Just the other day, an outstanding double international player who represented Sri Lanka, sent me a mail in which he referred to “first-class cricket” in Sri Lanka which was actually a misnomer. Of course this was mainly due to a so-called statistician serving in the Cricket Board at that time who did not know anything [...]


How SL keeps losing in the big picture due to politicians

Sri Lanka, the third umpire pioneers - Christopher Martin-Jenkins

Just the other day, an outstanding double international player who represented Sri Lanka, sent me a mail in which he referred to “first-class cricket” in Sri Lanka which was actually a misnomer. Of course this was mainly due to a so-called statistician serving in the Cricket Board at that time who did not know anything better.

This writer made many efforts to rectify this anomaly in the news media but it took a long time to succeed!

Given below is one such effort.

The expression ‘First-class cricket’, as recognized by the international cricketing community, is one that is bandied about by many cricket writers/fans without realizing its implications. Even the officials at the Board of Control for Cricket were blissfully unaware of what ‘first-class’ cricket meant. As shown below, this misconception has cost Sri Lanka dearly. Since players in that era lost out in their career statistics while players who were not entitled to such statistics enjoyed ‘bloated’ figures! Due to the ignorance of our cricket administrators – though the details of first-class cricket pertaining to each Full Member of the ICC is reported annually in the Wisden Cricketers’Almanack – here’s the report pertaining to Sri Lanka when we were actually entitled to ‘first-class’ cricket: “At the time of writing details of first-class cricket in Sri Lanka were not available.” This was repeated for seven successive years!!

The basic idea of classifying a certain level of cricket in each Full Member’s domestic/international cricket and giving it a label ‘first-class’ is to ensure a level of equality. In other words, the top-level cricket played in each Full Member’s/domestic/Test-playing nation that can qualify as ‘first-class’ – see below the stipulated conditions – is considered of the same standard on each Full Member country of the ICC for purposes of compiling official statistics. Runs scored, wickets captured or catches taken by a player, e.g. in the domestic tournament in England is comparable with a player performing at the same level in a similar tournament in Australia/West Indies/Pakistan and/or any Full Member country of the ICC.

The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack defines ‘first-class cricket’ as follows:

(a) A match of three or more day’s duration between two sides of eleven players officially adjudged as a first-class fixture.

(b) In the following rules the term ‘governing body’ is restricted to Foundation Members, Full Members and Associate Members of the ICC.


1. Foundation and Full Members of the ICC shall decide the status of matches of 3 or more days’ duration played in their countries.

2. In matches of 3 or more days duration played in countries which are not Foundation Members or Full Members of the ICC:

(i) If the visiting team comes from a country which is a Foundation or Full Member of the ICC that country can decide the status of matches.

(ii) If the visiting team does not come from a country, which is a Foundation or Full member of the ICC or a Commonwealth team composed of players from different countries, the ICC shall decide the status of matches. Also the following matches shall be regarded as first-class subject to the provisions of definitions (a) being complied with:

In all Foundation and Full Member countries represented in the ICC:

(1)         Test matches and matches against teams adjudged first-class played by official touring teams.

(2) Official Test-trial matches.

(3)         Special matches between teams adjudged first-class by the governing body or bodies concerned.

Notes: (a) Governing bodies agree that the interest of first-class cricket will be served by ensuring that first-class status is not accorded to any match in which one or other of the teams taking part cannot on a strict interpretation of the definition be adjudged first-class.

(b) In case of any disputes arising from these Rules, the Secretary of the ICC shall refer the matter to the ICC, failing unanimous agreement by postal communication being reached.

The writer had made numerous representations to the local Cricket Board via the print media, regarding this issue over the years but to no avail. However, after the adverse comments made about Sri Lanka in the Wisden Almanack (1990) the situation took a turn to the better. Indeed it is tragically amusing that during this dark period the officials (mostly with political support) in high places at the Cricket Board tenaciously held on to their respective posts! Indeed there was one official who held an important post for seven successive years – uncontested! The Ministry of Sports then changed the rules stating that an official cannot be elected to one post for more than two successive years. Then this resourceful (!) official changed from one post to another and contested to a different post – and he won uncontested as well!

Here’s another instance when the image of Sri Lanka were tarnished: An official with very high political connections represented Sri Lanka at the ICC Annual General Meeting in London, having to present a very important paper actually authored by this writer in 1984. After all these years this is still the only occasion when the ICC considered a paper by Ceylon/Sri Lanka being fit to be presented at this august assembly. On the official’s return to Sri Lanka when he was questioned by the author as to what transpired at this meeting, here was his reply to me: “You know there were many questioned fired at me and I did not know what to say……” Naturally this proposal was shelved. As expected, The Wisden reported rather succinctly that Sri Lanka suggested the concept of the Third Umpire “but it was not supported.”

Nine years later, here’s what Christopher Martin-Jenkins, an eminent and highly respected cricket journalist, author and commentator, reported in the London Telegraph of 18th May 1993 in banner headlines: SRI LANKA THE THIRD UMPIRE PIONEERS. And openly gives the credit to Sri Lanka: “The Test and County Cricket Board’s idea for a walkie-talkie link with a third umpire was first suggested in a written paper to the ICC nine years ago by Sri Lanka…….Credit for the basic concept of using video evidence to help the umpires in the middle with tricky run-out and stumping decisions……..had been claimed by South Africa and the TCCB (England’s Test and County Cricket Board) but belongs instead to a Sri Lankan journalist and administrator………” and presents the entire proposal verbatim with the name of the proposer.

In other words, not only did Sri Lankan cricket administrators fail to grasp the nettle of what “first-class” cricket meant but also lost out on claiming the credit for the concept of the Third Umpire to a Sri Lankan cricket administrator who still remains without any political clout.

Has Sri Lanka cricket come out of those dark ages supported by scheming politicians of that era – when filthy lucre did not play that much of a role? The answer is that where the grass is greener there will always be politicians lurking in the shadows to fill their needs.

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