The Cricketing Universe of Sri Lanka: A Short History written in 2007

Michael Roberts, providing a reprint of  “Landmarks and Threads in the Cricketing Universe of Sri Lanka,” Sport in Society, January 2007, vol. 10 (1): 120-42….

Cricket developed in British Ceylon [1] as a pastime indulged in by the British ruling elements, whether military men, officials, merchants or planters. It was but one sport in a wide repertoire of pastimes pursued by the British rulers, practices that were assisted by the resources they commanded, not least a host of minions servicing their leisured enjoyments.

The early pathfinders for cricket in the 1820s and 1830s seem to have been military men and schoolmasters. As an activity cricket remained largely an urban enterprise until the late twentieth century, with the significant exception of the planting clubs in the hill country. [2] However, the concept ‘urban’ encompasses the ribbon development along the main highways leading from Colombo to such towns as Galle, Kandy, Kurunägala and Chilaw – paths that were dotted with little service centres which eventually (in the 1890s) gained rapid access to the metropolis by rail and later, in the 1930s, bus.

Young lads also played cricket with tennis ball or kaduru ball on all manner of sites: street, verandah, garage, beach and open space. It was in this form that many youngsters honed their skills. As late as 2004 Lasith Malinga burst on to the scene as a slinging fast bowler of the Jeff Thomson sort on the basis of a trade developed as a tennis-ball cricketer among the palm fronds of the Ratgama locality near Galle.

It is no accident that cricket took root initially in ‘total institutions’[3] such as military regiments and the new elite school known as the Colombo Academy (re-named Royal College in 1881). The empirical details relating to cricket in the early colonial period, from the 1820s to the 1860s, are limited. But we know that the game was becoming institutionalized as a club activity because there are references in the 1860s to such clubs as Small Pass CC, Union CC, Young Burghers, Juvenile Graduates and Hulftsdorp CC. [4] That some of these associations seem to have been mushroom developments should not obscure an aspect that is taken for granted: namely, the central role of clubs in fostering cricket.

As an institutionalized pastime for men and boys, cricket quickly became a medium for the implantation of the mores of the British upper classes. It was a conduit for Westernization, encouraging athletic prowess and the spirit of competition within a set of rules, competition that was topped off with convivial bonhomie around bar and pool-table thereafter. By the 1930s, therefore, the young men who emerged from such elite schools as Trinity and St Anthony’s in Kandy or Royal, S. Thomas’, St Benedict’s, St Peter’s, St Joseph’s and Wesley in Colombo, as well as those who moved on to the Law College and Medical College, provided a significant component of the Westernized ‘middle class’. As such they included many who were partial to British lifeways and were inclined towards Anglophilia. [5]

In Sri Lankan folk talk the concept ‘middle class’ describes the indigenous social strata occupying the top rungs of the social hierarchy below the British ruling strata. It therefore encompasses the aristocracy of pre-British times who had survived by adopting valued attributes. These assets were (1) a fluency in the English language and (2) a Westernized life style, including that of dress. As encapsulated in their vestments, middle-class men wore trousers outside their homes, whereas the rest wore sarongs during their everyday public activities. In this sense socio-political clout was derived less from property than from social capital. [6] It was feasible for one to live in a rented house throughout one’s working life without possessing property and yet remain middle-class. [7]

The middle class overlapped with the local bourgeoisie without being synonymous with that analytical category. Most members of the middle class were from families with property. Not all those propertied were employers of productive labour (as distinct from domestic servants). But others were employers and in this manner members of the bourgeoisie proper. [8] In so far as these members of the bourgeoisie depended on the colonial capitalist circuit, especially that centred on the plantation economy,[9] they could also be depicted as ‘comprador bourgeoisie’.

However, the dependencies and collaboration arising from these features of the indigenous middle class-cum-bourgeoisie were severely qualified by the colonial context of subordination. Racial dominance was a central facet of the situation. White racism occasionally displayed itself in the arrogant behaviour of some Britons, especially the planters: for instance, when they ejected rich Ceylonese from first-class railway carriages they considered their divine domain. Such prejudice was institutionalized in the membership rules of their clubs, notably the Colombo Club (confined to top businessmen and administrators) and the Colombo Cricket Club. [10]

Such practices generated intense resentment within the indigenous middle class. Some tough young men from these families, such as Danister Perera Abeywardena and John Kotelawala Snr, who ‘thrashed’ – as the local idiom expressed the tale – individual Britons for their racial slights at the turn of the century, became folk heroes as a result. [11]

In brief, the colonial conditions of subordination compromised the connections forged by common economic networks and the commonalities of Westernization. Even the overlaps in economic interest were qualified: the Low Country Products Association was established around 1908 by the indigenous planting elements as a counterpoint to the Chamber of Commerce and Planters’ Association, both handmaidens of the British mercantile forces.[12]

The date when the LCPA was instituted was not happenstance. It was precisely in the years 1905–12 that the indigenous middle class began to press for constitutional reform. That is, the nationalist struggle began in earnest during the first decade of the twentieth century. It may not have developed the sturm und drang associated with the Indian nationalist movement, but there were numerous verbal confrontations and heated rhetoric at various points in the period between 1905 and 1948, when Ceylon received political independence. [13] The point to note here is that global circumstances provided these Ceylonese generations of the twentieth century with more leeway to mount pressures on the British imperial order than those of the nineteenth century. I step back in time to the last two decades of the nineteenth century to trace the socio-political dimensions of ethnicity on the cricket field.

Ethnicity Within the Sri Lankan Realm

Because cricket in the early colonial days was largely confined to urban sites, especially Colombo, the local residents who took to the game were mostly drawn from those closely associated with the British regime: the Malays in the military service and the European descendants who were identified as Burghers. [14] Indeed, the early clubs in the 1860s identified above were, relying on S.S. Perera’s research, heavily Burgher in composition.

Throughout the period of British rule the Burghers were never more than0.7 percent of the population. However, they were preponderantly urban. More significantly, as late as 1921 they made up a staggering 7.0 per cent of Colombo’s population.[15] Colombo in 1921, one must note, was largerin scale than Colombo in the mid-nineteenth century, a time when its heartland lay in the Fort, Pettah, Maradana and Mutwal quarters, whereas Wellawatte was well beyond the city. The Pettah in particular was heavily Burgher in composition and hosted the Colts Cricket Club (formed in1873), who played their matches in the open space between the Fort and Pettah known as Racquet Court.

The Colts provided the best cricketers during the 1880s and 1890s. When the ‘Ceylonese’ played the ‘Europeans’ in a historic Test match on 29–30 June 1887 their team was as follows: Dr Edgar de Kretser (Captain), Collin Kellart, Banda Kelaart, E. H. Joseph, Edward Weinman, Jillah Weinman, W. de Franz, Charles Heyn, C. Wilkins and Patrick Thomasz.

It was a Burgher team. But these Burghers played as Ceylonese. They were heirs to a label moulded by the circle associated with the short-lived periodical Young Ceylon (1850–2), launched by C.A. Lorenz, Charles Ferdinands, John Prins, the Nell brothers and others; and then sustained in the pages of a bi-weekly newspaper, the Ceylon Examiner, from 1859 onwards. [16] The patriotic anti-colonial sentiments embodied within the concept ‘Ceylonese’ was an all-island one, crosscutting and transcending the communal identities within the locally resident peoples.

In the nineteenth century, however, it was not feasible to challenge British rule frontally without earning the charge ‘seditious’. In this context games were a convenient arena to comment on the social order and the assumptions of white superiority. The competition inherent in games was proper, a jolly good show, legitimate. The sports arena, therefore, was liberating: a realm where one’s self-respect could be built up. Cricket became one front of challenge. On another front, the ‘king’s sport’ of horse racing, rich Ceylonese bourgeoisie invested in racehorses – partly, no doubt, as a forceful statement in the indigenous ‘game’ of status, but also as a display of indigenous power in the face of the British.

The Test Match of June 1887 had in fact been heralded by other such contests, notably that between ‘Young Ceylon’ and the elite Colombo CC (all-white) on 26–28 May 1881. [17] The circumstances surrounding this match are unclear. But we do know that the match in late June1887 ‘aroused unusual interest in Colombo’ because it was seen as a test of strength between ‘the best eleven European cricketers’ and the locals. [18] It was an act of sports nationalism.

The development of the identity Ceylonese did not erase the significant ethnic/communal identities that were already in place: Tamil, Mohammedan, [19] Sinhalese, Malay, Colombo Chetty, Parsee and so on. Ultimately, these feelings rested on substantial endogamy within each of the categories. Though a few cross-communal marriages did occur, especially at the top and bottom ends of the social order, the overwhelming tendency was towards marriage within one’s ‘community’ – or rather the appropriate stratum within each community. [20] Such endogamy, of course, was bolstered by the tendency for Sinhalese and Tamils to marry within their caste (each caste system involving a separate categorical scheme).

Given this social foundation, then, it was hardly surprising that some of the cricket clubs were constituted on ethnic lines. The Malays were among the first to form such an association – circa 1871/2. They were eventually followed by the Burgher Recreation Club (BRC) in 1896, the Tamil Union (1891), the Sinhalese Sports Club (1899), the Moors Sports Club (1908) and the Borah CC.

The British imperial order was permeated by the racial schemes of the Victorian era and the theories of Social Darwinism. The Orientalist reading of Indian civilization in terms of the categories Aryan versus Dravidian was part of this perspective and became quickly naturalized in articulate circles. Thus, one finds that clause 2b in the constitution of the Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club restricted membership to ‘those of Dravidian origin’, namely those deemed ‘Tamil’. This arcane rule, strangely, persisted in unnoticed fashion well beyond the era of independence until the year 1985, when it came to light and was challenged and rescinded by Ananda Chittambalam, Chandra Schaffter and Geoff Felix in the face of opposition from a few Tamil stalwarts.

In what may have been an ironic parody of these ethnic labels, some gentlemen initiated an association of players they called the Nondescripts Cricket Club (1888). The twist was not merely ethnic: ‘nondescripts’ had the self-effacing connotation of ‘nobodies’ as opposed to somebodies. [21]

The significance of the ethnic mastheads should not be overstressed. Such distinctions were qualified by ‘class’ and status linkages. All the clubs were largely elite institutions until the 1960s, drawing on the ‘middle class’ among the Ceylonese people. ‘Sarong-johnnies’ were unwelcome except in the role of menials. Even lower middle-class elements without the requisite social graces would never have dared enter these premises.

The nuances within such charmed circles could even be quite minute. The BRC represented the middling-lower levels of the Burgher social hierarchy. It appears that its members were looked down upon by the ‘pukka Burghers’ of the Dutch Burgher Union. [22] Since the DBU was not a sporting association, this suggests that pukka Burghers keen on cricket had to opt for the Colts or NCC.

Thus, in overview, during the twentieth century, despite such labels and distinctions, the cricketing fraternity was indeed a ‘community’ united by its interest in the game, its genteel amiability and class practices. The annual Test versus the local Europeans (which lasted until 1933), periodic visits from Australian, MCC and other sides and occasional ventures into India by some of the clubs promoted the concept ‘Ceylonese’ as an overarching identity. When the Tamil philanthropist John Rockwood organized a two-week tour of Bombay in December 1919, the team included two Tamils, one Malay, five Burghers and seven Sinhalese.[23]

When Radio Colombo (established 1922) began transmitting the BBC’s external service broadcast of the famous fifth Test at the Oval in 1938, [24] interest in cricket in the urban areas burgeoned – generating a fervour of legendary proportions among cricket devotees in Ceylon for a long time thereafter. Such interest, of course, was built upon the foundation of enthusiasms created by school cricket competition in the towns as well as such joyous encounters as the annual Law–Medical cricket match.

Section of crowd watching the Aussies play 1938

Patriotic and cross-ethnic Ceylonese sentiments were accentuated by the political context of the post-war years – that is, by the imminent transfer of colonial power. Against such a backdrop the tour of Ceylon in 1945 by an Indian side led by Vijay Merchant, with an unofficial Test as its climax, the whistle-stop game against Bradman’s side in March 1948 and tours by the famous West Indian side as well as Pakistan under Fazal Mohamed in 1949 deepened the island loyalties of all cricket fans. So too did the Ceylon side’s comprehensive victory over South India at Madras in January 1947.

Tamils as Ceylonese and Tamil

The latter game may have encouraged the new Board of Control for Ceylon Cricket and the Madras Cricket Association to initiate a regular contest between their respective sides, playing alternatively home and away, for what was called the Gopalan Trophy. This contest occurred annually, with occasional years missed out, from 1953 to 1976. [25] In effect this was a match between the Tamils of southern India and the Ceylonese. Though they spoke Tamil as their mother tongue, the majority of those called ‘Ceylon Tamils’ did not, at this stage, evince any support for their language brethren (in contrast to the support for India’s cricket team in more recent times). The Ceylon Tamils were 10.9 per cent of the population at the census of 1953 and differentiated themselves from both the ‘Indian Tamils’ on the island (12 per cent of the island population and mostly plantation workers and urban menials in Colombo) and the Tamils of India. Indeed, middle-class Tamils who were interested in cricket were among the most ardent of Ceylonese fans.

What is more, the Tamil Union had taken the initiative in developing a magnificent cricket ground known as the Oval in the Maradāna quarter of Colombo by 1940. This was largely due to the entrepreneurship of the Saravanamuttu family, who had roots in the city of Colombo over several generations and were powerful stalwarts in the local cricket scene. [26] Thus cricketing men from Tamil circles were very much part of the Colombo-centred bourgeoisie and middle class. Their young men emerged from the best Colombo colleges to play for the clubs and compete for the Ceylon team. Such names as Sathasivam, Coomaraswamy, Nagendra, Dharmalingam, Schaffter, Kasipillai, Devaraja, Edward and Ponniah adorn the pages of Ceylon cricket from the 1940s to the 1960s.

In other words, the Tamils who played for Ceylon were not from the Sri Lankan Tamil heartland in the north, the Jaffna Peninsula. The only exception was C. Balakrishnan, who penetrated this august domain on the strength of solid performances for one of the leading sides in the 1960s, the University of Ceylon. [27]

The absence of Tamils from the north and east in the Ceylon/Sri Lankan sides of the mid-twentieth century was not due to any ethnic discrimination. It was a product of Colombo’s hegemony in the world of cricket and the force of regional demography cum-logistics. Such regions as Uva, Hambantota and Polonnaruva, mostly Sinhala-speaking in composition, were hardly on the map of cricket. Few cricketers from the southern provinces, either, made the highest grade until the 1970s and after. [28] Cricket may have been played enthusiastically in some outstation towns (e.g. Jaffna, Batticaloa, Chilaw, Kurunegala, Negombo, Galle, Matara, Ratnapura, Ambalangoda), but their players usually did not have the facilities (e.g. turf wickets), a lineage in cricketing prowess or the connections to reach the top.

Bradman & Sathasivam at the toss … and Ceylon side walking out to field, 1948

One aspect of Colombo’s dominance arose from the hegemony of elite schools with a strong cricketing background: Royal, S. Thomas’, Wesley, St Peter’s, St Benedict’s and St Joseph’s – though one or two men from the elite schools in Kandy, namely, Trinity and St. Anthony’s, also featured in the early Ceylon sides. It was not until the 1960s that a few young men emerging from schools in Moratuwa (virtually a suburb of Colombo) and from Mahinda College in Galle began to push their way into the top ranks.

Such metropolitan hegemony lasted for around six decades of the twentieth century. It was partly built on class privilege exercised by Westernized families with ‘cultural capital’ that included skills in cricket. The schools that have been named were at the centre of class production: their young men became the Westernized and trousered gentlemen who dominated the social and political scene – until the electoral ‘revolution of 1956’ (see below). This elite circle included Ceylon Tamils so that relatively amicable trans-ethnic relations were a feature generated by school friendships and class linkages cemented in lifestyle. The force of ‘Ceyloneseness’ in the 1940s to 1960s was partly a product of these affinities of life style, English-speak and class.

Such connections, as noted earlier, rarely extended to marriage. Nor did these trans-ethnic class affinities prevent nepotistic favours and considerable competition for jobs between individuals and factions organized along ethnic, caste lines and kin lines. By way of illustration, take the Methodist Church: as the British reverends at the top began to move out during the twentieth century, Tamil priests and Karāva Sinhala priests competed – ever so gently of course – for the leadership roles. [29] However, the potential for sharpening ethnic differentiation on a broader, deeper, political front was kept in check until the 1950s/1960s by the Westernized life ways of the middle class.

The ‘Revolution of 1956’ and its Ramifications

This volatile potential was released by two overlapping developments: in the first place, by the switch in the medium of instruction in all schools that commenced around 1951 and gradually replaced English with Sinhala and Tamil as the mode of teaching in their respective regions, a process that in the long run created a communication divide between the two bodies of people; and secondly, because of an electoral transformation that occurred in April 1956, an event that is sometimes, albeit debatably, described as a ‘revolution’. [30] The latter event saw a coalition of forces known as the Mahajana Eksat Peramuna (Peoples’ United Front) assembled under S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), ousting the ruling United National Party in a sweeping electoral victory.

Two forces engineered this change. In the first place, there was the movement of the underprivileged against the privileged Westernized elite that had commanded the local political scene for some time – a movement that included many Leftist elements and a platform of socialist nationalization of key industries. Secondly, as intertwining element, one had an attack on the English language as a symbol of privilege. Nestling within these strands, too, was a belief that the Christians, and the Catholics in particular, had too great a share of the pie. Conspiratorial theories of a secret ‘Catholic Action’ network were deployed to argue for the nationalization of denominational schools of all types. [31]

The populist assault on the English language was most pronounced in the Sinhala-speaking areas. It represented the force of linguistic nationalism with a nativist emphasis. The Mahajana Eksat Peramuna’s platform of ‘Sinhala Only’ catered to this populist urge. It also privileged Sinhala over Tamil, and implied advantages for Sinhala-speakers over Tamil speakers in the massive field of government employment. [32] In this context the Federal Party (FP) emerged as the protective voice of Ceylon Tamils. The mini-pogrom directed against Tamils living in the south-western regions of the island in May–June 1958 exacerbated ethnic tension. The sense of alienation among Ceylon Tamils sharpened. [33]

As these undercurrents continued to work their effects, compromise was hindered by the particular species of democracy that had been institutionalized in Sri Lanka, namely the first-past-the-post form of electoral constituencies. Given the particular distribution of ethnic communities and their relative proportions, governments were made in the Sinhala-speaking districts and none of the leading parties were ready to commit political suicide by catering to Sri Lanka Tamil interests in meaningful ways. [34] Thus, ethnic fissure became ethnic cleavage by the 1970s. The FP altered its name to Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and demanded an independent state, called Eelam, in the Vaddukoddai Resolution of May 1976.Behind their shift in stance was an awareness that tiny underground revolutionary groups were already in existence in the Jaffna Peninsula and London. [35]

The mini pogrom against Tamils in the south in July 1977 and the more systematic pogrom [36] of July 1983 transformed the cleavage into a chasm. It was now a war situation. The militant Tamil Eelamists displaced the relatively moderate TULF as the leading arm of the SL Tamils while the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) emerged as the principal fighting force by 1986–7.

This process, therefore, had a tremendous impact on cricket in Sri Lanka. Limitations of space force me to outline only four consequences. Firstly, though cricket continued in the south-western and central parts of the island, on two occasions New Zealand tours of the island were severely disrupted. Second, the Indian intervention of mid-1987 enabled an existing force within the southern areas, the Marxist-cum-nativist Janatā Vimukti Peramuna (Peoples’ Liberation Front), to launch an underground war in the period 1987–90 seeking to undermine and take over state power. Ethnic civil war concentrated in north and east was now compounded by civil war, a form of class struggle, in the south-western and central heartlands of the Sinhalese people. During the years between 1987 and early 1992 international cricket was feasible for the top Sri Lankan cricketers only through tours abroad.

Third, the northern and eastern regions became war fronts. Cricket was increasingly limited and there was certainly no question of budding young cricketers playing for Sri Lanka – that is, there was no scope for a lad from, say, St John’s College or Jaffna Central in Jaffna to burst unto the national cricket scene in the manner of an Athula Samarasekera (Mahinda, Galle) in the 1980s or Sanath Jayasuriya (St Servatius, Matara) in the 1990s.

Fourth, the Tamils living in Colombo and elsewhere in the south, whether longstanding residents or new migrants, discouraged their boys from playing sport and pushed them to study with an eye towards migration abroad. The pool of Tamil talent within Colombo and Kandy was mostly lost to Sri Lanka (Lakshman Aloysius, Vinodhan John, Muttiah Muralitharan, Damien Nadaraja and Russel Arnold being exceptions). Thus, in a remarkable development that ran in parallel with the absence of Burghers (at any level) in the Burgher Recreation Club, the Tamil Union became a club with only one or two Tamil players, albeit run mostly by older Tamils.

This transformation occurred by the mid-1980s. Indeed between 1979 and 2005 only 12 Tamil cricketers have played for the club; and those too were mostly older players entering the twilight of their careers in the early 1980s. [37] Where Tamil propagandists occasionally allege overt discrimination against them in the selection of Sri Lanka’s cricketers, [38] they are utilizing foreign ignorance to spin a lie in pursuit of political mileage.

Other Post-1956 Processes

I return once again to the political changes around 1956 in order to delineate several other significant threads of development in the cricketing arena during the following decades: a disastrous case of status struggle in the 1960s, the democratization of opportunity in the south-western regions and the burgeoning popularity of the game.

Such batsmen as F.C. de Saram and Mahadeva Sathasivam had revealed their craftsmanship to a wider audience in the 1930s and 1940s. By the 1950s and 1960s the technical capacities of the cricketers were quite advanced. Mahes Rodrigo’s century against the West Indies in February 1949; Sathi Coomaraswamy’s all-round performances against the Pakistani team in April that year; Channa Gunasekara’s 66 not out against Hassett’s Australians in 1953; Gamini Goonasena’s ability to achieve the ‘double’ of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets twice for Nottinghamshire in the English county circuit and his outstanding captaincy of Cambridge University; the role of P.I. Pieris at Cambridge (1956–8) and Dan Piachaud at Oxford (1959–61); the achievements of Stanley Jayasinghe and Clive Inman for Leicestershire in the 1960s – all these were among the signs of outstanding talent.

 Ceylon Squad in Pakistan 1966 … captained by Tissera who had been made captain earlier in 1964

Perhaps the most notable team achievements came in the mid-1960s. Led by Michael Tissera, Sri Lanka defeated what was virtually a Pakistan Test side in a low scoring match at the Oval in Colombo on 28–30 August 1964. A few months later they engineered a remarkable victory over India at Ahmedabad after bold cricket in January 1965. [39] These were major steps. Despite the poverty of finances available to the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (BCCSL) and a total absence of government support, cricket enthusiasts began to cobble together the funds [40] for a tour of England in 196[sic 1968]. Sri Lanka was going to knock on the ICC door.

But the political trends associated with the ‘revolution of 1956’, compounded by personal ambitions and inter-school jealousies, undermined this project. The thrust of the underprivileged and the forces of linguistic nationalism that secured the changes of 1956 were not merely a movement from below. Maverick families and intellectuals from well-to-do middle classes were at the forefront of these political tendencies. Personnel associated with the elite Buddhist schools in Colombo, such as Ananda, Nalanda, Visakha and Museaus colleges, were at the vanguard of the agitation, especially the demand for Sinhala only and that directed at alleged Christian privilege via their denominational schools.

Since the cricketing establishment was largely dominated by older men drawn from the Royal-Thomian networks, they were among the targets of hostility. This was why a right-wing government (1965–70) headed by a Thomian ex-cricketer, Dudley Senanayake, did not dare to provide the BCCSL with one cent for the projected tour of England in 1967, even though the latter was presided over by his brother.

As chance would have it, moreover, the team that defeated what was virtually a Pakistani Test team in August 1964 included six Thomians: T.C.T. Edward, Mano Ponniah, Buddy Reid, Michael Tissera, P.I. Pieris and Neil Chanmugam. Three of these players and Darrell Lieversz of Royal were also part of the team that beat India in January 1965.

Such predominance was not due to favour and partiality. It was the fruition of good coaching and the accumulation of ‘cricketing capital’ – that is, the development of best practices through the work of Lassie Abeywardena as under-16 coach at S. Thomas’ College and the seepage of good practice from one generational cohort to those below. [41] There was merit behind their selections.

But in the political climate of that decade it may not have been seen that way. In any event, personal ambitions prompted a few senior cricketers to mount a conspiracy whereby H.I.K. Fernando (an outstanding keeper and the incumbent in that position) was made captain and Tissera relegated to vice-captain, while one of the selectors (Dhanasiri Weerasinghe) also made the squad for England. It is widely believed that Abu Fuard (also in the team) was the key hand behind this attempted coup. In effect it amounted to a conspiracy by a Wesleyite, an Anandian and a Peterite, with perhaps a Mahindian among the party. [42]

This was not so much a class struggle as a status battle within the stratified middle class. Needless to say, the stink that arose from the conspiracy undermined the venture because some [potential] sponsors withdrew their [offers]. Sri Lanka’s international ascent was set back a decade.

On other fronts, however, the democratization of opportunity and social mobility enabled by the revolution of 1956 began to flow through into the cricket field as well. As cricketing skills accumulated within the schools along the south-western seaboard as well as Ananda and Nalanda in Colombo and Dharmaraja in Kandy, more players began to make it to the top rungs. By 1975 and 1979, when Sri Lanka won the ICC Trophy in England, the teams included a mix of players from a number of schools. Men coming from Ananda and Nalanda were among the star players, but Mahinda in Galle, Dharmasoka in Ambalangoda and St. Sebastian’s in Moratuwa were also represented in these two squads taken together. Mahinda even had two players: D.S. de Silva and D.L.S. de Silva.

In the decades that followed, after Sri Lanka received ICC Test status in 1981, the mix of schools from which the national side has been drawn has widened even further. The surest sign of this development is the composition of the under-19 squads over the years 1989 to 2005. Those chosen came from schools in a wide range of towns, including some in the interior such as Kegalle and Mātalē, even though Colombo and its metropolitan fringe still predominated overall.

Perhaps the classic example of this democratization process is the tale of Sanath Jayasuriya, one of a rise from rags to riches. His talents have led him from the floor of a fisherman’s hut in the locality of Mātara through St Servatius’s College in the same outstation town to Sri Lanka’s A team in Pakistan, and thence into the top eleven, where he cemented his place in mercurial fashion early in 1996 in Australia before storming through the World Cup of 1996 with notable performances in all three departments, notably a batting strike rate of 131.5 runs per 100 balls – a performance that earned him the title of Player of the World Cup. When Jayasuriya was made captain of the Sri Lankan side in 1999 one could say the wheel had really turned: from the incumbency of this prestigious position by the Royal-Thomian lot in the 1930s– 1970s, one had moved through Nalanda (Warnapura, 1980–2), St Sebastian’s and S. Thomas’ (Mendis, 1982–7), Royal (Madugalle, 1987–8), Ananda (Ranatunga 1988–9 with a break) to D.S. Senanayake (Aravinda de Silva, 1991) [43] – that is, there had been a transfer through a range of Colombo schools to the far outstation.

This process of dispersal, nevertheless, has continually been held in check by a lopsided political economy that weighs in favour of Colombo and its greater metropolitan hinterland. Because jobs and social status congregate within that area, good outstation cricketers have always sought jobs as well as places in cricket clubs in that region. Even those who become multi-millionaires, such as Muralitharan and Jayasuriya, develop two bases by building new mansions in the vicinity of Colombo.

The opening of mobility in the universe of cricket to those in some provincial outposts and those at the bottom of the social hierarchy was also promoted by the rise in the status of the vernacular languages, Sinhala and Tamil. While English was never displaced totally from its position of power, it had, over time, to share the heights with Sinhala in particular. Unlike before, the cricketers converse on and off the field mostly in Sinhala. In contrast to the 1960s and 1970s, cricketers are ready to front up before the camera in Sri Lanka and speak in English despite a lack of total proficiency in English-speak. Thus, while the impact of the political turnover in 1956 on the cricketing world was not immediate, it has been unstoppable.

One step in this development was the beginning of cricket commentaries in the Sinhala medium. This step occurred as late as 1967 and was due to the initiative of a leading administrator, Neville Jayaweera – a Thomian, no less – who, as head of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation, arranged for one of his employees, a former Nalandian cricketer, to provide ball-by-ball accounts of the annual Ananda–Nalanda cricket match. A whole new vocabulary had to be invented for this purpose. [44] In subsequent decades the sonorous voice of Premasara Epasinghe used the Sinhala medium to captivate audiences and disseminate knowledge of the game among many for whom it had been quite unfamiliar.

Thus began the growth of popular interest in the game beyond the urban enclaves. This impetus was then furthered by two coincident developments: the arrival of Sri Lanka as a full Test-playing nation following formal induction by the ICC in 1981, and the start of television coverage of Sri Lanka’s international games in 1981. The final boost in cricket’s popularity as a game to watch came with Sri Lanka’s victory in the World Cup in 1996. Grassroots activists claim that this event resulted in a meteoric rise of interest in the game across a wide spectrum of the population, including women. The initiation of women’s cricket with a female politician, Gwen Herat, as its president has further embellished this trend.

The International Scene

The Sri Lankan cricket authorities sought international Test status from the 1960s, usually with the support of Indian or Pakistani officials, especially Abdul Hafeez Kardar. Following the cricket team’s triumph in the ICC Trophy for second-tier teams in a competition held in England in 1975, the grounds for such a request were strong. When Sri Lanka’s request for entry into the highest tier came up in 1976, however, it was rejected on the grounds that the country had only one suitable Test match venue. While this objection was reasonable, the suspicion remains that the white bloc of nations, England, Australia and New Zealand, were wary of another non-white nation being added to the magic circle – especially as South Africa had dropped outside the fold after its regime left the Commonwealth in 1961. Ironically, this bloc drew support from the West Indies when Sri Lanka’s annual request entered the agenda in 1978. [45] As their representative, Jeff Stollmeyer, also resisted the claim. It so happens that Stollmeyer was ‘a white Trinidadian who hated black people’ [46] – so that local Caribbean politics also conspired to undermine Sri Lanka’s claim in that year.

In 1979 the Kerry Packer challenge dominated ICC deliberations and Sri Lanka’s application was not even heard on the technical grounds that it had not reached the MCC. Bandula de Silva, the BCCSL secretary, was confronted by an MCC official of the Blimpish type in the person of Col. Lushington when he turned up at the august portals [47] with proof of a registered postal application. When set beside the ex-Cambridge sports writer Robin Marlar’s consistent hostility to the Sri Lankan claim right through to the year 1981, [48] the thesis that underlying racist sentiments had a bearing on the resistance to the island nation’s claims seems quite plausible.


Warnapura, Gamini & JRJ at First Test Match vs England, 1982

Clearly, Sri Lanka had to circumvent such sentiments and also to surmount the ostensible and weighty objection blocking its entry. [49] The campaign to do so was orchestrated in 1981 by the new president of the BCCSL, Gamini Dissanayake, who was also a minister in the United National Party and in charge of the Mahaweli Development Board (MDB) overseeing massive development projects. With the help of a leading Sri Lankan firm, Maharajas, as well as a British company involved in the MDB projects, namely Balfour Beatty, he arranged for a number of impressive functions in London at which ICC and MCC officials were treated royally. Moreover, as a Trinitian and a lawyer, Dissanayake had the social cachet to articulate a strong case when the ICC officials assembled in late July 1981. As a government minister commanding the MDB he was able to promise state support for the improvement of facilities in outstation towns, with Kandy and Galle being earmarked for such improvements. Sri Lanka secured Test status in a unanimous vote of the ICC delegates on 22 July 1981. It was now among the privileged few, but as a poor relative.

The devious groundwork required to secure ICC accreditation in 1981 should not obscure the foundations provided by the continued achievements of the Sri Lankan cricket teams: notably by the squad that won the ICC trophy once again in 1979, its defeat of India in the 1979 World Cup, the performances of different sides when the West Indian squad under Alvin Kallicharan toured briefly in February 1979,and the manner in which it matched and even outplayed a visiting Australian side in Sri Lanka in May 1981. [50]

 Joe Solomon today

The last two events require special notice. The West Indian squad of 1979 had Joe Solomon as its manager. He was not only impressed by the level of cricket, but also captivated by the conventional forms of homely Sri Lankan hospitality marshalled by the Sri Lankan officials. [51] His report on the tour stressed that it was ‘a tragedy that SL is not given Test status’. [52] His unequivocal support at a time when the black middle class was displacing the local whites in command of the West Indian establishment was a significant development.

The Australian team led by Kim Hughes was on its way to England for the Ashes. They were so self-confident that the senior pros, Lillee and Marsh, opted out of this segment of the trip. Hughes’s team was outplayed in the first one-day international game but won on a rain-delay technicality, lost the second comprehensively and won the third by a whisker, while the unofficial four-day Test match was drawn. It was not merely the result, but the manner of cricket and the depth of talent displayed by Sri Lanka (virtually two different teams played the first two one-day international matches) that impressed all and sundry, including Henry Blofeld and the famous Indian commentator Vizi. [53]

Relations with Australia

A critical factor favouring Sri Lanka’s entry into the ICC in July 1981 was the stance taken by the Australian Cricket Board (ACB). It is possible that their team’s experiences in Sri Lanka a few months previously and the favourable views of Fred Bennett, manager at that point of time, swung the scales in Sri Lanka’s favour.

But there is a suggestion that the ACB was in favour of Sri Lanka’s entry even before that; and that such individuals as Bob Parish (chairman of the ACB, 1975–80) and Sam Loxton (Australian selector, 1972–81) were keys to this change of stance. Since both were doyens of Prahran CC in Melbourne, there is an untold story lurking within that club. By the late 1970s one of its players was a young Sri Lankan from a migrant family who had been schooled in Victoria and had secured a place first in the Victorian side (1975) and then in an Australian team (1978–80) without its Packer rebels. This was Dav Whatmore.

Alongside him as a Prahran regular in the A grade, moreover, was a new migrant, Owen Mottau, whose schooling in cricket had been entirely Sri Lankan. In subsequent decades the Prahran connection developed further. Aravinda de Silva, Roshan Mahanama and some younger prospects had spells of cricket with this club. By the 1990s there was a sprinkling of recent Sri Lankan migrants playing for Prahran in the various grades of cricket.

Bob Parish of Prahran  Drs. David Young & Quintus de Zylva of Melbourne   Dav Whatmore  Owen Mottau in later years

The presence of networks of Sri Lankan migrants and their progeny in the several Australian cities, especially Melbourne and Sydney, [54] has had a significant influence on the cricketing relations between the two nations. One facet has been the flow of cricketing goods and other services to schools in Sri Lanka channelled by alumni in Australia, with Harry Solomons and the Kingsgrove Sports Centre in Sydney at the node of many such operations. At a higher level, support has been marshalled by the Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation of Victoria under the direction of Quintus de Zylwa, the late Eddie Gray and others. De Zylwa was recruited to his position as BCCSL representative for Australia by Gamini Dissanayake in 1985. Encouraged by Ana Punchihewa in 1995, de Zylwa also promoted other migrants in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth to form similar support groups in their cities. In recent years, moreover, David Cruse, the proprietor of Knox’s Tavern in Wantirna South, Melbourne, has stepped forward to provide his facilities as a function centre for convivial fund-raising events.

De Zylwa’s input has ramified beneficially for Sri Lanka. One of his proteges and friends happened to be David Young, a prominent orthopaedic surgeon. From the mid-1990s Young has performed operations on a number of injured Sri Lankan cricketers, notably Muralitharan and Jayasuriya.

When the tsunami hit the island on 26 December 2004, both de Zylwa and Young responded with characteristic energy and marshaled several teams of medical support, multi-faceted relief work that is still ongoing.

Perhaps the greatest step taken by de Zylwa and company has been their pinpointing Dav Whatmore as a potential coach for Sri Lanka in 1995 when the BCCSL decided to seek one. What is more (to pun here), Whatmore approached the Victorian Institute of Sport and its medical department and then proceeded to hire Alex Kontouri as Sri Lanka’s physiotherapist, definitely an inspired choice. [55] It is arguable that the combined influence of Whatmore and Kontouri were significant factors, among a number of reasons, for Sri Lanka’s victory in the 1996 World Cup. [56]

At the institutional level the ACB has been far more attentive to Sri Lanka’s cricketing needs than its counterpart in England, though the first official Test for Sri Lanka involved a visiting English side in February 1982. Where the ECB only granted measly one-Test tours of England until 2002, the ACB arranged for a two-Test series in 1989–90 besides participation in several one-day international series at intervals. Moreover, the Australian authorities were the first to respond to changed political conditions in Sri Lanka by sending a team under Border for a three-Test series in 1992 – breaking the interregnum caused by civil war in the southern half of the island. Even during the height of cricketing tension between the two countries from 1995 to 2002, this was never forgotten by Sri Lankans of note – as Arjuna Ranatunga’s remarks at various times attest.

The friction from the mid-1990s was quite something: as deep as meaningful in both political and cricketing terms. In one sense the problem could be attributed to a sea change in Australian cricketing perspectives. Though not occurring across the board, it is possible to argue that since, say, the 1980s, patriotic jingoism has taken root in the Australian cricketing universe in ways that were not evident in the 1950s and 1960s. With greater professionalism taking root, the Australian cricketers have sharpened the pre-existing competitive spirit in ways that have encouraged hardline tactics directed towards winning at all costs. Verbal intimidation, papered over by the euphemism ‘sledging’, has been institutionalized and legitimized as ‘professionalism’ as well as other puerile arguments. [57] Some media personnel contributed to this environment, while supporting their cricketers with psychological-operations against visiting teams.

The Sri Lankan team on tour in 1989–90 felt the full force of these tough on-field processes. The verbals were sometimes backed up by burly fast bowlers ‘accidentally’ blocking batsmen as they ran between the wickets. [58] The tourists also encountered umpiring that was on a par with the notorious partialities associated with umpiring in Sri Lanka and the Indian subcontinent for decades. [59]

When the Sri Lankan cricketers were given the boon of a three-Test tour plus a one/day international series in Australia in 1995–6, this benefit came at a price. They were dumped in the deep end at Perth (of course) for the first Test. A contingent circumstance saw them being accused of ball-tampering. The reporters made a meal of this charge of cheating – failing to pinpoint the effect of special ground conditions on the ball until the damage had already been done. [60]

But the focus from the start was on Sri Lanka’s most potent bowler, Muralitharan. His action looked odd to the naked eye and had raised suspicions elsewhere, though he had been bowling at international level for several years. The issue for sports historians, then, is why the decision to drum him out of the game was taken in late 1995 [61] and why Australians were the axemen in this attempt. My answers are necessarily speculative.

There had been concern for some time in cricketing circles about bowlers who threw, ‘chuckers’ as they were called in disparaging and de-legitimizing parlance. Several suspects were spin bowlers from Asia, among them two Sri Lankans, Jayananda Warnaweera and Kumar Dharmasena. The move to rid cricket of this scourge was the culminating point of developing concern. [62]

In my conjecture the timing was influenced by strands of increasing fundamentalism in the Western world, a desire to cleanse the world by creating better environmental conditions. The attack on chucking must be placed alongside the campaigns against smoking, the rigorous application of safety for buildings, health standards for restaurants and so on.

Australia has always had a paranoid attitude to the entry of dangerous plants and pests from beyond their shores, so this broad sweep of global fundamentalism had an amenable climate of opinion to work on. By 1995–6, moreover, Australia was a superpower in the cricket world. Its umpires could act independently of English umpires. Influential figures in Australian cricket had decided that a trench had to be dug in the sand against the progress of ‘chucking’. Punitive action against Muralitharan was widely anticipated. Darrell Hair, an evangelist who considered Murali’s action to be ‘diabolical’, [63] became the umpiring sniper who would take him out. That action took place on 26 December 1995 from the unusual position of main umpire rather than square leg. This verdict was subsequently supported by Ross Emerson and Tony McQuillan, working in tandem, at Brisbane in January during a one-day international game. Muralitharan was ruled out of bowling for the rest of the series.

The impact in Sri Lankan cricket circles was rendered worse by other currents on the cricket field. Apart from the conventional, yet debilitating, pressures of verbal intimidation, the Sri Lankans were subject to atrocious umpiring decisions in some of their matches against the home side. To the consternation of the Aussie cricket world, they outplayed the West Indies and made the finals. Though they lost the two finals in coruscating matches, the umpiring, the on-field intimidation and the stance of a famous commentator left much to be desired. The acrimonious relations between both teams were obvious and were made explicit when the Sri Lankan players refused to shake hands with skipper Mark Taylor at the end of the second final in Sydney.

This situation then aroused fears in the Australian cricket camp. Australia was scheduled to play Sri Lanka in Colombo in round one of the impending World Cup and feared severe crowd responses. The World Cup was structured in such a way that there was every chance that the Australian side could progress to round two without adverse consequences even if they forfeited that match. As the Australians moved to Adelaide for the third Test against Sri Lanka, serious consideration was given to this step and ‘several meetings were held … some of them attended by representatives of the Australian Cricket Board [to discuss the issue] whether World Cup matches could be played in a country torn by civil war’ – notice the false coating inserted here. [64] Eventually, it was decided to brave the elements: they would play in Sri Lanka. But the reservations are of considerable historical significance in highlighting the degree of friction that had prevailed as well as the deep misgivings and prejudices among the Australians.

As it is, they received a good excuse to forego this ‘danger’ in Sri Lanka. On 31 January 1996 the LTTE exploded a massive truck bomb in the heart of Colombo and destroyed the Central Bank buildings with considerable loss of life. This was Sri Lanka’s version of 9/11. Remarkably, some elements of the Australian media even believed that the LTTE was presenting warning signals about the World Cup – when the timing of the attack was a symbolic statement aimed at Sri Lanka’s Independence Day celebrations scheduled as usual for 4 February (as it happened, a Sunday). In the light of this incident the Australian Foreign Ministry, the ACB and Australian public at large were agreed that it was far too dangerous for the cricketers to play cricket in Colombo, even though Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister stepped in to say that the team would receive state protection of the same order as foreign statesmen. [65]

The Sri Lankan public was looking forward to the battle against the leading cricket team in the world so this action, and a similar decision by the West Indian Cricket Board, were deeply disappointing. When the Sri Lankan team marched through the tournament with a commanding display of cricket to secure the World Cup, capping it with a comprehensive defeat of the Australians in the finals at Lahore in mid-March 1996, this disappointment was forgotten; the island was awash with elation. The Australian defeat was regarded as just desserts.

The fact that non-partisan observers shared this sentiment, associated with the degree of support for the Sri Lankan side during the final displayed by the cricketing public in Pakistan and India, highlights the political environment that surrounds cricket. At one level, of course, it was support for the underdog. But along another dimension such favouritism was a commentary on the events that had occurred in Australia in 1995–6 as well as the confrontational style of Aussie on-field behaviour. Along a third dimension it was an issue of race politics: the non-white people were aligned against those white and dominant, even though the bearer of the white flag was ex-colonial white. Colour of skin and kinship in behavioural style mattered.

Sri Lanka’s victory may have rankled in Australian cricket circles. Ranatunga was demonized in the Australian press when the Sri Lankan side played a one-day international series in 1998–9, while Muralitharan was a target of crowd hostility that was quite vicious at times. Moreover, whether by design or accident, Emerson and McQuillan were paired together as umpires for the match against England at the Adelaide Oval on 23 January 1999. Though Muralitharan’s action had been cleared previously by an ICC committee, it was expected that he would be no-balled because the umpire’s authority on the field remained intact. This occurred: Emerson’s arm went out. In an unprecedented action Ranatunga abusively confronted umpire Emerson face to face and took his team to the boundary fence. The gauntlet had been thrown down. The matter was then referred to off-field adjudication that brought lawyers into play.

The subsequent details of this adjudication are not required here. What matters is that Ranatunga’s revolutionary act (1) saved Muralitharan’s career and (2) was widely admired in non-white circles because it challenged the hegemonic forces of the cricketing world who were seen to be twisting the rules and deploying ethics to suit their interests. [66]

Thus between 1995 and 1998 relations between the Australian cricket world and that of Sri Lanka were at a low ebb, though never to the point where cricket contests were abandoned. When Australia toured Sri Lanka in early 2004, in fact, relations between players were quite convivial, in stark contrast to the frosty vibes generated during the tour by the England side under Nasser Hussain in late 2003. [67] But past treatment, and the manner in which Muralitharan’s new top-spinner, the doosra, was questioned by a narrow-minded English match referee called Broad, encouraged the off-spinner to forgo the next tour of Australia, a top-end series of matches in mid-2004.

murali on relief 22OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This tension has now been erased. The tsunami of 26 December 2004, a disaster of great magnitude, transformed the atmosphere. The global philanthropic response was enormous. Cricketing circles were part of this tide of sympathy. As the Australian ex-cricketer Tim May initiated a series of fund-raising tsunami aid matches in rapid time, warm hands reached across the divide. Muralitharan was engaged in relief work within Sri Lanka like a man possessed [68] and visited the Antipodes for these events. He was cheered heartily by the crowd at the MCG, while Shane Warne bonded with him in unprecedented ways and made a special visit to the cricket grounds at Galle (swamped by the tide) as part of his own commitments of aid. Catastrophe can heal and bind.

*** ***


[1] The Maritime Provinces were taken over from the Dutch in 1795-96 and the independent Kingdom of “Sinhalē¯ (better known as the Kingdom of Kandy) conquered in 1815. Note that the British ruling elements had internal stratification.

[2] See Colin-Thomé, ‘A Bat, A Ball, A Herb’, 81, 83, for a brief history.

[3] A concept rendered famous by Erving Goffman, in Asylums: essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968.

[4] Roberts et al., People Inbetween, Vol. 1, 239, and Perera, The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 31, 33.

[5] For an account of these Westernized connections, somewhat overdrawn because of its disparaging undertones, see Fernando, ‘‘Elite Politics in the New States’.

[6] For fuller elaboration of these aspects, see Roberts et al., People Inbetween, Vol. 1, 27, 86 and 88–93, and Roberts, ‘A New Marriage, an Old Dichotomy’; ‘Elite Formation and Elites’; and Caste Conflict and Elite Formation.

[7] This describes my own family’s circumstances from the 1930s onwards, and I know of several eminent Burgher gentlemen who did not own the substantial houses in which they were living as retirees.

[8] On the several dichotomies that combine to constitute a class in the Marxist interpretation, see Ossowski, Class Structure in the Social Consciousness, Ch. 2.

[9] For clarifications of Sri Lanka’s plantation economy, see Snodgrass, Ceylon, and de Silva, The Political Economy of Development, 318–23, 430–8, 449–56 and 470–2. On the comprador bourgeois of Sri Lanka, see Roberts, ‘A New Marriage, an Old Dichotomy’, 33ff as well as Jayawardena, Nobodies to Somebodies.

[10] The CCC’s whites-only rule continued until the 1960s. Lorenz Pereira (ex-Royal College and Cambridge) was the one of the first Ceylonese to be made a member in the mid-1960s.

[11] Roberts, ‘Stimulants and Ingredients’, 274.

[12] Roberts, ‘A New Marriage, an Old Dichotomy’, 34–36.

[13] See Roberts, Elites, Nationalisms and the Nationalist Movement for illustrations and analysis.

[14] Where the term ‘Burghers’ in the eighteenth century differentiated free European settlers from the civilians attached to the Dutch East India Company (who were therefore not Burghers), by the second quarter of the nineteenth century the label referred to European descendants residing permanently in British Ceylon.

[15] Roberts et al., People Inbetween, Vol. 1, Tables 5–10 and Table 17. Also see Ch. 7.

[16] Ibid., 56–69, 158–9, 169.

[17] Perera, The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 42–3.

[18] Foenander, Sixty Years of Ceylon Cricket, 157.

[19] Those called ‘Muslim’ today in Sri Lanka in English-talk (that is usually Moors and not Malays – for whom there is a distinct Sinhala word: ja) were described as ‘Mohammedan’. This term was replaced by the description ‘Muslim’ at some point around the 1930s.

[20] Following mid-twentieth century experience, one can say that in relative terms the Burghers were those most ready to marry across ethnic boundaries. But there were some very snooty Burgher families as well (see Roberts et al., People in Between, Vol. 1).

[21] Sir Christoffel Obeyesekere, a scion of the old aristocratic Govigama Sinhala families, sought to disparage the parvenu Govigama families, such as the Senanayakes, by referring to them as ‘nobodies’ (see Hansard, 11 Aug. 1915, 416 and Jayawardena, Nobodies to Somebodies, 271).

[22] This is a tenuous thread of information that requires further substantiation.

[23] Details from Foenander Sixty Years of Ceylon Cricket, 106–7, 208–11 and Perera, The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 136–7. As noticeably, the team played four matches against the Islam Gymkhana, Parsee Gymkhana, Hindu Gymkhana and Bombay Gymkhana – three ethnic teams and one trans-ethnic.

[24] Email memo from Neville Jayaweera, 16 Jan. 2004.

[25] Perera, The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 259–61.

[26] The Oval has been renamed the ‘Saravanamuttu Stadium’ subsequently, but old habits die hard: it remains the ‘Oval’ to many.

[27] The University of Ceylon, then embracing both the Peradeniya and Colombo campuses, had been a powerful entity in the premier league tournament from the 1940s and in the 1960s won the Sara Trophy on one occasion. University cricket declined dramatically from about 1970 and has been beyond the horizon for decades.

[28] E.M. Karunaratne as administrator, his son, Christie of Richmond and D.D. Jayasinghe of Mahinda were exceptions in the post-1945 years.

[29] Information communicated personally by Dr G.C. Mendis in the late 1960s.

[30] See Mervyn de Silva, ‘1956: The Cultural Revolution that Shook the Left’, Ceylon Observer Magazine Edition, 16 May 1967; Pieris, 1956 and After.

[31] See Wriggins, Ceylon; de Silva, Managing Ethnic Tensions, 177–9 and 196–226; de Silva, Reaping the Whirlwind, Chs. 2 and 3.

[32] K. Godage, ‘The Sinhalese and the Tamil Question’, Daily Mirror, 12 Oct. 2005; Samaraweera, ‘The Role of the Bureaucracy’. Also a firm opinion conveyed forcefully to the author by Neville Jayaweera, who served in the administrative service, the Ceylon Civil Service no less, from the 1950s until c.1971.

[33] See de Silva, Reaping the Whirlwind; Wilson, Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism; and Sabaratnam, Ethnic Attachments in Sri Lanka.

[34] This argument is clarified in Roberts, ‘Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka’. For the electoral system and its workings, see Wilson, Electoral Politics.

[35] For the context, see Wilson, Electoral Politics, and Sabaratnam, Ethnic Attachments in Sri Lanka.

[36] Roberts, ‘The Agony and Ecstasy of a Pogrom’, and Kanapathipillai, ‘July 1983’.

[37] S. Shanthikumar, S. Skandakumar, Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Gajan and Dac Pathmanathan, Dynanesh and Amaresh Rajaratnam, Rajiva Benedict, Sanmuga, Lakshman Aloysius, Damien Nadarajah and Jayaprakashdaran (information communicated personally by S. Skandakumar).

[38] I recollect a few occasions (but I did not take notes). However, see Perera, The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 451–2.

[39] Ibid., 298–302. I have also profited from conversations with Mano Ponniah.

[40] Among those involved in this effort were Brits, such as Dusty Miller, with interests in Ceylon.

[41] Roberts, ‘Sri Lanka: The Power of Cricket’, 147; Roberts, ‘Mentors in Sri Lanka’s Cricketing World,’ 8 Oct. 2005, available online at, and

[42] Perera, The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 320–6; Roberts, ‘Sri Lanka: The Power of Cricket’, 145–6.

[43] D.S. de Silva and Roshan Mahanama also served as interregnum captains for short spells on occasions.

[44] Email memo from Neville Jayaweera, 16 Jan. 2004; Perera, The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 193–4. The cricketer was Palitha Perera. In this innovative task of creating Sinhala cricket-talk he was helped by Dr Vinnie Vitharana and Karunaratne Abeysekera. Commentaries in Tamil are now interspersed amid English and Sinhala accounts; but this may be a recent development.

[45] Information on Sri Lanka’s applications from 1976 to 1981 was has been provided by Bandula de Silva (email and phone communications, November 2005) who was BCCSL secretary from 1 April 1978 to 31 March 1980.

[46] This comment comes from a White West Indian cricketer of the Stollmeyer era whom I consulted after Bandula de Silva referred to Stollmeyer’s position. The manner in which Stollmeyer vowed to block Kenny Furlong from securing a spot in the West Indian squad because he had the temerity to laugh after he had bowled Stollmeyer is now part of Caribbean cricket lore.

[47] Bandula de Silva used his own funds for the trip to England. This is but one mark of the BCCSL’s lack of money and the limited sponsorship arrangements available in that era. When Robert Senanayake (then BCCSL president) decided to promote one-day cricket by getting together with the Schools Association in 1976 to organize one-day tournaments at junior levels, the BCCSL was so impecunious that he provided Rs100,1000 himself while all the other board members dipped into their own pockets as best they could to assemble the monies required.

[48] See Perera, The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 394–6.

[49] In 1980 the BCCSL received separate requests from the ECB and ACB to sponsor cricket tours in Sri Lanka from these countries. These requests amounted to a ‘pincer movement’, in Bandula de Silva’s words, designed to evaluate the island’s capacities. The preliminary estimates were that each tour would demand an expenditure of 1.5 million rupees, funds of an order beyond the BCCSL’s coffers. But T.B. Werapitiya, a former sportsman and senior police officer, and a MP in the governing United National Party, was president and committed himself to garnering the money if required, because he understood the significance of the requests (information conveyed by Bandula de Silva). Werapitiya’s services to Sri Lankan cricket are little known, but need to be recorded (see Perera, The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 379–80 and 389).

[50] For these matches see Perera, The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 349–51, 372–7, 380, 392–3.

[51] At a relaxed gathering for dinner at Bandula de Silva’s home, Joe Solomon noted that he had never experienced such a moment during their extended stay in India (personal communication from Bandula de Silva).

[52] Email note from Bandula de Silva (4 Jan. 2006).

[53] I was in Sri Lanka on extended research work and witnessed some of the cricket as well as the commentary. Also see Perera, The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, 392–3.

[54] While there are many migrants in England as well, they are more dispersed and less able to provide critical little masses of support.

[55] Personal email note from Dav Whatmore, 11 Oct. 2005.

[56] For a brief review of these factors, see Roberts, ‘Sri Lanka: The Power of Cricket’, 151–2.

[57] See the series of articles written by this author on this subject (e.g. ‘Sin bin for Verbal Intimidation,’ originally written for in 2001), some assembled in They will appear eventually in Essaying Cricket: Sri Lanka and Beyond, 2006.

[58] The pressure was so bad that I was animated to write an article called ‘Abuse: Western Forms of Domination in World Cricket’ for a newsletter in Melbourne (1989). This has since been renamed ‘Bat, Ball and Foul Mouth in Cricket’ and will appear in Essaying Cricket, 1–3.

[59] Complaints from sides touring Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka at various times were frequent. But let me note that grapevine tales from within Sri Lankan cricket circles are in accord with Kapil Dev’s opinion about the Sri Lankan umpiring when India lost their away series in 1985. Again, Imran Khan nearly took his team back to Pakistan (even though they won) because the Sri Lankan umpires were so partisan. It took a presidential intervention after a chat between the leaders of both countries for him to continue with the tour (information from P.I. Pieris, who confirmed that the umpiring decisions were quite embarrassing (personal communication, 16 Oct. 2005). Sri Lankan cricket buffs of that era believe that a leading cricketing administrator’s hand was behind these cheating operations.

[60] Roberts, ‘Controversies’, 112–15.

[61] In mid-December 1995 Graham Halbish, the CEO of the Australian Cricket Board, and also a Prahran man, told Owen Mottau of Prahran CC that Muralitharan would be no-balled during the forthcoming series (personal communication from Mottau, an old friend). For evidence of other behind-the-scenes advocacy and whispering into umpire’s ears, see Roberts, ‘Controversies’, 117–18.

[62] Roberts, ‘Fundamentalism in Cricket’. Note: ‘But more than playing for his country, the off-spinner is surely also playing for himself after being the subject of a disgraceful bullying campaign ahead of their last tour of Australia, a movement which prompted the tourist’s star bowler to stay at home. The surreal involvement of Prime Minister John Howard with the slur that the bowler is a chucker suggested that the world champions fear him more than other, more so even than Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar.’ (Peter May, ‘The Rose Amongst the Thorns. Murali You Beauty’, The Soapbox, 13 Oct. 2005, available online at features/soapbox/story_17458.shtml.

[63] This term was deployed subsequently in a book justifying his line of action in the most categorical and evangelistic tones (Hair, Decision Maker, 6 and31–33). This enterprise on Hair’s part led the ACB and ICC to the realization that they had no control over umpiring excesses. Much as they would have liked to, they could not punish Hair for the indiscretions embodied within this book. Since then controls to monitor umpires have been installed.

[64] Simpson, The Reasons Why, 160, 177.

[65] See Roberts, ‘Avoiding Lanka’, 138–42 for fuller treatment. The Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, a Tamil, was recently assassinated by a LTTE sniper.

[66] I base the latter generalization on the vehement opinion of an Indian journalist and the more measured view of a West Indian (both personally communicated).

[67] Opinion communicated by a Sri Lankan official closely associated with all the teams and the formal functions organized during both tours.

[68] See Charlie Austin’s graphic accounts of these trips to the Eastern Province in the January 2004 ‘pages’ of


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De Silva, K. M. Managing Ethnic Tensions in Multi-ethnic Societies. Sri Lanka, 1880–1985. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1986.

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    “Quite an unbiased assessment of Sri Lankan cricket and Sri Lankan cricketers of distinction.”

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