It’s not whether you win or lose …


"Game" is a multi-faceted word with various (and devious) variations, connotations and explanations. For starters, I would like to quote from an article that appeared in the Sunday Island of 26/FEB/2017 under the title "How Much Violence Is Violent".

 "Gut stabbing" is a metaphor I would like to use when telling you that Anthony Marcellus - as an MMC, proposed converting the then Bloemendhal Municipal Dump into a Stadium.  Sugathe, Marcellus, Malli(marachi), CV, Pieter and a host of others were regular visitors at our place crunching on cream crackers and sipping my Mom’s tea.  I remember Pieter contributing for a bottle (it was eight rupees then) to celebrate the Marcellus proposal.  I was underage and not entitled to buy liquor; my neighbour did the honours.  We now have a Sugathadasa Stadium!

The story didn’t end there – in 1965, Dudley appointed Sugathe as Minister of Nationalized Services & SPORTS. This heralded the beginning of the politicization of sports. Everyone knows that it is asking too much to ask a politician to "be a sport"! Sugathe played soccer, and soccer was the name of the game at that time and the Stadium was built to host soccer matches.

Cricket is what everyone talks about today. I’ve played cricket but was never good enough to represent any team. "Gully" and "Cover" to me is about the rainwater flowing in my garden and I refuse to comment on "Deep Fine Leg"! I am, however, game to talk about cricket. And cheer our cricketers. Way back in the late 70’s, I had a couple of friends who represented Sri Lanka in a tour of Australia – we had not gained "Test Status" then. When they came back, they told me how when they were washing their clothes in the hotel room, a steward had asked them why they did not utilize their Laundry Allowance. My friends never heard of or saw that allowance; obviously someone in the team management did.

The gentleman in Gamini Dissanayake is etched in the memory and history of our elevation in the "Gentleman’s Game". When a Stadium was required, Gamini approached Premadasa and we have the Khettarama Stadium. Re-naming it the R. Premadasa Stadium after his death is a tribute – not a glorification. Gamini was Minister of Mahaweli Development (he was never Minister of Sports) and he pushed the contractors of the Victoria Dam Project to build the Asgiriya Stadium. His name is nowhere to be seen. We then had a Board of Control and saw the entry of the likes of Ana Punchihewa and Hemaka Amarasuriya. They were gentlemen of breed, not greed. Ana was a beverage, not a hemorrhage; Hemaka was not a singer, he was a giver. Their time, effort and contributions (sponsorships) they gave willingly and with dedication. When the money started pouring into cricket, so did those with greed. Ana and Hemaka ‘retired, like the gentlemen they were bred to be – the ‘business’ of cricket was not their business!

It soon became a case where, in cricket, money worked, money talked and money ruled. So much so, my late and great friend, Lasantha Wickrematunge, exposed an instance where noted gangster and criminal Dhammika Amarasinghe went for the World Cup in England on a forged passport in the name of Buddhika Priyashantha Godage. Dead men tell no tales and Dhammika was ‘executed’ – shot dead in courts! Case closed but memories live on. There is also a case pending in courts (pending or depending on decisions from higher up is another matter) of a media organization gaining exclusive rights to telecast cricket matches.

Getting back to my two friends and the Australian Tour of the late 70s, a good cricket bat at that time cost something like LKR 1,200 to LKR 1,500. Compare this with another friend of mine who spent five years at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Colombo and qualified as a doctor. He was getting something like 600 or 700 rupees a month while serving his internship. He gave up cricket as he couldn’t afford to buy a bat. And a bat is not everything – boots, gloves, pads, crotch guards and a whole list of paraphernalia followed. My friends used to tell me how they shared crotch guards (they referred to them as ‘ball’ guards) – using talcum powder for soothing and smoothing effect. Love and dedication mattered.

I believe it is about time we rewrote the adage "it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game" – it is now about WHY you play the game. I happened to come across a recent article where Kumar Sangakkara (in my book, another gentleman of breed) had admitted that he, Mahela (another gentleman) and several others had ‘Managers’. Obviously, with money pouring in from sponsorships, ‘branding’, advertising and a host of other sources, someone had to keep tab. Playing the game required concentration. If (I repeat if) a Manager can influence team selection, it becomes an altogether different ball game.

True, I may not have taken part in competitive sport, but I am a thorough sport in every sense of the word. I love tennis and watching the ongoing Wimbledon Championships, where Saturday’s winner of the Women’s title will receive a cheque for GBP2.2 million. I’m gunning for Venus – 37 is not too old for determination. So will the winner of Sunday’s Men’s final. Will Roger get there? First Round losers walked away with GBP 35,000 each. That’s talking sport. Sourav Ganguly has over 50 cars, including around 20 Mercedes. Tendulkar, Dhoni, Kholi are no paupers. As for Sri Lanka, in today’s context, I wouldn’t even accidently say ‘poor’ cricketers. Recalling the time Sugathe, Peiter et al were ‘regulars’ at our home, there were horse races and I remember an oft repeated phrase – "Money Makes The Mare Go". As far as I can remember, none of them were gamblers – this was just part of their lexicon.

Revamping is required. For starters, are we playing names as a strategy or potential or whim? I would say we need someone at the top who can be a sport; not someone adept at playing games. If a politician has final say in team selection, we’re not playing cricket – at least not what I would like to see. Level the playing field; don’t bring the game to your level. We do have talent and it needs nurturing – I’m talking cricket not politics!


Reggie Ponnampalam


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