The spreading of the virus

by Rohan Wijayaratne
We’ve been going on a bit in recent times about selection processes and the role that selectors have to play in them. And none too soon by the looks of it as we scan the newspapers. It appears that there is a significant degree of confusion even outside cricket, giving everyone the impression that very few seem to know or appreciate just who selectors are, and fewer still, the role they are expected to play. And we mean not just the man on the street, but worse, even the captains and coaches of national teams.

The latest casualty is rugby football. And don’t for a moment think that we are trying to dwell on that sport too, for, in order to write on a sport authoritatively, one needs to be almost expert at it and we are not, when it comes to rugby. But what is alarming is the apparent spread of a virus which is fast catching on. And it is called ‘Holding the selectors to ransom’.

• A tide going the wrong way

We have seen how poorly our national cricket captain came out of the South African selection fiasco. That is, among those who know and appreciate the unwritten laws that govern such things. Sure, his stand attracted much voluble support from various quarters, but they were either careless or unaware themselves of what they were saying or wrote on the subject. Of course they were the majority. But if the will of the majority is what counts all the time and what is necessarily good or correct, then we might as well pack it in right here and now. Things have come to such a sorry pass in this country that despite a few who know what is right, they are unable to change a tide that is fast gathering momentum in the opposite direction. The sheer weight of numbers simply overwhelms them. But that after all, is the story of our country itself and not just sport alone.

• Some classic instances

We now have a situation where the national rugby coach is said to have resigned, because he didn’t agree with the selectors. And on top of that, the captain has also indicated his unavailability, citing difference with the selectors over the date of commencement of training. And finally, we have the classic case of a schoolboy being accorded the signal honour of being selected to play for his country and who in turn informs the selectors of his unavailability, owing to his school team touring another country at the same time. To make things worse, its principal has been quoted as saying that the school comes first. All this of course as reported in the newspapers.

• Playing for the country, least important of all!

If what has been reported is accurate, we have perhaps arrived at a significant watershed not just in the history of sport, but worse, in our value system as well. Everything else in this country these days seems to take precedence over the country itself! Small wonder, that everyone is busy, fighting everyone else these days. Gone are the days when schoolboys such as Stanley Jayasinghe, Douglas Jayasinha, Anura Ranasinghe and Arjuna Ranatunga represented the country whilst still at school and were right proud of it too, as were their schools. Now the clock has turned a full circle, and representing the country is of far lesser importance than representing one’s own school. By the looks of things, it appears that its not just only the schoolboys who are foggy about what is right and wrong these days but even their mentors!

• Mistaken values

The trend was set by our national cricket captain who perhaps lost a good deal of esteem through his lack of appreciation and understanding of his role in the selection process. If this nonsensical practice of giving the captain the team he wants all the time has been the practice before, there is little excuse why such a practice should still continue. But clearly Jayasuriya was unaware of the fine line that divides an invitation to the selection meetings and the extent of his influence there. Perhaps he was simply following the footsteps of his predecessor Ranatunga, who did many things on and off the cricket field without quite knowing their implications or understanding tradition. Clearly, all along, no one has stood up to tell these men, what role they are expected to perform as captains of their country.

This is not to say that the selectors or their selections have been right. As in the case with cricket, it is possible that even with rugby, the selections have left much to be desired. The point we are making however is, whether the example set by these coaches and the captains through their conduct can be considered responsible or acceptable. Or whether through such conduct, they would have set an unhealthy precedent for the future.

• The accepted practice

The usual practice is that the selectors may seek the opinion of the captain and the coach which they no doubt frequently do. Communication should be fairly good both ways. In most established sporting countries, the selectors make the decisions. In Australia for instance, the function of the ACB is to approve the selections made in its name. Theoretically the ACB could disapprove on grounds other than cricketing ability. But this hardly ever happens. The other function of the Australian Cricket Board, and one it guards jealously, is of course the appointment of the captain and the vice captain from those selected. The selectors may advice, but the Board makes the final decision on these two appointments. This is regarded as necessary to project the proper image of what the Board wants to the public at large.

In this country, two sets of selectors in two widely popular sports have been embarrassed through the insensitivity of two captains and one coach. In the process, these three men have also shown that they have very little idea if at all, of what their role is, in the selection process. And as the clock ticks by on this time bomb, there will come a time when no one wants to be a selector any longer. And if that is the end result we are all seeking, then we are well on the way towards achieving it at great speed.

‘The doughty fighters’ continued

If our last week’s effort was to highlight the scales to which some of the less fashionable sides climbed in the old days through playing to their strengths, we would wish to touch upon another club that certainly merits mention in similar vein. And I refer to those doughty fighters who have represented Bloomfield over the years.

• A great benefactor

Perhaps it would be fair to say that no club has had to work as hard as the Bloomfielders, merely in order to survive. Thanks mainly to Shelly Wickremesinghe who is a legend beyond compare in these modern times, the club in now securely perched at Reid Avenue abreast of the imposing grand stand at the old Race Course. It has been a long and arduous trek from Campbell park to Reid Avenue, but the spirit of their officials have been amply matched through the exploits of some of their players on the field of play.

To begin with, Bloomfield clinched the coveted Sara Trophy in the 1963 - 64 season under the leadership of Noel Perera. Since we are dealing essentially with bowlers only, we shall name a few who were the major architects of that success. They were Norton Frederick, Ranjit Malawana, W. A. N. Silva, Bonnie Wijesinghe, Mahinda Wijesinghe and D. P. Wickramarachchi. Then under the leadership of Bandula Warnapura, Bloomfield achieved another milestone when they won the Sara Trophy in the 1980 - 81 season. Among the bowlers associated with that triumph were the likes of Anura Ranasinghe, Ajith de Silva, Lalith Kauperuma, Leslie Narangoda, and S. Illangaratnam.

• Skanda’s sportsmanship

And in the very next year which was the inaugural year of the Lakspray trophy, . Bloomfield created history winning the championship in the most unusual manner. That year will be better remembered as the one in which the trophy was awarded and then withdrawn from the Tamil Union through an oversight by the Tournament Committee. And true to form and public school tradition, S. Skandakumar the redoubtable skipper of the Tamils at the time, personally went and handed over the trophy to the Bloomfielders in a gesture that was as widely acclaimed as it was appreciated. The Bloomfielders at the time, had in their ranks bowlers of the calibre of Vinothen John, Lalith Kaluperuma, Ajith de Silva, Bandula Warnapura, Leslie Narangoda and S. Illangaratnam-at the time, who were a pretty formidable bunch in any language.

• Still scratching the surface

In a short essay of this nature it is impossible to do justice to all those who deserved it, but we are happy to have at least scratched the surface of a subject and revive some old names if not memories. And talking of others who deserve mention, Moors and Nomads are two such. Moors produced some fine cricketers in the fifties and sixties, some of whom went on to play for All- Ceylon. Tony Buhar, and Ghulam Razick after Abu Fuard being names of such bowlers that come easily to mind. And Nomads were near incredible; turning champions out of mere ordinary cricketers under the tutelage of that gray haired maestro D. H. de Silva. Whether there ever was a cleverer cricketing brain in this country or not, I would not know, but to the on-looker, under his stewardship, Nomads dished out some regal stuff with a bunch of largely unheralded of cricketers. And then there were those merry men from Moratuwa, Adastrians, CCC, and Colts who too had their share of bowling heroes, but we need to tail off here lest we get carried away too much for far too long.