By Michael Roberts
D. S. de Silva entered the administration of Sri Lanka Cricket several years back at President Rajapaksa’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. 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 Pandura 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 G.S. Vivek of the Hindu Express. No matter; 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) 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 15 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 30 years, the Premier League, Tamils have been over-represented in the Sri Lankan squads despite malicious claims propagated by LTTE sympathisers in recent years. 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, C.I. 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.
On Battlefields Of Jaffna, A New Roar: Cricket
G.S. Vivek – Courtesy of Indian Express
The ruins of a once majestic fort built by the Dutch may be a testimonial to the three decades of civil war that this region has seen, but Jaffna now is on the path of rebuilding. And as it takes its first, tentative steps towards normalcy, one of the projects on the agenda of the Sri Lankan district is cricket — a game that gave it rare solace through those long troubled years.
With the weight of the Sri Lankan Cricket Board behind it, associations are being formed in Jaffna and plans being put in place for matches with other provinces as well as age-group games, even an own premier division team, and finally, Jaffna’s first international cricketer. Muthiah Muralitharan and Russel Arnold have been the only Tamils to have played for Sri Lanka.
Jaffna’s cricket connection goes back 125 years, and through the civil war, the game went on, albeit at a smaller scale. The matches were held on torn mattings, the region celebrated its own Muralis, Jaysuriyas, Vaas, and Malingas, even held its own little ‘World Cup’. Board officials have an interesting anecdote, of visiting Jaffna once to catch a game, flying in on an army helicopter and spending considerable time in a bunker. “Initially we conducted programmes to train coaches and now there are 25 qualified coaches in Jaffna district. We distributed equipment to cricket-playing colleges in Jaffna, kit bags worth Rs 3,00,000 and cricket matting to all schools in Jaffna. Now Jaffna schools have got an organisation — the Jaffna School Cricket Association — in addition to the Jaffna District Cricket Association. They are affiliated to the school cricket bodies in Colombo, so whatever tournament is conducted in Colombo, same tournaments are conducted in Jaffna by the schools’ cricket association.”
D. S. De Silva, Sri Lanka Cricket Chairman, says “this in more ways would help people from various sections of the society understand that all are equal.” The response from kids, he adds, has been “huge”. Among those coaching in Jaffna is Ravindra Pushpakumara, a former fast bowler and member of the Sri Lankan 1996 World Cup winning team, who is the provincial coach. As many as 18 schools play cricket in Jaffna — St John’s and St Patrick being the major ones — and the district is playing the Under-15, Under-16 and Under-19 matches. They will then be grouped along with other provinces in the north and north east to play provincial cricket. Sri Lankan skipper Kumar Sangakkara dropped in recently. “We recently found a junior player bowling as quick as Malinga,” says Perera.