POLITICAL SKETCHBOOK -              by Rajpal Abeynayaka  

Sending them off with sound and fury

A good deal of fun and razzmatazz marked the send off party for the Sri Lankan cricket team at independence square. While the squad trooped in their grey outfits with shades perched smartly on their noses, they were looking like a bunch of tourists to the Parthenon or the Coliseum or some place. These were known faces of course, even behind the sunglasses.

But, then, suddenly a not so known face appeared. Was this a tourist who had got lost from the Parthenon group? He seemed definitely to be lost because he made his way straight for the public address system. The man was going to make an announcement to find his mother, or the rest of his tour party?

Then we all realised why this man was scurrying. This was no lost visitor -- this was Johnston Fernando, the Minister of Sports, by far the lesser known face in the crowd of Jayasuriya's popular men. He was in a hurry, and he had to make up for lost time.

Pity. He could have passed for Chaminda Vass's brother, or at least one of those reserve fielders who bring on the drinks and carry the towels on to the field for the rest of the hotshots in the cricket team. He has the perfect indulgent smile for that kind of work too.

Instead he grabbed the mike, and as if he was taking a swig off a newly opened bottle of special Dankotuwa hooch, he let go. "Api ogollo ekka hema dama innawwa' he said, and some of the top order batsmen winced. "Api ogollo ekka onama prashnayaka innawa,'' he said, and smiled from the other side of his considerably wide mouth. One fast bowler ducked behind an autograph hunter. Johnston Fernando made a spectacle of himself again -- but at least we may have found a new drinks man for the reserves.

Johnston Fernando may have to learn the manner of cricket's real big timers. When Tilanga Sumathipala walked into a dinner meeting recently at a Colombo hotel, people didn't give him a second look until he walked right into the middle of the room and stood there. Then the organisers realised this was not a Trans Asia employee. They scurried faster after that, than the outfielders do when Jayasuriya is on song.

Anyway, "api ogollo ekka anthima venakang innawa'' Johnston bellowed into the mike. ("We will stay with you guys to the bitter end.'') That means until the World Cup is bought home, or until 760 million is brought home after we get knocked out of the super sixes -- whichever is the more bitter.

But to be fair by Johnston Fernando, nothing shines next to the sun. Nothing can shine next to the glitter of the Sri Lankan cricket team in shades. Or Arjuna Ranatunga running for the cricket Board and Thilanga Sumathipala running everywhere. From the day the man was installed as Minister, he has been trying to out-glitter at least Sanath Jayasuriya who is described in every pre World Cup cricket article as a modest man. But with a name like Johnston, the man is harassed - - he can't even wear the 'pirith nool' around his wrists like Jayasuriya..

But there are no orthodoxies, not in Sri Lanka cricket, either with batsmen or with Ministers and Hemaka Amarasuriya comes to mind in the melee. Those were the days when Amarasuriyas were growing money on trees in Galle, but now, Amarasuriya's daily lament is how much money he can give to the men in the shades. But, when he was in the sewing machine company he got used to seeing unionists as unionists. Bala Thampoe was always a damn unionist, no matter how many shades of sunglasses he wore. But, in the cricket boys union, they wear sunglasses, and even Johnston the garrulous looks a drinks boy with them alongside. Who cares if we didn't win the World Cup? The squad has already achieved the impossible -- they have made one politician look quite timid, and made the Cricket Board 'singer' sing a dirge about his state of pennilessness.

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