Felicitating the Sri Lankan Cricketers in Melbourne: Two Notes Of Recognition

Michael Roberts, 23 February 2008

The Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation of Victoria hosted the Sri Lankan cricketers at a grand buffet dinner at THE GRAND in Wantirna, Melbourne on Saturday 23rd February, 2008. Arjuna Ranatunga and other members of Sri Lanka Cricket were also present, while Asanka Gurusinha was one of the comperes and Alston Koch also featured in the entertainment. The cricketers sat at a table outside and patiently signed autographs prior to the function, they were met at the entrance by drum-beating Kandyan drummers and then ushered into the hall in striking fashion by an imposing Aboriginal man playing the didgeridoo.

The dinner was preceded by that auction of cricket memorabilia in support of the Hope Cancer Hospital and the Foundation of Goodness. Among those seen at this occasion were such past cricketers as Buddy Reid, Saliya Ahangama, Sanath Kaluperuma, Lalith Kaluperuma and Athula Samarasekera. It was particularly pleasing to find Kathy Whatmore and Dr and Mrs David Young gracing the occasion (Dav Whatmore being away in charge of the Indian Under 19 team). The cricketers were happy to pose for photographs with eager-beaver admirers of all ages.

Three Stalwarts Of Sri Lankan Cricket

It is probable, if not certain, that Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas will not tour Australia again. So the present ODI tour is their swan song within this continent. These three stalwarts of Sri Lankan cricket during the last 15 years or so have not only played an extraordinary number of games; they have also rendered yeoman service and been match winners on umpteen occasions.

Sanath (b. 1969) took some time to consolidate his position in the top XI, but revolutionised the opener’s role in ODI games in 1996. From that time he has provided cricket-watchers with several electrifying innings, while also serving his side usefully as a left-arm spinner. Murali (b. 1972) was inducted into the top XV at a young age and had the dubious distinction of going wicketless during the few opportunities he had during his first tour of England in 1991, something difficult to imagine now after he has become the cricket world’s highest ever wicket-taker. Chaminda (b. 1974) has been a master of guile and controlled swing, arts that enabled him to snare a hat trick against Bangladesh at the 2003 World Cup amidst other outstanding feats; while he too has served Lanka well as an allrounder, albeit one of the bowling variety.

All three share one distinction: they are not from upper class families and did not benefit from attending any of the elite colleges, Ananda or Nalanda, or Royal or S. Thomas’. Indeed, Sanath rose from the floor of a fisherman’s hut where, perhaps, the makings of those “Popeye arms” (in Tony Greig’s renowned phrase) were nourished.

But what binds the three in common is their DISCIPLINE and commitment. They train assiduously. They adhere to self-discipline. They do not preen. Murali has never sought the captaincy though voices have sometimes mooted this idea. Chaminda has been a model of focused attention to his work. This is not surprising: for the story goes that teenager Chaminda nurtured thoughts of becoming a Catholic priest with all the rigours that such a career entailed. But he chose otherwise. “Praise Be to the Lord” we all say.

While Chaminda is a Catholic, Murali is Saivite (Hindu) and Sanath is Buddhist. Indeed, for several decades Sri Lanka has been the world’s most multi-religious (and for that matter most multi-ethnic) cricket team, featuring Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. In South Asia cross-fertilisation in religious practice is as widespread as it is deep. People cross religious boundaries to approach divine powers associated with religions outside their daily dispensation. So the image of Arjuna Ranatunga’s Sri Lankan squad in all their diversity praying together before they entered the field at Lahore on 17 March 1996 is no surprise (Essaying Cricket, 2006, Plate 94).

Notwithstanding Hayden’s regular sign of the cross, most Western observers are not able to comprehend the depths of religiosity — mixed with what the rationalist world deems to be “superstition” – embedded within Asian society. Perhaps they should take a good, hard look at the levels of intensity displayed by Sanath and Chaminda as they approached the patron saint at St. Anthony’s Church, Kotahena in votive supplication one fine day in the year 2000 (Essaying Cricket, 2006, Plate 122).

Their togetherness on this occasion did not prevent Sanath as captain placing team before Chaminda on one momentous occasion. Vaasi had scythed through a quality Zimbabwe side in one ODI match at the SSC grounds in Sri Lanka on 8th December 2001. He had all eight wickets under his belt (8-3-19-8) and was heading for a world record ten-wicket haul, when, pause, Sanath gave the ball to Murali at the other end. So, end of prospective world record: Murali took two wickets in four balls. Chaminda has never forgotten this; perhaps never forgiven Sani.

Still, cricket binds, maybe not as much as religious devotion among pilgrims and sādhakas (bhakti devotees), but in fertile measure nevertheless.

Photo courtesy of Lake House

Captains in Duo: Mahela and Kumar

Duleep and Roy, Arjuna and Aravinda, Sanath and Marvan, all have been buddies who were captain and vice-captain together; and thus working smoothly in tango without the captain fearing conspiracies beneath him. Every one of these vice-captains had the capacity to lead the side, but a close friendship as machans (mates in Sri Lankanese) encouraged them to work in unison. Mahela and Kumar are replicating this principle – and then some. In their present partnership the depths of mutuality are also sustained by the bonds that have existed for many years between their fiancées become wives. This ‘heritage’, one could plausibly argue, came to fruition on the 26/27th July 2006 when the pair compiled a total of 624 runs together for the third wicket in a Test match against South Africa, the highest Test partnership ever.

Mahela, Kumar and others at tsunami relief camp, Batticaloa, early 2005. Photo courtesy of Charlie Austin

Mahela (b. May 1977) was destined for the top drawer from an early age and made his debut at the age of 20 in that famous Test match versus India at the Khettarama Stadium in early August 1997 (Sri Lanka got 952 runs for 7 wickets). Kumar (b. October 1977) had to do the hard yards with the A Team in tours (e.g in England) before he broke into the top XV as a wicket-keeper batsman. With assiduous attention to detail as well as technique in the manner displayed by one of his mentors, namely, D. H. de Silva (of Galle, Peradeniya, Colombo, Kandy, Swansea and Melbourne), Kumar has sharpened his batting to the point where he is, now, one of the world’s leading batsmen.

Those who were fortunate enough, as I was, to see Mahela execute a masterly ODI century against England on that fateful day of 23rd January 1999 in Adelaide and those who saw Kumar’s classic 192 runs against Australia in the recent Test match at Bellerive Oval would agree that the captaincy ‘match’ between these two young men is as fitting as it is beneficial to Sri Lanka. Both bring to the game a bilingual capacity to articulate their opinions lucidly. More critically, they bring not only cricketing brains but also a spirit of sportsmanship that has not been that evident in the world scene in recent decades. Would any one of else been as gracious as Kumar was towards Rudi Koertzen that cruel last day in Bellerive?

Cricket does have the capacity to forge bonds across patriotic boundary lines. Last November, at the height of a testing Test series, two Lancastrians, Muralitharan and Andy Symonds, dined out convivially together with that Warwickshire man, Sangakkara. So, here today, at “The Grand” in Wantirna, Melbourne, we find Aussies and Lankans forging bonds across and amidst a commensal repast – käma beema magin näkamata samäna ekamuthubhavaya. Ēka vädhagath nēdha? That is important is it not?

1 Comment

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One response to “Felicitating the Sri Lankan Cricketers in Melbourne: Two Notes Of Recognition

  1. LahiruG

    Sanath’s father was a government servant not a fisherman.

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