Pakistan was the greatest supporter of Sri Lanka cricket – Neil Perera | Daily News
Former secretary takes us through the dark days when SLC was not as rich as it is today

Pakistan was the greatest supporter of Sri Lanka cricket – Neil Perera

Neil Perera is helped onto the stage by former Indian World Cup winning captain Kapil Dev who was guest of honour at the Dialog annual awards night held at Waters Edge.
Neil Perera is helped onto the stage by former Indian World Cup winning captain Kapil Dev who was guest of honour at the Dialog annual awards night held at Waters Edge.

When Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) made the initial award of Lifetime Achievement to Neil Perera at their annual Dialog annual awards night at Waters Edge last week, few of the present generation of cricketers, administrators and cricket writers would have known the role played by Perera as secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (BCCSL) as it was known then.

It was an award that was well and truly deserved in every sense and whoever decided to chose Neil Perera as the first recipient should be congratulated.

Perera was secretary of the BCCSL from 1973 to 1976 and also served in its Exco for over 20 years which included two years as vice president. He also managed Sri Lanka teams on six occasions. With the State Services Cricket Association he was president for 10 years and president of the Panadura Sports Club for several years having represented them and captained them in division I cricket. As an employee of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) he played and captained their team for many years.

In comparison to what SLC is today with such an oversized staff Perera who at 88 finds it difficult to walk long distances after he was laid low following an attack of chikungunya virus three years ago, recalling those dark days reflected, “We had no money or office or staff. The typist and the peon in my branch at the CEB did the typing and cyclostyling etc. for which I paid them a small stipend once a month out of my own pocket. This went on right through the period from 1973 to 1976 when I was secretary of the BCCSL.”

Perera was full of praise for Pakistan’s Abdul Hafeez Kardar who played a great role in Sri Lanka achieving full membership of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

“Kardar was a great supporter of Sri Lanka. He was a Minister of Education in the Ali Bhutto cabinet and he was president of the Pakistan Cricket Board. He had played cricket for India before partition in 1947 and then captained Pakistan after partition. We had several unofficial tours with Pakistan and India, and in 1973 Kardar proposed us for full membership of the ICC. But Australia and England who had the veto powers at that time turned it down,” recalled Perera.

“In 1974 Kardar formed the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) and the main reason for forming it was because ICC was treating us badly. He said that Pakistan and India knew the standard of cricket played by Sri Lanka because they had played against them. He said that they are as good as anyone of us. The first meeting of the ACC was held in Lahore and at the meeting also he proposed that India and Pakistan should back Sri Lanka’s entry to full membership.

AH KARDAR’S STAND WITH ICC

“Robert Senanayake (president of BCCSL) went for the ICC meeting at Lord’s in 1974 spending his own money and after returned he told me the way Kardar spoke at that meeting. He said that Kardar almost brought the Lord’s room down.

Kardar said we are proposing again Pakistan and India for Sri Lanka’s full membership but when he found that other countries were opposed to it, he told them, “if there is any reason why you refuse this entry its none other than racial discrimination” and banged his fist on the table.

Robert said that he was surprised the way Kardar behaved on Sri Lanka’s behalf. In spite of Kardar’s reaction the ICC turned down the proposal. One of the reasons I can think of for refusing our entry was that with Sri Lanka also coming in it would strengthen the Asian regions hand in the ICC,” Perera stated.

Perera recalled an incident when the ACC meeting was held in Colombo at the Hotel Oberoi where he had to on his own do all the arrangements without staff or an office.

“Kardar came for the ACC meeting in Oberoi and I had to drop him at the airport in my car. Along the way to the airport he asked me is there any way Pakistan can support Sri Lanka cricket. I said, “Sir, why don’t you send your national cricket coach Khan Mohammad to Sri Lanka to train our coaches”. He said, “No, I have a better idea, you send three of your coaches to Pakistan I will get them coached under Khan Mohammad”.

Then he proposed that we start an under 19 series between Sri Lanka and Pakistan and when I agreed he said Pakistan will give the trophy called the Ali Bhutto trophy. The first match was to be played in Colombo and thereafter on a reciprocal basis. That’s how it all worked out,” Perera said.

“We sent Abu Fuard, Anuruddha Polonowita and WAN Silva to Pakistan for training. We started the under 19 match where Anura Ranasinghe captained the Sri Lanka team and we won the match all due to Ranjan Madugalle’s off-spinners. He took eight wickets but he lost his bowling arm after that. This is the way Pakistan supported us and they have been doing that right along. They have been the greatest supporters of Sri Lanka cricket.”

PERERA’S ROLE IN THE 1996 WORLD CUP

In 1996 when India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka hosted the World Cup it was Pakistani and Indian cricketers who formed an Asian XI and played a team from Sri Lanka to show the world that playing cricket in Sri Lanka was safe when countries like Australia and West Indies were reluctant to come and fulfill their World Cup fixtures citing security reasons.

Although Australia and West Indies still kept away and forfeited their matches it eventually paved the way for Zimbabwe and Kenya to come and play their matches in Sri Lanka. The rest of what happened after that is history.

For the 1996 World Cup to come to the subcontinent there was another interesting story behind it and it involved Neil Perera.

“In June 1993 at the ICC meeting I had to make a great personal effort to stage the World Cup 1996 in the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan was not willing towards this suggestion as they wanted to go it alone.

South Africa came into the picture and Nelson Mandella who was just released from prison had telephoned President R Premadasa asking for Sri Lanka's support for South Africa's bid.

Pakistan also bid. At President Premadasa's request we voted for South Africa. To relate very briefly, at voting, England got 4 votes South Africa 4 and Pakistan 1,” said Perera.

“Pakistan’s delegate General Khan was very angry that we did not vote for them.

I intervened at this stage and convinced an angry General Khan to support us in a joint bid. With much reluctance and after accusing Sri Lanka of letting them down and after much cajoling, he finally agreed. With South Africa supporting us our joint bid got one vote more than England in the second round of voting. Still we did not have the two-third majority.

After a meeting lasting nearly eight hours a compromise formula was agreed upon. The 1996 World Cup to be staged in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the 1999 World Cup in England and 2003 World Cup in South Africa,” he said.

Jagmohan Dalmiya who was secretary of the Indian Cricket Board paid a glowing tribute to Perera’s contribution towards bringing the 1996 World Cup to the subcontinent when he wrote a personal letter saying, “I would like to thank you for all the hard work that you did in the last few months to make the joint bid of Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka successful.

In fact, without your crucial role at the ICC meeting in London on February 2, 1993, the “cake” perhaps would not have come to this sub-continent. At the meeting we observed how you intervened on time and presented your opinion forcefully, even in the face of strong opposition from the other side. And the success of the joint bid owes a lot to your hard work and efficiency.”

SELLING CLOVES AND BATS IN INDIA

According to Perera the present Sports Law was brought in to stop presidents and secretaries from holding office for a long period of time.

“Robert Senanayake was president of BCCSL for 17 years, the Sports Law came purely because of Robert holding office for so many years,” said Perera. “But fortunately KB Ratnayake who came as Sports Minister was a thorough gentleman he never interfered in the affairs of the cricket board. The Sports Law when it came into effect stated that the president and secretary can hold office only for two years. Thereon from 1974-76 I held office and Robert also went out after 1976.”

Relating another episode of the dark days our past cricketers had to endure Perera said, “In 1975 we went on a tour to India and as manager of the team I got about Rs. 4000 for the five weeks tour. A cricketer was given 3 pounds 10 shillings each which came to less than Rs. 100. Each cricketer took 2 kilos of cloves which you could sell at a high price in India. They also took more than one English bat which was very expensive in India and they were able to sell. That is how the team members managed.

“Having gone there I ran through my money in about two weeks spending on taxis and on various other expenses.

I was short of money and Ghulam Ahmed, a former off-spinner was secretary of the Indian Cricket Board. He was a very nice person. I told him ‘Ghulam can you please help us’. He asked ‘what do you want?’ I told him we had run short of money because the government doesn’t allow us to take out of the country more than a certain amount. He asked how much I wanted. I said I needed about Rs. 3000-4000. He said, ‘you ask for whatever you want I will give’. I told him that I would pay it back when I get home but he refused to take a single cent and gave me about Rs. 5000. With that money we managed to continue with the rest of the tour. Most of our traveling was done by train where we had to sometimes travel for about eight hours without any sleeping berths,” Perera recalled.

These are some of the hardships our cricketers and cricket administrators and officials had to endure in the past to bring Sri Lanka cricket to what it is today. Thus Sri Lanka Cricket giving an individual like Neil Perera worthy recognition even at this late stage with a Lifetime Achievement should be lauded in every sense.


 

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