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Killi Rajamahendran, Kerry Packer of Sri Lankan cricket



by Rex Clementine

Kerry Packer was a godsend to Australian cricket. So was Killi Rajamahendran. At a time when cricket in Sri Lanka had no money, he financed the sport, single-handedly. He passed away yesterday at the age of 78.

Killi, as he was fondly known, employed many cricketers; Duleep Mendis, Roy Dias, Arjuna Ranatunga, Ashantha de Mel, Sidath Wettimuny…. the list goes on.

Players need not turn up for work at Maharaja’s, but if they did not attend training, Killi had a bone to pick. Ask Ashantha de Mel. Killi made the sport semi-professional.

Duleep Mendis was identified by Killi when he was at school. He joined Maharaja’s at 20 and remained there for 30 years. He was heart broken by learning Killi’s death. So were the other cricketers.

Sidath Wettimuny’s older brothers had given up cricket in a bid to pursue their professional careers. Sidath wanted to go in the same path. But before doing so, he consulted Killi. And he received sound advice.

“You see Sidath,” Killi had said, “Professionals, I can hire anytime. But a good cricketer like you, that would be hard to find.”

Sidath listened. Then, Lord’s 1984 happened.

The Sri Lankan team had gone to England well in advance to acclimatise to conditions. Generously, Killi gave his London apartment for Sri Lankan players to stay as the board did not have any money to look after their accommodation before the tour got underway.

As the Test match approached, in a bid to encourage the players, Killi told them that if anyone scored a hundred, he was going to give them a gift of 1000 Pounds.

Sidath, Amal Silva and Duleep Mendis scored hundreds. Arjuna Ranatunga missed out. He was dismissed for 84. Arjuna is a tough man, but the fact that he had missed out on having his name in the Lord’s honours board got the better of him and in the dressing room, he was in tears. There was a tap on Arjuna’s shoulder. It was Killi. He too had tears in his eye. All centurions were given 1000 Pounds as promised. But Arjuna received 2000 Pounds. Killi was fond of Arjuna.

People wonder how a developing cricket nation like Sri Lanka could afford Sir Garfield Sobers as their coach in 1980s. All credit obviously goes to Gamini Dissanayake. But every good leader needs a capable second in command. Killi was Gamini’s right hand man and Vice-President of Board of Control for Cricket. It is he who made it possible that Sri Lanka could hire the services of Sir Garry spending generously.

It is a well known fact that Sri Lanka were given Test status in 1981 when Gamini was President. Not many people know that before the Lord’s meeting, the Sri Lankan board had hosted Australian Cricket Board officials taking them around the country showing them our cricket infrastructure. All financed by Killi. Australia had regularly vetoed Sri Lanka’s application for Test status. But after Killi’s hospitality and having taken a good look on the status quo, they could not turn it down again. Like Kerry Packer, Killi knew how cricket politics worked.

Once Australia was on Sri Lanka’s side, England followed suit. Test status achieved; thanks to smart moves by two men; Gamini Dissanayake and Killi Rajamahendran.

After quitting cricket, Killi built up a his media empire. Like all media bosses who love cricket, he had one golden rule; never criticize cricketers.

In 2001, when England came to Sri Lanka to play a first ever three match series, there was lot of excitement. Sri Lanka won the first Test by an innings in Galle. But then from thereon, things didn’t go their way and lost the games in Kandy and at SSC. England clinched the series 2-1. Sirasa were drawing out heavy weapons. Their target, captain Sanath Jayasuriya. Then, Killi called. “That poor boy is already going through hell. Don’t add up to his misery.” Message was loud and clear. Sanath looked up to him like a father figure. So did others from Arjuna to Nuwan Zoysa.

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Murali elaborates why Mahanama should be next Sri Lanka coach



Rex Clementine
in Abu Dhabi

There is a school of thought to borrow a leaf out of India’s book and appoint a local as the Head Coach of the national cricket team. Under Ravi Shastri, India have enjoyed unprecedented success over the last three years and with his tenure ending, another former captain – Rahul Dravid is set to take up the position. World’s highest wicket taker Muttiah Muralitharan is taking the lead role to promote his former team mate Roshan Mahanama as the successor to Mickey Arthur.

“There is lack of discipline. Roshan is someone who is disciplined and he will help us to get over the hurdle. It is not easy to do that with seniors’ egos. If Roshan comes in, the whole mindset will change. That will help Sri Lanka Cricket. It’s only my opinion,” Muralitharan, who is a brand ambassador of the ICC T-20 World Cup said talking to local journalists on Monday as Sri Lanka overcame Namibia in their opening game here at Sheikh Zayed Stadium.

“First Roshan has to agree and then there is a process. It would be ideal if our local coaches can handle things. There are vast language barriers when foreign coaches are involved. When Arjuna was captain, he built a team for a foreigner to take it further. This team is young so you need one of our own. That’s why India looked at one of their own coaches. Roshan for us is the start. In future, we have to give our ex-cricketers a chance,” Murali added.

While Mahanama looks the ideal candidate for the job, whether he will fit in in a fragile and unprofessional  system remains doubtful. There were high hopes when he was appointed the coach of Sri Lanka ‘A’ team in 2002. Methodically, Mahanama was grooming several young players but his stint did not last long as he quit like a gentleman on principles.

Several members of the Cricket Advisory committee had been strong advocates of fewer teams in First Class cricket. But under their watch, instead of teams being reduced, it has only been further increased diluting the system further. Murali explained what prompted his colleagues’ actions.

“How are you going to throw out some of the clubs. If you do, you have to face the consequences. There will be court cases. The clubs will say it is unfair dismissal. The whole tournament can’t happen due to legal implications. We have to take some time to reduce the clubs. We have a three year period and by the end of it we want to reduce it to 15. There is a relegation system in place. However, the Provincial tournament will be the main format for us to select teams for international cricket,” he elaborated.

The arrival of former captain Mahela Jayawardene on a temporary mentor role for the ongoing T-20 World Cup has been welcomed by many. But Mahela will leave the Sri Lankan bubble after the qualifying round and Murali was asked why he could not stay beyond. “When we had a word with him on this, we realized that he had been away from home in bio bubbles for four months. He needs some rest. He agreed to start off the tournament and put the puzzles in place. You have the coaches and the selector on tour to take it on from there.”

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Sri Lanka Athletics reverse decision, include all disciplines for Youth Trial



Some disciplines including girls pole vault which were not included in the programme earlier have been added to the Youth Selection Trial which will be held in November.

Youth Athletics Trials for Asian Youth Championships

Sri Lanka Athletics has decided to include all track and field events for next month’s First Youth Trials reversing their earlier decision to conduct just a selected number of disciplines.

The track and field governing body said in a statement that the Executive Committee had decided to include the earlier excluded events for the November 13, 14 meet which will be held at the Sugathadasa Stadium.

Boys and girls pole vault, 1,500 metres, shot put, discus throw, hammer throw and race walking events will now be included in the programme.

It will be the first selection trial for the Asian Youth Athletics Championship which will be held in March in Kuwait.

Sri Lanka Athletics said that health authorities had allowed only a limited number of participants per day and accordingly the number of events was reduced in a bid to reduce the number of participants. But the governing body had to reverse the decision after numerous requests to include all disciplines.

Sri Lanka Athletics also announced entry standards for each event. The performances achieved from August 1, 2019 will be considered for entry. (RF)

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Cricket moans nation’s first Test captain’s death



by Rex Clementine  

There are some who always back underdogs. While the winners’ men go places, those who support the underdogs remain at odds with the system. With the larger circle of course, the fans for example, which is what matters, they remain hugely popular. One such breathed his last yesterday after a brief illness. Bandula Warnapura the nation’s first Test captain was 69.

Two of his contemporaries, Roy Dias and Duleep Mendis, also 69ers, were speechless. They had played lot of cricket together. The trio had toiled to put Sri Lanka in the world map and after retirement had shaped Sri Lankan cricket to great heights. While Roy and Duleep still contribute sharing the wealth of their knowledge, Bandu has gone, too soon and leaving a huge void.

Bandu was not an authoritative captain. You don’t have to be to succeed as captain. There was bit of Kane Williamson in him; friendly, trustworthy and authentic. His best virtue as skipper was his instincts. Filling in for injured skipper Anura Tennekoon during the 1979 World Cup, Bandu sensed an opportunity. Not because Sri Lanka were better than India. Man to man, India with Gavaskars, Vengsarkars, Viswanaths, Kapils, Amarnaths and Bedi, were a far better side. But there was in fighting among Indians and as a result none of the above captained the side. Venkataraghavan had become captain, by default. Bandu went for the kill and Sri Lanka were victorious. There was no denying of Test status from thereon.

The fact that Bandu faced Sri Lanka’s first ball in Test cricket made him the nation’s first Test cricketer as Bob Willis delivered the first ball in Test cricket in Sri Lanka. His time in Test cricket was short lived having got on the payroll of Dr. Ali Bacher opting to go to apartheid South Africa.

Morally it was not the right thing to do. South Africa was whites only those days. As a black, you would be made a honourary white citizen so that you could move around Wanderers, Newlands and Kingsmead.

His conscience would have told Bandu that this was not the right thing to do. But there comes a time in life where all of us have to make choices. Having lived through COVID for 18 months now where there have been so many financial challenges, you tend to break a few rules. Not to rob a bank but set aside your values and settle for something that provides you some financial security to look after your family. Some of us get away with these things. Some of us pay a small price. Some others pay a heavy one. Bandu lost everything having been banned for 25 years.

Eventually, Gamini Dissanayake mellowed. He reduced the ban to eight years. But that was for the players. The captain had to serve one more year before he could be allowed into cricket.

Bandu went places at SLC. He was only second in command to Duleep Mendis holding the post of Director, Cricket Operations. From there, he went to Malaysia and joined Asian Cricket Council and went a step further joining the ICC. He was hugely popular among his colleagues and superiors. Quite efficient too as he oversaw the development of several up and coming teams.

There was no better story teller in cricket than Bandu. He had one for every occasion. Television channels used his expertise in reality shows where he held his own.

But cricket could have used his services more than local television stations. They chose not to. Bandu was in a different camp. Actually, he was an independent man. What is it with our cricket that we keep our captains at arm’s length or maybe even avoid them like the plague? Bandu had no role to play in recent years. Duleep has no role to play. Arju has no role to play. Sanath has no role to play. Marvan has no role to play. Mathews has no role to play. The list goes on.

Bandu will be missed. May he attain the supreme bliss of nibbana.

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