the team came marching in
There she was. Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga,
the former president of Sri Lanka. For a moment I could not recognise
her. This was the new-look ex-president.
Gone was her raven tress. Instead she sported
a new hairstyle, at least it was new to me. Her hair now fell just
above her shoulders. A toss of her head and the hair moved carelessly.
Now she does not have to take her favourite hairdresser
Ramzi Rahman along with her as she sometimes did as president making
state visits or on other important trips- to the UN for instance.
At least that was the story that used to do the rounds.
This was a different occasion altogether. Sri
Lanka’s High Commissioner Kshenuka Senewiratne was hosting
a reception to felicitate our cricket team that had just conducted
a rearguard action in the first test against England that should
surely go down in cricketing, if not military, history.
It was a real and memorable collective defence
with Captain Mahela Jayawardena playing the role of Horatius holding
the bridge across the Tiber. So as the team came trooping in it
was greeted with the beating of drums by two drummers and a dancer
also in ceremonial dress, who did some quick flips and summersaults
to the delight of some foreign guests.
Had they been witness to the summersaults performed
by some of our politicians they would have been even more thrilled.
But then who follows the vagaries of our politics so closely unless
they were like the two diplomats from the South Asia desk of the
Foreign and Commonwealth Office who were present, when there is
so much going on in the world of politics in this country.
The recent antics of some leading politicians
here, their extra-marital peccadilloes and the increasingly serious
gaffes over the release of convicted persons, some of whom should
have been deported, have filled many column inches in the British
media and long hours on TV channels.
But it seems the mid-summer madness, even before
summer is here, has afflicted our cricket officials too.
Not that our cricket boards and administrators
have not provided us with much mirth in the past. Apart from the
squabbling that has gone on inside and outside cricketing circles,
the various attempts at grabbing power have not only caused concern
to the cricket loving public but confusion to players who have ultimately
to carry the cross when things go wrong.
Even the British media had cottoned on to the
antics back home and have vectored in like a one man air force on
a single person, Asantha de Mel, the new chairman of the board of
selectors who, apparently single-handedly as some have it, recalled
former skipper Sanath Jayasuriya from retirement and sent him packing
In fact I spotted Jayasuriya in a corner and went
up to him for a little chat, as they say. I asked him whether he
would be playing in the next test at Edgbaston and he said he did
Well that much is true, of course since the match
will begin only on Thursday. But the failure of opening bat Jehan
Mubarak in both innings has perhaps opened the gates for Jayasuriya
to make an appearance in the opening slot, particularly since he
could also strengthen the spin department.
It is not Jayasuriya’s ability that is in
question even if his physical fitness is, but the manner of his
sudden addition to the team.
Former captain Arjuna Ranatunge, now playing politics
having retired from cricket, was quoted in the British media- The
Guardian I think it was- virtually saying that he would not have
stood for such unilateral action by the chairman of selectors and
suggesting that if a player was suddenly thrust on him as captain
he would take a walk.
Well he virtually told me the same thing when
I spoke to him, though not in the same terms. But he did add that
he might be putting his political life on the line but he had to
Now we know that Ranatunga is capable of doing
exactly that. It is now almost folklore how captain Ranatunga led
his team off the field in Australia in support of Muttiah Muralitharan
and took some time to coax him back on to the field.
He has been a blood and guts captain and has not
tolerated verbal assaults by foreign players or the foreign media.
I suppose Ranatunga will have more to say in the
future on matters that affect cricket and will not be silenced easily,
if at all.
Mahela Jayawardena is of a different character
altogether. Apart from the fact that he is standing in for the injured
Marvan Attapattu, he is a quieter, soft- spoken and calm individual.
At least that is the impression he created in when I had a few words
with him. When winds are raging round him, he seems to be an oasis
In a way he reminded me of the young Michael Tissera,
the current manager of the visiting team, my former college mate
and at one time a person I played cricket with in school during
my short-lived enter into cricket at S.Thomas College, Mt Lavinia.
In addition to being a calm and collected person
I remember him as a gentleman to his fingertips and he has shown
that he still is on the occasions we have met since. Somebody who
reminded me of Tissera and his gentlemanly ways was a person I knew
from the time he was a kid- Ranjan Madugalle who captained Royal
College and later Sri Lanka and now doing his country proud as the
chairman of the ICC panel of referees.
If I remember correctly the last time Michael
and I had a long jaw was at an Old Boys Association luncheon when
we sat opposite each other along with another cricketer Nihal Gurusinghe
who scored a century at the Royal-Thomian. He later migrated to
But Michael Tissera could also be firm. While
I was talking to him at the reception a British journalist walked
up to him wanting do to an interview or interviews with some players.
Sorry, said Tissera, no interviews.
Being a foreign journalist he probably tried to
overawe Tissera with his words and presence and asking why he could
not interview them.
This is a social occasion Tissera said firmly
and there will be no interviews granted here. If you wanted to interview
someone why did not ask at the match.
The man insisted. Tissera stood firm. The journalist
turned around sheepishly and departed.
One hopes of course that he will be firm with
the team too and curb the excesses that some players on a previous
tour are supposed to have indulged it. Had the cricket administrators
of the day held a proper, fair and impartial inquiry and invited
any available evidence before the so-called inquiry and not post-facto,
we might have known more as I mentioned to that once loquacious
but now more subdued man behind the stumps, Kumar Sangakkara. It
is always a pleasure to speak to him.But that is now so much water
under the bridge. Surely Michael Tissera will keep a firm hand on
the tiller. Quite rightly the team received rousing applause as
it entered the reception hall at the Grange Hotel.
One hopes, of course, that we would be able to
the same after Edgbaston too.