Peter Wijesinghe nearly got bashed by Tamil hooligans-
Prior to 1972, cricket was restricted to matches played by combined Ceylon teams in overseas countries, or against touring international sides. England and Australia often stopped over in Colombo en route to their respective destinations and played matches. The first such match dates back to 1882, against the touring England side. It was only in 1937 when a structured inter-club first-class tournament came into being, known as the Daily News Trophy.
When Sri Lankan cricketers started to demonstrate their skills and the progressed in the game, Sri Lankan Cricket Board approached the ICC with a view to convince them to recognise Sri Lanka to be included in their list of Test player nations. However, it turned out to be a long drawn hard fought battle to persuade the ICC as they repeatedly maintained the slogan that, “Test cricket is a money-spinner; Sri Lanka, being an unknown quantity in the international cricket world, it would not be prudent to accommodate into the ICC clique“!
However, the late Gamini Dissanayake, who was Chairperson of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board in early 1980s, “made a charismatic case for Sri Lanka cricket in June 1981, winning over the fustiest of cricket administrators with an eloquent plea for them to be granted Test status. This was the most judicious of knocks, as he played himself in, with diplomatic references to spreading cricket’s values of honesty and fair play before sallying forth with a host of guarantees that he would personally bring Sri Lanka’s facilities up to scratch“. (David Hopps – Guardian, May 18, 2011)
It took nearly eight months for the Sri Lankan team to prepare for the first international encounter since obtaining the ICC approval to have full membership status in 1982. In doing so, Sri Lanka qualified as the eighth test playing country to play cricket test matches; they had their inaugural test performance at Lord’s grounds in summer 1984.
Many Sri Lankan expatriates took leave from work and bought expensive entrance tickets to the Lords cricket grounds to witness the first ever Test Match between Sri Lanka Vs. England. The ICC, who maintained over the years that Sri Lanka was not a ‘crowd pulling team’, was taken by surprise by the crowds at the Lord’s grounds to watch the first ever test match between Sri Lanka and England.
On 17th of February 1982, Bandula Warnapura, the Sri Lankan Captain, won the toss while everyone impatiently waited to witness the Sri Lankan talent. However, out of the blue, a bunch of Tamil sympathisers of the LTTE terrorist orgainisation, ten in number, ran across the cricket grounds, up to the cricket pitch, and took over the turf temporarily and started digging into the pitch! Dickey Bird, the Head Umpire at the time looked flabbergasted; soon it was brought under control and the Tamil rebels were removed from the ground immediately by the field authorities.
After a thorough investigation conducted by the ICC, those ten Tamil youths were made to appear in Marylebone Courts and they were found guilty of damaging the Lords cricket pitch; their names were displayed publicly on a MCC notice Board inside the club house – with one of the names Kandipumwrongly written as Kandipam!
High Commissioner Chandra Monerawala
When this news reached the Sri Lanka High Commission in London, High Commissioner Chandra Monarawala became extremely keen in obtaining the name list of the culprits that was displayed publicly on the MCC notice board. The news spread far and wide, and when it reached Sri Lanka the N.I.B (National Investigation Bureau) they too became interested to have access to the name list of the perpetrators involved. Consequently, when the High Commissioner Monarawala was deliberating as how to obtain this name list, Peter Wijesinghe, who was regarded as ‘kokatath thailaya’(man for every occasion) attached to the High Commission, volunteered for the job bravely to visit the Lord’s Cricket grounds during a cricket match and do the honours.
It turned out to be a ‘touch and go‘ moment for Peter while he was copying down the names studiously when a gang of LTTE supporting hooligans approached him and attempted to jostle him.
Evidently, they had suspected of Peter being up to some kind of monkey pranks with those names! But in Peter’s favour Metropolitan police on patrol inside the Lord’s grounds witnessed this commotion and immediately rushed to the scene.
Police officers in a move to calm the situation diplomatically managed to convince the Tamil crowd that they (police) were going to arrest‘Peter for interfering with the notice board at the Lord’s grounds’and took him away from the scene to a safe spot. That was believed to be a discreet move on the part of the metropolitan police in avoiding a major catastrophe on that day during the cricket match.
Building Police contacts
Peter Wijesinghe during his services at the High Commission had built up some good camaraderie with a few important personalities at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as in the Scotland Yard. One such personality was Inspector Floor, who had been assigned by the Scotland Yard as Mrs. Bandaranaike’s security officer, while the Prime Minster Sirimavo Bandaranaike was in the UK and residing at the Savoy Hotel.
In 1962 Mrs. Bandaranaike, as Prime Minister, always chose to stay at the Savoy Hotel in Strand, London West Central. As part of the hotel accommodation package, Mrs. Bandaranaike always enjoyed the allocated office space within the hotel to run her administrative functions during her stay in London.
In such circumstances, the High Commission in London delegated Peter Wijesinghe to assist the Prime Minister in her office administrative functions from the Savoy Hotel. It was during such duties that he came across Inspector Floor, and after befriending realised that the Englishman had been born in Ceylon and had some connections with Sri Lanka already.
Haynswas another C.I.D officer known to Peter. Coincidently C.I.D Officer Haynes’ father Robert Haynshad been working at the Sri Lanka High Commission for a long period of time abreast Peter Wijesinghe. When Robert Hayns retired, the Trade Commissioner at the time, S.C.A. Nanayakkara gifted two cases of Johnny Walker Red Label whiskey to Robert Hayns, as a token of appreciation for his long service to the Sri Lanka government.
With the help of all such police contacts of Peter Wijesinghe, High Commissioner Monarawala was able to provide a substantive report to the NIB in Colombo on the Tiger supporters’ rowdy behaviour at the Lord’s cricket grounds during the first test match between Sri Lanka and England, with the full list of names of those found guilty. MCC had by then separately taken the LTTE culprits to Courts and, in Sherlock Holmes style, detective work done by the High Commission office in London managed to add another feather in High Commissioner Chandra Monarawala and Senior diplomatic Secretary the late B.L.M. Fernando’s cap.
Shelton Silva was a well-known figure among the Sri Lankan community in London at the time. He was a private army soldier in Sri Lanka, brought to London by the Sri Lankan government to work as the chef at the Ceylon Students’ Centre at Clarendon Place; a stone’s throw away from the High Commission building. After some time, he resigned from the Student Centre job and started his own mobile service of selling ‘home made’ Sri Lankan spices (curry powder etc).
Soon he started to spread his entrepreneurial tentacles by initially opening a ‘Corner shop’(mini market) at Fleet Road in West Hampstead, under the name of ‘Fleet Food’and expanded his business by opening his second shop, under the same name, in Colindale, London NW 9.
During the first test match under discussion, Shelton had a Sri Lankan food stall within the Lords grounds complex with packets of short eats and other Sri Lankan bottled stuff, such as pickles for sale. The writer was in the company of a former Sri Lankan High Commission home-based staff member, Clarence Fernando, who assisted the Education Officer once, Mr. J.C.A Corea, the former Principal at Kings Wood in Kandy and Royal College Colombo.
Clarence on this occasion wanted to purchase a bottle of homemade lime pickle from Shelton Silva’s outlet, and both of us took our place in the queue behind 4-5 Tamil males. As we moved forward in the queue, one of the Tamil chaps picked up a bag of assorted short eats from the table, and inquired its price from Shelton, who very politely with his normal shy grin, quoted the price at which point the Tamil person, out of sheer pigheadedness and hate, shouted at Shelton Silva saying, “who the hello wants to buy this rubbish anyway men”? Shelton again politely said, “well, if you do not want, no one is forcing you to buyit”. The Tamil fella instantly bashed the food packet hard on to the table and thereby making a real mess of everything saying, “Keep this f…….g rubbish with you“!
That was the last thing Clarence Fernando and the writer managed to witness. As it happened so fast, Shelton Silva’s right fist at rocket speed registered on the Tamil guy’s left cheek with a thundering garish noise! Both Clarence and the writer had to jump backwards when the arrogant and supercilious guy went out of balance and started to circle on the spot for a few quick seconds before thrown forward from his standing position, while the rest of the Tamil supporters, who were with him, showed a clean pair of heels! Shelton Silva was a wise guy. He immediately summoned a police officer, who was on duty nearby, and complained about the Tamil intruder’s behaviour and the damage caused to his food outlet.
Clarence immediately dropped the idea of buying any pickle as the whole atmosphere at that very moment appeared to be in a real pickle.
pic Credit: Google/Lords Cricket Grounds