a squad chosen by Schoorman, Jayasinghe, Schaffter and KMT Perera.

[4] Those who have read my substantive articles on Sri Lanka’s cricketing history would know that I have ratified this contention. With reference  to the stream of good players produced by S. Thomas College in particular during the 1950s and 1960s I have identified a combination of two factors: (A) the prowess of Lassie Abeywardena as Junior Coach and (B) the chain of good practice passed down by generational cohorts among the schoolboys. I stress that I am not a Thomian or Royalist; but that I played cricket at a decent level in Sri Lanka from 1956-61 and then again from 1966 -70 – so that I interacted with a few of the players concerned – in particular DH de Silva, HIK Fernando, Walter Premaratne and Neil Chanmugam.

[5] Note that Gamini Goonasena at the Ceylon Tea Board in London had a prominent role in the organisation of the tour and in marshaling support from the MCC. He had not only captained Cambridge University and played for Nottinghamshire,previously, but had led some MCC touring teams abroad. The prowess shown in the 1950s by Laddie Outschoorn, Dan Piachaud, Stanley Jayasinghe, Clive Inman and PI Peiris in the University and/or county circuit was a major factor in winning MCC/ICC favour for the projected tour.

[6] Chandra Schaffter has got it wrong here but in a manner that does not go against his contentions. Only Kehelgamuwa  was from an outstation school — in Kandy. Though Weerasinghe was from Panadura and got his early training in cricket at St. Johns (where my brother Gilbert Roberts was coach), he moved to Ananda and played for that school. Polonowita was also at Ananda and wisely chose SCC as his club.

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