Recognise Sri Lankan cricket lovers unique contributions to world cricket
Posted on June 14th, 2020

Rohan Abeygunawardena Nugegoda

Over the last couple of decades we have seen with great pride the emergence of a highly distinctive brand of Sri Lankan cricket that has exploded on the world scene winning the admiration of the cricket world. Consequently, Sri Lanka is no longer treated as a minnow or a mighty atom but as a respected member deserving a place at the high table of world cricket.

It would be tantamount to an unpardonable lapse if cricket followers worldwide were to confine their admiration exclusively to the Sri Lankan players while leaving out from their attention and gratitude several Sri Lankan cricket lovers who have made unique contributions to the development of International cricket through use of modern technology. 

Mahinda Wijesinghe, a former Secretary of Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation and now a prominent cricket writer first suggested in a written paper to the ICC ‘’the concept of third umpire’’ in cricket. The suggestion was to have two more umpires watching television monitors and action replays in a special TV room in addition to on field (ground) umpires. In the absence of sophisticated equipment that is used now, he recommended the use of walkie- talkie system to communicate between on field umpire and umpires watching the screen. As a result on field umpire can clear up any doubt by contacting screen watching umpires.

Mahinda’s paper was presented to the ICC meeting in July 1984. The idea was reported but not supported” stated the Wisden Almanack. South Africans grasped the importance of it. They were the first to use video evidence in Tests and international matches between South Africa and India in 1991/92 series after ICC reinstated South Africa as a Test nation in 1991.

The cricket journalist and editor of the monthly London Cricketer International Christopher Martin- Jenkins reported some time back that the rightful owner of this ‘’third umpire’’ concept was actually Mahinda Wijesinghe, the Sri Lankan cricket writer.

Then came Senaka Weeraratna, the Sri Lankan lawyer who conceived an unique concept called ‘player referral’ as far back as 1997 to minimize umpire errors in the middle. His letter to the Editor entitled ‘’Third umpire should perform the role of appeal judge’’ was first published in the ‘Australian’ (Australia’s national newspaper) on March 25th 1997, and thereafter in several newspapers and Journals all over the cricket world.

This concept of the Sri Lankan lawyer is undoubtedly revolutionary in its scope because it challenges the validity of a fundamental rule since the inception of cricket – the decision of the Umpire is final. Weeraratna has argued with vehemence that in the interest of achieving greater accuracy in decision making this cardinal rule must be discarded to enable players to appeal against an umpire’s decision to a Third Umpire located outside the boundary with access to play back video technology.

The mechanism he has suggested is similar to a review of a lower court decision by an appeal court judge.     

This proposal was adopted by the International Cricket Committee of the ICC in 2006 and later introduced to the Cricket world as the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS also called DRS). The lynch pin of the UDRS or DRS is Senaka Weeraratna’s ‘player referral’ concept. 

The UDRS was first tested in an India v. Sri Lanka Test match in 2008, and was officially launched by the ICC on 24 November 2009, during the first Test between New Zealand and Pakistan at the University Oval in Dunedin. It was first used in a One Day International (ODI) match during the January 2011 tour of Australia in England.

An examination of all available evidence clearly reveals that Senaka Weeraratna was the first to suggest a ‘player referral’ system for cricket. No one has so far been able to challenge Weeraratna on this score. Even Duncan Fletcher the English Cricket Coach who has claimed authorship of ‘player referral’ concept in his book ‘Ashes Regained – the Coach’s story’(2005) has withdrawn his claim once he came to know that Senaka Weeraratna ’s publication of the concept in 1997 had anteceded by two years Duncan Fletcher’s first pronouncements on the subject in 1999. With no one in the world to challenge Weeraratna’s claim of authorship it has now become a one horse race. This is a world class achievement for Sri Lanka. 

Furthermore, it also appears that Weeraratna’s brain child ‘player – referral ’ has also been adopted in several other sports such as Soccer, Rugby Football, Tennis, etc.  There was no such Player Referral system or mechanism in any sport prior to the publication of the aforesaid letter of Weeraratna in ‘The Australian’ on March 25, 1997. Weeraratna had sent his papers on the subject  not only to leading newspapers in the world but also to the ICC and the cricket authorities of all the Test playing countries, including the Board of Cricket Control of Sri Lanka.    

The conventional practice in any sphere of activity be they sports, science or technology, is accurate attribution of authorship for any innovation or discovery. In other words, the name of the founder or author is ascribed to the invention(s). Two Englishmen Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis worked out a mathematical formulation to calculate the target score for the team batting second in a limited overs cricket match interrupted by weather or other circumstances.  It was introduced in 1997, and adopted officially by the ICC in 1999 and was colloquially known as the Duckworth–Lewis method (D/L).

However in respect to the Player – Referral mechanism, now employed in all three formats of the game, i.e. Test, one –day and T20, the ICC led cricket world has yet to give due recognition to Senaka Weeraratna, who has been fighting a lone struggle for recognition for the last 20 years.

It is heartening to know that Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) has finally decided to recognize Weeraratna at a formal meeting of its Executive Committee held recently and accordingly SLC armed with an exhaustive and very thorough legal opinion prepared by two leading lawyers namely Dr. Harsha Cabral, P.C. and Mr. Kushan Illangatilaka, has submitted a memorandum to the ICC seeking formal recognition for Senaka Weeraratna’s contribution towards amending the laws of cricket to achieve a higher degree of accuracy in Umpire decision making.

While awaiting the decision of the ICC, it is imperative that the Govt. of  Sri Lanka should seek India’s support for this endeavor. The most powerful member of the ICC is India which wields enormous economic clout these days. Its help plus the support of other South Asian countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh should clinch the deal bringing enormous recognition not only to the author Weeraratna but to Sri Lanka as a whole.

An Indian journalist Varsha Thakur ( ETV) recently wrote ‘’ A careful analysis of the essence behind Senaka Weeraratna’s UDRS or DRS is the spirit of religion, justice and Satyamev Jayate that constitute the foundation of the civilizational links between India and Sri Lanka since eternity. The time has come for the values of religion, justice and Satyameva Jayate to be spread to all corners of the world and influence the whole of humanity.’’  

She further says ‘’Modi Government started International Yoga Day all over the world which was extremely successful. Elevating sports and honouring the people associated with ground breaking achievements in sports also signifies successful foreign policy. Therefore honoring Senaka Weeraratna and his contribution to the development of cricket rules, by India, the world’s leading country in cricket, will not only strengthen India’s leadership in world cricket but will further deepen Sri Lanka’s relations with India. Therefore, the Ministry of External Affairs of India needs to take cognizance of this matter immediately so that the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo can be directed to take appropriate and necessary action without delay.’’

Varsha Thakur calls Senaka Weeraratna the Dharmaraja of cricket and the father of DRS. This is a good sign for not only 21 million Sri Lankans backing him but also the realization that there will be a potential 1.2 billion Indians to support Weeraratna to gain recognition for his rightful claim.

Ranjith Fernando, who was a former Sri Lankan cricketer (Batsman/Wicketkeeper) who later became a prominent International Cricket Commentator coined the term ‘’Aerial route’’ to describe a sixer. Today you can hear many commentators using this term whenever a batsman hits a six. Many of them also acknowledge fact that the term was first aired by Ranjith Fernando.

The important  message that must be conveyed to the world is that Sri Lanka has unlimited talent not only in respect of high attainments on the playing fields but also ‘Cricket brains’ to transform the rules of the game radically which is what Senaka Weeraratna’s ‘player referral’ and Mahinda Wijesinghe’s ‘Third Umpire ‘concepts have done.

Rohan Abeygunawardena


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