Personal recollections of a great benefactor: Mr. R. Rajamahendran
by Sidath Wettimuny
I embarked on my working life towards the end of 1976. I had to decide between two offers – one from The Maharaja Organisation (‘MO’), and one from Ceylon Tobacco. I opted to join Maharaja’s, especially because my brother Mithra was an accountant there and as I was not keen to work for a company that sold cigarettes.
I went to work with great excitement looking forward to an induction of sorts. To this date, I smile when I think of that unique briefing I received from Mr. E.C. Baha, the then Assistant to the Managing Directors, Mr. Maharaja and Mr. Rajamahendran (‘Killi’ to most, but always ‘Sir’ to me). It was short, sharp and to the point.
‘Sidath, you can cut work. But do not cut cricket practices. You will be in serious trouble!, Mr. Baha declared. Highly amused, I left the meeting and got down to work at Maharaja’s.
Mercantile cricket was serious business, and the MO team was the team to contend with at the Mercantile tournament. Our team was star studded with many Sri Lankan national players. Prior to every match, Killi gave us a briefing. Besides strategizing, he inculcated and instilled in us the importance of being professional in our attitude. He always stressed that the difference between an amateur and a professional was that of attitude and approach to the game. This advice, no doubt, progressively made us better players.
During this period, there was a popular belief that playing in the League in England would provide our budding national players valuable experience and exposure, especially to different types of wickets. I was one of the many beneficiaries to be sponsored by Killi to play a season of League Cricket in the North of England.
I will never forget my introduction to England!
After a long and tiring Aeroflot flight, via Moscow, I landed in the UK and had the most bizarre and horrendous experience. The immigration queue was very long and two of the cricketers who flew in with me, Tony Opatha and Anura Ranasinghe, had gone through ahead of me. Due to a misunderstanding about the purpose of my visit, I ended up spending almost 24 hours at the immigration waiting room.
At the point of deep despair, fearing I could be sent back, I was utterly relieved to see the figure of Killi striding towards me. He chuckled and informed me that he had been in Austria, heard of my detention, and took the next flight to London, to sign a bond and get me released. I had tears pouring down my face as I walked out beside him. Yet again, thanks to him I was able to experience and enjoy my first season of League Cricket during the summer.
In the following years, the MO supported and sponsored many aspiring and already selected Sri Lankan national players, including giants like Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias, to play League Cricket in the UK. Killi was totally focused on ensuring that we cricketers developed our skills, and gained experience in the game at a more professional level of cricket. He strongly believed that our skills matched that of any other nation, but what we lacked was a professional attitude. He gave us the impetus and motivation to think and dream big about what we can achieve as national cricketers. Killi employed and supported nearly 100 national cricketers– a statistic unmatched by any other organization or individual. His contribution to cricket in Sri Lanka cannot be quantified!!
Another unforgettable incident I had with him was when I was sitting for my ACCA Part II examination. I found it hard to balance the hours of cricket with my studies. I had a lot of pressure from home to secure my accountancy qualification. When my boss refused a request for study leave, I had to make a decision on whether to continue working and playing cricket, or to leave and focus on accountancy studies. I appealed to Killi, as I grappled with this decision. I recall meeting him and his brother in the MO Boardroom where, dressed in his typical dapper style, he was standing behind his chair. On hearing my predicament, he told me ‘I say, may I give you some advice? I can find ten accountants down the road, but if you do something for your country as a national cricketer, I will value you more. You will have greater opportunities in the future.’
Those words of advice stayed with me and comforted me as I kept postponing my studies. In the meantime, cricket took centre stage in my life. To date, I am extremely grateful for Killi’s words of wisdom, as even the business that I currently am in was initiated through my cricket contacts in the UK, after I stopped playing cricket.
The spirit of cricket at the MO was very special. In the early 1980s, a one-off ‘Super Tournament’, comprising winners of the different tournaments, was held in a very competitive atmosphere. The MO qualified as the winners of the Mercantile Tournament. Duleep and I were in a peculiar situation, as we were playing for the MO against our own Club, the SSC. Sunil and Mithra, who were stalwarts of the SSC team, teased us about how the SSC would thrash the MO team. Their continuous teasing made us determined to score. At the match, Duleep and I both made hundreds and helped secure a win for the MO…much to the chagrin of my two brothers!
When the powerful combination of Hon. Gamini Dissanayake and Killi took over the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka their invaluable contribution and tireless efforts helped Sri Lanka gain Test status. Even in this aspect Killi’s contribution to cricket in Sri Lanka was huge!
Before our historic maiden cricket tour of England in 1984, Killi sponsored five national players to go ahead of the team to London. He arranged for practices at the Lord’s indoor facilities, which gave us the opportunity to play a practice match for an MCC team. I have no doubt that this initial exposure helped us to build our confidence and to cope with our maiden Test at Lord’s.
I’m certain gratitude and tributes to Mr. Killi Rajamahendran from all the cricketers who had the privilege of knowing him, will be endless. Behind his tough exterior was a heart of gold; we are all hearing more and more of his generosity to many, on many fronts.
One regret I personally have is when, in 2015, while Chairing the Interim Committee of SLC, I was very keen to name all the Hospitality Boxes at the Khettarama Stadium with the names of personalities who significantly contributed to the game of cricket.
The first two boxes were to be named after Hon. Gamini Dissanayake and Mr Rajamahendran. However, due to the premature departure of that Interim Committee, this naming did not happen. It would have been appropriate to name a box after Mr. Rajamahendran, the single largest benefactor to Sri Lankan Cricket. In any event, in my opinion, Mr. Rajamahendran will always be Sri Lanka’s ‘Mr. Cricket’.
Nine year old Mazel Alegado has Olympic dream in sight
At nine years old, skateboarder Mazel Alegado has the world at her feet.
The youngest member of the Philippines team at the Asian Games – and thought to be the youngest competitor at the entire event – finished seventh in the women’s park final in Hangzhou, China.
Now the United States resident has her eyes set on reaching the Olympic Games.
“I’m really proud that I got here. My dream is to be a pro skater. I would love to go to the Olympics,” she told Japan Today. “I was so excited you know, because I was able to skate Asian Games. It was so fun,” she added.
She was inspired to take up the sport after watching her brother. “We were at my cousin’s house and I saw my brother skateboarding and I was like, ‘Can I try? Can I try?’ I got on the board and just loved it,” she said.
Alegado’s best score in the final came in her first run, when she posted 52.85.
Japanese skateboarder Hinano Kusaki, 15, claimed gold while China bagged silver and bronze with, respectively, 20-year-old Li Yujuan and Mao Jiasi, 15, finishing on the podium.
Skateboarding has attracted some of sport’s youngest athletes. Britain’s Sky Brown turned 13 shortly before claiming bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics while silver medallist Kokona Hiraki was 12.
Gymnastics Ireland ‘deeply sorry’ to Black girl ignored at medal ceremony
Ireland’s gymnastics federation has apologised for the allegedly racist treatment of a young Black gymnast who was skipped by an official handing out medals to a row of girls last year.
Footage posted on social media last week of an event in Dublin in 2022 showed the official appearing to snub the girl, the only Black gymnast in the lineup, who looked bewildered.
“We would like to unreservedly apologise to the gymnast and her family for the upset that has been caused by the incident,” Gymnastics Ireland (GI) said in a statement posted on its website on Monday.
“What happened on the day should not have happened and for that we are deeply sorry,” said the statement. “We would like to make it absolutely clear that [GI] condemns any form of racism whatsoever,” it added.
The video posted on Friday soon went viral and drew widespread condemnation of the girl’s treatment, including from star United States gymnast Simone Biles, who said she sent the girl a private video message of support.
“It broke my heart to see the video. There is no room for racism in any sport or at all,” Biles, a seven-time Olympic medalist, said Saturday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Biles’s US teammate Jordan Chiles described the incident as “beyond hurtful on so many levels”.
In an earlier statement, GI defended the official who it said had made an “honest error” but acknowledged it received a complaint from the parents of the girl alleging racist behaviour in March 2022.
GI said an independent mediation had led to a “resolution agreed by both parties in August 2023”, that the official had written an apology and that the girl had received her medal after the ceremony.
However, the Irish Independent on Sunday anonymously quoted the girl’s mother as saying GI had failed to publicly apologise and that she would take the issue to the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation in Switzerland.
Welcome to Ireland where people get away with racism! This little black girl broke my heart. Don’t skip this post without leaving a million heart for her. Make her famous… pic.twitter.com/YYMIP1IALZ
— Mohamad Safa (@mhdksafa) September 22, 2023
How home teams are thriving in ICC Men’s Cricket World Cups
Pressure or advantage? The conundrum that faces the hosts of each ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup.
If the last three editions are anything to go by, it is an advantage to be playing at home.
But, up until the 2011 edition, only one team had ever won as hosts, and that was Sri Lanka in 1996 when they co-hosted with India and Pakistan.
Even then, they only played two games at home, winning the final in Lahore.
Since 2011, a home team has triumphed every time with India setting the trend which Australia and, most recently, England followed.
Each team had unique challenges to face en route to the trophy, but what worked for the home teams?
India’s legends lead them home
Legends were made, celebrated, and inspired at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2011.
The final on 2 April was the most memorable day for the great Sachin Tendulkar as he was finally part of a World Cup-winning squad.
He made only 18 runs in the showpiece, but he had stewarded India there with a Player-of-the-Match- performance in the semi-final against Pakistan.
Yuvraj Singh had also done his job, winning Player of the Tournament after piling up 362 runs and 15 wickets, doing so without knowing he was suffering from cancer.
Each player was facing a personal Everest as well as the collective one of attempting to win a World Cup under what felt like insurmountable pressure.
To prepare, they spoke with Mike Horn, an adventurer who became the first person to solo circumnavigate the Equator, who put into perspective the challenge ahead of them.
The first challenge they faced was opening the tournament against Bangladesh, Virender Sehwag began with a boundary and that is how the tournament ended – MS Dhoni hit the winning six in the final against Sri Lanka.
The captain had moved himself above usual No.5 Singh, the change paying off as he then compiled 91 runs from 79 balls to see India to a second title and send the nation into ecstasy.
Doing so, the pressure was released and the curse of the hosts winning on home soil was broken.
Australia surge to fifth trophy
The most successful team in the competition’s history, Australia were never going to be able to fly under the radar, and their performances in 2015 certainly caught the eye.
The World Cup started on a positive note when they beat their old rivals England by 111 runs at the MCG.
But spirits were dampened by a washout against Bangladesh before New Zealand took a low-scoring thriller at Eden Park, winning by just one wicket.
And hell hath no fury like an Aussie team beaten.
Michael Clarke’s men responded by putting on the highest score at a World Cup, crashing 417 against Afghanistan in a 275-run win.
Comfortable defeats of Sri Lanka and Scotland followed before Australia brushed aside Pakistan and India in the knockouts.
The latter became the sixth team to be bowled out by Australia in the tournament as they were reduced to 233 runs, 96 short of their target.
The same fate befell New Zealand in the final in Melbourne as they were all out for 183 which Australia chased down with 101 balls to spare.
The experience of previous wins outweighed the pressure of home expectations, not something England could say four years later.
Four years in the making
England had never won the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup before and had been burned by a disastrous campaign in 2015.
But from the ashes grew new life, as captain Eoin Morgan led a rebuild with one aim, to win the World Cup on home soil.
There was time for beauty amid the ruthlessness, Ben Stokes’ stunning catch in the opener against South Africa firing up the tournament.
Morgan broke records as he blasted the most sixes in an innings against Afghanistan before Australia were blown away in the semi-finals.
The final at Lord’s was not about beauty or ruthlessness but as England attempted to do what had previously been impossible for them, they simply just needed to be in the contest.
The game ebbed and flowed as any good one-day match should before reaching a crescendo with a Super Over.
It almost had to be like this, the team who had set out to revolutionize the game, winning the World Cup in a way it had never been won before.
Now the tournament returns to the place where the trend started, and with India acting as solo hosts for the first time, all eyes will truly be on them.
But as 2011 showed, that is how they like it.
Nine year old Mazel Alegado has Olympic dream in sight
Showers in Western, Sabaragamuwa and North-western provinces and in Jaffna, Anuradhapura Galle and Matara districts
Gymnastics Ireland ‘deeply sorry’ to Black girl ignored at medal ceremony
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