Sri Lanka cricket’s Fantastic Five return for ‘Not Guilty’ verdict

by malinga
April 7, 2024 1:08 am 0 comment 3.7K views

By Callistus Davy

It was not just a picture that cricket followers in the country would have wanted to see, but a reunion of a totally independent class of cricket officials that came together in a symbolic gesture after 25 years at a time the current state of corruption in the once honored sport has reached an unprecedented level.

Within the 25 years that the five wise men were out of cricket, its administration shifted from hand to hand, mouth to mouth until it fell into the arms of a ‘chosen few’ now living on borrowed time and who had the privilege of even defying the country’s Parliament which catastrophically lost its Supremacy in cleaning up a coveted public institution.

Ironically the one-in-a-million Rienzie Wijetilleke who headed what became a most respected cricket administration in the country from 1999 to 2000 can now only discuss memories with the rest, the stately Somasundaram Skandakumar, the free-of-deceit Sidat Wettimuny, the no-nonsense Michael Tissera and the ever-endearing Kushil Gunasekera.

They were men of contrasting characters, each one in his own right but all united with one goal in mind to make cricket a nation’s pride and its administration a place of honour and dignity.

They were installed by a government in the form of an Interim Committee but the five men did not have to be subservient to politics or bow down to its patronizing dictates.

Wijetilleke it can easily be recalled was an administrator who did not wait for the media to call him but called journalists himself. He had nothing negative or questionable to hide unlike the current serving new rich who grace media events with well prepared scripts to suit their ends.

They were five unblemished visionaries appointed in June 1999 to resurrect a disgraced Cricket Board soon after the Sri Lanka team returned from a disastrous defence of the World Cup in England, a far cry from 1996.

Wettimuny as the chairman of cricket selectors replaced Arjuna Ranatunga with Sanath Jayasuriya as captain and Skandakumar who played the role of an irreplaceable Secretary was tasked to attend what was at that time a most honour-acclaimed meeting of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and at the same time make contact with the 1996 World Cup champions coach Dav Whatmore.

Whatmore was coaching English County side Lancashire and Skandakumar returned with the news that Sri Lankans wanted to hear and a new era dawned as the country’s credibility was back on track.

For 11 months the team’s image and cricket’s administration along with financial accountability was redeemed and Sri Lanka for the first time beat Australia in a Test series and toured Pakistan for the same result when cricket was pride and quality and much anticipated minus the slam-bang anything-goes stuff of the present day.

But came the month of May 2000 and everything crashed-landed as a Sports Minister at the time SB Dissanayake took a fancy to the Thilanga Sumathipala camp and out went Wijetilleke and the rest in resignation as the turf was no longer sacred ground to walk on.

The political curse continues to this day and Wijetilleke in one of his memoirs wrote: “Skandakumar in his significant role as Ambassador of Goodwill was able to accomplish a great deal in restoring the credibility and image of the BCCSL (Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka) in the eyes of the ICC.

“He was also able, acting on a mandate of the Committee to successfully negotiate for the return of Whatmore as the National Coach for three years from 1999”.

Twenty-five years down the line, “Not Guilty” is what the Fantastic Five who came together on Monday will be able to say in one voice in retirement.

The name of Skandakumar was enough to make anyone stand to attention. A man of noble standing, who hobnobbed with royalty, Skanda as he was fondly called, was a true professional in whatever he did. He too passed through the gates and sat in the boardrooms of cricket administration and in that same abode today can be found some crooks and thieves who have acquired untold riches they would not have gained being in any other field.

Wijetilleke who headed the Hatton National Bank is now spending a well deserved quiet retirement while Skandakumar lives in the calm cool climes of Haputale, once the chairman of the internationally acclaimed George Stuarts travel company.

Wettimuny and Tissera lived up to their images as sporting ambassadors of the country and their unblemished records bear testimony of two names that will eternally be associated with honesty and fair-play.

For Gunasekera, nothing will give him greater joy than being the humanitarian and welfare crusader for the less fortunate heading the Foundation of Goodness, his schoolboy dream.

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