Sri Lankan Cricket History: Abstracts of Two Essays by Michael Roberts in 2007 and 2009

  FC “Derek” de Saram in full flow CI Gunasekera & Mahes Rodrigo walk out to bat Kehel Yakaa mesmerises

“Landmarks and threads in the cricketing universe of Sri Lanka,” Sport in Society, 2007, 10(1), 120-142 ….

….  Published online: 19 Feb 2007

This article analyses the social circumstances and the internal politics within Sri Lanka’s cricketing order. Organized along temporal as well as thematic lines, it begins with the story of cricket as a pastime for the ruling British elements and marks the importance of total institutions such as military regiments and schools in its emergence in the nineteenth century. The principal engine of expansion, however, was the institution called the ‘club’. For over 100 years cricket was also an urban phenomenon, though the planting clubs were a site for its expressions of mannered masculinity. A paradox emerges: cricket was both an agency of Westernization and a site for challenges to white, British notions of superiority. As a largely elitist sport confined to the Ceylonese ‘middle class’, it was one of the earliest vehicles of Ceylonese nationalism. This sentiment marked indigenous sentiment without nullifying the ethnic distinctions of clubs centred on Sinhalese, Burghers, Tamils and so on. Thus. in the post-independence era the Sri Lankan Tamils were among those who supported the Ceylonese team when they faced the Tamils of southern India in the regular encounter for the Gopalan Trophy (1953–76). Many forces promoted the popularity of the game among the urban middle classes, not least the popularity of the Ashes and tours by visiting foreign teams in the twentieth century. But until the 1960s/1970s cricket at the highest level was not only elitist, but also dominated by (a) specific elite schools with cultural capital and a powerful cricketing heritage and (b) by the metropolis of Colombo. However, the flow-on from a populist political revolution via the ballot in 1956, which saw the emergence of linguistic nationalism associated with the Sinhala language, eventually penetrated the fields of cricket. Good cricketers from ‘Buddhist schools’ and/or outstation schools began to secure places in the top eleven and eventually, by the 1980s, commanded the scene. This development was one thread in the democratization and popularization of the game, a process assisted by commentaries in the vernacular from the late 1960s as well as the impact of colour television from 1981 onwards.

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 Arjuna and Aravinda in winning stand at Lahore, March 1996 …. and the others swarm unto pitch as victory is clinched

“Wunderkidz in a Blunderland: tensions and tales from Sri Lankan cricket,” Sport in Society, 2009, 12(4-5), 566-578

Published online: 08 May 2009 …..Download citation

The story of Sri Lankan cricket is a tale of great cricketing success within the context of a polity struggling with civil war and great levels of internal violence. Cricket is the one arena in Sri Lankan public culture where Tamils and Sinhalese, locked in a bloody civil war for decades, come together on a national public platform. From being reviled as a Western import in the early years of independence to its gradual embrace and penetration of new catchment areas in less affluent and more rural areas, the story of Sri Lankan cricket in many ways mirrors the development of the post-colonial Sri Lankan nation. This essay fleshes out prominent themes in the history of Sri Lankan cricket within the context of the major socio-political developments in twentieth century Sri Lanka.

Background action to sustain cricketing effort

A NOTE: all the images deployed here are from Michael Roberts: ESSAYING CRICKET. SRI LANKA & BEYOND

Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications,  2006  …. Web:

Softcover: ISBN 955-1266-25-0         AUD $55 US $50 / pd 25

Hardcover: ISBN 955-1266-26-9       AUD $80 US $75 / pd 35


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