How the 1996 World Cup came to the sub-continent

Veteran Sri Lankan administrator Neil Perera goes down memory lane.

Neil Perera, the former Sri Lanka Cricket Board secretary, has witnessed history in the making, be it the sub-continent co-hosting the 1996 World Cup or Sri Lanka’s eventual triumph in that premier event.   -  K.C. Vijaya Kumar

Nearing 88, Neil Perera seeks his warmth in nostalgia.

The former Sri Lanka Cricket Board secretary has witnessed history in the making, be it the sub-continent co-hosting the 1996 World Cup or Sri Lanka’s eventual triumph in that premier event.

Residing in a Colombo suburb rich in tropical foliage and dotted with old-world bungalows, Perera mined his memories. Not many know that Perera played a crucial hand in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka jointly hosting the 1996 World Cup.

Here is his back-story: “Nelson Mandela had been released from the jail and he rang up president Ranasinghe Premadasa and wanted our support for South Africa in their bid to host the World Cup. At the meeting, England too put its bid forward. South Africa and England got four votes each, while Pakistan voted for itself.

“The meeting was temporarily adjourned and I approached the Pakistan Cricket Board president General Khan and told him that since Pakistan didn’t have much of a hope, he should bid with us and India. He agreed and when the members voted again, South Africa pulled out.

“Our bid got five votes and England managed four but we needed two-third majority. A compromise was made with England opting to back out on the condition that it should get the World Cup in 1999. Similarly, South Africa demanded hosting rights for the 2003 World Cup and the matter was resolved.”

Perera’s effort drew praise from the then BCCI secretary Jagmohan Dalmiya, whose letter the former has preserved. “Without your crucial role at the ICC meeting in London on February 2, 1993, the ‘cake’ perhaps would not have come to this sub-continent,” Dalmiya wrote.

The India-connect that Perera has, had its roots in the 1975 tour. “My first stint as a team manager was the 1975 tour of India. Players like Anura Tennekoon (captain), Roy Dias and Duleep Mendis were part of that team. I was paid 3000 Sri Lankan rupees for that tour. My friend Ghulam Ahmed was the BCCI secretary and after two weeks I ran short of my money. I asked Ghulam to lend me Rs. 2000. He gave me three to four thousand but never took it back.

Sri Lanka was very strict with foreign exchange then and we could each carry only 3 pounds and 10 shillings. At that time, our cloves were liked by the Indians and each one of us took two kgs of cloves to sell. English bats were also difficult to get in India and each of us took two bats and sold one. That’s how we survived,” Perera said about a tour in which he had a run-in with Bishan Singh Bedi, over an alleged pitch-issue at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.

Cut to the present, Perera is happy that cricket has gained financial muscle in Sri Lanka but is worried that the system isn’t robust. He also feels slighted.

“People who run the game have forgotten me. I have been in the (SLC) committee for 20 years, six years as secretary, one year as vice-president and six times as Sri Lanka’s team-manager. But I don’t even get to sit in the president’s box during matches,” Perera said wistfully.