Why Senaka Weeraratna should get due recognition for the DRS
Posted on November 10th, 2019

Rohan Abeygunawardena Nugegoda Courtesy: Sunday Times (November 10, 2019) 

Senaka Weeraratna the Sri Lankan Lawyer who came out with the suggestion to introduce a Decision Review System (DRS) to minimise umpiring errors in the middle, as far back as 1997, has been fighting for due recognition for his contribution to the game, for over 20 years. However, in spite of many requests and appeals made by him to Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) and the International Cricket Conference (ICC), he has not been successful in receiving the kind of acknowledgment that Duckworth and Lewis got for their contribution towards deciding the result on rain-affected Limited-Over games.

According to a recent news item, he has appealed to one of the greatest cricketers produced in this part of the world, Kumar Sangakkara, to help him on this matter. I am sure Kumar, being a 100% Sri Lankan, who knows the benefits that would accrue to his country, would do everything possible as the President of MCC, to help recognise this claim by Senaka.

Senaka has also made representations to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has directed the Secretary of the Ministry of Sports (MoS), to take appropriate action, to get recognition for his work.

Cricket is the most popular sport in Sri Lanka. This is the only sport in which Sri Lanka became World champs twice- Winning ODI World Cup in 1996 and T20 World Cup in 2014. The only other sport Sri Lanka produced a world champion is in Billiards, when M.J.M. Lafir became World Champion in December 1973, at World Amateur Billiards Championship held in Mumbai.

In 1982, Sri Lanka was admitted to full membership of the ICC and awarded Test status, thanks to the efforts of then President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (BCCSL), late Gamini Dissanayake. His efforts and how he set about achieving this task was vividly explained in an article written by Sunil Thenabadu, published in the Sunday Times of October 21, 2018.

The inaugural Test was played at the Colombo Oval in February 1982, against England, which Sri Lanka lost by 8 wickets. Sri Lanka toured Pakistan in March 1982 and played 3 Test matches, of which Pakistan won 2 and 1 was drawn. Again in October 1985, Sri Lanka toured Pakistan, with the same results. In the absence of neutral umpiring and/or Senaka’s DRS, there had been quite a few bad decisions by Pakistan umpires that went against Sri Lanka.

Pakistan’s 1st tour of Sri Lanka, after the latter attained Test Status, was in February 1986. This tour was nearly disrupted due to bad umpiring by the Sri Lankan umpires. Imran Khan wrote in his book All Round View” about this tour. He said, The result was an ugly series, where the main bone of contention was the quality of the umpiring.”

Interviewed by Sidharth Monga, Imran said, We all agreed that there was no point in continuing the tour. We drafted a statement to this effect, but General Zia [President of Pakistan] called me up and told me to persuade the boys to complete the tour.’’

At the time of this tour, the late Gamini Dissanayake was the President and the late P.I. Peiris (Cambridge Blue in cricket) was the Vice President of the BCCSL.  When the captain and the players were agitating for a cancellation of the tour, the Pakistan manager contacted the officials of their Cricket Board. A senior official was sent to discuss with the Sri Lankan officials to pullout the Pakistan team from the tour, of course, diplomatically.

The Pakistani official, initially, discussed the matter with P.I. Peiris, and thereafter with the President. Nearly 3 hours of discussion did not provide a favourable result. Gamini Dissanayake then called President J.R. Jayewardene (JRJ) and briefed him on the situation and JRJ, himself a lover of cricket, invited them to his Ward Place residence.

JRJ listened to both parties. And then quietly walked to the phone and dialed. When someone answered he said, Your Excellency, these 22 fools in flannels, are trying to disrupt the good relations between our countries. Therefore, I am ordering the Pakistan team to stay and get on with the game.”

JRJ spoke for few more minutes and laughed. Then he turned to the Pakistan Official and said Your President wishes to speak with you”.

He went over to the phone and only said Yes your excellency, Yes,….yes”, then came back and informed President JRJ that they will continue with the tour.

This is a typical example of how bad decisions by the person of authority, who is responsible for presiding over the game, from a neutral point of view, and making on-the-fly decisions that enforce the rules of the sport, including sportsmanship decisions such as ejection, make mistakes or biased decisions, leading to unpleasant situations among the players and sport lovers.

There is very little room now for such bad decisions, thanks to Senaka Weeraratna’s brilliant idea of the players and field umpires appealing to the 3rd umpire when in doubt. As Sri Lankans, we should be proud of his contribution to Cricket, which is like a second religion to a majority of Sri Lankans. Besides, even in other sports, this concept is now practised. For example, in Rugby, which is a very fast body contact game, where the chances of wrong decisions by the on field referee is extremely high, this concept is being practised since 2001. They call it Television Match Official (TMO). Many decisions were changed by the TMO at the Rugby world cup this year and, as a result, the best teams came to the semis and finals, without creating any doubt in the minds of the loyal supporters, spectators and those millions of Rugby fans watching on TV.

Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) has failed so far to make representation to the ICC and obtain recognition for Senaka’s concept, in spite of many appeals made by him. May I therefore, suggest that the SLC and the MoS Secretary work hand in hand with Kumar Sangakkara and help obtain the due recognition for Senaka. This is an honour for Sri Lanka and will be a feather in SLC’s cap!

Rohan Abeygunawardena 

Nugegoda

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