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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Next → Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture (Part 6 of 7)

← Previous: Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture (Part 4 of 7)

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