Today marks the 80th birth anniversary of visionary SLC President Gamini Dissanayake
by Nuski Mohamed
Gamini Dissanayae was my mentor and friend. My first interaction with him was in 1969 at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka, when he was a lecturer in Company Law. Since then, we had been in close touch in terms of politics, cricket and corporate management.
In 1981 when Gamini was elected the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka, I was the Treasurer. That was the year we famously became a Full Member of the International Cricket Council. Gamini’s leadership and the role he played towards Sri Lanka obtaining Full Membership is only too well known and need not be elaborated upon.
The following year, I was elected as Secretary of the Cricket Board and worked alongside Gamini until 1989 for a continuous period of seven years and was in constant contact with him. Gamini had a personality and a mind of his own, thought creatively and acted fearlessly. His leadership was unmatched. His decision making was precise in order to achieve timely and optimum results. One of those decisive moments was in 1982 when he took action with the blessings of the ExCo to ban the cricketers who went on the Rebel tour to South Africa for a period of 25 years without any hesitation whatsoever. It was an eye opener for younger generations.
Following the conclusion of the ICC meeting in 1985, over a coffee in the Long Room at the Lord’s Cricket Grounds, Gamini asked me whether I could take over the Chairmanship of the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation almost overnight. It took me by surprise, since I knew that the responsibility of heading a State Corporation was demanding besides being a full time job. I was then with the Private Sector since the early 1970’s post qualified.
Although I was on a few Director Boards of State Corporations, the task of taking over a Corporation appeared to be a challenge. However, knowing Gamini’s thinking that he will not take ‘No” for an answer, I requested a few days’ time, to ponder over same.
But that was not to be and on our return to Sri Lanka two days later, he summoned me to the Ministry of Lands and issued me with the letter to take charge of the Corporation immediately. He had obviously made up his mind long before though it was not communicated to me. On hind sight it was a pleasure working with a personality of Gamini’s stature including the experience and knowledge I gained. We always had mutual respect for each other in our work ethics. I enjoyed every bit of our working relationship.
In the early to mid 1980s, the bid for the 1987 World Cup was a tussle between Australia/ New Zealand on the one hand and India/ Pakistan representing the Asian region. Australia had been very helpful to Sri Lanka in terms of exchange of tours which at that time was rare due to our not so strong cricket strength with the exit of key players on account of the rebel tour. Domestically too in coming tours were hampered as a result of the LTTE terrorist activity. Besides, the fact that Australia supported us positively during the crucial vote at ICC without exercising the veto following the visit of ACB Chairman Fred Bennet to Sri Lanka was foremost in Gamini’s mind.
In the midst of the ICC meeting Gamini mentioned to me that Sri Lanka should show some gratitude and thereby initiated a dialogue with the Aussie delegation which included David Richards, to explain to them the circumstances that will compel Sri Lanka to extend support to the bid from the Asian Region. This was well received and appreciated by the Australian delegates. Regional politics did eventually play a dominant role with the Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi speaking to his Sri Lankan counterpart President J.R.Jayewardene and SLC had very little choice.
Gamini’s concluding speech on behalf of the Asian Region Countries on the concept that the World Cup should be rotated as a part of promoting the game globally received overwhelming applause and support from the ICC membership.
Lt. Gen Safdar Butt, President of the Pakistan Cricket Board was a great friend of Gamini. Lt.Gen Safdar was very commandeering and had a personality of his own. During the Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka in 1986 there was a fair amount of upheaval between the Sri Lankan umpires and the captain of the Pakistan team Imran Khan.
The current Prime Minister of Pakistan threatened to abandon the tour and take his team back home. That would have also jeopardized the Asia Cup in 1986 which was to immediately follow the Pakistan tour. Gamini using his personal friendship immediately phoned his counterpart Lt. General Safdar Butt who promptly took a flight and arrived in Sri Lanka at Gamini’s request to settle the dispute. Sanity prevailed and the tour continued with a change of Umpires for the final Test at the P. Sara Oval. A major catastrophe was thus averted.
Gamini never mixed cricket with politics. It was during our regime that the long felt need of a headquarters for the Cricket Board was identified and the project commenced at the SSC grounds. Gamini was able to negotiate terms with President J. R. Jayawardene who was also the President of SSC to construct the headquarters and the award was given to the State Engineering Corporation. We had no funds, but Gamini used his offices and found sponsors with the Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation, Gamini’s creation also chipping in.
During completion stage Turnor Wickremasinghe, Engineer in charge of the project at SSC told me that he would use light green and black paint to the front of the building and that he has consulted the Architects etc. They also opined it would blend well with the green grass in the background. As Secretary of the Board the State Engineering Corporation Consultants were in touch with me on a daily basis on all routine matters during construction and I gave the green light to go ahead.
A couple of weeks later, I happened to travel to the SLC with Gamini for a board meeting and he was fuming when he saw the external walls in a light green shade and questioned me as to whose bright idea it was to use green colour on the walls. I must say he was very polite and I admitted that I had given the go ahead since it came from the Architects. He requested me to get them to substitute the green colour immediately with white at whatever cost since the public perception would be that we used green as he was the President of the Board as it was his party colour. It remains white to date.
During the early 1980s, Gamini appointed me as the Treasurer of the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union with the blessings of HE the President when he took over the reigns of the Union as the President. He set out his program of work in such a manner always conscious of the fact that LJEWU being a Trade Union its paramount commitment should be towards the welfare of the members that is the plantation workers employed mostly in the tea, rubber and coconut plantations who were suffering untold hardships.
Gamini was particularly grieved to note that the worker’s relationship with the Estate Management left much to be desired. He realized a new dialogue was a pre requisite and it was time the Management recognised this new challenge. He succeeded in bringing about this change through persuasive powers which included seeking government intervention from time to strike deals for the estate workers beyond wage hikes. That was the hallmark of Gamini as a Trade Union leader.
Dame Betty Boothroyd, former Speaker of the House of Commons of the UK once said “From the numerous occasions that I have interacted with Gamini, it is clear that he has a huge vision for Sri Lanka and its people. While one could consider him an idealist, the very fact that he delivered in terms of the gigantic Mahaweli Project illustrates that he is also an extraordinary performer. It is a testimony to Gamini’s pragmatism and determination.
Finally, back to the Cricket Board Presidency, it is my view that he carried out his responsibilities with consummate ease and tact. He was well aware of the divide and the club rivalries in cricket, yet he always endeavored to make the Cricket Board a place that is accessible to all both players and administrators alike, so long as it was in the best interest of cricket. I am so proud and privileged to have been closely associated with Gamini, the personality who took Sri Lanka Cricket to such great heights during his regime.
Sports Editors’ note:
Mr. Nuski Mohamed was the right hand man of late Gamini Dissanayake having functioned as Secretary and Treasurer of the Board of Control for Cricket in 1980s. He served the cricket board up until 2015. He is still actively involved in cricket dedicating time to club cricket.
Spinners in focus as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh jostle for WTC points in Mirpur
On a flat Chattogram surface, neither Bangladesh nor Sri Lanka had the kind of superlative attack that would have swung the game decisively. The result being the first Test ending in a draw with not even three innings completed after five days. Although Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have both had their bowling stocks depleted – Sri Lanka unlikely to field Vishwa Fernando; Bangladesh having lost Nayeem Hasan to a finger injury and Shoriful Islam to a fractured hand – the Mirpur surface has very rarely hosted draws. Both squads are awash with spin options. Historically, Bangladesh have picked three slow bowlers and one seamer in Mirpur. The pitch, this time around too, is expected to take sharp turn.Bangladesh have won five of their last eight Tests here, but perhaps that stat is slightly misleading, because they are on a two-game losing streak in Mirpur. Last year, finger spinners Rahkeem Cornwall and Sajid Khan took them down, delivering wins for West Indies and Pakistan respectively.
The problem for Sri Lanka, however, is that neither left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya, nor offspinner Ramesh Mendis, were especially impressive in Chattogram, taking just 1 for 123 between them. They do have another frontline spinner in the squad though – slow left-armer Praveen Jayawickrama has already helped win a match against Bangladesh, when he took 11 wickets against them in Pallekele, last year.The batting order for both teams is in decent shape heading into this game. Oshada Fernando and Dhananjaya de Silva continue to be short of big runs for Sri Lanka, but the other batters have made solid contributions. For Bangladesh, Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim struck hundreds, while Mahmudul Hasan Joy and Liton Das made half-centuries in the first Test.
Both teams have busy schedules coming up. While Bangladesh go to West Indies for another World Test Championship series post the Test, Sri Lanka host Australia, then Pakistan, at home. These teams are so far back on the Championship table that it seems unlikely either can make a serious run for that top two, but a victory here will at least help keep the dream alive.
1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Mahmudul Hasan Joy, 3 Najmul Hossain Shanto, 4 Mominul Haque (capt), 5 Mushfiqur Rahim, 6 Liton Das (wk), 7 Shakib Al Hasan, 8 Mosaddek Hossain, 9 Taijul Islam, 10 Khaled Ahmed, 11 Ebadot Hossain
Sri Lanka (possible):
1 Oshada Fernando, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Angelo Mathews, 5 Dananjaya de Silva, 6 Dinesh Chandimal, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Ramesh Mendis, 9 Lasith Embuldeniya, 10 Praveen Jayawickrama, 11 Asitha Fernando/Kasun Rajitha (cricinfo)
Josephians win All Island Under 20 Division A Basketball Title
St. Joseph’s College, Colombo emerged Champions at the all-island under 20 division A Basketball Tournament 2022 organized by Sri Lanka Schools Basketball Association and sponsored by Gaja Sports. The final was held at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium, which was witnessed by a large gathering of fans. The Tournament was held after a lapse of 3 years due to the Pandemic.The Josephians came into the tournament as favourites and they lived up to expectations from the word go as they cruised through the group stages defeating Gateway College Kandy 60-38, Mahinda College Galle 75-38, Angel International School Jaffna 75-32, and LPF Academy Dehiwala 90-38 points respectively.The Josephians displayed some superior level of basketball in both offence and defense right throughout the group stage stamping their authority moving to the knockout stage.
The quarter-final against Ananda College Colombo was the most anticipated game of the tournament which lived up to its expectations, The Josephians went coast to coast passed Ananda College to register a 62-57 point win. The semi-finals and finals were blowout wins for the Josephians as they dominated both DS Senanayake College Colombo 87-36 and Royal College Colombo 68-52 points respectively.Skipper Shehan Fernando and Keith Costa were the key players in the Josephians offence while Shannon De Zilvas’s defensive game in rebounding and protecting the paint was vital for the Josephians success right throughout the tournament. Overall the Josephians team game moving the ball in offence and strong man-to-man defense was on point. Deservingly Shehan Fernando was adjudged the Most Valuable Player while Keith Costa was awarded the Best Offensive Player.
Shehan Fernando is a promising Basketball player and was selected to the national basketball pool recently, His aggressive style of basketball was seen right throughout his school career as he was able to carry his team to bag the under 15 and 17 titles some years back, he ends his school career with a 100% record, which is a rare feat in Schools Basketball.The Josephian support crew comprising of Head Coach Randima Sooriyaarachchi a former national captain and Coach Shane Daniel, did a remarkable job and they have been the pillars of success for Joes Basketball for many years. St Joseph’s won its last under 19 title in 2012 under the leadership of Current national player Praneeth Udumalagala who is now part of the current Josephian supporting staff as the skills development coach.Over 50 Schools took part in the tournament in 5 divisions for boys’ and girls’ which concluded on the 19th of May. The knockout rounds were played at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium for the first time and games were live-streamed, which is a commendable effort by the Sri Lanka Schools Basketball Association and Gaja Sports who had come forward to support basketball.
Wasim: A Decade Goes By
by Shanaka Amarasinge
So far I’ve marched to Gotagogama twice. In very different circumstances. The first was a march from the Artists of the People. A gathering of musicians, actors, writers, artists, designers and everyone involved in creative pursuits. The march from Independence Square was riotous, but only in colour and flair. There was dancing, singing, chanting and rainbow of personalities, costumes and disciplines. It couldn’t have been more different than my second march on the 17th of May 2022 when friends and family of the late Wasim Thajudeen, commemorated his tenth death anniversary, by walking from St. Thomas’ Prep. School to Galle Face.
This was a somber walk. There was talking and camaraderie but very little to laugh about, as those of us who knew Wasim and even some who didn’t, remembered him and the metaphor he is to Sri Lankan society today. He was, as we are now – as a country, cut down in his prime. The immense potential which will never again be seen. Although it was not voiced, the similarity sat heavy on the shoulders of those gathered to remember a friend who lived his ‘best life’. A joy to be around, a reliable, charitable friend, and someone who was not shy of honing his immense talent with hard work. His good friend, Harinda Fonseka, who spoke at Gate Zero, reminded me of the 70m touch finders that boomed off his boot. Also recently, Wasim’s Sri Lanka team mate and long-time club opponent, Rizah Mubarak, reminded me that his ‘up and unders’ were a full back’s nightmare. In remembering what a great bloke we lost, we forget what an enormous rugby talent we also lost.
It was fitting that his old schools St. Thomas’ Preparatory School, and S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia played an old boys’ game in his honour. Two editions were played in 2014 and 2015 but not since then.
Back, in August 2015, when Asfan Thajudeen ghosted languidly over for the try that gave Prep the lead that would not be assailed by Mount, there was something poetic about it. Both brothers, Wasim and Asfan, shared physical characteristics. Tall, handsome and long of limb, one wiry full back could easily have been mistaken for the other. On the field, they both had that same lazy air to their game that talented players have. They look like they could be trying harder, but they didn’t need to.
So after his forwards had done some good work and Asfan collected the pass well behind him, it took skill and presence of mind to pirouette, dummy the pass the defence thought was coming to the young Nishan Handunge and then saunter through the gaping hole for a beautifully taken try under the posts. Arjun Manoharan’s conversion and two penalties gave Prep the win 13-8 over a fancied Mount Lavinia side that scored through Chanditha Samarasinghe and Devin Jayasinghe’s penalty.
With Thomian rugby declining steadily, Wasim was one of the shining stars as he continued to play for his beloved Havelocks and also the Sri Lanka team alongside his College team-mate Namal Rajapaksa. Some years later Sudarshan Muthuthanthri and Anuruddha Wilwara from the school by the sea to take up the mantle.
Out of some unforgettable moments in my life, sadly three of them have to do with death. I will never forget the days that my mum told me my Uncle Billy Rowland had been shot on his estate. We never knew whether it was JVP, LTTE or anyone else. It didn’t really matter. I will also never forget my mum telling me about how my father’s Commanding Officer Brigadier Thevanayagam tragically met his end as the victim of a triple murder. It was devastating as my father was extremely close to Brigadier Thevanayagam and I looked up to Diresh as a senior in school. It was dumbfounding. For those not familiar with the incident in the early 90’s, it was an event fueled by years of pent up rage, and if looked at rationally with the hindsight of time, a lesson to all parents that they can sometimes push children too far, with disastrous consequences. Today’s government will have to realise that people pushed to the extreme, may do unthinkable things. The other unforgettable moment was the death of Wasim. On 17th May 2012, I was on my way to swimming at the SSC when Uncle Mike Anthonisz the JKH swimming coach called me at about 6.30am. I thought he was calling me to give me the schedule saying he was late or to cancel swimming. His parents lived on Park Road and he was standing opposite the car when he called. He was distraught. “Shanaka, you know our boy Wasim?! He’s no more.” I had just driven past the smouldering car with no idea who was in it just hours before.
The disbelief was not only mine. Nobody who heard the news that day could believe it. Uncle Mike knew Wasim because just as he was a fantastic rugby player he was also a talented cricketer, excellent footballer and better than average swimmer. Uncle Mike had a favourite drill called the Windmill Arms that he forced us to do in order to maximise the push through on our freestyles and Wasim was always the demonstrator because his natural freestyle had a windmill action to it. With his cheeky smile and knee length swimmers he always made the girls look twice. He was a Sri Lanka rugby player, but he was never too good not to show up for swimming practice. That’s how humble and unassuming he was, instantly becoming a crowd favourite.
Uncle Mike’s grief that day was spontaneous. Despite only having known Wasim for a few years. For those who knew him well, who’d watched him grow from cheeky teenager into a popular figure, the grief was unfathomable.
Driving past the thronging policemen that fateful morning, gazing at the car that was covered in a tarp, it was hard not to shed a tear. My only hope at that moment was that I hoped he was dead when the car caught fire. As subsequent investigations have revealed, that was not a certainty.
By evening Murugan Place was a sea of people. Wasim’s body was still being examined and the family trying to ensure religious rites were observed within 24 hours. The entire lane was flooded by people whose lives Wasim had touched at some point. And they came from all walks of life, entirely united by their friendship with Wasim. They say that if you’ve ever stood for something you’ve made enemies somewhere along the way, and that much is obvious. But judging by the amount of friends Wasim had made even before he hit 30 he had stood for the right things.
Our paths crossed many times, and not once would they leave me without a smile. My first rugby memory of the lad is him missing a sitter under the posts, handing the momentum to Kaluaratchi’s Royalists in 2001. The obvious kick early on would have put STC in the lead. Captain Jivan Goonetilleka didn’t even see the kick miss. He was walking back to halfway when Wasim ran by him smiling apologetically saying ‘miss una, bung miss una’. The Thomians would lose that game with an unexpected scoreline. The 16 year old, however, only got better. I remember yelling at him once after a Thora game for getting yellow carded so often. ‘What to do Shanaka, they’re hitting no’, was his response. If there was one guy that made you want to tear your hair out and hold your sides laughing at the same time, it was him. He was never ever one to back down from a fight, and although his boyish arrogance gave way to mature aggression later in the piece, this quality may just have been his undoing. I shudder to think of his final moments, knowing that he would not have gone quietly.
Wasim had a strong sense of what was right and wrong. I tried many times to lure him to CR from Havies at a time the Park Club was struggling and his performances were not catching the eye. That prodigious boot I told him, would be better served at Longdon Place. Every time I tried, he would listen, consider and then say ‘This is my Club, machan. How to leave it and come?’. I respected him immensely for that. Loyalty is not something you can even buy at the supermarket anymore. Especially not from his generation. But the values of his family and his breeding were obvious.
Wasim started swimming again after he had his knee operated. The only time I’d seen him not smile was when we compared notes about our surgeries and recuperation. We both had tremendous trouble recovering from ACL surgery – myself a little before him – and he would often seek counsel on the best rehab. He desperately wanted to get back to his beloved rugby and was fretting impatiently for the troublesome knee to recover. And he would have, as he was well on the way back to full fitness. Equally destructive with the ball in hand, as he was with it at his feet, he could play anywhere in the back three or the centres. It was a tragic loss for Sri Lanka, his Club, his friends and his family.
For those who thought that he was all play and no work, that is a massive understatement. He was the travel coordinator for one of our firm’s largest clients and his efficiency was excellent. He was thoroughly professional and also incredibly generous. The Wasim Thajudeen foundation which Asfan has founded in his brother’s wake continues the charities that Wasim contributed to without any fanfare. He truly embodied the Islamic attitude to charity, where good deeds need not be advertised.
It was a good two years after his death that I deleted Wasim’s number from my phone. There’s a part of you that wants to believe he’s still around. To flash that million dollar smile. Although his body was exhumed a few days after his old Prep school won the match in his honour, we all knew that those charred remains mean nothing. He lives on in the memories he made, and the sheer joy of living he exuded. A joy that is conspicuously absent from Sri Lankan lives at the moment.
In the weeks leading up to the Thajudeen Trophy game in 2015 disbelief has turned to anger, just as it is now, for different reasons. Whether that anger, fueled by new information about the manner of Wasim’s death, is founded or not we may never know. And as much as a part of us screams for justice, that is not nearly as important as it is to remember is how Wasim lived. Not think about how he died. Justice is important for the system, for the country, yes. But for his friends and family justice will never bring back that gangly package of positive energy.
The best thing we can do for those who leave us too early is to continue living as they would have wanted us to. The Pride of Origin game in 2015 was exactly that, just like the walk last Tuesday. A time for friends,for family and to remember the good times. Good times, which will, most likely, elude us for some years.
Maybe Uncle Mike was mistaken that day when he said Wasim is ‘no more’. He is. And that photogenic smile will live on in our hearts. Ten years after his death, his memory is still strong and will continue to inspire us who knew him and also those who never had the pleasure.
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