Sangakkara stresses that the players today are a product of the island’s cricket heritage

Sri Lanka cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara in conversation with Mr. Nimal Welgama, Managing Director of Upali Newspapers Limited at the launch of Rex Clementine’s book ‘From Rags to Riches’. Minister of Sports Mahindananda Aluthgamage is also in the picture.

Excerpts from Kumar Sangakkara’s keynote speech:

Reverend Fathers and the members of the clergy, distinguished guests, invitees, the members of the media and, of course, the author of this wonderful book, Mr. Rex Clementine. I was taken aback and a bit surprised when Rex spoke to me personally and extended this invitation, but it was a pleasant surprise. I have known Rex as a journalist with an intense passion for the game ever since I started my national cricketing career. From that day onwards, it was very clear to me that this passion that drove Rex, the belief that he had in himself and his profession, was going to make his relationship with the cricket team and also the administration a very tempestuous one.

With Rex, there’s never going to be smooth sailing. With him, and I can vouch for that personally, no one will be able to escape investigation, inspection and analysis and at, sometimes, his displeasure. I have also been at times, at the receiving end of his praise and also his criticism. That’s something that I always have admired in Rex. I have never said this before to him openly, but this evening, having seen his book and having seen him over the last 10 years, I say this.

We as cricketers lead a very sheltered life. We have everything done for us. Sometimes, more often that not, we tend to get a bit too full of ourselves. We sometimes very wrongly think that we are special creations who ‘are above the rest of the mortals on earth’. Especially in the Asian sub-continent, cricketers very easily can get carried away with this. At the same time, we human beings, we of course never want to accept criticism, questioning of our ability, of our thinking, of our performances, but it is something that Rex and a few other dedicated and passionate journalists, who follow this sport everyday, who turn up for every press conference and who spend hours in research, who spend days asking the questions that need to be asked, getting the insight that the public needs to see, trying to get to know the players and deliver to the public, things they never see. And Rex has done that, fearlessly.

With his praise, he’s unsparing. With his questioning, he’s unsparing. With his criticism, no one can escape. I believe Rex has contributed a lot to cricket; the coverage of cricket and also the image of the cricketers themselves in this country. He has fearlessly and with a lot of belief, held strong to his views. Whether it be in his columns in newspapers or whether it be on ‘Sirasa TV’ with Mr. Arjuna Ranatunga. He has always held firm to his convictions.

He has also been a very intense topic of conversation sometimes even in our dressing room. However much we argue and analyse and we talk about him, at the end of the day, as cricketers we realise that there are things that need to be said, immeterial of whether we agree with that or not. Whether it’s comfortable with us or not. Journalism is a noble profession and his one article makes us stop and think, reflect, think some more, question ourselves a bit and make better informed decisions. I congratulate Rex today for going one step further and producing this magnificent book.

My father always told me to play cricket; it’s not just about batting and bowling and knowing how to score runs or take wickets or to field. To excel at something, you need to know its culture. You need to embrace its history. Books on cricket, which are very rare in Sri Lanka, published by Sri Lankan authors, is the best way of knowing who you are as a cricketer today and why you are here.

We sometimes think that we are here because we are talented; I am here because I can score runs and I am here because I have done the hard work in the club tournaments, in the ‘A’ side, in the national side and proved myself over and over again. To be able to sit here and stand here today in front of you. But in my view, I am just one part of Sri Lanka’s very rich cricketing legacy. I am a creation of that legacy. I am who I am today because of the great cricketers who are seated here today at this very table and in the audience, who paved the way for us to enjoy everything we have today. The hard journeys; the push for international recognition, the courage they have shown in the face of discrimation; the courage they have shown in the field in the absence of protective equipment; the courage that they have shown in the way they have carried themselves. The 1996 champions were part of that legacy. They won that World Cup because of the efforts of Sri Lankan cricketers’ efforts in past World Cups.

We are playing this 2011 World Cup as a result of those heroic efforts. Everything I have today; my lifestyle, my profession, my fame, my earnings, EVERYTHING, is a consequence of that legacy. For that, cricketers today must be very humble and very grateful. Because, without those, cricketers and without the fans, the person who watches us play, we are nothing.

In this book, I think, Rex has touched upon those thoughts, making a great cricketer, a great team. The dynamics, the works behind the scenes to create what we see on the field. Team spirit or the lack of it. A competent administration or the lack of it. Selection headaches, controversies. The thinking of players, the extremes to which players, administrators and fans will go to win a World Cup. And they do go for extremes – for Aravinda to become a vegetarian is very very extreme. But sometimes, we only see what we see on the field. We don’t get an opportunity to see behind the faces of cricketers to hear them voice their honest thoughts.

In press conferences today, we are asked questions and we give very well rehearsed, non-controversial answers. If we didn’t have the Cricket Board contracts, that bind us, I am sure the press conferences would be much more interesting.

But in a cricketers’ life time, very rarely can he speak candidly and Rex has given the great cricketers who have represented this country that opportunity, to vividly present their thoughts, their fears, their confidence, the things that made them tick, the things that worked for them in World Cups and the things that didn’t. I believe that it’s a very important thing for everyone to understand.

We are all mortals, we all make mistakes and we all passionately represent our country. We don our national colours and we look each other in the eye and we go to represent 20 million people on the field. We carry the dreams of the entire nation with us. We have seen in the past how important that has been in the Sri Lankan context. Through national strife, through conflict, throughout the war, through the tsunami and most other happenings, the social panacea that heals everything is cricket. This book will give an insight into what it takes to win the most coveted price in the cricketing world.

Rex, once again, thank you for inviting me and thank you even more for presenting and authoring this book. I believe that without any encouragement, you will continue with your crusade.

I believe seeing a more personal side of you today with your faith as your foundation; I see you doing greater things in the future. I would like to leave with one thought for all of you, which Rex has realised. A weak man has his doubts before the decision. A strong man has them afterwards.


Letter to the editor from Nimal Bhareti, 24 March 2011

I read with great interest the excellent and polished keynote address delivered by Kumar Sangakkara at the launching of Rex Clementine’s book “From rags to riches” published in today’s Island. It was a speech not just of a cricketer, but also the deep and analytical thoughts of a voracious reader which he is reputed to be and lawyer, a very rare combination indeed these days where many cricketers just go after material gain. His in depth analysis of cricketers, their weaknesses and  their limitations and his comments on the legacies of cricketers of the past and of the 1996 World Cup victory were simply brilliant.

As for Rex Clementine, he is by far the best sports writer and commentator. I haven’t seen his book but I make it a point to read all his articles and commentaries. I would specially wish to refer to the series of recent interviews with past cricketers and cricket administrators which threw much light on the Sri Lanka Cricket Board, its glorious days and its gradual decay. As Kumar has pointed out, RC’s comments are completely unbiased, very analytical and frank. It was indeed a compliment to him when Kumar mentioned that his comments were even discussed seriously in the dressing rooms. Unlike some sports writers he never pays pooja to individual cicketers or administrators.    

Congrats Sanga on your brilliant address and a bouquet to Rex Clementine for his very educative and analytical writing.

 Nimal Bhareti

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