Down Memory Lane with Bernie Wijesekera
It was worth our while because it was cricket
The name Neil Perera may not ring a bell at once to the present generation, but the contribution made by him and his contemporaries bear ample testimony when one looks at the ascendancy of the game of cricket in this tiny island nation today.

A proud product of St. John’s College, Panadura, Neil was an outstanding athlete, who excelled at long jump, triple and the putt at public school level. In the latter stages of his school life he moved to Royal College to finish his primary education. Nevertheless it was at St. John’s that he made his mark at cricket in 1946 with the likes of Sarath Weerasuriya, T.B. and T.K. Hannan etc. But he says that he was a better athlete still looking physically strong despite the years rolling by.

St. John’s has a history of producing some of the best on and off the field. Brig. (Rtd) P.D. Ramanayake, boxer K. Edwin, Michael Roberts and Dhanasiri Weerasinghe, who later played for Ananda are some of the others who come to mind. Besides athletics Neil is also a high calibre professional, he served as a Chartered Electrical Engineer at the Ceylon Electricity Board and later on as its Vice-Chairman.

In the past he was one of the cornerstones, who fought a relentless battle for the upliftment of Panadura SC. Above all, Neil served as the Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka from 1973 – 76 under late Mr. Robert Senanayake etc, who laid the foundation for Sri Lanka to gain test status and then under the late Gamini Dissanayake who put the icing on the cake. After gaining test status he served once again as BCCSL secretary from 1991-94 under Tyronne Fernando as President. Perera expressed his opinion without fear or favour when it came to mete out justice. His voice was heard even in the august assembly at the ICC.

Q: Firstly, let me know in what way you contributed towards the coastal club.
I served the club for its survival in many ways. Originally Panadura played in the Div. one, but were relegated to division III, due to machination apparently coming from the Colombo clubs. For any team to play in Division I, they must have a ground of their own.

Q: You worked on the blind side.
May be. I Knew that the present players of Panadura, could hardly match the elite club players drawn from Colombo. With a view to match them we invited players like Jayantha Paranathala, Lal Wickrematunga, WAN Silva, BNR Mendis, Dhanasiri Weerasinghe (his home town, Panadura) K.H. Nandasena, Udayananda Perera to play for Panadura. There were objections. I was even humiliated by my own club members. But, the motive was to keep the club alive and match our opponents at competitive level.

Q: When did you get involved with the controlling body?
In 1958 I was secretary of Panadura and represented the club in the BCCSL.

Q: In what way did you contribute for the development and promotion of the game?
In 1973 I was secretary to Mr. Robert Senanayake, there were no funds unlike at present times. We had to spend from our own resources even to attend meetings at home and away. I even had to pay for my typist. The then officials had self belief and worked for the right reasons. They loved the sport and made great sacrifices. Enthusiasm was our codeword.
In 1991-94 I served under Tyronne Fernando. At that time we had a staff of only five which included a peon. But times have changed.

Q: What was your most unforgettable moment in your career as secretary Sri Lanka cricket?
The staging of few world cup matches in Sri Lanka in 1996. I was in office in 1991. The setback however was the unknown financial commitment required for the event. Low income accrued from the gates. It was a joint effort with India and Pakistan for the first time in the sub-continent.
I requested Mr. Fernando to get the blessings and support from President Premadasa. President Premadasa supported our proposal and gave us the go ahead.

It was to be a joint effort with India and Pakistan for the WC to be staged in the sub-continent. The Indian Board agreed. But Pakistan was evasive. I continued with my proposal for a joint effort in the ICC meeting at Lord’s in June 1992. Pakistan President was adamant for a separate bid. I pointed out that Pakistan winning against England and South Africa was bleak. Pakistan ended up a poor last to host the WC. However it ended in a stalemate with England and SA obtaining equal number of votes from test playing nations.

At the ICC a country needs two third majority to host the World Cup. After a compromise formula ICC agreed that India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka would stage WC 1996. The two subsequent World Cup matches were to be hosted by England and South Africa.
It was a grand finale with Sri Lanka winning the World Cup in Lahore against Australia. It was a great effort on bringing India and Pakistan together via the World Cup, with genial Tyronne Fernando in the driving seat.

Q: What have you got to say about club cricket, competition and exodus of players?
Good point. If the game is to make headway the outstation clubs and its player interest must be taken serious notice. Taking away the players from the district clubs is not development. I have served the game in various capacities, for over 30 years. Take a club like Panadura. What has happened for the poor players like Ravindra Pushpakumara, whom I groomed. Chamara Silva at present Charita Buddhika. They were enticed to play for Colombo clubs apparently for perks, but if they ended up in the wilderness. Imagine the frustration of the club when all their efforts over the years to groom them at grassroots level goes up in smoke.

Q: Any comments about the division I league confined to 12 teams.
Eight teams, plus four teams – one each from each district. This will help keep the district cricket active. Let them have their own tournament. Let the best team play in the super league.

Q: What have you got to say about international cricket tours during your tenure from 1991-94?
The SLC found doubly difficult to generate funds for the tours to Sri Lanka and hard to find sponsors.
In the 1992 ICC meeting at Lord’s I exposed their shabby treatment particularly by England, Australia and the West Indies. Sanity prevailed thanks to the then ICC president late Colin Cowdrey who moved in. The West Indies who have not played a single test match for 11 years agreed to tour Sri Lanka for a 3-week tour, in 1993 in the ICC meeting on July 9, 1992.


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