By Randima Attygalle
Q: Can you tell us about your school days?
My father was working as the Chief Clerk at the Rosyth Estate, Kegalle. Until my parents separated, I studied at St. Mary’s College, Kegalle. My mother was working as a nurse and when she got transferred to Ampara, my siblings and I went along with her. Although I was trying to get admission to St. Michael’s College, Batticaloa, it didn’t have boarding facilities. Therefore I was compelled to go to Kalmunai and I entered Fatima College (St. Mary’s College Kalmunai), where I got through my Senior College Certificate in 1956. I also captained the College cricket team in 1957.

Q: Has cricket fascinated you, ever since you were a school boy?
Actually, I was more of a soccer player during my school days. Our hostel warden, Rev. Brother G.A. Daniel was also a Prefect of Games. It was he who got me to play more Cricket, because boarders used to get all the opportunities, to play long hours. So cricket did not occupy a special place, at that time. In 1956, I left college and as my mother was struggling to bring up five of us, I thought I must get employed, and I sat for the Government Service Exam in 1958. In 1959, I was recruited as an under-guard in the Railway. I started following cricket closely once I joined the Railway because many inter-department matches were played at that time.
Q: Who were your cricket idols?
I admired Sir Garfield Sobers and Richie Benaud, particularly.

Q: What made you take up umpiring?
J.M.C. Jayasinghe, an old Nalandian, who was one of the most recognised umpires at the time, was working with us, at the Railway and one day, Mr. Jayasinghe asked me, “Why not take up umpiring,” and he gave me a book on the rules to study and I got through the exam and officially became an umpire on the October 10th, 1969. My first match was St. Thomas Vs Zahira College, in November 1969, at Mt. Lavinia and my colleague was Mr. Vernon Tissera. In 1975, I was promoted as a Class 1 umpire.

Q: You officiated Sri Lanka’s first official test match with Herbie Felsinger. Can you recollect that match?
Herbie Felsinger, who was a very senior umpire at that time, was selected to officiate the match. There was a competition among five of us, for the next place. The match was to commence on the February 17th, but till the 16th , the name was not announced. At about 10 o’clock, on 16th night, I was informed over the phone, that I would be umpiring the match, and I was thrilled! I had butterflies in my stomach, when I walked to the grounds and till the first over was bowled, I had gripping sensations! Later on, I found out that, there had been lot of pressure on late Gamini Dissanayake, who was the President of the Cricket Board because Herbie, who was a Burgher and myself, a Tamil-Catholic, were going to officiate the match, as apposed to a Sinhala Buddhist. I’m grateful to late Gamini Dissanayake, who recognised me and gave me, my due place, despite all internal pressure. If not, my career would have not taken this path, which finally ended up at ICC level.

Q: What are your other most unforgettable memories as an umpire?
In 1987, I was selected to officiate the World Cup in India and Dooland Bultjens and W. Vidanagamage were to officiate the Sharjah Cup. All of a sudden, I saw headlines in papers ‘Vidanagamage for the World Cup’. I was dropped. I met Gamini Dissanyake and the committee and informed that, I was giving up umpiring because, I was humiliated. Mr. Dissanayake advised me not to take a hasty decision and on his advice, I continued. Then in 1992, when I should have been Herbie Felsinger’s substitute (since he was indisposed after a stroke) to officiate the World Cup, they did not send me, but someone else. In the same year, I became the only umpire, to have been assigned and removed from a test match! We were playing against New Zealand at SSC and even after walking into the grounds, I was removed. Such are my bitter memories! I was so disgusted and almost resigned, when Jayanatha Paranathala, who was the Chairman of the Umpire’s Committee coaxed me, not to give up, as I was tipped to be recommended to the pending ICC panel. In 1996, I officiated the first round and the quarter finals of the World Cup, with umpire B.C. Cooray.

Q: Can you recollect our victory in 1996?
When the Finals were played, I was a spectator among the mammoth crowd, and my wife and son joined me in Pakistan, for the match. The emotions were running high and I simply cannot describe it! I will always remember the crucial innings of Arjuna, Aravinda and Gurusinghe, which played a vital role in our victory.

Q: What is the dictum you stand by, when you are on the field?
Once I walk into the playing area, I have no friends, no enemies. I try to do my job, to the best of my ability. I have made mistakes because it is human to do so. But what is important is to admit it when you realise them.

Q: Who are the ‘gentlemen’ of the game who have impressed you?
As far as the local game is concerned, I have always had a good rapport with all players. Even with foreign players, I’ve had a healthy relationship although once in a while, I have had encounters with nasty guys, which you got to stomach in! Roshan Mahanama is one player, who has always impressed me. He’s one player who always respects the decision of an umpire. When he was appointed a match referee, he came to me and Peter Manuel for assistance and we helped him. He never forgets to mention at any occasion that Peter and I guided him, as he started. I think humility is a great quality to be admired in anybody. Sachin, Courtney Walsh and Danny Morison are some of the other players who have impressed me.

Q: From what perspective do you see the appointments of Ranjan Madugalle and Roshan Mahanama?
As Sri Lankans, we should be very proud of them. Where Ranjan is concerned, he is respected right round the world, as a match referee and Roshan too has been appointed to the panel and he too is doing well. I wish them both good luck and I’m proud that, my countrymen have put us on the map!

Q: Do you believe that the flavour of the ‘gentleman’s game’ is lacking in a larger sense?
Yes, I do. Sometimes it is difficult to call it the ‘gentleman’s game’ anymore! Money plays a big role in it and this is why we hear of match-fixing and other dishonest deeds. It is important that a player does not tarnish his good name. They should not wait too long till they are asked to leave, it’s better to call it a day when there is still ‘that little bit’ left in you, so that they do not become stagnated players.

Q: What do you think are the areas, which should be addressed in ‘school-boy cricket’ in our country?
I see that most of the coaches are asking school cricketers to play negative cricket instead of inculcating the correct spirit of the game and values in them. A coach is happy if they don’t lose because then his job is safe. In my opinion, the point system should be taken off from school tournaments and should revert to the old system of the game. Those days even matches played for one and half days ended up in a result. Today, even three-day matches like Royal-STC ends in a stale match because very often negative playing is fostered in the players. You must play positive cricket because cricket is not just a game, it is very good entertainment as well.

Q: What are your favourite grounds?
Where Lords is concerned, it is sacred. Apart from that, I like to umpire in Newlands, Cape Town and Chandigar, India. They are grounds of such scenic beauty. Locally, SSC is very special to me.

Q: What message would you like to give budding players and umpires?
I think integrity is the most important thing. You must not allow anyone, to point a finger at you. You should also cultivate yourself to undergo any amount of pressure. An umpire should be able to withstand any pressure. There are many occasions where umpires are labeled as cheats. In 1998, I was labeled as a cheat by Zimbabwe. Umpires are also humans, who can make mistakes. But, the man who makes the least number of mistakes is the best umpire. As far as the players are concerned, again integrity is very important. They should first respect their team mates, opponents and umpires. I think, it is important that a cricketer adheres to the spirit of the game.

Q: What is the greatest gift, this game has bestowed upon you?
I really became a man known in Sri Lanka after I took up umpiring. Even now, when I walk on the road, people recognise me and talk to me. I wouldn’t have got all that, if not for Cricket and that is why, I try to give back by training umpires. At present, I’m contracted by the Asian Cricket Council to train umpires.

Q: Can you tell us about your family and your other interests?
My wife is Wendy Barbara. We both enjoy country and western music. We have a daughter, Michelle who is currently residing in Canada with her family. Our grandson is Dylon. My son Thomas Niren is a student at Gateway International School. Apart from cricket, I like soccer and tennis.