S. S. Chandra Perera, in The Janashakthi Book of Cricket 1832-1996, Colombo, pp. 320-26 …. with emphasis in blue & red from The Editor, Thuppahi and that in black by Chandra Perera himself
In 1935, a selection debacle had been commented on in verse. Now, 33 years later, a few more lines in verse in a local newspaper fired the first shots to start the controversy over the 1968 tour to England. The tour certainly created much dissension amongst the local cricket fraternity. The lines by pro Bono ‘Pabilis’ read:
And so the Chairman had his day
We thought it would only be HIK,
And poor Mike who won a Test
Found after all he was not the best,
And neither was Gamini, the Cambridge Cap,
Came all the way from England
Little realising that we are now free
And that two Selectors are as good as three.
Does it matter who played against Lister?
Wimalaratne is just poor sister
May be he can play the Chairman’s role
And vote for himself and the Nation
In one magnificent operation.
Remember the words of good old John,
“Serve yourself till you are gone:
Life is but a fleeting thing
Nomads may travel, Gypsies are Kings”.
Initially, there had been jubilation in local cricket circles when SC Griffiths, then Secretary of Imperial Cricket Conference and Manager of the MCC Team to Australia in 1965, announced a Ceylon tour of England in 1968. This was after the two whole-day matches played in Ceylon by the MCC in October, 1965.
When Griffiths offered to host the Ceylon team in England, he stressed that it was not to be considered admission to Test status but a stepping stone to that higher status, an opportunity for Ceylon to learn to play longer hours, over a greater number of days. This offer to help came shortly after Ceylon was elected an Associate Member of the ICC in 1965.
Arrangements got underway in early 1966. The MCC arranged for Ceylon to play against 12 counties, two universities, MCC, Scotland and Ireland — a tight schedule of 15 first class 3-day games and some minor matches during a two-month tour. The counties to be played included Glamorgan, Worcestershire, Kent, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Surrey, Warwickshire and Sussex. The Board picked 40 players for the Ceylon pool, but at first excluded Stanley Jayasinghe for some unexplained reason. Later, Jayasinghe, P. I. Peiris and N. Kodituwakku were included. Emphasis was placed on physical training under two Army Sergeants, J. Chandrasiri and T.A. Samarasekera. Gamini Goonasena, then Deputy Commissioner of the Ceylon Tea Centre, London, was entrusted with making the arrangements in England in consultation with the ICC. Laddie Outschoorn was in charge of the ‘pool’.
From the outset, there seemed to be two ‘camps’. Some say they started on the Ceylon tour of India in 1964/65. First there were objections to selecting the Ceylonese involved in first class cricket in England, namely Clive Inman (Leicester), J. D. Piachaud (Oxford), and V. P. Malalasekera and C. E. M, Ponniah (Cambridge). Gamini Goonasena himself was out of first class cricket due to work and turned out only for the Hampstead Cricket Club. Some enthusiasts in Ceylon felt that only those who had toiled and sweated at home deserved a break and that at least five of the ‘home crowd’ would be deprived of a place in the team if all those playing in England were selected.
Then there were problems over funds for the tour. The Board did not have the wherewithal to undertake any tour, long or short! The first to respond to the call for donations was the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon (Lake House Group) who made a contribution of Rs. 3000. The next to help was E. W. (Dusty) Miller of Colombo Commercial Co. who donated funds for the purchase of the cricket kit and gear. B. L. Muncer, Director of Len Muncer & Co., wrote to the Hony. Secretary of the Board that he had instructions from E. W. Miller to supply items such as shirts, blazers, pads, bats etc., to the value of Rs. 3000, for 14 players and wanted the Board to send a list of its requirements. Dusty Miller later represented the Board as Ceylon’s representative at ICC meetings and had a big hand in arranging Ceylon’s tour of England in 1975. He also donated 500 ties with the Board emblem to the Board of Control.
While these efforts at fund-raising in the UK and at home were under way, the Board appealed to the Department of Exchange Control for a Government grant of Rs.126,OOO (approximately £12,500). This application was turned down on 5.2.68 by the Ministry of Finance, as the Government was short of foreign exchange for import of vital food items and had just initiated an austerity programme. The Government was headed by Dudley Senanayake, the brother of the Board President, Robert Senanayake. This refusal of foreign exchange prompted the Board to inform the ICC on 22.2.1968 that it was forced to cancel the tour. This was the first of the Board’s cancellations of this tour.
The President, Board of Control, explained in a newspaper statement that the Board had gone ahead with the tour arrangements with the blessings of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs who had had no objections at the outset. The Ceylon Daily News came out strongly against a Government grant for the tour and said, if a grant was given, it would be a criminal waste of money as it would be frittering away valuable foreign exchange. It blamed influential personalities for trying to sabotage the Government’s austerity programme. The Communist Party’s paper Aththa (Truth) carried the headlines “No Foreign Exchange for Milk Foods, Coriander and Dhal, but Two Lakhs for Cricket!” Two Government backbenchers in Parliament, Dr. M. H. Saddhasena and Festus Perera (later a Minister), raised objections, but Festus Perera suggested that the money asked for by the Board be spent in improving rural playgrounds for the benefit of the many. Opposition members in Parliament joined in the fray. It was all against one — the Board of Control.
Another subject of contention was the gate collection in England. Was Ceylon to get a share? No discussions had taken place with the Board of Control on this subject as the tour was offered to help Ceylon cricket. The ICC already had two teams on tour in the summer of 1968 and it was with great difficulty that Ceylon had been fitted in. On the other hand, if a share of the gate had been given, Ceylon’s expenses would have been less.
S. S. Perera wrote in The Sun of 12.3.1968: “Everyone agrees there is an economic crisis and that essential day-to-day requirements of the people must get first preference over cricket tours. Many have opposed the tour, making it an austerity issue. Many are for the tour because we will not be trusted in future by cricket authorities in the Commonwealth countries, if we do not keep our word.
Many who oppose this tour do not realise how much organising is necessary for such a tour, especially by the authorities in England… If we cancel the tour we are not being fair by the cricket authorities in England. Their whole programme is upset. What about the Counties and the Clubs who gave us fixtures? They lose 2 or 3 days’ gate money…
If we do not go now we will never be offered another tour as no one would trust our word. Personal prejudices should not be brought in to prevent the tour.”
There was no one who could build bridges and the tour cancellation was formally confirmed by cable to the MCC on 15.3.1968 when it was seen that the prospects of fund-raising in London were bleak. Still, hopes of the tour materialising remained high, with efforts being made to get 13 air tickets. S.S. Perera wrote at the time: “I believe it is possible to collect these funds in England while it would be possible for Air Ceylon, who are tied up with BOAC, to help with a charter flight and tickets. I believe the Chairman, Air Ceylon, and others are allowed 3 free trips overseas every year, while the staff Air Ceylon are allowed one free trip a year. If this is correct, the Chairman and the staff of Air Ceylon can rescue Ceylon cricket. It would be a great gesture in the national interest. The next tour to England by Ceylon may be in 10 years’ time. Air Ceylon personnel will be making a sacrifice Once in a lifetime.”
In fact, the next tour of England with first class matches was in 1979, 11 years later, and that too only because Sri Lanka had to play in the World Cup!
Meanwhile, there were rumours that 13 air tickets had been offered. On 18.3.1968, an announcement by the Ministry of Sports in the newspapers denied that the Minister of Sports had anything to do with the offer of 13 air tickets. It was stated that they were not gifted by the Minister, but were offered by well-wishers.
While all this was going on, another event occurred to dampen the tour: the selectors deposed national captain Michael Tissera, who had held the position since 1963 without any sort of criticism of his leadership. Tissera was replaced by Dr. H. I. K. Fernando as the skipper of the Ceylon Board President’s, XI against Joe Lister’s team. Tissera had led Ceylon to its first victory in unofficial ‘Tests’ at home (vs Pakistan 1964/65) and abroad (vs India 1964/65). Tissera’s batting over the previous four years had been at its best, even against Pakistan (1966/67) when Ceylon lost badly there. Dr. Fernando was the senior-most player in the Ceylon team and an outstanding wicketkeeper. He had played for Ceylon from 1953, whereas Tissera had played from 1958.
‘The Corner Flag’, the Sunday Times columnist wrote: “Congratulations to Fernando and it is hard lines on Tissera, but one wonders whatever made the previous selectors ignore Dr. Fernando who was playing for Ceylon while Tissera was still at school.” Eustace Rulach (Ceylon Observer) described Michael Tissera as one who had shown his capabilities as “captain, tactician, batsman, bowler and, most of all, as a sportsman of the highest order”. ‘Contact’ (Ceylon Observer) wrote: “In the fair name of sport what mayhem goes on.. A player of undoubted skill has been deposed.”
The Lister tour, however, went through without any hiccups resulting from this controversy. Then it was time to think of the tour to England.
Once the tickets were ensured, the juggling and jockeying for selection and captaincy naturally ensued. Having watched those at the peak plotting and conspiring to get the tour going, the selectors themselves were infected with the malady of manipulation.
HIK Fernando Dhanasiri Weerasinghe
The meeting convened to select the team for England was held on 18.4.1968. C. T. A. Schaffter, one of the selectors, proposed Michael Tissera as captain, but when he found that a couple of the selectors themselves were being proposed for the teams and even the captaincy, he left the meeting. This left three selectors, D. H. A. Weerasinghe (Chairman), Dr. H. I. K. Fernando and S. T. Abeysekera. They selected Dr. H. L. K. Fernando (captain), M. H. Tissera (vice captain), S. Jayasinghe, D. H. A. Weerasinghe, M. A. H. Fuard, A. Polonowita, T. B. Kehelgamuwa, D. Sahabandu, Dr. B. G. Reid, A. P. B. Tennekoon and E. R. Fernando. Three players already in England were also selected: J. D. Piachaud, G. Goonasena and C. E. M. Ponniah. The standbys were S. Wimalaratne, N. Samarasekera, Lionel Fernando and D. Heyn. The Hony. Secretary of the Board, Dennis Hapugalle, requested the selectors to discuss their problems with the President of the Board and resolve them.
Goonasena wrote to the Board declining to go on tour: “I would be condoning the action of the Selectors if I accepted the invitation.” The Ceylon Observer in its daily ‘Comment’ stated, “The Minister of Sports was shocked when confronted with the news that two Selectors had selected themselves and that one of them, the Chairman, had selected himself as captain”.
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. What is the lordly Board of Control doing about it? Have they surrendered their power and prestige to the Selection Committee which is snapping its fingers with impunity at the Board? The least the Board can do is to spare Ceylon the humiliation of being the laughing stock of the rest of the world by not condoning the asinine antics of the rapists of all that is clean in sports.”
This was not the end of the matter. More shocks followed. “Another Bomb Explodes”, said one newspaper. At an emergency meeting of the Board on 21.4.1968, the following resolution was proposed by G. R. J. de Soysa (SSC) and seconded by J. W. de Alwis (Saracens Sports Club): “That it is the opinion of the Committee of the Board of Control for Cricket in Ceylon that in view of the resignation of C. T. A. Schaffter, the Selection Committee elected at the Annual General Meeting on 28.6.1967 ceases to exist in toto and a new Selection Committee is to be elected, consisting of a Chairman and the other members, at a Special General Meeting as permitted under Rule (18a) to be held on 7th May 1968″. This was passed by 23 votes to 8 votes. The selection of the team was declared ultra vires.
This resolution was followed by a letter to the Board from Lucien V. Perera, a lawyer, on behalf of D. H. A. Weerasinghe, the chairman of the 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 interest of the Board”. He requested that the letter be placed before the members of the Committee.
On 30.4.1968, a 3-man committee, composed Of V. A. Sugathadasa (Minister of Sports), Robert Senanayake (President, Board of Control) and Dennis Hapugalle (Hony. Secy., Board of Control), discussed matters arising out of the aftermath of the selection and decided to cancel the tour. This was the third cancellation. The Ceylon Daily News headlines said it all: “English Tour — Stumps Drawn”. The Daily Mirror gloated over the cancellation and said “Thank goodness the Board has done just that”. At this point, Dr. H. I. K. Fernando handed the President of the Board of Control a letter saying he was prepared to resign from the captaincy of the Ceylon team if it would help in the tour materialising. Fernando’s act was appreciated as a gesture to save Ceylon cricket from ending in the mire.
D. H. A. Weerasinghe too sent a letter to the Board through his lawyer stating that he would not be proceeding with the proposed legal action. This was another welcome gesture. These letters were read at the Board meeting of 5.5.1968. But it was too late. For the Board found that offers of 11 prepaid tickets had been withdrawn by the donors in London due to the squabbling.
Despite the ‘on again, off again’ drama being played out in Ceylon, attempts at fund-raising had been going on in London by well known establishments concerned with the Tea Trade — such as Liptons Ltd, Commercial Co., James Finlay Co. Ltd, and Brooke Bond Ltd. Individuals like Lt. Col. O. B. Forbes (a founder of the Ceylon Cricket Association), E. W. Miller, Professor E. F. C. Ludowyk, D. A. Macaulay, E. F. N. Gratiaen, Q.C., Dingle Foote, Q.C„ Hamavi Haniffa. Attorney-at-Law and others also made Sterling contributions. Mrs. Chintamani de Silva, Secretary at the Ceylon Tea Centre, London, acted as Secretary for this fund-raising activity. The Warwickshire County Supporters Fund donated £1500, said a report from London in the The Sun. These contributions would have considerably reduced the government’s foreign exchange burden, but all this, in the end, came to naught.
At an Emergency Meeting of the Board held on 8.5.1968, the decision to cancel the tour for the fourth time took place as it was impossible to find 11 air tickets to London. “Cricket Tour Definitely Off” and “Cricketers bowl themselves out” were the headlines. This was in spite of an anonymous donor offering 16 pre-paid two-way air tickets. 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 which at least would delay the team”, he “reluctantly” came to the conclusion that the atmosphere created was not conducive to sending the team. It is significant to note that this was the first time a minister had cancelled a tour. In fact, he had no legal authority for his action, for there was no Sports Act or any similar legislation in force at the time.
The MCC finally requested the Board on 10.5.1968 to cancel the tour. The point of no return had arrived and Ceylon cricket had ‘put itself beyond the pale of the ICC programme for at least ten years. The dislocation of this tour was a blow for Learie Constantine who had worked hard on the initial arrangements.
Looking back dispassionately in 1996, with no involvement any more, it is to be noted that, for whatever reason, earlier selectors had chosen Tissera as Ceylon’s captain over others in the running including Dr. Fernando. Tissera was captain for four years and 15 first Class matches, seven of them unofficial ‘Tests’. Fernando during this period had been stopgap captain (Board’s teams) in three first class matches. Other captains were P. I. Peiris and A. P. B. Tennekoon. In this context, several questions arise. Was the selection of Fernando to right an earlier wrong? Was it a battle between the older ‘establishment’ schools (represented in the team) and the new schools growing to adulthood? Was it a battle between the old ‘establishment’ clubs, who many felt had dominated the Ceylon cricket scene for long, and the other clubs? Was it correct to demote a national captain at the height of his leadership and batting form? Who was responsible for these ‘sections’ being introduced into Ceylon cricket? Such questions made nonsense of the word ‘cricket’. It’s all irrelevant now, but one thing cannot be forgotten. To add to the Exchange Control difficulties, the selection squabbles ended the much cherished dream of a first tour of England. But to refresh memories, did not the selection bloomers of 1968 also occur in the 1980s and again in the 1990s? Against this background, it is surprising that Ceylon/Sri Lanka cricket has survived.
Was all this squabbling worth it? Petty infighting ended Ceylon’s greatest opportunity for a tour to England. Was it all jealousy? Certainly affairs turned out to be very acrimonious at the time. We are lucky to be what we are after the 1968 squabble. Robert Senanayake and the others who followed him contributed much administratively for what Sri Lanka cricket is today.
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