Wayne Smith, in The Australian December 26
SENIOR Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakkara believes the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne will almost be like a home match for the visitors but that might not necessarily turn out to be a positive. Sangakkara, who needs just 40 runs in this match to become only the 10th player i to reach 10,000 Test runs, spoke enthusiastically this week about the prospect of a big turn-out at the MCG from the expat Sri Lankan community. “It will affect the mentality of the side when they see such a lot of support in a foreign country,” Sangakkara said. “That sort of atmosphere will help us. But at the same time, it’s pretty important not to get carried away by your emotions and the occasion.”
Yet that applies outside the fence as well as inside, with the Tamil Refugee Council planning to use the occasion to protest against the Sri Lankan Government which, it claims, was guilty of war crimes against the Tamil Tigers during the bloody civil war and still is persecuting the Tamil community. The Tamil organisation maintains the Sri Lankan side is too closely aligned to the government which it asserts has used the cricketers to improve its standing internationally. Few Tamils are members of the team, although one of them, current vice-captain Angelo Mathews, has been nominated by retiring captain Mahela Jayawardene as the man to replace him. The leading wicket-taker in Test history, Muttiah Muralidaran, also is a Tamil.
The Ceylon Today newspaper reported that any protest by Tamil expatriates against the Sri Lankan side would be a “classical biting the hand that feeds them scenario” because team members had actively sought to lower tensions between Tamils and the wider Sri Lankan population by touring the war-torn north in the lead-up to the recent T20 World Cup.
Sangakkara, whose work in the north of Sri Lanka this year is credited with ensuring 3000 bicycles were given to the Tamils, insisted it wasn’t important from where the country drew its cricketing talent. “For us, sport is beyond politics,” Sangakkara told Ceylon Today. “There’s a lot of talent in the north and east. The more cricketers we have coming and joining the national team from the north, east, west and south and wherever they are, that’s going to be the best thing for Sri Lanka.”
While this Test will be played out against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s troubled political past and present, Sangakkara also is concerned about its uncertain cricketing future. Unless there are some dramatic last-minute changes made to Sri Lanka’s schedule, this Melbourne Test and the one to follow early in the New Year in Sydney will be the last serious Tests they play before December.
With the scrapping of a two-Test series in the West Indies because neither side looked like being anywhere near full strength because of the ravages of the IPL, and the postponement until 2015 of a scheduled three-Test campaign against South Africa in August, again to prioritise a limited overs tournament, Sri Lanka might only play six Tests in 2013, four of them against minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
Sri Lanka has played only 217 Tests since being granted its first in 1982, while in that same period, Australia has played 331. So it is a testimony to both the patience and durability of Jayawardene and Sangakkara that, on a ration of about nine Tests per year, they have become two of the greatest run-scorers the game has seen. Jayawardene, whose Test average dipped below 50 for the first time in five years when he was dismissed for 12 and 19 in the Hobart Test, ranks ninth in history with 10,671, having begun his 136-Test career back in 1997. Sangakkara, now only one solid innings away from joining him as a member of the elite 10,000-runs brigade, has played 114 Tests since making his debut in 2000.
“It’s disappointing,” said Sangakkara of the decision to pare back Sri Lanka’s Test schedule. Hopefully there will be more Test matches played and more thought put into scheduling.”
SOME OTHER DEMONSTRATIONS
For fuller details see Michael Roberts, Incursions & Excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2011 ISBN 978-955-53198-0-5