Gamini Dissanayake Pioneer of Sri Lanka’s Test status | Daily News
26th Death Anniversary:

Gamini Dissanayake Pioneer of Sri Lanka’s Test status

Gamini Dissanayake was virtually pulled out of retirement in June 1994 to serve another term as President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka. His return was like a beacon lit to give light to the twilight years of Sri Lanka Cricket. Gamini who was educated at Trinity College Kandy was cruelly assassinated on 24th October 1994 at a Presidential Election rally in Colombo 14.

Some benefits he gave our cricket in the heady days following Test status are the new Asgiriya Pavilion (1982) and the Pavillion at Matara (1981) built by a Southern Province philanthropist at the President's request. Let our cricketers, administrators and spectators not forget Gamini Dissanayake who took Sri Lanka into the new world of Test Cricket and provided a new profession in this Island earning money through cricket.

Trinity College had a Lion in Lt. General Denzil Kobbekaduwa the soldier. Trinity College can be proud of another illustrious product Gamini Dissanayake President of the Board of Control for cricket and Life President of the Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation. Trinity College students now have a very spacious cricket ground, and a spacious pavillion due to the efforts of this illustrious old boy.

Gamini Dissanayake's immense contribution to Sri Lanka cricket is related below. Sri Lanka did extremely, well against Pakistan in 1974. In 1975 World Cup, after one defeat we saw Sri Lankan cricketers tarred with headlines which read "L Plates for Sri Lankans." In 1981 shortly before the meeting of the International Cricket Conference another commentator, Robin Marlar, wrote an article entitled; "Status Seekers." Mr. Dissanayake would be the first to thank Mr. Abdul Hafeez Kadar President Pakistan Cricket Board, for proposing Sri Lanka’s cause every year from 1974 to 1981. He would also like to thank the President of the Indian Cricket Board seconding Sri Lanka's cause these years.

One personality whose cricket background has been limited to school cricket, took the driving seat and steered course to have the "L" Plates removed. The person who in June 1981 became the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka was Gamini Dissanayake then Minister of Lands and Mahaweli Development. Prior to the annual general meeting of the International Cricket Conference in July 1981, Minister Dissanayake set out to London to lobby those who mattered most.

He assured the ICC that if given full status, Sri Lanka will improve her cricket infrastructure. And he set out to accomplish in 7 years what had not been done in the last 35 years. It took a great deal of planning and effort. Prior to going to London in 1981 to meet the ICC, Gamini Dissanayake initiated the extension and improvement of the Asgiriya Grounds in Kandy. Asgiriya Grounds belonged to Trinity College Kandy. Work on its expansion commenced 06th June 1981. In three months the grounds were levelled and enlarged. On 5th February 1982 the Asgiriya Grounds and Pavillion were declared open by President. J. R. Jayewardene.

The long journey to Test Status ended on 22nd July 1981 at Lords. Dissanayake's request was: "give us the Full Membership and the rest we will have it ready." The Board's new President Gamini Dissanayake had succeeded in the first step for achieving full status. Dissanayake's first comment on his return from the meeting at Lords was "Test status was more than a challenge. Sri Lanka does not consider Test Status to be a privilege but a burden to raise the standard and lay out an infrastructure." He also wished that cricket could be a career for young people.The Inaugural Test Match from 17th to 21st February 1982, was appropriately played against England. That first Test Match was an epoch making event, and the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo became the 53rd Test venue in the world. Thousands of people could say with nostalgia that "I was there" when Sri Lankan Test history was being made. Who do you think was there to paint a rosy picture? Who but Robin Marlar, the writer of the article "Status Seekers"? Marlar went into ecstasies about the "beautiful Asgiriya Grounds". It was nice to see someone who thought the pen mightier than the sword, swallow the words written in June 1981. He said that Asgiriya was "more beautiful than Newlands in South Africa or Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad." The country which was held to have had no suitable Test Grounds provided world's 54th Test venue at Asgiriya on 22nd February 1983 in the Inaugural Test against Australia. This was another venture fulfilled by Gamini Dissanayake.

Dissanayake also went ahead with improvements to various other stadia and grounds. The Singhalese Sports Club in Colombo was improved with a new covered stand and seating accommodation for over 3000 spectators. Improvements were also made to the Galle Esplanade, the Moratuwa Grounds and the Grounds at Radella, 6000 feet above sea level.

One of the biggest obstacles to the development of cricket in the country was the lack of finances. Although there was no lack of talented human material, there were no financial incentives to playing professional cricket. Our young cricketers needed exposure, but funds were low for overseas tours. A step in the direction of financial stability was the setting up of the Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation on 29th November 1981, with the generous contributions of its founder members from the private sector. The chief guest at the inaugural ceremonies was Sir Garfield Sobers, the World's greatest all round cricketer. The Board of Trustees headed by Dissanayake proceeded to construct much needed indoor nets on lines similar to the MCC nets at Lords. In spite of the early beginnings of cricket in Sri Lanka in 1832 and the establishment of the Ceylon Cricket Association in 1922, and the Board of Control for Cricket in 1948, these organisations had no proper home. On land leased from the Sinhalese Sports Club, the Board decided to build itself permanent headquarters, to better administer the game. This building was declared open by President Jayewardene in April 1983. After 61 years Sri Lanka cricket had headquarters which many other cricket playing countries would be proud to own.

To quote Dissanayake: "For too long has the capital, Colombo, dominated the cricket structure in the island. The Board's major tournaments are played at club level and the majority of the clubs are based in the city itself. This has proved a serious handicap for Sri Lanka cricket in the international arena. All other test playing countries are structured on a regional basis, both for the playing of cricket and its administration. It is therefore essential that if we are to succeed at the higher levels Sri Lanka must follow suit to achieve this organizational change within a certain time frame," He envisaged that with the establishment of Provincial Councils that this change will come about naturally, and that the provinces will create a reserve from which the national side will emerge. Coaches and Umpires too have benefited greatly by Sri Lanka's entry into the Test arena. Coaches have been trained by experienced players from abroad, while umpires have received enhanced payments for first class matches and many have been invited to officiate in Tests overseas.

Gamini Dissanayake was also responsible for the Board hosting four overseas teams in a nonstop carnival of cricket during the period January to April 1986. The teams were England B, Pakistan, Bangladesh, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. The Cricket Cavalcade ended with the Asia Cup and the John Player Cup. With the host team there were two countries participating. Never had there been as many as four teams playing in the Island, and at venues as far apart as Colombo and Kandy.

Those overseas who doubted our ability to host a five test tour were silenced. Cricket lovers in the Island will gratefully remember the seven years in which Gamini Dissanayake was President of the Board of Control of Cricket in Lanka. For those of us who loved the game he gave an opportunity for us to dedicate ourselves to the game we loved.