I started playing cricket from the age of five. My father who was also a good cricketer in his time, gave me great encouragement. Unfortunately, he died in 1941 when I was 11 years old. Thereafter I had nobody ever interested in my cricketing career.
The war came to the Far East in 1942, schools closed and moved out of Colombo. People in large numbers were evacuated, and there was virtually no cricket worth its name for the next four years or so. I too had my education somewhat disrupted and I did not handle a bat for those four years. In 1946, St. Thomas’ re-opened and I was back at school. I was fortunate at the age of 16 to be called for first 11 practice. Miraculously, although I had not played any cricket at all, I had not lost what little talent I had and the coach Bertie Wijesinghe recognised me. He had me play as the opening bat.
Unfortunately, my circumstances prevented me from attending practices during the holidays, in 1946 December. When I went back in January 1947, the coach Bertie Wijesinghe, who was a strict disciplinarian, told me that if I wanted to enjoy Christmas, I could continue to do that, and need not come for practices. He dropped me from the team throughout in January and February.
Unfortunately for the school, but maybe fortunately for me, St.Thomas’ was very badly defeated in most of its matches, and had a miserable year. I was still outside the boundary line, not even a reserve.
The Trinity match played in Kandy came, and that match was to be played on turf. The team’s practices were held at SSC, in preparation for the Asgiriya turf wicket. I was asked to come as a net bowler, but the famous Thomian captain A.C. Ahamath, was also there to watch us play. He was also an outstanding umpire. He noticed that I was somewhat better on turf than most of the others, and recommended me, and perhaps, partly in desperation, Bertie Wijesinghe included me in the team for the match against Trinity. I did nothing exceptional, but I think all the other bowlers were soundly thrashed by Trinity. I was the only one who came out with perhaps some respectability. On the strength of that one performance, and the one wicket I took, I was awarded my colours, virtually unknown in Thomian history.
This was nothing short of a miracle, as I had no godfathers either on the team or at St. Thomas’ to promote my cause. I played in the Royal/Thomian match in 1947. Again, I did nothing spectacular. I took one wicket … I think. In 1948, I was recognised as a good schoolboy opening bowler, and had a good season. In 1949, which was my third year in the team, I was considered an outstanding bowler and my performance in the Royal/Thomian match was exceptional. In fact, the Royalists remembered this in the following year, when I captained the school. That year was a good one for me in both batting and bowling, but unfortunately, I twisted my ankle before the Royal/Thomian and everybody did their best to get me back into condition. Finally on the day of the match, the doctor said I was fit to play, the coach Donald Fairweather decided otherwise. So, the warden, very reluctantly, ha no alternative but to leave me out. The tragedy of my life was that, on the day after the Royal/Thomian match, I was playing hockey on the college grounds. So, I was one of the few captains who did not play in the Royal/Thomian. These are the lessons one learns in cricket and in school. You do not question authority and accept life as it comes – the good and the bad.
In mid-1950, I entered University but perhaps I played more cricket and hockey than study. We went at the end of that year to Hyderabad, to play in the Rohigta Baria tournament. We had a good side and all the members were either Royalists or Thomians except for Andrew Nanayakkara who was from Nalanda. We played against Nagpur University, a strong side who got over 300 runs against us. We batted and got about 200. When Nagpur batted again, Andrew Nanayakkara and I got all 10 wickets between us – I got seven and he three. The Nagpur total was 70. Unfortunately, we could not make the remaining runs and had to return to Sri Lanka.
I left the university in the middle of ’51 and began looking for work and of course the Tamil Union for whom I had played a few matches in 1949, wanted me back. Thereafter I played for the Tamil Union until 1969 and opened their bowling in every single match. I was never dropped and nobody else replaced me as an opening bowler.
In 1954, I played against Len Hutton’s MCC team to Australia, as the opening bowler when that team passed through Colombo. I got several encomiums from visiting journalists and I took two wickets. Paper cutting attached. In 1958, I was selected again to play, but the match was called off due to rain. Around 1953/54, I also played in the Gopalan Trophy matches and did exceptionally well. ++++
Apart from being a player, I was a Selector for Sri Lanka Cricket, for several years and resigned due to circumstances which I do not wish to relate at this stage of my life. I also, at the request of Robert Senanayake, redid the constitution of the Board of Control for Cricket and endeavoured to tighten up some of the weak areas. In 1972, the SLFP government of Sirimavo, introduced a Sports Act which virtually meant the nationalisation of all sports. In protest I resigned from all offices which I held in the Cricket Board, the Vice Presidency of the Olympic Council, the Chairmanship of hockey selectors, and one of its senior officers. I did not want to have anything to do with sports thereafter.
However, once again, fate intervened. Sri Lanka gained full membership of the ICC and the inaugural test was played at the Colombo Oval in 1981(?). The Tamil Union got me to run the match, which I did entirely on my own, with help from just one or two. We did quite well and I think Gamini Dissanayake who was the President saw what I had done. He sent a message asking me to see him. I told him I had isolated myself from national sport, but he insisted that I accept the post of Sri Lanka’s representative for cricket in both India and Pakistan. My main objective was to arrange matches between the two countries. This I succeeded in doing and India visited Sri Lanka shortly thereafter when my friend Sriraman was the President. I visited Pakistan too and persuaded them to visit us.
In 1986, the Asian Cricket Council was formed, and I was its first Treasurer. I used my influence with Ceylon Tobacco Company, and my friend Vijay Malalesekara who joined me, and we persuaded them to sponsor the first Asia Cup in Sri Lanka. The two of us ran the matches and Sri Lanka was the ultimate winner. In 1982, I was asked to manage the Sri Lanka team which visited India around September 1982, with Bandula Warnapura as Captain. It was a good team with brilliant cricketers like Roy Dias, Duleep Mendis, and bowlers like D.S. de Silva, Ashantha de Mel and Ajith de Silva, all of whom were outstanding cricketers of their time.
An incident that I cannot help but relate is that the selection committee that had to choose the team, the Vice Captain was the Manager, Captain and Vice Captain.
When we sat down to select the team, there were two names in contention – Arjuna Ranatunga who was an SSC member, Anura Ranasinghe who was a Bloomfield member. Bandula was a prominent member of Bloomfield and we had to choose between these two. The greatness of our selection committee was that Bandula was fighting for Arjuna Ranatunga who was from an opposing club, and ignoring his own club member, Anura Ranasighe for whom I was pressing as I felt Anura was a good all-rounder. Ultimately I gave in and Arjuna was selected. In the end, Sidath Wettimuny dropped out and Anura also played. If I remember right, both Anura and Arjuna did well.
I would probably say that my visit as Manager was one of the best managerial tasks undertaken by me. It was a great team and I had no problem at all with discipline. Unfortunately, Bandula was not a favourite of some of the more powerful members of the Cricket Board, and they were always trying to keep him out, take the captaincy away from him, particularly since Bandula was an independent man who did not allow himself to be pushed around.
For this reason I think, my tour report which was very complimentary of Bandula was never placed before the Board after the tour. Also there were rumblings of a tour to South Africa and Bandula’s name was being bandied about as Captain.
From what I believe, however, Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias were to go as Captain and Vice Captain initially, but the Board guaranteed them the position of the Captain and Vice Captain of the Sri Lanka team, leaving out Bandula. Bandula felt he had nothing more to gain from Sri Lanka Cricket, and I believe (I am open to correction) withdrew from the South African tour. That was the end of Bandula Warnapura’s career with Sri Lanka’s national cricket, because he was suspended for a long period on his return.
After the Indian tour, my next assignment was as Manager of a fairly young team, but a full team, to England in 1991. The tour was about three months and we played several counties and had one test at Lords. We faired reasonably well but not well enough. Aravinda was the Captain, and as I said, it was a young side. Overall the tour was not a great one. While I was away in the UK, for the first time, the Board elections were fiercely contested and Tyronne Fernando, at that time an MP, became the President, displacing P.I. Peiris who had played for Cambridge and also for Sri Lanka for several years with distinction.
Thereafter, I did not have much to do with cricket officially until 1999, when again I was requested to manage the team, which had returned from UK in disgrace, after the 1999 World Cup. There was a major clean up, Sanath Jayasuriya was made the Captain, and Arjuna removed, seniors like Gurusinghe, Mahanama, and a few others were initially dropped. Mahela Jayawardene, a youth of about 25 years, was made Vice Captain. All these were good moves carried out by a fearless set of selectors, which included Sidath Wettimuny and Michael Tissera.
I started off with a baptism of fire. We had to play a triangular against India and Australia. We performed extremely well and were fortunate to get into the final against Australia. We beat Australia by 8 wickets in the one-dayer, which meant they were soundly thrashed.
We then went onto a test series with Australia – again, Australia had a narrow shave in Galle and Colombo due to bad weather, but we beat them soundly in Kandy. All in all, I would probably say we restored our lost glory. The Minister for Sports, Mr. S.P. Dissanayake sent me a congratulatory letter.
However, at that time, there were some rumblings. Cricket was being looked after by an Interim Committee, and the official committee had been dissolved. I believe that some of those who were removed from office were determined to sabotage the work of the Interim Committee and they thought the best way was to hit me. They started a rumour that I was a member of the LTTE, and that I had been in contact with them in Dubai, when I took the Sri Lanka team for a tournament. They also said that I had contacts in other parts of the world. The pressure was put on the Minister who finally wanted me removed. The Board had no alternative as I refused to resign. The press who had been very supportive of me were not happy and asked the Minister why he had removed me. He said he had done that as I had troops in South Africa and I could not guarantee the safety of my team as they had to go to Zimbabwe. It was so ridiculous but I had no recourse because under the PTA, anything could have been done to me. So the day before the team was to leave for Zimbabwe, I was removed and Stanley Jayasinghe who already was in South Africa with the junior team, was asked to take over.
That was not my last effort as Manager. Again in 2002, I was asked by the then Interim Committee to come back and manage the team to the UK on a three-month tour where we played three test matches. This was a fully-fledged team led by Sanath Jayasuriya. It was preparation for the World Cup due to be held in South Africa, shortly after this tour. The tour was good and bad in patches. We did not win any games. I think we lost two and drew one. The first match at Lords was again one where we surrounded ourselves with glory. Atapattu and Mahela both scored centuries, and we made England struggle. I felt we should have sent England in to bat again, but the decision was made that we should bat. I think more out of caution than anything else – I was not happy with this. Anyway, I was not the decision-maker. The latter part of the match was more England’s than ours and it ended ultimately in a draw. That was my last stint as the Manager of the Sri Lanka Cricket team, and I have not had any interaction with the Board or teams thereafter.
- Quite serendipitously, I am presenting this tale from my birthplace and hometown of Galle and from within its Fort.
- I note, too, that Chandra has refrained from talking about the scheming that scuttled the planned tour of England in the mid-1960s — with Abu Fuard, HIK Fernando and DH de Silva among the plotters. ….. a story that could not display a better illustration of male personnel castrating themselves. If Gamini Goonesena was alive, he would support my verdict on this point because he was still playing cricket in UK and was among those selected, but withdrew in disgust.