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.
Transcript of Kumar Sangakkara’s speech
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
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.
- Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 1 of 7) (tvaraj.com)
- Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 2 of 7) (tvaraj.com)
- Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 3 of 7) (tvaraj.com)
- Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 5 of 7) (tvaraj.com)
- Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 6 of 7) (tvaraj.com)
- Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture: “The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket” (Part 7 of 7) (tvaraj.com)
- Uniqueness of Sangakkara’s MCC speech (ceylontoday.lk)
- Cricket World Cup: Sri Lanka hoping to repeat triumph
- Arjuna Ranatunga (en.wikipedia.org)
- Arjuna Ranatunga (espncricinfo.com)
- Sanath Jayasuriya (en.wikipedia.org)
- Muttiah Muralitharan (en.wikipedia.org)