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.
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.
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.
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.
Firstly, let me know in what way you contributed towards the coastal
A: 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
You worked on the blind side.
A: 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.
When did you get involved with the controlling body?
A: In 1958 I was secretary of Panadura and represented
the club in the BCCSL.
In what way did you contribute for the development and promotion
of the game?
A: 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.
What was your most unforgettable moment in your career as secretary
Sri Lanka cricket?
A: 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.
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.
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
What have you got to say about club cricket, competition and exodus
A: 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.
Any comments about the division I league confined to 12 teams.
A: 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.
What have you got to say about international cricket tours during
your tenure from 1991-94?
A: 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.