Gamini Weerakoon, a reporter’s delight



Gamini Weerakoon

The Island editorial is where you meet people of all sorts and managing these characters is by no means an easy task. My first Editor at The Island, Mr. Gamini Weerakoon, did that well; he played different roles—an editor, mentor, taskmaster and friend.

In 2003, he walked up to the Sports Desk and wanted the World Cup that was a few weeks away in far-off South Africa to be covered. There were several senior sports writers at the time, but for some reason he handpicked me. I had joined the newspaper just four months back and was still learning the ropes.

Earlier that week, I had written a piece about a bitter pay dispute between the Cricket Board and the players, and no sooner had it appeared than Captain Sanath Jayasuriya made a beeline to our office at Bloemendhal Road to plead to the publisher that his reputation was at stake and we should report that the players were prepared to sign contracts. Maybe Mr. Weerakoon was happy that I had made the Test captain come running to The Island editorial!

That World Cup changed my life. Still in mid-20s, yours truly was meeting all celebrated cricket writers from Christopher Martin Jenkins, G. Viswanath, R. Kaushik, Tony Cozier to Collin Bryden. Since then, I have been fortunate to cover every World Cup from Antigua to Zimbabwe. Thank you, Mr. Weerakoon!

Mr. Weerakoon was a reporter’s delight. We carried a hard-hitting piece about the Rebel Tour of South Africa in 2004. The report revealed that the mastermind behind the tour received a higher payment than Captain Bandula Warnapura.

The mastermind was at our office the following day, slamming the sports desk for not checking facts.

Mr. Weerakoon heard the commotion, took the protester into his cubicle and reminded the latter that there was something called right of reply. The former cricketer agreed to seek that remedy, but thundered, ‘You had better carry my reply, or I will take you to court.’ Mr. Weerakoon lost his cool at this point. He sprang to his feet saying, ‘You go to court and hang yourself.’

A young prodigy called Ian Daniel was scoring heavily in school cricket. St. Joseph’s had a formidable side that year, and Mr. Weerakoon wanted this stroke maker’s picture in the papers as the Joes were playing St. Benedict’s at Kotahena, a hop, skip and a jump from our office. He passed the message on to the Sports Editor Ravi Nagahawatte, who assigned a photographer.

Affable shutterbug, Siripala Halwala was told well in advance, but he didn’t bother going there early. He leisurely visited the ground after lunch to find that the game had ended before tea with St. Joseph’s winning handsomely.

Halwala got the shock of his life. He knew what was in store for him. So, he went in search of Daniel, and pleaded with him to come to the pitch and pose for a photograph. He captured Daniel playing an elegant cover drive, thanked him profusely and returned to the office, beaming from ear to ear.

Dhammika Ratnaweera had written the story about St. Joseph’s win and Halwala’s photograph of Daniel accompanied it. Everything looked perfect, and Halwala was confident that he would be able to get away.

Mr. Weerakoon returned to office after his customary evening visit to Orient Club and demanded that he be shown the sport pages before they were sent to the press. There it was; Daniel playing a glorious cover drive! But there was something missing—no bails on the stumps. It is usual for umpires to knock off the bails at close of play. Halwala had missed the trick. The reporter, the Sub-Editor and the Sports Editor had missed the error. Eagle-eyed Mr. Weerakoon spotted it in time.

Work for Mr. Weerakoon was worship.

Our fond memories of him will linger forever.

Rex Clementine