Then 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 to London.

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 not know.

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 speak out.

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 of calm.

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 Australia.

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.

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