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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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