Initiator of co-hosting 1995 WC here | Daily News
NEIL PERERA

Initiator of co-hosting 1995 WC here

Rarely are cricket administrators recognized as legends. They are the one’s who toil in the background under tremendous pressure. If everything goes well the credit usually goes to the Chair of the Board and it’s members. And if something goes amiss, it’s the administrator who get’s heaped with blame.

It’s therefore a really pleasant occasion that NEIL PERERA is remembered in this column as a key architect and administrator who tactically initiated the move to help conduct the 1995/96 World Cup co-hosted by India, and Pakistan. And yes, Sri Lanka as well. His negotiating skills and ploys brought Sri Lanka in to the co-hosting spotlight without which Sri Lanka would have remained in the shadows.

Not out at the age of 88 and still going strong, PERERA has entered the ‘SPORTS LEGENDS’ Hall of Fame for his immeasurable contribution as cricketer and administrator for the game when it was gasping for air to enter the co-hosting of the World Cup and struggling for recognition.

PERERA’S abiding interest in the game he loved, saw him involved with the administration of the Robert Senanayake era when the genial former Thomian cricketer was President.

Successful run

PERERA after a successful run hailing and playing for Panadura threw himself into the game’s administration. It was he who nursed and nurtured Panadura Cricket Club’s cricket that performed well.

As a junior reporter in the ‘Times of Ceylon’ in the early 1960s I was asked to cover the Cricket Board meetings when Robert Senanayake was President. The meetings were held at the SSC for at that time the Board of Control for Cricket did not have a headquarters to call its own.

In that era I had the good fortune of having former Sport Editor of the ‘Daily News’ Christie Senevratne who played for Wesley College with that maestro Mahadevan Sathasivam to guide me as to what to report on at these meetings as to what should be kept off the record.

In those days the meetings were a class act. There was much decorum and one always dealt with the agenda in a systematic way. And what was confidential was regarded strictly as such. But there was always anxiety and pressure on the Board to deliver.

Turbulent years

PERERA served on the Cricket Board during those turbulent years when we were pressing for recognition and entry into the International Cricket Council and full membership. But we were rebuked by the white dominated ICC at that time and asked to go back and grow! ‘Sri Lanka want’s what?’ was the refrain at the ICC.

An Electrical Engineer by profession, PERERA was always vociferous at Board meetings, always having the game at heart and his contributions for the betterment of the game were well received by the other members of the BCCSL.

PERERA held many posts in the Board and his views and advice was much such sought after for his dedication to duty, his knowledge of the game, honesty, efficiency and knowledge of the international cricket scene. He always had his ear to the cricket ground.

Longest innings

PERERA batted for the BCCSL for well over 25 years excelling in every post he was asked to adorn. His longest innings in the Board was serving as its secretary which can also be acknowledged as a record. Efficiency was his hallmark.

He was also its vice president and had many stints with the Board as manager of touring teams in the era before we attained Test status and also after.

His finest and most unforgettable moment would have been when he managed the Sri Lanka team that made history winning its first ever Test abroad at Napier beating New Zealand in 1995.

Eternal gratitude

PERERA will always be remembered with eternal gratitude by the country for it is he who more than any other administrator who bowled the first ball that led to the 1995/96 World Cup being co-hosted in the sub continent – India/ Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

That was a momentous move that other than for the generation of that era knowing who the prime mover was, the present generation would be oblivious of it.

PERERA who had a special love for cricket always was on the lookout to do new things for the cricketer, the game and the administration.

He asked himself the question; If other countries can bid and host the World Cup, what is Sri Lanka lacking in that other countries have? PERERA never believed in being second. He toyed with the idea of forcing the authorities to let Sri Lanka co-host the 1995/96 World Cup with India and Pakistan.

No wavering

He was up against it, but there was no wavering or throwing in the towel. Like in cricket parlance once he got his eye in he was determined to play an innings for the game and be remembered. But he had a tough bowler to face in Tyronne Fernando who was the Board President at that time.

When PERERA tossed the idea to Fernando, Fernando knew that it was not a walk in the park co-hosting an event of that magnitude. But Fernando gave his blessings and that further motivated PERERA. Before putting bat to ball, they needed the blessings of the Premadasa Government of that time. Premadasa obliged but also promised to financially support the bid.

In his effort PERERA realized that he was walking on a bed of nails. But PERERA who would not take no for an answer put in motion his strategy. South Africa back in cricket’s cauldron was making a strong bid, so were England and Pakistan.

Forceful canvassing

But PERERA fought the good fight. His canvassing was so forceful and convincing that other countries pushing to conduct the 1996 World Cup. South Africa with Nelson Mandela pushing hard failed to muster a two-third majority. Knowing full well that their bid was going to end in failure South Africa withdrew from the race.

PERERA then bowled what could be described as a ‘doosra’ when he convinced Pakistan that a lone bid by them will not succeed. Unable to counter PERERA’S ‘doosra’ Pakistan consented to a joint bid, but laid out a condition that the final be placed in Lahore. And India even then a powerhouse demanded that the two semi-finals be played in India.

That was agreed with no hassle and PERERA’S battle won much to the joy of the country which which won the right to co-host the prestigious World Cup 1995/96 with Pakistan and India. PERERA rode through further turbulence that needs no mention. But the job he did to succeed was done and the rest is history now.

Great testimony

That PERERA fought the good battle and won was great testimony for his love of the game and to prove to the cricket world that Sri Lanka must not be underestimated now that they are in the big league and rubbing it in that what others can do, we can do better.

With everything done and dusted, a dear friend who remained supportive of Sri Lanka cricket Jagmohan Dalmiya was asked to captain the organizing team that was called PILCOM (Pakistan India, and Lanka Committee) and they performed that onerous job and co-hosted the World Cup and did an exemplary job second to none was appreciated and applauded round the cricket world.

When the history of Sri Lanka cricket is written about the magnanimous gesture by PERERA must be writ in bold letters of gold. He has the right to claim that he is not only a HERO, but a LEGEND too.

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