The Seven-Year Itch of Sri Lanka Cricket!

Historic figures in the history of Sri Lankan cricket, lost out on proper recognition.

Due to the ignorance of the officials of the (Sri Lanka) cricket board, players of that era [1982-1988] although they did play cricket, which could have been awarded the first-class tag, lost out. Such records could have been entered against their respective names in the international first-class cricket records. A tragic loss.

Old timers would recall Billy Wilder’s whimsical Hollywood film made in 1955 starring Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. In this satire, Wilder attempts to portray that most men after seven years of marriage their passions tend to stray. Hence ‘The Seven Year Itch’. Sri Lanka cricket too had that itch but due to different reasons! Reasons of ignorance.

For seven consecutive years, beginning from 1982, the Wisden Almanack with reference to the status of domestic cricket in Sri Lanka, generally commented: ‘At the time of going to press details of domestic competition with first-class status were not available.’ Eventually, in the 1990 edition of the Wisden Almanack, an article appeared under the headline ‘Cricket in Sri Lanka – 1988-89’, an excerpt of which summed up the whole situation regarding the question of awarding first-class status to our domestic cricket:

Yet as 1989 progressed, the Board was to find itself under pressure from Sri Lanka’s Minister of Sports, and to the outside world it sometimes seemed that the country’s cricket occupied the same confused state as other aspects of life there.

Due to the ignorance of the officials of the cricket board, players of that era although they did play cricket, which could have been awarded the first-class tag, lost out. Such records could have been entered against their respective names in the international first-class cricket records. A tragic loss.

The expression ‘first-class cricket’, as recognised by the international cricketing community, is one that is bandied about by many cricket fans without realizing its implications. Even the officials at the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (now SLC) were blissfully unaware of what ‘first-class’ cricket meant. As shown below, this misconception has cost Sri Lanka dearly.

The basic idea of classifying a certain level of cricket in each Full Member’s domestic cricket and giving it a label ‘first-class’ is to ensure a level of equality. In other words, the top-level cricket played in each Test-playing nation that can qualify as ‘first-class’ – see below the stipulated conditions – is considered of the same standard on each Full Member country of the ICC for purposes of compiling official statistics. Runs scored, wickets captured or catches taken by a player, e.g. in the domestic tournament in England is comparable with a player performing at the same level in a similar tournament in Australia.

The Wisden Almanack (1982) defines ‘first-class cricket’ as follows:

  1. A match of three or more days duration between two sides of eleven players officially adjudged as a first-class fixture.
  2. In the following rules the term ‘governing body’ is restricted to Foundation Members, Full Members and Associate Members of the conference.
  3. RULES

    1. Foundation and Full Members of the ICC shall decide the status of matches of 3 or more days’ duration played in their countries.
    2. In matches of 3 or more days duration played in countries which are not Foundation Members or Full Members of the ICC:
      1. If the visiting team comes from a country which is a Foundation or Full Member of the ICC that country can decide the status of matches.
      2. If the visiting team does not come from a country, which is a Foundation or Full member of the ICC or a Commonwealth team composed of players from different countries, the ICC shall decide the status of matches. Also the following matches shall be regarded as first-class subject to the provisions of definitions (a) being complied with

    In all Foundation and Full Member countries represented on the Conference (ICC):

    1. Test matches and matches against teams adjudged first-class played by official touring teams.
    2. Official Test-trial matches.
    3. Special matches between teams adjudged first-class by the governing body or bodies concerned
    4. Governing bodies agree that the interest of first-class cricket will be served by ensuring that first-class status is not accorded to any match in which one or other of the teams taking part cannot on a strict interpretation of the definition be adjudged first-class.
    5. In case of any disputes arising from these rules, the secretary of the ICC shall refer the matter to the Conference, failing unanimous agreement by postal communication being reached.

    The writer had made numerous representations to the cricket board regarding this anomaly during the period and many letters were published in the newspapers but to no avail.

    However, after the adverse comments made in the Wisden Almanack (1990) the situation took a turn to the better. Indeed it is tragically amusing that during this dark period the officials in high places at the cricket board tenaciously held on to their respective posts!

    (The above is a guest post by Mahinda Wijesinghe, considered as Sri Lanka’s No: 1 cricket writer, who pioneered the concept paper on the ‘third umpire.’)

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