A view on Sri Lanka Cricket and the Sinhalese Sports Club | Sunday Observer

A view on Sri Lanka Cricket and the Sinhalese Sports Club

25 March, 2018
W.T. Ellawala, President of the Sinhalese Sports Club. Pic: Vipula Amarasinghe
W.T. Ellawala, President of the Sinhalese Sports Club. Pic: Vipula Amarasinghe

The role of the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) over the years in regard to the development of cricket in Sri Lanka and its present relationship with Sri Lanka cricket which is the institution governing cricket administration in this country is our principal focus

The President of the SSC, W.T. Ellawala says, “The Sinhalese Sports Club was started in the year 1899. It was started mainly as a cricket club by those who have been abroad and studied in universities in England and who came back knowing how to play better cricket than they did previously when they played school cricket in the latter end of the nineteenth century. Even today the SSC’s core activity is cricket. During these past 118 years the SSC has produced some of the finest cricketers in this country.

Some of them would have, with their skills and talent, played in a world cricket team at that time but of course global cricket was not played in the same way as it is done today. So our cricketers in the early part of the twentieth century did not have opportunities to play international cricket. But after the SSC was started there were many other clubs that were started like the Nondescripts Cricket Club (NCC), the Burgher Recreation Club (BRC), the Tamil Union, the Colts Cricket Club and they also developed their clubs principally playing cricket.”

Ellawala explains, “There were domestic tournaments that were conducted during that period and the premier trophy at that time was the Daily News Trophy for first class teams. The Daily News trophy was one of the earliest competitive cricket tournaments among domestic cricket clubs. And I can tell you in those early years the Sinhalese Sports Club dominated the domestic cricket scene. We produced some extraordinarily talented cricketers - to name a few S.S. Jayawickrema, F.C. de Saram, Ben Navaratne, R.B. Wijesinghe, Dr. C.H. Gunasekera, D.S. Jayasundara, Lucien De Zoysa and many others.

They were outstanding cricketers during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In later years we had P.I. Peiris, Anura Tennakoon, Duleep Mendis, Arjuna Ranatunga, Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardane to name a few. And in the domestic cricket scene, I must emphasize that throughout the twentieth century the Sinhalese Sports Club was the dominant club and produced some of the best and finest cricketers of that time. Of course there were no international level games, there was the domestic tournament initially the Daily News Trophy and later the Sara Trophy.”

“I think that in the 30s, 40s and 50s cricketers had very little opportunity to show off their skills and talents because cricket was not played like it is being played today. There were cricketers from the SSC who not only played cricket for SSC but helped to develop a core of cricketers who excelled in subsequent years in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. But over the years the Club’s principal and core activity was cricket and there was tremendous amount of emphasis given to cricket. At that time, of course, Sri Lanka Cricket did not exist [under that name] but there was an institution known as the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka.

That was the governing body that ran cricket administration during the years in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and Sri Lanka Cricket succeeded the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka after we got ICC Test status. There were many from the SSC who chaired the Board of Control for Cricket.

Particularly I like to mention the period in which the late Robert Senanayake was the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in the 1950s, in the pre-test era, and he was also a member of the SSC. He played Division 1 cricket for SSC and he was I think sadly one of the forgotten heroes of cricket administration in this country.” Ellawala says.

“The Board of Control for Cricket did not have the status that Sri Lanka Cricket has today because cricket has got much more exposure internationally today. The main task and goal of the Board of Control for Cricket was organizing and implementing effectively and fairly the domestic tournaments. The SSC was a dominant cricket club in those years and we were always in the forefront. When the SSC originally started as a club it had its grounds and its club house in the area where Nelum Pokuna is located now.

That used to be a cricket ground and there was a pavilion and that used to be the official grounds of the SSC. At that time, a lot of outstation members were very active with our Club than they are now. Many played cricket for the SSC. In the 1950s a decision was taken to move out of Vihara Maha Devi Park because the Club wanted more space for cricket and during the time Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake was President of the SSC land was allocated in its present location (Maitland Place),” Ellawala says.

Ellawala further explains, “After Test status was achieved the Board of Control was converted to Sri Lanka Cricket.

The administration of cricket in the country was left to that governing body which was to be an independent, autonomous institution with elected officials to positions like President and Secretary. Sri Lanka Cricket is managed by a committee elected by the affiliated clubs and the controlling clubs. The controlling clubs were the bigger clubs like the SSC, Tamil Union, NCC and BRC and the affiliated clubs were the smaller ones mainly in the districts.

In the 1970s a process was started by some of the leading cricket administrators together with government officials to secure Test status on the grounds that Sri Lanka were now playing good cricket and eligible for Test status. And in 1981 Gamini Dissanayake who was the President of the Board of Control and a minister of the Government at that time was successful in securing Test status for Sri Lanka.

And that is the era, the post-test status era when cricket in this country got going at international level. When we achieved Test status in 1981, cricket got much more organized than it was in the past.

There was a lot of emphasis in supporting the clubs to develop their cricket and produce good cricketers and recruit young cricketers coming out of schools. In that initiative also the SSC played a major role because of the excellent facilities the club had in terms of cricket infrastructure.

There were lots of young cricketers who were inclined to join the SSC and play cricket and I think that in those years we had such good teams in the 70s, 80s and 90s that some cricketers with great talent who joined the Club left because they could not play Division 1cricket.”

“The relationship which developed between the SSC and Board of Control for Cricket and subsequently Sri Lanka Cricket after Test status focused on ensuring the mandatory requirement for a Test playing country to have an independent cricket administration.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) insists that countries playing international level Test cricket should be governed and administered by an independent elected institution or organization.

Then Sri Lanka Cricket had to get aligned to meet ICC standards and criteria. The need for a cricket headquarters arose in the 1980s and at that time President J.R. Jayewardene who was the President of Sri Lanka as well as the SSC got involved on the issue of where Sri Lanka Cricket headquarters should be located.

It was President J.R. Jayewardene who proposed that the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka headquarters should be located in the premises of the SSC.

And today the Sri Lanka Cricket headquarters is located in the SSC and it was Gamini Dissanayake who built the headquarters which provided space for the administration of cricket plus spectator capacity. At that time I was Hony Treasurer of the SSC and President Jayewardene instructed me to give maximum support to Gamini Dissanayake to relocate the head quarters at SSC grounds. The SSC had a 99 year lease and a sub-lease was drawn up and that part of the grounds which is now occupied by Sri Lanka Cricket is within the premises of the SSC and it has the same postal address, 35, Maitland Place,” Ellawala adds.

“The headquarters was built within one year of the whole project being started because at that time the Mahaweli Development project was on and Gamini Dissanayake was Minister of Mahaweli Development and he was able to access a lot of expertise and skills from engineers in the United Kingdom who were working on the Mahaweli Project that was funded by the Government of UK and so it came up very fast and the structure today is the same as it was then. Even today we have a very good working relationship with Sri Lanka Cricket and they use lot of our facilities particularly at the SSC grounds.

Over the last 20 years Sri Lanka Cricket has been assisting controlling clubs and affiliated clubs to develop their infrastructure and although the infrastructure comparatively at the SSC is much more advanced than many of the other clubs SSC has been getting a lot of assistance from Sri Lanka Cricket. In the immediate post Test era, most of the Test matches played in Sri Lanka were played at the SSC which had a developed infrastructure to hold Test matches to meet the standards of the ICC,” Ellawala says.