Cricketers in the news

Saturday, 23 August 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Cricket dominated the local scene during the past week or two. On the one hand, Mahela Jayawardene stole the limelight playing his final Test series, collecting nearly 12,000 (11,814 to be exact) in 149 Tests with 34 centuries at an average of 49.84 over a period of 17 years. He had a bag of 205 catches to his credit as a fieldsman in the slips, second only to India’s Rahul Dravid. He got a fitting farewell at his home ground, SSC. Rangana Herath crated history taking 9 wickets in the first innings in the second Test against Pakistan and 5 in the second innings – 14 in the match just second to Murali who got 16 wickets for 229 runs against England in 1998. Herath had a haul of 23 in the series – highest by any bowler in a two-Test series – at an average of 15.13. Murali had taken 22 wickets against South Africa in 2000 at an average of 18.04. Another landmark event passed through almost unnoticed when one time captain and stylish batsman Ranjan Madugalle became the first ICC Elite Panel Match Referee to reach the 150 mark in being a referee at Test matches. Both as a player and an official, Ranjan had performed his duties in an exemplary manner showing a deep sense of commitment and dedication. He succeeded Clive Lloyd as Chief Match Referee several years back. I have known Ranjan from the early 1980s when he joined Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC) to handle promotions in the Communications Department. I worked together with Ranjan. Our team had one-time national team captain Anura Tennekoon and national pool player Jayantha Kudahetty as well. That was the time when CTC was the only private sector firm to sponsor not only cricket but other sports as well. CTC helped to maintain sports grounds and pavilions linking Bristol which soon became the much-in-demand brand. ‘Bristol belongs to the World of Today’ was the brand slogan which dominated media and outdoor advertising and the merchandising scene. Many innovative promotional products were introduced. The branded Volkswagen cars carrying marketing reps were a common scene of the roads. It was a very effective communication tool as well. Just as much as CTC was the sole sports sponsor at the time, the Company had a policy of recruiting sportsmen. Thus at any given time over half a dozen players in the national cricket team were from CTC. Apart from Ranjan (he became captain while at CTC), there were two captains, Anura T and Bandula Warnapura, opening batsmen Amitha de Costa, Mahesh Gunatleeka and Sunil Jayasinghe (the latter two kept wickets too), opening bowlers D.L.S. de Silva and Ranjan Gunatillka, Bernard Perera, Flavian Aponso, Anura Ranasinghe , Ashley de Siva – these are the names I remember. Unlike today, it was not plain sailing for them. They were not on “eternal duty leave”. They had to go for cricket practice after work and were given leave only when they had matches. Apart from the national players, there were many others with good records at school level. They were representing various clubs at top level tournaments like P Sara and Donovan Andree. Joe Savarimuttupillai, Amaresh Rajaratnam, Vijaya Malalasekera, Raki Jayawardena, Premalal de Silva are some of the names I recollect. Mercantile cricket was at a very high level with the ‘A’ Division tournament providing the best cricketing talent in the country.  For several years, CTC and Maharajas met at the finals which was a three-day game. Maharajas also had a fine team. Duleep Mendis, Russel Hamer and Daya Sahabandu are three top level national players I can remember. The CTC-Maharajah tussle, which was a ‘prestigious battle’, drew crowds with staff from both companies from top level downwards turning up in numbers. It was superb entertainment and once when CTC won, Chairman Stanley Wanigasekera, a great cricket enthusiast and supporter of the game, wanted me to take them to India on a tour. I was handling PR in addition to communications. I negotiated with India Tobacco Company (ITC) – also in the BAT Group – who had just diversified into hotels, to put us up at their Five Star hotels – Chola in Madras (now Chennai) and Agra in New Delhi. Chandra Schafter, then the Insurance Consultant for CTC, organised matches for us in Madras and Bangalore. I was manager of the team and it was a most rewarding experience to be with a team of young lads spending comfortable nights in five-star hotels as well as sleepless nights in long distance trains. When CTC won the MCA ‘A’ Division in the following year, we got invited to the well-recognised Moin-un-Dawlah tournament in Hyderabad. We had tough competition with other invited teams with top players including Duleep Mendis and Kapil Dev (Indian captain at the time). I remember a very long train ride from Hyderabad to to Visakhapattam, an East Indian port city, where we were invited to pay a benefit game.