Category Archives: Sri Lanka

Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 7 of 7)


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011. - 2
Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011. – 2

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On July 4, 2011, at the invitation of the MCC, Kumar Sangakkara, the former Captain of the Sri Lankan Cricket Team, delivered the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s  titled “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket – A Celebration of Our Uniqueness”.

This video is part 7 of Kumar Sangakkara’s hour-long speech. It is accompanied by its transcript.

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Transcript of  Kumar Sangakkara’s speech

 

A Sri Lankan Cricket Team Powered by Talent

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Our Lions, our pride (Source: lankaonglobe.wordpress.com)
Our Lions, our pride (Source: lankaonglobe.wordpress.com)

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But as a Sri Lankan I hope we have the strength to find the answers ourselves.

While the team structure and culture itself was slowly evolving, our on-field success was primarily driven by the sheer talent and spirit of the uniquely talented players unearthed in recent times, players like Murali, Sanath, Aravinda, Mahela and Lasith Malinga.

Although our school cricket structure is extremely strong, our club structure remains archaic. With players diluted among 20 clubs it does not enable the national coaching staff to easily identify and funnel talented players through for further development. The lack of competitiveness of the club tournament does not lend itself to producing hardened first-class professionals.

Various attempts to change this structure to condense and improve have been resisted by the administration and the clubs concerned. The main reason for this being that any elected cricket board that offended these clubs runs the risk of losing their votes come election time. At the same time, the instability of our administration is a huge stumbling block to the rapid face change that we need. Indeed, it is amazing that that despite this system we are able to produce so many world-class cricketers.

The Challenge Ahead for Sri Lankan Cricket

Nevertheless, despite abundant natural talent, we need to change our cricketing structure, we need to be more Sri Lankan rather than selfish, we need to condense our cricketing structure and ensure the that the best players are playing against each other at all times. We need to do this with an open mind, allowing both innovative thinking and free expression. In some respects we are doing that already, especially our coaching department is actively searching for unorthodox talent.

We have recognised and learned that our cricket is stronger when it is free-spirited, and we, therefore, encourage players to express themselves and be open to innovation.

There was a recent case where the national coaches were tipped off. It was a case of a 6-foot tall volleyball player. He apparently when viewed by the district coach of the region ambled up to the wicket in four steps jumped four to five feet high in the air in a smash like leap and delivered the ball while in mid-air. His feet are within the two bowling creases, popping in the bowling crease, but after his delivery he lands quite away down the wicket.

Now the district coach found this very very interesting and unique. So he thought so well let’s have a trial. We’ll take the video camera along and get this volleyball player who had never bowled before for any lengthy period, to bowl for half-an-hour in the district nets. He does quite a good job, half-an-hour of jumping high and delivering a cricket ball, quite well with good direction. And the video sample he sent back to our cricket board.

The national coaches there also find it interesting … Let’s call him to Colombo for a trial. Four days later they make a call, and the volleyball player answers the phone call from a hospital bed. And when invited he said: “I am sorry. I can’t move. I have never bowled for 30 minutes, I strained my back.” So, the search for gold in that particular instance did not come to fruition.

There was another case where there was a letter postmarked from a distant village, where the writer claimed to be the fastest undiscovered bowler in Sri Lanka. Upon further inquiry, it was found that the letter was written by a teenage Buddhist monk who proceeded to give a bowling demonstration dressed in his flowing saffron robe. In Sri Lanka, cricket tempts even the most chaste and holy.

If we are able to seize the moment then the future of Sri Lanka’s cricket remains very bright. I pray we do because cricket has such an important role to play in our island’s future. Cricket played a crucial role during the dark days of Sri Lanka’s civil war, a period of enormous suffering for all communities, but the conduct and performance of the team will have even greater importance as we enter a crucial period of reconciliation and recovery, an exciting period where all Sri Lankans aspire to peace and unity. It is also an exciting period for cricket where the re-integration of isolated communities in the north and east open up new talent pools.

Cricket’s  importance heightened in Sri Lanka’s New Era

The spirit of cricket can and should remain and guiding force for good within our society, providing entertainment and fun, but also a shining example to all of how we should approach our lives.

The war is now over. Sri Lanka looks towards a new future of peace and prosperity. I am eternally grateful for this. It means that my children will grow up without war and violence being a daily part of their lives. They will learn of its horrors not first-hand, but perhaps in history class or through conversations for it is important that they understand and appreciate the great and terrible price our country and our people paid for the freedom and security they now enjoy.

In our cricket, we display a unique spirit, a spirit enriched by lessons learned from a history spanning over two-and-a-half millennia. In our cricket, you see the character of our people, our history, culture, tradition, our laughter, our joy, our tears, our regrets, and our hopes. It is rich in emotion and talent.

My responsibility as a Sri Lankan cricketer is to further enrich this beautiful sport, to add to it and enhance it and to leave a richer legacy for the cricketers to follow.

I will do that keeping paramount in my mind my Sri Lankan identity. Play the game hard and fair and be a voice with which Sri Lanka can speak proudly to the world. My loyalty will be to the ordinary Sri Lankan fan, their 20 million hearts beating collectively as one to our island rhythm, filled with an undying and ever-loyal love for this our game.

Fans of different races, castes, ethnicities and religions who together celebrate their diversity by uniting for cricket our common national cause. Those fans are my foundation. They are my family. I will play my cricket for them. Their spirit is the true spirit of cricket. With me are all my people.

I, am Tamil, I am Sinhalese, I am Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, I am a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. But, above all, today and always, I will be proudly Sri Lankan.

Thank you.

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On April 6, 2014, Kumar Sangakkara hit a memorable half-century to help Sri Lanka to a six-wicket victory over India in the World Twenty20 final in Dhaka. (Source: np.gov.lk)
On April 6, 2014, Kumar Sangakkara hit a memorable half-century to help Sri Lanka to a six-wicket victory over India in the World Twenty20 final in Dhaka. (Source: np.gov.lk)

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Sri Lanka's victory over India in the World Twenty20 final in Dhaka. - 2 (Source - np.gov.lk)

 

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← Previous: Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture (Part 6 of 7)

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Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 6 of 7)


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011. - 2
Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011. – 2

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On July 4, 2011, at the invitation of the MCC, Kumar Sangakkara, the former Captain of the Sri Lankan Cricket Team, delivered the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s  titled “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket – A Celebration of Our Uniqueness”.

This video is part 6 of Kumar Sangakkara’s hour-long speech. It is accompanied by its transcript.

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Transcript of  Kumar Sangakkara’s speech
In Lahore, Pakistan after the terrorist attack

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The injured Sri Lanka cricketers (from left) Ajantha Mendis, Tharanga Paranavitana, Thilan Samaraweera, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara and assistant coach Paul Farbrace (Source: Getty Images/dailymail.co.uk)
The injured Sri Lanka cricketers (from left) Ajantha Mendis, Tharanga Paranavitana, Thilan Samaraweera, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara and assistant coach Paul Farbrace (Source: Getty Images/dailymail.co.uk)

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Tilan is helped off the bus. In the dressing room, there is a mixture of emotions: anger, relief, joy.

Pakistan hospital staff carry Sri Lankan cricket player Tharanga Paranavitana (Source: abc.net.au)
Pakistan hospital staff carry Sri Lankan cricket player Tharanga Paranavitana (Source: abc.net.au)

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Players and coaching staff are being examined by paramedics. Tilan and Paranavithana are taken by ambulance to the hospital.

We all sit in the dressing room and talk. Talk about what happened. Within minutes, there is laughter and the jokes have started to flow. We have for the first time been a target of violence, and we had survived.

We all realized that what some of our fellow Sri Lankans, we all realized that what some of our fellow Sri Lankans experienced every day for nearly 30 years had just happened to us. There was a new respect and awe for their courage and selflessness. It is notable how quickly we got over that attack on us. Although we were physically injured, mentally we held strong.

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Sri Lankan cricket team officials and players prepare to board a helicopter at the Gaddafi stadium (Source: in.reuters.co
Sri Lankan cricket team officials and players prepare to board a helicopter at the Gaddafi stadium (Source: in.reuters.co

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A few hours after the attack we were airlifted to the Lahore Air Force Base.

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Ajantha Mendis, his head swathed in bandages after multiple shrapnel wounds, (Source - indusladies.com)
Ajantha Mendis, his head swathed in bandages after multiple shrapnel wounds, (Source – indusladies.com)

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Ajantha Mendis, his head swathed in bandages after multiple shrapnel wounds, suggests a game of Poker. Tilan has been brought back, sedated but fully conscious, to be with us and we make jokes at him and he smiles back.

We were shot, grenades were thrown at us, we were injured and yet we were not cowed. We were not down and out. “We are Sri Lankan,” we thought to ourselves, “and we are tough and we will get through hardship and we will overcome because our spirit is strong.”

This is what the world saw in our interviews immediately after the attack: we were calm, we were collected, and rational. Our emotions held true to our role as unofficial ambassadors.

Tears greet the Sri Lankan team on return to Paradise
Back in Paradise. Sri Lankan cricketer Kumar Sangakkara hugs his wife Yehali and Tillakaratne Dilshan holds his son upon their return to Colombo on March 4. (Source: cricbuzz.com)
Back in Paradise. Sri Lankan cricketer Kumar Sangakkara hugs his wife Yehali and Tillakaratne Dilshan holds his son upon their return to Colombo on March 4. (Source: cricbuzz.com)

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A week after our arrival in Colombo from Pakistan I was driving in Colombo and I was stopped at a checkpoint. A soldier politely inquired as to my health after the attack. I said I was fine and added that what they as soldiers experience every day we experienced only for a few minutes, but still managed to grab all the headlines. He looked me in the eye and he said: “It is OK if I die, because it is my job and I am ready for it. But you, are a hero and if you were to die it would be a great loss for our country.”

I was taken aback. How can this man value his life less than mine? His sincerity was overwhelming. I felt humbled. This is the passion that cricket and cricketers evoke in Sri Lankans. This is the love that I strive every day of my career to be worthy of.

Post 1996 Power Politics in Sri Lankan cricket

Coming back to our cricket, the World Cup also brought less welcome changes with the start of detrimental cricket board politics and the transformation of our cricket administration from a volunteer-led organisation run by well-meaning men of integrity into a multi-million dollar organisation that has been in turmoil ever since.

In Sri Lanka, cricket and politics have been synonymous. The efforts of Honorable Gamini Dissanayake were instrumental in getting Sri Lanka Test Status. He also was instrumental in building the Asgiriya International cricket stadium.

In the infancy of our cricket, it was impossible to sustain the game without state patronage and funding.

When Australia and West Indies refused to come to our country for the World Cup it was through government channels that the combined World Friendship XI came and played in Colombo to show the world that it was safe to play cricket there.

The importance of cricket to our society also meant that at all times it enjoys benevolent state patronage.

For Sri Lanka to be able to select a national team it must have the membership of the Sports Ministry. No team can be fielded without the final approval of the Sports Minister. It is indeed a unique system where the board-appointed selectors at any time can be overruled and asked to reselect a side already chosen.

The Sports Minister can also exercise his unique powers to dissolve the cricket board if investigations reveal corruption or financial irregularity. With the victory in 1996 came power and money to the board and players. Players from within the team itself became involved in power games. Officials elected to power in this way in turn manipulated player loyalty to achieve their own ends. At times, board politics would spill over into the team causing a rift, ill feeling and distrust. The only shining example to the contrary I can remember was the interim committee headed by Vijaya Malalasekara who is sitting here today in the audience.

Accountability and transparency in administration and credibility of conduct were lost in a mad power struggle that would leave Sri Lankan cricket with no consistent and clear administration. Presidents and elected executive committees would come and go; government-picked interim committees would be appointed and dissolved.

After 1996, the cricket board has been controlled and administered by a handful of well-meaning individuals either personally or by proxy rotated in and out depending on appointment or election. Unfortunately to consolidate and perpetuate their power they opened the door of the administration to partisan cronies that would lead to corruption and wanton waste of cricket board finances and resources.

It was and still is confusing. Accusations of vote buying and rigging, player interference due to lobbying from each side and even violence at the AGMs, including the brandishing of weapons and ugly fist fights, have characterized cricket board elections for as long as I can remember.

The team lost the buffer between itself and the cricket administration. Players had become used to approaching members in power directly trading favours for mutual benefits. And by 1999 all these changes in administration and player attitudes had transformed what was a close-knit unit in 1996 into a collection of individuals with no shared vision or sense of team. The World Cup that followed in England in 1999 was a debacle – a first round exit.

Fortunately, though, this proved to be the catalyst for further change within the dynamics of the Sri Lankan team. A new mix of players and a nice blend of youth and experience provided the context in which the old hierarchical system and structure within the team were dismantled in the decade that followed under the more consensual leadership of Sanath, Marvan and Mahela, the team continued to grow. In the new team culture forged since 1999, individuals were accepted. The only thing that matters is commitment and discipline to the team. Individuality and internal debate are welcome. Respect is not demanded but earned. There was a new commitment towards keeping the team safe from board turmoil. It has been difficult to fully exclude it from our team because there are constant efforts to drag us back in and in times of weakness and doubt players have crossed the line. Still we have managed to protect and motivate our collective efforts towards one goal: winning on the field.

Let us aspire to better administration. The administrators need to adopt the same values enshrined by the team over the years: integrity, transparency, commitment and discipline. Unless the administration is capable of becoming more professional, forward-thinking and transparent, then we risk alienating the common man. Indeed, this is already happening. Loyal fans are becoming increasingly disillusioned. This is very dangerous thing because it is not the administrators or players that sustain the game, it is the cricket-loving public. It is their passion that powers cricket, and if they turn their backs on cricket then the whole system will come crashing down.

The solution to this may be the ICC taking a stand to suspend member boards with any direct detrimental political interference and allegations of corruption and mismanagement. This will negate the ability of those boards to field representative teams or receive funding and other accompanying benefits from the ICC..

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Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 5 of 7)


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011. - 2
Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011. – 2

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On July 4, 2011, at the invitation of the MCC, Kumar Sangakkara, the former Captain of the Sri Lankan Cricket Team, delivered the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s  titled “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket – A Celebration of Our Uniqueness”.

This video is part 5 of Kumar Sangakkara’s hour-long speech. It is accompanied by its transcript.

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Transcript of  Kumar Sangakkara’s speech
The Tsunami of December 26, 2004 (continued)

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Tsunami in Sri Lanka

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We called home to check. “Is it true?” we asked. “How can the pictures be real?” we thought.

All we wanted to do was to go back home to be with our families and stand together with the people. I remember landing at the airport on 31st December, a night when the whole of Colombo is normally lit up for the festivities, a time of music, laughter, and revelry. But the town was empty and dark, the mood depressed and silent with sorrow. While we were thinking how we could help. Murali was quick to provide the inspiration.

Muttiah Muralitharan takes centre stage among the refugees in a camp in Kinniya, Sri Lanka, during the Sri Lankan cricket team's delivery of much-needed food supplies. (Photo: Jason South)
Muttiah Muralitharan takes centre stage among the refugees in a camp in Kinniya, Sri Lanka, during the Sri Lankan cricket team’s delivery of much-needed food supplies. (Photo: Jason South)

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Murali is a guy who has been pulled from all sides during his career, but he’s always stood only alongside his teammates and countrymen. Without any hesitation, he was on the phone to his contacts both local and foreign, and in a matter of days along with the World Food Program he had organized container loads of basic necessities of food, water and clothing to be distributed to the affected areas and people.

Amazingly, refusing to delegate the responsibility of distribution to the concerned authorities, he took it upon himself to accompany the convoys. It was my good fortune to be invited to join him.

The Sri Lankan Cricketers’ respond to the Tsunami of 26 December 2004 (Source: thuppahi.wordpress.com)
The Sri Lankan Cricketers’ respond to the Tsunami of 26 December 2004 (Source: thuppahi.wordpress.com)

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My wife and I along with Mahela, Ruchira Perera, our Physio CJ Clark and many other volunteers drove alongside the aid convoys towards an experience that changed me as a person.

We based ourselves in Polonnaruwa, just north of Dambulla, driving daily to visit tsunami-ravaged coastal towns like Trincomalee and Batticaloa, as well as southern towns like Galle and Hambantota on later visits.

We visited shelter camps run by the Army and the LTTE and even some administered in partnership between them. Two bitter warring factions brought together to help people in a time of need.

In each camp, we saw the effects of the tragedy written upon the faces of the young and old. Vacant and empty eyes filled with sorrow and longing for home, loved ones and for livelihoods lost to the terrible waves.

Yet for us, their cricketers, they managed a smile. In the Kinniya Camp just south of Trincomalee, the first response of the people who had lost so much was to ask us if our families were okay. They had heard that Sanath and Upul Chandana’s mothers were injured and they inquired about their health. They did not exaggerate their own plight nor did they wallow in it. Their concern was equal for all those around them.

This was true in all the camps we visited. Through their devastation shone the Sri Lankan spirit of indomitable resilience, compassion, generosity and hospitality and gentleness. This is the same spirit in which we play our cricket. In this, our darkest hour, the country stood together in support and love for each other, united and strong. I experienced all this and vowed to myself that never would I be tempted to abuse the privilege that these very people had afforded me. The honour and responsibility of representing them on the field, playing a game they loved and adored.

The role the cricketers played in their personal capacities for post-tsunami relief and rebuilding was worthy of the trust the people of a nation had in them. Murali again stands out. His Seenigama project with his manager Kushil Gunasekera, which I know the MCC has supported and still does with ongoing funding of over thirty thousand pounds a year, and which included the rebuilding of over one thousand homes, was amazing.

The terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan on  March 3, 2009

I was fortunate that during my life I never experienced violence in Sri Lanka first hand. There have been so many bomb explosions over the years, but I was never in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In Colombo, apart from these occasional bombs, life was relatively normal. People had the luxury of being physically detached from the war. Children went to school, people went to work, and I played my cricket.

In other parts of the country, though, people were putting their lives in harm’s way every day either in the defense of their motherland or just trying to survive the geographical circumstances that made them inhabit a war zone.

For them, avoiding bullets, shells, mines and grenades, was imperative for survival. This was an experience that I could not relate to. I had great sympathy and compassion for them, but had no real experience from which I could draw parallels. That was until we toured Pakistan in 2009. We set-off to play two Tests in Karachi and Lahore. The first Test played on a featherbed passed without great incident. The second Test was also meandering along with us piling up a big first innings when we departed for the ground on day three.

Having been asked to leave early instead of waiting for the Pakistan bus, we were anticipating a hard day of toil for the bowlers.

At the back of the bus, the fast bowlers were loud in their complaints. I remember Thilan Thushara being particularly vocal, complaining that his back was near breaking point. And he joked and I kid you not, that he wished a bomb would go off so we could all leave Lahore and go back home. Not thirty seconds had passed when we heard what sounded like firecrackers going off. Suddenly a shout came from the front: “Get down, they are shooting at the bus.

The reaction was immediate. Everyone dived for cover and took shelter on the aisle or behind the seats. With very little space, we were all lying on top of each other. Then the bullets started to hit. It was like rain on a tin roof. The bus was at a standstill, an easy target for the gunmen.

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Bullet holes in the windscreen of the Sri Lankan team coach (Photo: K.M. Chaudary/AP)
Bullet holes in the windscreen of the Sri Lankan team coach (Photo: K.M. Chaudary/AP)

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As bullets started bursting through the bus, all we could do was stay still, stay quiet, hoping and praying to avoid death or injury. Suddenly Mahela, who sits at the back of the bus, shouts saying he thinks he has been hit in the shin. I am lying next to Tilan. He groans in pain as a bullet hits him in the back of his thigh.

As I turn my head to look at him. I feel something whizz past my ear and a bullet thuds into the side of the seat, the exact spot where my head had was a second ago. I feel something hit my shoulder and it goes numb.

I know I had been hit, but I was just relieved and praying I was not going to be hit in the head.

Tharanga Paranvithana, on his debut tour, is also next to me. He stands up, bullets flying all around him, shouting, “I just got hit, ” as he holds his blood-soaked chest. He collapsed onto his seat, apparently unconscious.

Now this is a deadly tour and I see him and I am thinking: “Oh my God, you were out first ball, run out in the next innings and now you have been shot. What a  terrible  terrible first tour.

It is strange how clear your thinking is. I did not see my life flash by. There was no insane panic. There was absolute clarity and awareness of what was happening at that moment.

I heard the bus roar into life and start to move. Dilshan screaming at the driver: “Drive, drive“. We speed up, swerve and finally we were inside the safety of the stadium. There is a rush to get off the bus.

Tharanga Paranawithana stands up. He feels his back, feels his back and says, “Oh, there’s no hole there. I think I am ok.”

He is still bleeding. He has a bullet lodged lightly in his sternum, the body of the bus tempering its velocity, enough to be stopped by the bone..

The bodies of three Pakistani police officers lie on the road (Source: theguardian.com)
The bodies of three Pakistani police officers lie on the road (Source: theguardian.com)

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Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 4 of 7)


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011.
Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011.

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On July 4, 2011, at the invitation of the MCC, Kumar Sangakkara, the former Captain of the Sri Lankan Cricket Team, delivered the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s  titled “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket – A Celebration of Our Uniqueness”.

This video is part 4 of Kumar Sangakkara’s hour-long speech. It is accompanied by its transcript.

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Transcript of  Kumar Sangakkara’s speech

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Allan Border (Source: waytofamous.com)
Allan Border (Source: waytofamous.com)

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A story that I heard in the 1990s, Allan Border having faced him [Muthiah Muralitharan] walked back to the Australian dressing room and said, “He is a leg spinner, but he also bowls a lot of googly.”

Arjuna’s team was now in place and it was an impressive pool of talent, but they were not yet a team. Although winning the 1996 World Cup was a long-term goal, they needed to find a rallying point, a uniting factor that gave them a sense of a “team“, a cause to fight for, an event that not will not only bind the team together giving them a common focus but also rally the entire support of a nation for the team and its journey.

This came on Boxing Day at the MCG in 1995. Few realised it at the time, but the no balling of Murali for alleged chucking had far-reaching consequences. The issue raised the ire of the entire nation. Murali was no longer alone. His pain, embarrassment and anger were shared by all. No matter what critics say, the manner in which Arjuna and team stood behind Murali made an entire Sri Lankan nation proud. At that moment, Sri Lanka adopted the cricketers simply as “Ape Kollo” which means “our boys”.

Gone was the earlier detachment of the Sri Lankan cricket fan and in its place was a new found love for those 15 men. They became our sons, our brothers. Sri Lankans stood with them and shared their trials and tribulations.

The decision to no ball Murali in Melbourne was for all Sri Lankans, an insult that would not be allowed to pass unavenged. It was the catalyst that spurred the Sri Lankan team on, to do the unthinkable, become World Champions just 14 years after obtaining full ICC status. It is also important to mention here that prior to 1981 more than 80% of the national players came from elite English schools, but by 1996 the same schools did not contribute a single player to the 1996 World Cup squad.

The Unifying Impact of the 1996 World Cup

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Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga lifts the trophy in 1996 (Source: news.bbc.co.uk)
Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga lifts the trophy in 1996 (Source: news.bbc.co.uk)

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The impact of that World Cup victory was enormous, both broadening the game’s grassroots as well as connecting all Sri Lankans with one shared passion. For the first time, children from outstations and government schools were allowed to make cricket their own.

Cricket was opened up to the masses this unlocked the door for untapped talent to not only gain exposure but have a realistic chance of playing the game at the highest level.

These new grass root cricketers brought with them the attributes of normal Sri Lankans, playing the game with a passion, joy and intensity that had been hitherto missing. They had watched Sanath, Kalu, Murali and Aravinda play a brand of cricket that not only changed the concept of one day cricket but was also instantly identifiable as being truly Sri Lankan.

We were no longer timid or soft or minnows. We had played and beaten the best in the world. We had done that without pretence or shame in a manner that highlighted and celebrated our national values, our collective cultures and our habits. It was a brand of cricket we were proud to call our own, a style with local spirit and flair embodying all that was good in our heritage.

The World Cup win gave us a new strength to understand our place in our society as cricketers. In the World Cup, our country found a new beginning; a new inspiration upon which to build their dreams of a better future for Sri Lanka. Here were 15 individuals from different backgrounds, races, and religions, each fiercely proud of his own individuality and yet they united not just a team but as a family.

Fighting for a common national cause representing the entirety of our society, providing a shining example to every Sri Lankan showing them with obvious clarity what it was to be truly Sri Lankan.

The 1996 World Cup gave all Sri Lankans a commonality, one point of collective joy and ambition that gave a divided society true national identity and was to be the panacea that healed all social evils and would stand the country in good stead through terrible natural disasters and a tragic civil war.

The 1996 World Cup win inspired people to look at their country differently. The sport overwhelmed terrorism and political strife.

It provided something that everyone held dear to their hearts and helped normal people get through their lives.

The team also became a microcosm of how Sri Lankan society should be with players from different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions sharing their common joy, their passion and love for each other and their motherland.

Regardless of war, here we were playing together. The Sri Lanka team became a harmonising factor.

The Economic Impact of being World Champions

After the historic win, the entire game of cricket in Sri Lanka was revolutionized. Television money started to pour into the cricket board’s coffers. Large national and multinational corporations fought for sponsorship rights.

Cricketers started to earn real money both in the form of national contracts and endorsement deals. For the first time, cricketers were on billboards and television advertising products, advertising anything from sausages to cellular networks.

Cricket became a viable profession and cricketers were both icons and role models. Personally, the win was very important for me.

Until that time, I was playing cricket with no real passion or ambition. I never thought or dreamed of playing for my country. This changed when I watched Sri Lanka play Kenya at Asgiriya. It was my final year in school and the first seed of my vision to play for my country was planted in my brain and heart when I witnessed Sanath, Gurasinghe, and Aravinda produce a devastating display of batting. That seed of ambition spurred into life when a couple of weeks later I watched that glorious final in Lahore. Everyone in Sri Lanka remembers where they were during that night of the final. The cheering of a nation was a sound no bomb or exploding shell could drown. Cricket became an integral and all-important aspect of our national psyche.

Our cricket embodied everything in our lives, our laughter and tears, our hospitality, our generosity, our music, our food and drink. It was normality and hope and inspiration in a war-ravaged island. In it was our culture and heritage, enriched by our myriad ethnicities and religions. In it we were untouched, at least for a while, by petty politics and division. It is indeed a pity that life is not cricket. If it were, we would not have seen the festering wounds of an ignorant war.

The Tsunami of December 26, 2004

The emergence of cricket and the new role of cricket within Sri Lankan society also meant that cricketers had bigger responsibilities than merely playing on the field. We needed to live positive lifestyles off the field and we needed to give back.

The same people that applaud us every game need us to contribute positively back to their lives. We needed to inspire mostly now off the field.

The Tsunami was one such event. The death and destruction left in its wake was a blow our country could not afford. We were in New Zealand playing our first ODI. We had played badly like … and were sitting disappointed in the dressing room when, as usual,

Sanath’s phone started beeping. He read the SMS and told us a strange thing had just happened back home where “waves from the sea had flooded some areas“. Initially we were not too worried, assuming that it must have been a freak tide. It was only when we were back in the hotel watching the news coverage that we realized the magnitude of the devastation.

It was horrifying to watch footage of the waves sweeping through coastal towns and washing away in the blink of an eye the lives of thousands. We could not believe that it happened.

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Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 3 of 7)


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011.
Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011.

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On July 4, 2011, at the invitation of the MCC, Kumar Sangakkara, the former Captain of the Sri Lankan Cricket Team, delivered the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s  titled “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket – A Celebration of Our Uniqueness”.

This video is part 3 of Kumar Sangakkara’s hour-long speech. It is accompanied by its transcript.

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Transcript of  Kumar Sangakkara’s speech
Race Riots and Bloody Conflict (continued)

I did not realize the terrible consequences of my friends being discovered and my father reminded me the other day of how one day during that period I turned to him and in all innocence said: “I hope this happens every year for it is so much fun having my friends to play with every day.”

The JVP-led Communist insurgency rising out of our universities was equally horrific in the late 1980s. Shops, schools and universities were closed. People rarely stepped out of their homes in the evenings. The sight of charred bodies on the roadsides and floating corpses in the river was terrifyingly commonplace.

People who defied the JVP faced dire consequences. They even urged students of all schools to walk out and march in support of their aims. I was fortunate to be at Trinity College, one of the few schools that defied their dictates. Yet I was living just below Dharmaraja College in Kandy where the students who walked out of its gates were met with tear gas and I would see students running down the hill to wash their eyes out with water from our garden tap.

My first cricket coach, Mr D.H. De Silva, a wonderful human being who coached tennis and cricket to students free of charge, was shot on the tennis court by insurgents. Despite being hit in the abdomen twice, he miraculously survived when the gun held to his head jammed. Like many during and after that period, he fled overseas and started a new life in Australia. As the decade progressed, the fighting in the north and east had heightened to a full-scale war. The Sri Lankan government was fighting the terrorist LTTE in a war that would drag our country’s development back by decades.

This war affected the whole of our land in different ways. Families, usually from the lower economic classes, sacrificed their young women and men by the thousands in the service of Sri Lanka’s military.

Even Colombo, a commercial capital that seemed far removed from the war’s frontline, was under siege by the terrorists using powerful vehicle and suicide bombs. Bombs in public places targeting both civilians and political targets became an accepted risk of daily life in Sri Lanka. Parents travelling to work by bus would split up and travel separately so that if one of them died the other will return home to tend to the family. Each and every Sri Lankan was touched by the brutality of that conflict.

People were disillusioned with politics and power and war. They were fearful of an uncertain future. The cycle of violence seemed unending. Sri Lanka became famous internationally for its war and conflict.

It was a bleak time, where we as a nation looked for inspiration – a miracle that would lift the pallid gloom and show us what we as a country were capable of, if united as one, a beacon of hope to illuminate the potential of our people. That inspiration was to come in 1996.

An Identity Crisis

The pre-1995 era during which Sri Lanka produced many fine cricketers, but struggled to break free of the old colonial influences that had indoctrinated the way the game was played in Sri Lanka.

Even after gaining Test Status in 1981, Sri Lanka’s cricket suffered from an identity crisis and there was far too little “Sri Lankan” in the way we played our cricket.

Mahadevan Sathasivam (Source: sportskeeda.com)
Mahadevan Sathasivam (Source: sportskeeda.com)

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Although there were exceptions, one being the much-talked about Sathasivam, who was a flamboyant and colourful cricketer, both on and off the field. He was a cricketer in whose hand they say the bat was like a magic wand.

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Duleep Mendis (Source: sportstoday.lk)
Duleep Mendis (Source: sportstoday.lk)

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Another unique batsman was Duleep Mendis, now our chief selector, who batted with swashbuckling bravado.

Generally, though, we played cricket by the book, copying the orthodox and conservative styles of the traditional cricketing powerhouses. There was none of the live-for-the-moment and happy-go-lucky attitudes that underpin our own identity.

We had a competitive team, with able players, but we were timid, soft and did not yet fully believe in our own worth as individual players or as a team. I guess we were in many ways like the early West Indian teams: Calypso cricketers, who played the game as entertainers and lost more often than not albeit, gracefully.

Arjuna Ranatunga’s Leadership

What we needed at the time was a leader. A cricketer from the masses who had the character, the ability and above all the courage and gall to change the system, to stand in the face of unfavourable culture and tradition, unafraid to put himself on the line for the achievement for a greater cause.

Arjuna Ranatunga  (Source: espncricinfo.com)
Arjuna Ranatunga (Source: espncricinfo.com)

This, much-awaited messiah, arrived in the form of an immensely talented and slightly rotund Arjuna Ranatunga. He was to change the entire history of our cricketing heritage converting the game that we loved into a shared fanatical passion that over 20 million people embraced as their own personal dream.

The leadership of Arjuna during this period was critical to our emergence as a global force. It was Arjuna who understood most clearly why we needed to break free from the shackles of our colonial past and forge a new identity, an identity forged exclusively from Sri Lankan values, an identity that fed from the passion, vibrancy and emotion of normal Sri Lankans. Arjuna was a man hell-bent on making his own mark on the game in Sri Lanka, determined to break from foreign tradition and create a new national brand of cricket.

Coming from Ananda College to the SSC proved to be a culture shock for him. SSC or Sinhalese Sports Club was dominated by students from St. Thomas’ and Royal College, the two most elite schools in Colombo. The club’s committee, membership and even the composition of the team were dominated by these schools.

Arjuna himself has spoken about how alien the culture felt and how difficult it was for him to adjust to try and fit in. As a 15-year-old kid practising in the nets at the club, a senior stalwart of the club inquired about him. When told he was from the unfashionable Ananda College, he dismissed his talents immediately: “We don’t want any “Sarong Johnnie’s” in this club.”

As it turned out, Arjuna not only went on to captain SSC for many years, he also went on to break the stranglehold the elite schools had on the game. His goal was to impart in the team self-belief, to give us a backbone and a sense of self-worth that would inspire the team to look the opposition in the eye and stand equal, to compete without self-doubt or fear, to defy unhealthy traditions and to embrace our own Sri Lankan identity. He led fearlessly with unquestioned authority, but in a calm and collected manner that earned him the tag “Captain Cool”.

The first and most important foundation for our charge towards 1996 was laid. In this slightly overweight and unfit southpaw, Sri Lanka had a brilliant general who for the first time looked to all available corners of our country to pick and choose his troops.

The Search for Unique Players

Arjuna better than anyone at the time realised that we needed an edge and in that regard he searched for players whose talents were so unique that when refined they would mystify and destroy the opposition.

In cricket, timing is everything. This proved to be true for the Sri Lankan team as well. We as a nation must be ever so thankful to the parents of Sanath Jayasuriya and Muthiah Muralitharan for having sired these two legends to serve our cricket at its greatest time of need.

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Sanath Jayasuriya (Source: itmes.com)
Sanath Jayasuriya (Source: itmes.com)

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From Matara came Sanath, a man from a humble background with an immense talent that was raw and without direction or refinement, a talent under the guidance of Arjuna that was to be harnessed to become one of the most destructive batting forces the game has ever known. It was talent never seen before and now with his retirement never to be seen again.

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Muthiah Muralitharan (Source: theguardian.com)
Muthiah Muralitharan (Source: theguardian.com)

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Murali came from the hills of Kandy from a more affluent background. Starting off as a fast bowler and later changing to spin, he was blessed with a natural deformity in his bowling arm allowing him to impart so much spin on the ball that it spun at unthinkable angles. He brought wrist spin to off spin.

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Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 2 of 7)


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011. - 2
Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011.

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On July 4, 2011, at the invitation of the MCC, Kumar Sangakkara, the former Captain of the Sri Lankan Cricket Team, delivered the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s  titled “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket – A Celebration of Our Uniqueness”.

This video is part 2 of Kumar Sangakkara’s hour-long speech. It is accompanied by its transcript.

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Transcript of  Kumar Sangakkara’s speech

 

The History of Sri Lanka

It (Sri Lanka) has long attracted the attentions of the world at times to our disadvantage and at times to our prosperity.

It is beautiful and it is inhabited by a wonderfully resilient and vibrant and hospitable people whose attitude to life has been shaped by volatile politics both internal and from without.

In our history, you will find periods of glorious peace and prosperity and times of great strife, war and violence. Sri Lankans have been hardened by experience and have shown themselves to be a resilient and proud society celebrating at all times our zest for life and living.

Sri Lankans are a close knit community. The strength of the family unit reflects the spirit of our communities. We are inquisitive. We are a fun-loving people, smiling defiantly in the face of hardship and raucously celebrating times of prosperity.

We live not for tomorrow, but for today, savouring every breath of our daily existence. We are fiercely proud of our heritage and culture; the ordinary Sri Lankan standing tall and secure in that knowledge.

Over four hundred years of colonization by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British has failed to crush or temper our indomitable spirit. And yet in this context the influence upon our recent history and society by the introduced sport of cricket is surprising and noteworthy. Sri Lankans for centuries have fiercely resisted the Westernisation of our society, at times summarily dismissing western tradition and influence as evil and detrimental.

Yet cricket, somehow, managed to slip through the crack in the anti-Western defences in our society and has now become the most precious heirloom of our British Colonial inheritance. It maybe because it is a result of our simple sense of hospitality where a guest is treated to all that we have and at times even to what we don’t have.

If you a visit a rural Sri Lankan home and you are served a cup of tea you will find it to be intolerably sweet. I have at times experienced this myself and upon further inquiry have found that it is because the hosts believe that the guest is entitled to more of everything including the sugar. In homes where sugar is an ill-affordable luxury a guest will still receive sugary tea while the hosts go without.

Sri Lanka’s Cricketing Roots

Fittingly, as it happens, Colin Cowdrey and Sri Lanka’s love for cricket had similar origins: Tea. Colin’s father, Ernest, was a tea planter in India. While he was schooled in England, he played on his father’s plantation where I am told he used to practice with Indian boys several years his elder. Cricket was introduced to Ceylon by men like Ernest, English tea planters, during the Colonial period of occupation that covered a span of about 150 years from 1796.

Credit for the game’s establishment in Sri Lanka, though, also has to be given to the Anglican missionaries to whom the colonial government left the function of establishing the educational institutions.

By the latter half of the 19th century, there grew a large group of Sri Lankan families who accumulated wealth by making use of the commercial opportunities thrown open by the colonial government.

However, a majority of these families could not gain any high social recognition due to the prevalence of a rigid hierarchal caste system which labelled them until death to the caste they were born into. A possible way out to escape the caste stigma was to pledge their allegiance to the British crown and help the central seat of government.

The missionaries, assessing the situation wisely, opened superior fee levying English schools especially in Colombo for the children of the affluent from all races, castes and religions. By the dawn of the 20th Century, the introduction of cricket to this educational system was automatic as the game had already ingrained itself deeply into the English life, as Neville Cardus says “without cricket there can be no summer in that land.”

Cricket was an expensive game needing playgrounds, equipment and coaches. The British missionaries provided all such facilities to these few schools. Cricket became an instant success in this English school system.

Most Sri Lankans considered cricket beyond their reach because it was confined to the privileged schools meant for the affluent.

The missionaries in due course arranged inter colligate cricket matches backed by newspaper coverage to become a popular weekend social event to attend.

The newspapers carried all the details about the cricket matches played in the country and outside. As a result school boy cricketers became household names. The newspapers also gave prominent coverage to English county cricket and it had been often said that the Ceylonese knew more of county cricket than the English themselves.

Cricket clubs were formed around the dawn of the 20th century, designed to cater for the school leavers of these colleges. The clubs bore communal names like the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC), the Tamil Union, the Burgher Recreation and the Moors Club, but if they were considered together they were all uniformly cultured with Anglicized values.

Inter-club matches were played purely for enjoyment. Club cricket also opened opportunities for the locals to mix socially with the British. So when Britain granted independence to Ceylon in 1948 it is no wonder cricket was a passion of the elitist class.

Although in the immediate post-independent period the Anglicized elite class was a small minority, they were pro-western in their political ideology and remained a powerful political lobby.

In the general elections immediately after independence, pro-elite governments were elected and the three Prime Ministers who headed the governments had played First XI cricket for premier affluent colleges and had been the members of SSC.

The period between 1960 and 1981 was one of slow progress in the game’s popularity as the power transferred from the Anglicized elite to rising Socialist and Nationalist groups. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka was made an associate member of the ICC in 1965, gaining the opportunity to play unofficial test matches with players like Michael Tissera and Anura Tennakoon impressing as genuine world-class batsmen.

Honorable Gamini Dissanayake (Source: en.wikipedia.org)
Honorable (late) Gamini Dissanayake (Source: en.wikipedia.org)

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In 1981, thanks to the efforts of the late Honourable Gamini Dissanayake, the ICC granted Sri Lanka official Test status. It was obviously a pivotal time in our cricketing history. And, this was the start of a transformation of cricket from an elite sport to a game for the masses.

Race Riots and Bloody Conflict

I do not remember this momentous occasion as a child. Maybe because I was only five years old, but also because it wasn’t a topic that dominated conversation in our home. The early 1980’s was dominated by the escalation of militancy in the north into a full-scale civil war that was to mar the next 30 years.

The terrible race riots of 1983 and a bloody communist insurgency amongst the youth was to darken my memories of my childhood and the lives of all Sri Lankans. I recollect now the race riots of 1983 now with horror, but for the simple imagination of a child not yet six it was a time of extended play and fun. I do not say this lightly as about 35 of our closest friends, all Tamils, took shelter in our home. They needed sanctuary from vicious politically-motivated goon squads and my father, like many other Sri Lankans from different ethnic backgrounds, opened their houses at great personal risk.

For me, though, it was a time where I had all my friends to play with all day long. The schools were closed and we’d play sports for hour after hour in the backyard – cricket, football, rounders. It was a child’s dream come true. I remember getting annoyed when a game would be rudely interrupted by my parents and we’d all be ushered inside, hidden upstairs with our friends and ordered to be silent as the goon squads started searching homes in our neighbourhood.

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Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 1 of 7)


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011.
Kumar Sangakkara delivering the Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s at the invitation of the MCC on July 4, 2011.

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On July 4, 2011, at the invitation of the MCC, Kumar Sangakkara, the former Captain of the Sri Lankan Cricket Team, delivered the Cowdrey Lecture  at Lord’s  titled “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket – A Celebration of Our Uniqueness”.

Kumar Sangakkara is a rare example of a sportsman who provides revelations on and off the field. In this speech,  Kumar Sangakkara, the former Trinitian, born in Matale in 1977,  exposes an intellectual’s grasp of his subject and his passion for cricket.  The eloquent cricketer surmises, in a nutshell, the history of Sri Lankan cricket from its inception to the current scenario over there.

This speech has been acclaimed and praised by all cricketers and lovers of the game of cricket all over the world for its  outspoken, critical view of the game of cricket in Sri Lanka. No one else could have said this better than Kumar Sangakkara.

I am presenting here in my blog the video of Sangakkara’s hour-long speech in seven parts accompanied by its transcript.

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Transcript of  Kumar Sangakkara’s speech

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Michael Colin Cowdrey , English cricketer . (Source - theaustralian.com.au)
Michael Colin Cowdrey , English cricketer . (Source – theaustralian.com.au)

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Mr President, my Lords, Ladies and gentlemen.

Firstly, I wish to sincerely thank the MCC for giving me the opportunity and the great honour of delivering the 2011 Cowdrey Lecture.

I was in India after the World Cup when my manager called to pass on the message that CMJ was trying to get in touch with me to see whether I would like to deliver this year’s lecture. I was initially hesitant given the fact we would be in the midst of the current ODI series, but after some reflection I realised that it was an invitation I should not turn down. To be the first Sri Lankan to be invited was not only a great honour for me, but also for my fellow countrymen.

Then I had to choose my topic. I suspect many of you might have anticipated that I pick one of the many topics being energetically debated today – the role of technology, the governance of the game, the future of Test cricket, and the curse of corruption, especially spot-fixing. All of the above are important and no doubt Colin Cowdrey, a cricketing legend with a deep affection for the game, would have strong opinions about them all.

For the record, I do too. I strongly believe that we have reached a critical juncture in the game’s history and that unless we better sustain Test cricket, embrace technology enthusiastically, protect the game’s global governance from narrow self-interest, and more aggressively root out corruption, then cricket will face an uncertain future.

But, while these would all be interesting topics, deep down inside me I wanted to share with you a story, the story of Sri Lanka’s cricket, a journey that I am sure Colin would have enjoyed greatly because I don’t believe any cricket-playing nation in the world today better highlights the potential of cricket to be more than just a game.

This lecture is all about the Spirit of the Game and in this regard the story of Sri Lankan cricket is fascinating. Cricket in Sri Lanka is no longer just a sport. It is a shared passion that is a source of fun and a force for unity. It is a treasured sport that occupies a celebrated place in our society.

It is remarkable that in a very short period an alien game has become our national obsession, played and followed with almost fanatical passion and love. A game that brings the nation to a standstill; a sport so powerful it is capable of transcending war and politics. I, therefore, decided that tonight I would like to talk about the Spirit of Sri Lankan cricket.

Ladies and Gentleman, the history of my country extends over 2,500 years. A beautiful island. Rich in natural resources it is situated in an advantageously strategic position in the Indian Ocean.

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Execution of 27-year-old Henry Pedris 100 Years Ago in Colonial Ceylon


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Map of Ceylon (1914)
Map of Ceylon (1914)

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A hundred years ago, on July 7, 1915, at the height of the anti-Moor riots, the firing squad of the 28th Battalion of the British Punjab Regiment, executed 27-year-old Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris at the Welikade Prison. The young man, a Captain of the Colombo Town Guard (CTG) was a prominent socialite and scion of one of the richest families in colonial British Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

On May 28, 1915, a petty incident in the town of Gampola in Ceylon, triggered a spate of communal riots between the Sinhalese and Muslims. It is now known as the ‘anti-Moor riots’ or ‘the 1915 riots’. Like wildfire, the riots swept through several districts of the Central, Western and Southern Provinces.

The Muslims in Kandy Town decided not to allow any perahera (procession) of the Buddhists beating the traditional drums, flutes and using any other musical organs to disturb worship at their mosque. But, on the following full Moon Poya Day of Vesak, the Buddhists held their usual perahera, following the usual route. When the perahera was passing the Mosque, a group of irresponsible Muslims  jeered and threw stones at the passing pageant. There was a pandemonium. The Buddhists retaliated resulting in a free-for-all leading to a conflagration.

The riots spread to Matale, Kegalle and even to Colombo. The Sinhala people harassed the Muslims throughout the country, leading to many deaths and loss of property. The Muslims sustained heavy losses.

The Right Honourable GCB PC, 21st Governor of Ceylon.
The Right Honourable Sir Robert Chalmers, the 21st British Governor of Ceylon.

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Sir Robert Chalmers, the 21st British Governor of Ceylon, feared he might lose control of the colony. He mistook the riots as a Sinhalese-Buddhist movement to oust the British from Ceylon, through mass violence. So, the British Colonial establishment waged war on the Sinhalese-Buddhists.

The British used untrained volunteers recruited from commercial establishments, shops, factories, and plantations, to suppress the riots.

Punjab Regiments, 1911. Watercolour by Major Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919). Copyright National Army Museum.
Punjab Regiments, 1911. Watercolour by Major Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919). Copyright National Army Museum.

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The soldiers of the 28th Battalion of the Punjab Regiment brought from India to help quell the riots, along with the volunteers unleashed a reign of terror in villages occupied by Sinhala Buddhists. They shot hundreds of civilians on sight and hauled up hundreds of innocent people before the military courts.

According to the available British records, 86 mosques and 17 Christian churches were burnt or damaged, around five boutiques and shops looted, 35 Muslims killed, 198 injured and four women raped. But unsubstantiated claims say thousands of Sinhalese died of bullet wounds.

Captain Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris

Our protagonist, the young Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris at first attended Royal College Colombo. Later, he joined St. Thomas’ College. He excelled in sports and cricket. He was a member of the school’s first eleven cricket team. After some time, he returned to Royal College where he again played cricket and took part in sports activities.

Hendry Pedris riding 'Rally' (Source: en.wikipedia.org)
Hendry Pedris riding ‘Rally’ (Source: en.wikipedia.org)

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After he finished school, Henry Pedris was much interested in horse riding. He excelled as a horseman  and had a wide knowledge about horses. A Russian Prince gave the Pedris family a horse named “Rally”. Henry rode the horse with the composure of a prince which made the minions of the British rulers envious of him.

Once, at a cinema hall, a British official walked in and demanded his seat. Henry refused and said that he too had paid the same fare and would enjoy the film from that seat.

Lanka calling

When World War I broke out, the British mobilized the Ceylon Defence Force and raised the Colombo Town Guard (CTG), a regiment of volunteers to defend Colombo if attacked.

His father, Duenuge Disan Pedris, had great hopes for his son’s future. He wanted his only son to take over his business enterprises and become a leader in the business sector. But Henry Pedris opted to join the Colombo Town Guard as a private. He was the first Sinhalese to enlist to the new regiment. His excellence in marksmanship and horsemanship made him a commissioned officer in the administrative (mounted) section. Within a year, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. Though Henry Pedris was by no means anti-British, he was much envied by the British because of this promotion and his immense wealth.

During the ‘anti-Moor riots’, Captain Henry Pedris was responsible for the defense of the city. He was successful in disbanding several rioting groups after peaceful discussions.

The shooting incidence in Pettah

On June 1, 1915, when Henry Pedris was at his shop on Main Street, Pettah,  a  mob of Moors advanced towards his shop. Pedris came out with a gun and fired six shots into the crowd. One of the bullets hit police constable Seneviratne in the head.

Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike KCMG JP.
Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike KCMG JP.

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Many British and jealous Sinhalese henchmen led by Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, the Maha Mudaliyar (chief native interpreter and adviser to the Governor), wished Henry Pedris and his rich family ill. They brought charges against him. They accused Henry Pedris of inciting people to march to Colombo from suburban Peliyagoda. He was also charged with shooting at the Moorish mob and attempted murder of constable Seneviratne, even though the constable survived.

The British officers and Punjabi soldiers  raided the Pedris’ residence on Turret Road.  They then broke the doors and almirahs and rifled the whole house, searching for any incriminating documents. They arrested Henry Pedris and incarcerated him in the Welikada Jail.

On June 2, 1915, Martial law came into effect throughout the country. Due to the rigor of the enforced martial law, normalcy returned within ten days. However, the Martial law was in force until August 30, 1915.

Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan (Source: archives.dailynews.lk)
Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan (Source: archives.dailynews.lk)

On July 1, 1915, a military court tried Henry Pedris. Sir Hector Van Culenburg, the elected Legislative Council member pleaded for Henry Pedris. Many prominent citizens and educationists, both British and Ceylonese alike, including Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan appealed against the judgment. An appeal was also made to King George V.

Governor Sir Robert Chalmers and the Inspector General of Police, Herbert Layard Dowbiggin, were adamant that Henry Pedris should die.  They wanted to make the swift execution of Captain Henry Pedris a lesson for the  ringleaders of the anti-British movement.

The three presiding military judges declared Henry Pedris guilty and branded him a traitor.

The Ceylon Observer of July 5, 1915, records the death sentence passed on Henry Pedris. He was charged with “treason, shop-breaking, attempted murder and wounding with intent to murder.

The military court sentenced him to death by firing squad and set July 7, 1915, as the date of execution, without any form of appeal.

The British rulers imprisoned more 86 prominent Sinhalese leaders, members of an emerging Ceylonese élite for ‘waging war against the King‘ and abetting the riots against ‘His Majesty’s Moorish subjects.‘ Among the arrested were D. S. Senanayake, D. R. Wijewardena,  F. R. Senanayake, Edwin Wijeyeratne, D. B.Jayatilaka, Dr. Cassius Pereira, Dr. W. A. de Silva, E. T. De Silva, F. R. Dias Bandaranaike, Dr. C. A. Hewavitharana, H. Amarasuriya, A. H. Molamure, A. E. Goonesinghe and several others.

Execution of Captain Henry Pedris

At 7.30 a.m., on the day of the execution, Additional District Judge Arthur Charles Allnut, a graduate of the Oxford University and a member of the Ceylon Civil Service, ordered that the 86 Sinhala-Buddhist notables to  line up in the veranda outside L-Hall in Welikade Prison, and watch Henry Pedris walk to his death.

Captain Henry Pedris dressed in his Town Guard uniform, but stripped of his rank, marched with his head held high and chest forward. At the site of the execution, they strapped him to a chair.

Before his execution, Henry Pedris requested that he be shot by a Punjabi firing squad, and not a British squad, as the Punjabi soldiers were Non-Christian and Asians. Allnut acceded to his request. He ordered the soldiers of the 28th Battalion of the Punjab Regiment brought from India, to carry out the sentence. Captain Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris rejected the blindfold offered to him. He faced the Punjabis without any fear.

After the execution, F. R. Senanayake on seeing the limp body of Henry Pedris slumped in the chair to which he was strapped, vowed that he would initiate a concerted struggle to free the country from British colonial rule.

The prison authorities then took the blood-soaked chair on which Captain Hendry Pedris sat when shot to the prison cells to warn the incarcerated Sinhalese leaders, including D. S. Senanayake, the  future first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, that they could be next.

Burial of Captain Henry Pedris

Duenuge Disan Pedris (Father of Henry Pedris)
Duenuge Disan Pedris (Father of Henry Pedris)

Mallino Pedris (Mother of Henry Pedris)
Mallino Pedris (Mother of Henry Pedris)

The British refused to hand over the body of Henry Pedris to his grieving parents who wanted to accord their dead son a Buddhist burial with attendant religious rites.

Before burying the body of Henry Pedris, the British rulers declared Martial law for the first time in the whole island.

They transported the body of Henry Pedris to the Kanatte cemetery in great secrecy at midnight in the midst of martial law. The British had come to know that his father Duenuge Disan Pedris had owned several family burial plots at the General Cemetery at Kanatte in Borella. They chose one of these plots for the burial. It was the only burial not recorded in the General Cemetery registers or any other official register, since 1910. For the first time, the British rulers declared Martial law in the whole island.

Duenuge Disan Pedris had not only lost his only son, but he also lost two of his sons-in-law who were also incarcerated in the Welikada Prison. Though disheartened, he was silent as he did not want any more of his family members imprisoned by the British.

Most Ceylonese viewed the execution of 27-year-old Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris as unjust. The Sri Lankan patriotic leaders took the cue from his death and projected him as a martyr. His death motivated the pioneering patriotic leaders of the liberation movements organize themselves and strive for a concerted campaign to liberate the country from the harsh British rule.

The execution of Henry Pedris and the many unjustifiable and arbitrary  brutal acts committed by the British during the 1915 riots hastened the formation of the Ceylon National Congress on December 11, 1919 by members of the Ceylon National Association (founded in 1888) and the Ceylon Reform League (founded in 1917).

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A European in the Orient: Part 3 – Did Marco Polo Really Travel to the Far East?


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Marco Polo (Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Marco Polo (Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Marco Polo died at his home in Venice on January 8, 1324. Before his death, friends and readers of his book visited him and urged him to admit that his book was a fiction. Marco would not relent. He told them:

I have not told half of what I saw!

​Marco Polo has been long regarded as the earliest and most distinguished of European travelers of all times for traversing Asia from one extremity to the other. He surpassed every other traveler of his time in the extent of the unknown regions he visited, as well as in the amount of new and important information he had collected. His description of the Chinese imperial court and the Chinese empire under the most powerful of the Asiatic dynasties, and tales of the adjacent countries in the Far East, forms a grand historical picture not painted by any other traveler of his period.

Authenticity is important in any travel narrative, otherwise it altogether becomes a worthless romance. A profound ignorance veiled  Europe when the Polos returned from the East. Doubts of the authenticity of Marco’s tales arose since most of the regions he had traversed were wholly unknown at that time. And his discoveries far transcended the knowledge of his age. Also, many editions of Marco Polo’s travelogue proliferated in an age when printing was unknown. The narratives varied from one another, often corrupted to a great extent.

Even now, some argue that Marco Polo never reached China, but cobbled together secondhand accounts of what he had heard. They say there are inaccuracies in the tales. They point out that he never mentioned the basic elements of Chinese culture, such as drinking tea, the use of chopsticks, the Chinese characters, or the tradition of foot-binding.

Responders to such skeptics have stated that if the purpose of Marco Polo’s stories of travels was to impress others with tales of his high esteem for an advanced civilization, then it is possible that Polo shrewdly would omit those details that would cause his readers to scoff at the Chinese with a sense of European superiority. Marco lived among the elite Mongols. Foot-binding was almost unknown among the Mongols and was rare even among Chinese during Polo’s time.

Some observers, who have only a cursory view of the history of China, say he never mentioned the Great Wall in his book. These people are ignorant of the fact that the Great Wall, familiar to us today, is a Ming structure constructed, about two centuries after Marco Polo’s travels in China, to keep out northern invaders.

New Evidence

It is odd that Marco Polo never produced a single map to accompany his narrative accounts in the ghostwritten book. Hence, scholars have long debated its the veracity. Now, there is new evidence in favor for this historical puzzle of whether Marco Polo did indeed visit China and the Far East. The proof is in the form of a curious collection of fourteen little-known maps and related documents purported to have belonged to the family of Marco Polo.

In the 1880s, Marcian Rossi, an Italian, immigrated to the United States. He brought along with him a collection of sheepskin vellum he said were of the 13th and 14th century. There were 14 little-known maps and related documents detailing Marco Polo’s journey to the Far East. These  documents bear the signatures of the three daughters of Marco Polo — Fantina, Bellela and Moreta.

The existence of these parchments came to light only in the 1930s, when Marcian Rossi contacted the Library of Congress. He explained that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian Admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family. But the collection did not undergo exhaustive analysis.

Are the maps forgeries or facsimiles?  They created a problem for the historians of cartography. Did Marco Polo’s daughters, whose names appear on some of these artifacts, preserve in them geographic information about Asia as told by their father? Did they inherit the maps created by him? Did Marco Polo entrust the maps to a Venetian admiral who had links to Rossi’s family line? Or, if the maps have no connection to Marco Polo, who made them, when, and for what purpose?

While some historians discounted the 14 parchments as mere fantasy, forgeries, or facsimiles, others wanted a balanced, detailed study of the documents.

Benjamin B. Olshin, a historian of cartography and a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, spent more than a decade studying the artifacts. He translated the Italian, Latin, Arabic and Chinese inscriptions found therein. All but one of the original documents, a map Marcian Rossi donated to the Library of Congress, remain in the possession of Rossi’s great-grandson Jeffrey Pendergraft in Texas. Olshin is the first scholar in decades to see those originals.

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Marco Polo's 'Map with Ship' (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)
Marco Polo’s ‘Map with Ship‘ (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)

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The map donated by Marcian Rossi to the Library of Congress, dubbed “Map with Ship,” is a curious one. It has an illustration of a Venetian sailing vessel and a sketch of what appears to be outlines of Japan, Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, the Bering Strait, the Aleutian Islands and the coastlines of present-day Alaska and British Columbia. The map was not a navigational aid because it lacks longitude and latitude reference lines.

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The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps by Benjamin B. Olshin
The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps by Benjamin B. Olshin

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Olshin has detailed the results of his intensive research in his book, “The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps.” The book is the first credible book-length analysis of these parchments. It is a balanced, detailed, and a non speculative work of cartographic scholarship, not another ‘who discovered?’ sensation. Olshin charts the course of the documents from obscure origins in the private collection of the Italian-American immigrant Marcian Rossi in the 1930s. He describes the investigations by the Library of Congress, J. Edgar Hoover, and the FBI for their authenticity. Olshin describes his own efforts to track down and study the Rossi maps.

After a  thorough tracing of Marcian Rossi’s ancestry, Olshin asserts that Rossi’s explanation that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family was credible.

Olshin describes himself as an “evidence guy” and makes no claims that the document “Map with Ship,” depicts Alaska for certain although there are similarities. Olshin also admits, the authenticity of the ten maps and four texts is not settled. The ink on the parchments remains untested. A radiocarbon study of the sheepskin vellum of one key map, the only one subjected to such analysis, dates it to the 15th or 16th century, making it at best a copy.

Regardless of the origin of the documents, Olshin offers insights into Italian history, the age of exploration, and the wonders of cartography. He then takes his readers on a fascinating journey to the early legendary lands of the Chinese.

Alessandro Scafi said in Times Literary Supplement (UK):

“Olshin plays with the idea that Marco Polo’s relatives may have preserved geographical information about distant lands first recorded by him, or even that they may have inherited maps that he made. If genuine, Olshin argues, these maps and texts would confirm that Marco Polo knew about the New World two centuries before Columbus, either from his own experience or through hearing about it from the Chinese … Fascinating material … Olshin himself admits that there is no hard evidence to support his thrilling speculations. Including translations of every annotation and inscription, Olshin’s study and description of the fourteen parchments are exhaustive. His analysis, however, leaves many questions open … A fascinating tale about maps, history and exploration.”

The parchments in the Rossi collection may not only back up Marco Polo’s claim that he journeyed to the Orient, but also could reveal he might have set foot on the North American continent, 200 years before Christopher Columbus. It is purported that Columbus carried a well-worn copy of “The Travels of Marco Polo” with him on his historic 1492 voyage. It is conjectured that the travels of Marco Polo inspired Columbus to seek a westward sea route to the riches of East Asia, but instead landed in the New World.

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← Previous: Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”

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A European in the Orient: Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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When Niccolò, Maffeo, and Marco Polo,  arrived in Italy they found the Republic of Venice at war with the Most Serene Republic of Genoa, that had one of the most powerful navies in the Mediterranean.

Marco Polo joined the Venetians in the war. He commanded a galley equipped with a trebuchet, a type of catapult that used as a siege engine in the Middle Ages. The Genoans captured Marco in a skirmish in 1296, off the Anatolian coast between Adana and the Gulf of Alexandretta, and imprisoned him.

While spending several months in prison between 1298–1299, Marco became a friend of a fellow prisoner Rustichello da Pisa, an Italian writer of romance. Marco told Rustichello about his time in Asia. Rustichello soon committed his stories to paper in Old French. The romance writer also incorporated into it tales of his own as well as other collected anecdotes and current affairs from China.

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Le livre des merveilles du monde. Marco Polo
Le livre des merveilles du monde. Marco Polo

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After his release in 1299, Marco Polo and Rustichello da Pisa together turned the written notes into a travelogue titled “Livre des Merveilles du Monde” (Book of the Marvels of the World) or “Devisement du Monde” (Description of the World). In Italian the account appeared as “Il Milione” (The Million) or Oriente Poliano and was published later in English as “The Travels of Marco Polo.

Marco Polo was not the first European to reach China.

Marco Polo was the first to leave a detailed popular chronicle of his experience in medieval China to the world, but he definitely was not the first European to travel to the Far East.

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John of Plano Carpini's great journey to the East. His route is indicated, railroad track style, in dark blue. From the "Historical Atlas" by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923 (2nd edition)
Giovanni da Pian del Carpine’s great journey to the East. His route is indicated, railroad track style, in dark blue. From the “Historical Atlas” by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923 (2nd edition)

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During the time of the great Mongol invasion of eastern Europe, the Battle of Legnica on April 9, 1241, proved disastrous. The loss threatened to cast European Christendom under the rule of Ögedei Khan, the 2nd Khagan of the Mongol Empire.

Four years later, with the dread of the Mongols still on the mind of the people in eastern Europe, Pope Innocent IV, dispatched the first formal Catholic mission to the Mongols. It was partly to protest against the latter’s invasion of Christian lands, partly to gain trustworthy information about Mongol armies and their intention for the future. The Pope chose 65-year-old Friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine to head this mission.

The mission started on Easter day April 16, 1245, from Lyon, where the Pope then resided. Giovanni bore a letter “Cum non solum” dated March 13, 1245, from the Pope to Ögedei Khan, the Mongol Emperor. Another friar, Stephen of Bohemia, accompanied Giovanni, broke down at Kaniv near Kiev. Another Minorite, Benedykt Polak, appointed to act as interpreter joined Giovanni at Wrocław.

Their journey was perilous. The Papal legate wrote that they were, “so ill that we could scarcely sit a horse; and throughout all that Lent our food had been nought but millet with salt and water, and with only snow melted in a kettle for drink.

Friar Giovanni and his companions rode an estimated 3000 miles in 106 days. By the time they reached their destination Ögedei Khan was dead.

On August 24, 1246, Giovanni and his companions witnessed the formal enthronement of Güyük Khan as the Third Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The new emperor refused the invitation to become a Christian, but demanded that the Pope and rulers of Europe should come to him and swear  their allegiance to him.

When Güyük Khan dismissed the expedition in November, 1246, he gave them a letter to the Pope, written in Mongol, Arabic, and Latin. It was a brief imperious assertion of the Mongol emperor’s office as the “scourge of God.”

Later on, other Catholic emissaries followed. In the 1250s, William of Rubruck, traveled east on a quest to convert the Mongols to Christianity. These early missionaries were largely inspired by the myth of Prester John (Latin: Presbyter Johannes), Christian patriarch and king popular in European chronicles and in the tradition of the 12th through the 17th century.

The accounts about this mythical king vary. They are just a collection of medieval popular fantasy. One such account depicts him as a descendant of the Three Magi, ruling a kingdom full of riches, marvels, and strange creatures. Polo mentions the fictional monarch in his book, and even asserts that Prester John fought a great battle against the Mongol ruler Genghis Kahn.

A Lombardian surgeon also had reached the city of Khanbaliq in 1303. A merchant named Petro de Lucalongo, had accompanied the monk John of Montecorvino to Khanbaliq in 1305.

In his work “Histoire de l’Empire Mongol,” Jean-Paul Roux,  a French Turkologue and a specialist in Islamic culture says that a person named André de Pérouse had mentioned that there was a small Genoese colony, in the harbor of Zaytun in 1326. Andolo de Savignone was the most famous Italian resident of the city. In 1336, Toghon Temür, the 15th Khagan of the Mongol Empire and the 11th Emperor of the Yuan dynasty sent him to the West to buy “100 horses and other treasures.

In 1339, a Venetian named Giovanni Loredanoto returned to Venice from China during the reign of  Emperor Toghon Temür.

A tombstone with the name of Catherine de Villioni, daughter of a Dominici, who died in 1342 during the reign of Toghon Temür was discovered in Yangzhou.

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An illuminated manuscript on Marco Polo's fascinating and adventurous travels (Source: facsimilefinder.com)
An illuminated manuscript on Marco Polo’s fascinating and adventurous travels (Source: facsimilefinder.com)

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Well-known master artists of the medieval times steeped the manuscripts like the one shown above in enchanting colors.

The Travelogue, “The Travels of Marco Polo” soon spread throughout Europe in manuscript form.  It gave the curious Europeans in the Middle Ages craving to know more about the marvels of the Orient,  the first comprehensive look into the inner workings of the Far East, including China, India, and Japan. Rarely have secular topics had such an intense echo.

The Travelogue is divided into four books:

Book One describes the lands of the Middle East and Central Asia that Marco Polo traveled through on his way to China.

Book Two describes China and the court of Kublai Khan.

Book Three describes some of the coastal regions of the East: Japan, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, India, and the East Coast of Africa.

Book Four describes some of the then-recent wars among the Mongols, and some of the regions of the Far North, like Russia.

No authoritative version of Marco Polo’s book exists. The early manuscripts differ much from one another. Also, inadvertent errors and discrepancies crept in during the process of copying and translating.

The published editions of the travelogue either rely on single manuscripts, or a blend of many versions. For example, the popular translation published by Penguin Books in 1958 is the handiwork of R.E. Latham, who blended several manuscripts together to make a readable whole.

A.C. Moule and Paul Pelliot based their  1938 English translation on a Latin manuscript found in the library of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1932, and is 50 percent longer than other versions.

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Probable view of Marco Polo's own geography drawn by H. Yule, 1871. (Source: The Book of Ser Marco Polo. London, 1871, vol. I, p. cxxxv)
Probable view of Marco Polo’s own geography drawn by H. Yule, 1871. (Source: The Book of Ser Marco Polo. London, 1871, vol. I, p. cxxxv)

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Some published editions carry notes to clarify, as exemplified in the English translation by Henry Yule.

To date, approximately 150 manuscript copies exist in various languages.

After his release from prison, Marco Polo returned to Venice. He married and raised three daughters. During the next 25 years, he carried on the family business.

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Next → Part 3 – Did Marco Polo Really Travel to the Far East?

← Previous: Part 1 – The Adventures of Marco Polo.

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