Michael Roberts, 4 February 2021
Today, 4th February 1948, as we mark the day when Sri Lanka (aka Ceylon) secured political independence, I present a cohort of photographs marking the moment when Sri Lanka’s cricketers battled through fire to claim adulthood in the field of cricket.
In doing so, it is vital to stress that the initial stage of this journey had been achieved by the older generations of cricketers in the 1950s-through-to the-1970s. By way of instance, the squads under Anura Tennekoon in 1975 and 1979 which participated in the World Cup and secured the ICC Trophy for Affiliates in 1979 had done Sri Lanka proud.
But, as Bandula de Silva and Neil Perera informed me, in the late 1970s Sri Lanka faced the prejudices of some Colonel Blimps in the MCC/ICC firmament who resisted the proposals from the Indian and Pakistani boards to admit Sri Lanka to the ICC. These obstacles were circumvented in 1981 by Gamini Dissanayake in his capacity as Chairman of the BCCSL. Acting in concert with the socio-political clout of Balfour Beatty and the backroom advice of well-placed friends such as Lord Michael Naseby, Dissanayake cajoled the MCC and ICC to accord Sri Lanka full Test status on 22nd July 1981.
So, 1981 was a landmark year – matching 4th February 1948 for Sri Lanka’s cricket history. But Sri Lanka remained a poor relation in the cricketing scenario. This was due in part to the island’s internal socio-political conflicts – riots, mini-pogroms and the consequent Tamil Eelamist challenge. But this situation was also due to its parlous financial resources. Thus, in the mid-1990s the BCCSL led by Ana Punchihewa pleaded with Sri Lankan migrants for monetary aid. Dr. Quintus De Zylwa in Melbourne was a key figure acting for the Board’s cause. When I was at the Second Test at the MCG in December 1995, he asked me to form an Association in Adelaide and to collect money for the BCCSL. This led to the birth of the Adelaide Wellwishers for SL Cricket. One of the first ventures on our part was a function organised by Hewan Hewanpola to gather money for the BCCSL.
But ponder over the implications. Our associations could only generate peanuts in financial scale. Cricket tours and cricket at the foundations are expensive enterprises.
But what happened at this point! Over February and March in 1996 the Sri Lankan cricket team performed magnificently at the World Cup conducted in the three Asian countries comprising the Indian subcontinent. This set of efforts was crowned with a magnificent victory over the Australians on the 17th March 1996. Sri Lanka’s batsmen overtook Australia’s 241 for 7 wkts in 50 overs with 245 runs for 3 wkts in 46.2 overs – a comfortable victory.
For many Sri Lankans, and perhaps for others worldwide as well, the immediate thought ran thus: “defeat could not have happened for nicer fellows.”
It was a come-uppance, a giant blow against arrogant bullies. For Sri Lankans it was particularly sweet revenge. During their tour of Australia in 1995/96 the team had not only encountered sledging of the worst kind. They had been the butt of machinations involving high Aussie officials, the Aussie coach Bob Simpson and umpire Darrell Hair which led to the no-balling of Muralitharan by the square-leg umpire for throwing the ball.
This was a pre-planned act at the MCG on 26th December 1995. The conspirators believed they were acting to save the game from the blight of throwing. It was a form of cricket fundamentalism driven by those who ruled the roost.
THAT is my point. The Australians were top-dogs in the cricketing world in the 1990s. They were imperialists.
In resisting this massive thrust THEN, and in their efforts to protect the elastic wrists of Muralitharan, the Sri Lankan officials and a supportive cast that included Tony Greig and some Australians, were little Gullivers tackling a set of Goliaths.
That context is what makes the victory of the Sri Lankan team at Gaddafi Stadium at Lahore on 17th March 1996 so significant and meaningful.
Special Correspondent 2020 “Gamini Dissanayake. Pioneer of Sri Lanka’s Test status, 24 October 2020, https://www.dailynews.lk/2020/10/24/features/232212/gamini-dissanayake-pioneer-sri-lanka%E2%80%99s-test-status
Lord Michael Naseby 2020 Paradise Lost. Paradise Regained, London,
Michael Roberts & Alfred James 1998 Crosscurrents. Sri Lanka and Australia at Cricket, Sydney, Walla Walla Press.
Michael Roberts 1998 Ävoiding Lanka: Australia and the World Cup,” in Roberts & James, Crosscurrents,1998, pp. 131-42
Michael Roberts 1998 “The World Cup on Field and in Newsprint, in Roberts & James, Crosscurrents,1998, pp. 143-54.
Michael Roberts 2011 “Saving Murali: Action On-field and Off-field, 1995-2005,”in Roberts, Incursions & Excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 111-38.
Michael Roberts 2020 “For Sri Lanka: Engaging Lord Naseby and His Journeys in Sri Lanka,” 31 March 2020, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2020/03/31/for-sri-lanka-engaging-lord-naseby-and-his-journeys-in-sri-lanka/
 Both Neil and Bandula were methodical and enthusiastic workers at the Board of Control for SL Cricket in the 1970s and 1980s. They felt that racial prejudice underlined the opposition in some quarters of the ICC & MCC. Joe Hoad has since indicated that Jeff Stollmeyer, the White Trinidadian who was the WI representative at the ICC, was racist. Fortunately for Lanka, the West Indian team managed by Joe Solomon and captained by Alvin Kallicharan who toured the island in 1978/79 were so gobsmacked by the easy-going hospitality and the quality of cricket they faced that WI support for Sri Lanka’s ascent to ICC status was guaranteed in subsequent years
 Dissanayake was Minister for the Mahaweli Development Board and Balfour Beatty had secured several of the large dam contracts. This union was probably crucial to his success in London and UK.
 Note that Dissanayake stayed at Michael Morris’s house in Bedfordshire at some point in 1980 …. yes, 1980 (see Paradise, p. 103).
 A product of Kingswood College, Dr Quintus was as indefatigable as efficient in his work for SL cricket. Since then, he has teamed up with Dr David Young and others to provide medical charities in Sri Lanka.
 Our first meeting was held at Doc Karunaratne’s house in central Adelaide and a Committee was formed with Savithri Fernando as Secretary. Dav Whatmore and a few cricketers, including Murali, Vaas and Pramodya Wickremasinghe, attended the gathering – as did Joe Hoad the Barbadian umpire and cricket coach.
 I was away in India and Sri Lanka on a research project.
 See Roberts 1998a and 1998b.
 Owen Mottau informed me that when he was driving to the MCG with XY(?) from the Prahran Cricket Club on the morning of 26th December, XY, who was Secretary to the Australian Cricket Board, told him that a big event would occur at the ground. Subsequent grapevine information has indicated that Bob Simpson (the Australian coach) was among the diehards pushing for Australia to draw a line in the sand against those deemed “chuckers”.
It is nevertheless significant that they took aim at chief bowler Murali rather than Kumar Dharmasena whose arm action was equally suspect. In doing so they by-passed the fact of Murali’s plasticine wrist: he can touch his arm with his fingers. Readers should try doing that with their fingers. As it is, Buddy Reid, a doctor who had played for Ceylon, examined Murali immediately and revealed this unique ‘deformity’. The Australian journalists and cricketing circles were in no mod to listen to such evidence. They ruled the roost: they were the imperialists in the cricketing world.
 We should never forget the solid technical assistance provided to Murali and the SL authorities by Daryl Foster, Dr Bruce Elliot and Jacque Alderson of the University of Western Australia’s scientific team: see Roberts, “Saving Murali,” 2011.