Sri Lanka’s pioneer women’s cricketer now cold-shouldered by male chauvinism

Rohini Fernando a onetime convent girl braved a man’s world to take up the cause of girls in sport with a nomadic lifestyle that is alien to many :

by malinga
March 31, 2024 1:05 am 0 comment 90 views

One of Sri Lanka’s pioneer women’s cricket promoters Rohini Fernando has come a long way since the days of her academic journey that started when she enrolled at a convent in Colombo from her hometown in Wattala.

What many in the country don’t know is that women’s cricket in Sri Lanka has been left in the wrong hands and what is visible on the surface hides many a rotten inside with none willing to speak out for obvious reasons.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Rohini was not willing to hold back anything about her passion for cricket, her rise amid the challenges and the support she received from the few honest men.

If women’s cricket in Sri Lanka has reached a stage of recognition, it is because of hardcore and outspoken women like Rohini who dared to be different as she set the course.

As the youngest of five siblings, with one brother and four sisters, Rohini’s upbringing was marked by a vibrant household environment.

Her infatuation with cricket was inspired by the legendary cricketer Bandula Warnapura, Sri Lanka’s first Test captain as she commenced her cricketing journey at Bloomfield Cricket and Athletic Club where she came under his guidance.

“Whenever we were on the ground, I used to take a small stick and a stone and play. That is how I started cricket in the evenings,” recalls Rohini who was encouraged by her father Richard Fernando to pursue sports.

One of the greatest influencers during her career was former Bloomfield captain Melanie Samarakoon. “She was I think the best captain I have ever seen,” she recalls.

Between the age of 10 and 12, Rohini’s involvement in cricket deepened, becoming a focal point of her pursuits. She displayed her versatility playing basketball and netball at Garuda Sports Club in Colombo 5, Narahenpita. Not content with just playing, Rohini also assumed the role of Secretary at the club, cutting her teeth in sports administration.

As the late 1980s unfolded, cricket took centre stage in Rohini’s life, thanks to the mentorship of her first coach, Jayantha Seneviratne. Her journey led her to Bloomfield Cricket and Athletic Club initially where she began refining her skills.

However, it was with Nomads Cricket Club that Rohini found her true stride, joining their ranks in1983.

Known for her hard-hitting batting style, Rohini quickly gained recognition as a formidable player, particularly during her tenure with the women’s team at Bloomfield. Despite not holding the captaincy at Bloomfield, her leadership qualities shone through as she continuously captained the Nomads team from around 1983 to 1995.

Throughout her cricketing career, Rohini’s batting prowess garnered praise from teammates and opponents alike. Renowned for her powerful shots and aggressive approach, she left an indelible mark on the cricketing community.

In the mid-1980s, Rohini’s time with Nomads Cricket Club witnessed some of her most memorable performances. Leading Nomads for over a decade provided ample opportunities for her to showcase her cricketing prowess.

One standout moment occurred somewhere in1993 during a significant tournament organised by Colts Cricket Club. Bowling off-spin, Rohini achieved a remarkable feat by claiming five wickets for a mere ten runs—a record-breaking performance that left a lasting impression.

Transitioning to Burgher Recreation Club (BRC) in 1996 during Jayantha Paranathala’s era, Rohini assumed the captaincy role for two years. Recognising her contributions, Chrishantha de Silva, President of Moratuwa Sports Club, invited her to spearhead the development of women’s cricket at the club.

Joining Moratuwa Sports Club in 1998 and playing until 2003, Rohini captained the team continuously, leading to significant successes in matches. Under her captaincy, Moratuwa Sports Club emerged as champions in the inaugural national tournament held in Sri Lanka in November 2000—an achievement that underscored their prowess and marked a milestone in Sri Lanka women’s cricket.

Beyond her on-field exploits, Rohini played a pivotal role in cricket administration. In 1996, she co-founded the Colombo District Women’s Cricket Association, playing a crucial role in promoting and organising women’s cricket island-wide.

In her pursuit of establishing a national association for women’s cricket in Sri Lanka, Rohini faced numerous challenges. However, her perseverance paid off when the Sri Lanka Women’s Cricket Association was officially formed in 1999, marking a significant milestone in the sport’s development.

“Our association was recognised as the controlling body for women’s cricket in Sri Lanka with the sports ministry giving us registration number 45,” recalled Rohini who was its founder secretary.

“We made a tour to India in August 2001, the first tour abroad as a national team winning all eight matches,” says Rohini who went as manager of the team.

However, after the International Cricket Council ruled that one country can’t have two national bodies for cricket, the women’s association was disbanded with their activities coming under Sri Lanka Cricket in 2005.

Having laid a solid foundation, women’s cricket took off under the leadership of Shashikala Siriwardene and later Chamari Atapattu.

Although acknowledging that women’s cricket has gone to the next level, she lamented the fact that it is run by people who have not played the game. Despite being a pioneer of women’s cricket, she has been given the cold shoulder by the national governing body perhaps because she speaks her mind without fear.

She questioned how players can claim to have represented Sri Lanka when they have not been approved by the Ministry of Sports. This was during a time when there were rival bodies for women’s cricket before it came under the wing of Sri Lanka Cricket.

“They even took part in a couple of World Cups calling themselves Sri Lanka players. It was after 2006 Sri Lanka women’s cricket took off,” she says but warned there is hardly any new talent coming up in the calibre of Attapattu. “We don’t have a second string,” she points out.

Despite retiring from playing cricket in 2003, Rohini continued her involvement in sports administration and coaching. Her coaching endeavours were aimed at nurturing talent and reaching out to aspiring cricketers from various parts of the country.

When Arjuna Ranatunga was chairman of the interim committee, Rohini was among several cricketers who were invited to chart the pathway for women’s cricket. She was of the opinion that lack of local tournaments or hurdles in participating in domestic competitions impeded the progress of women’s cricket.

Her message to Sri Lanka Cricket Tournament Committee is: “Don’t stop them from playing. Give them maximum encouragement.”

As the President of the Colombo District Women’s Cricket Association (CDWCA) since 2013, Rohini has remained committed to promoting diversity within the sport. Her efforts in fostering female representation in umpiring have led to notable achievements, including the successful training and certification of female umpires.

Rohini’s dedication to the advancement of women’s cricket extends beyond the field, as she advocates for greater inclusion and recognition of women in cricket administration. Her extensive experience and passion for the sport make her a valuable asset in shaping the future of women’s cricket in Sri Lanka.

Having served in the clerical staff at NAITA, she pursued her passion being head of sports at Atamie International School since 2016.

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