By Sulakshi Thelikorala –
Sri Lanka cricket has been an entertaining sport throughout for the last many decades. From awe-inspiring victories the sweeping cricket fans are off their feet to watching a cricket maestro catch a Bollywood masala beat on a glitzy stage, the Sri Lankan cricket is none other than spellbound. It has the magic attraction of the public disregarding the on-going calamities around the globe. Above all, the current domestic cricket crisis has aroused the suspicion of the general public with bitter disappointment on substantial proof of facts and figures as to whether “Cricket is still a gentleman’s game?”
Former Sri Lankan skipper Kumar Sangkakkara influenced the entire world of sports with a poignant speech on the “spirit of cricket” at the MCC annual event held at Collin Cowdrey Memorial Hall. It was an absolutely fascinating depiction of the rich history and vibrant culture of Sri Lankan cricket touched in a subtle & professional manner. Sangakkara enlivened his speech that “it was all about the Spirit of the Game and the nature of cricket in Sri Lanka was fascinating”. But with the emergence of the present crisis developed in Sri Lanka cricket, one would raise his eye brow at the true sense of the story as prophesied by Mr Sangakkara, if Sri Lanka cricket was fascinating anymore?
Sri Lanka cricket has once again captured news headlines with a crisis on signing a contract between Sri Lankan Test Cricketers and Sri Lanka Cricket Board. Although this contract has persisted over the last ten years it is intriguing as to why the rules and conditions were never published for information of the general public. The annual earnings of Sri Lankan cricketers have now been exposed due to the complexity of the situation with wide media coverage given already. In an attempt to cover duplicity or otherwise, Sri Lanka Cricket Board has officially announced that the crisis of Sri Lanka cricket was over leaving behind the benefit of the doubt to local cricket fans that cricket was nothing but a game of power and money.
It is no secret that Sri Lanka cricket is the most sponsored sport with high popularity in all seven corners of the island. Even though the governments may change, the support for the game has always increased steadily over the years where the incumbent government also has actuated its strength to uplift the game competitive with the international world of cricket. Superseding the aforementioned support and sponsorship, politics invariably impinges on the game as much as on any other aspect of life, developing an unbreakable relationship between politics and sport. Thomas Hughes, a famous author quotes “It’s more than a game. It’s an institution”. Inevitably, in Sri Lankan context, transformation of the game into an institution has caused a bag of problems right throughout. The Board of Cricket in Sri Lanka is nothing but a Pandora’s Box replete with favouritism, corruption and influence contradicting stability and principles of the game which has become highly popular as the national sport. It is advisable if Selection Committee obviates from influence in the good name of the sport.
Despite irregularities in administration and selection, Sri Lankan cricketer has become the favourite amongst the cricket lovers until lately. Majority of Sri Lankans holds the perception that the player respects the game in spirit and the least stakeholder holds the game in ransom compared with the administrators, and the selection committee. Sri Lankan cricketer has always been the idol of most of the youth in the country. Their styles are devotedly adopted by school boy cricketers and their image is wholeheartedly transformed into a heartthrob by young ladies.
Today, as it appears Sport has become unbelievably commercialized. The Premier League tournaments have variegated the sport with movies, celebrities, music & dance where the cricketer who was once a much loving sports idol has revolutionized himself into a star on showbiz platform. Amusingly the much embraced Indian Premier League has been subjected to criticism, mainly due to the disadvantages caused to national cricket. Moreover, despite the fact that the premier league tournaments have taken cricket into new dimensions, it is often wondered as to what extent these novel concepts of cricket support the technical development of the game.
What concerns a test playing nation most is whether commercialization of the sport overrides the sense of nationality of the game. The condescending sense of nationality cannot be divorced from the name of cricket. Subsequent to an imbalanced selection of a team by the cricket board or a poor performance by players is not reflected upon them individually. The loss or victory is reflected upon collective responsibility of the entire National Cricket Team, being more specific “Sri Lanka”. On the other hand in reference to the ICC standard, it is the test playing countries that values great and not cricket boards with corruption. The feeling of nationality is also the biggest gift possessed by the cricket fans; best depicted example is when an emigrated Sri Lankan fan irrespective of the migrant land holds the native flag up in the air cheering for triumph of his or her Motherland.
Demands of players beyond the requisite needs of the country are at times disappointing. Zimbabwe during the 2003 World Cup gave a splendid example to the rest of the world on what matters the most in International cricket was a nation playing cricket in collective spirit instead of the wishes of individuals. Senior players of Zimbabwean cricket staged their “black armband protest” at the “death of democracy” where Andy Flower and Henry Olonga retired from international cricket followed by remaining senior players. This major upheaval in 2004 brought a very young and inexperienced team to represent Zimbabwe subsequently Zimbabwe withdrawing from playing as a test nation. Nevertheless, later in 2011 Zimbabwe was reinstated with test status showcasing a resilient return to the world cricket. This scenario of events obviously demonstrated the truth that a nation would regain and remain irrespective of individual differences and protests.
The spirit of the game is highly valued with respect to rules, team work and togetherness as a nation. This makes the sport a Gentlemen’s game. Benney Green in his book “History of Cricket” articulates the evaluation of cricket involved with reputed personalities like Charles Dickens, cricket clubs like Gentlemen’s Club displaying descent sports around the globe. During the current crisis ofSri Lanka cricket, most stakeholders drew a lot of flak on account of their undesirable behaviour. Some people publicly expressed their dismay whilst others justified.
A cricketer should never forget his responsibility to the nation as well as the existence of a fan based acceptance of defeat and victory in the same spirit of sport. A sportsman or sportswoman is upheld as a star not solely by his or her performance. Performance is the direct inborn factor of a player spiced up indirectly with encouraging support of the sports fan together with media publicity rising up to the loftiest popularity among the public. This explains the pivotal point of popularity of a cricketer is his or her performance and skills with discipline in the game.
Cricket has been the life line of the sports fan inSri Lanka and fan base is the lifeline of a cricketer’s popularity. As an Asian country, Sri Lankans have taken a game into an emotional dimension which is rather unique and different from others. A cricket fan gets elated with joy and excitement at the face of victory and their eyes will be full of tears on the face of loss. Never a Sri Lankan has burned either a house or a poster of a Sri Lankan player at the face of defeat. It has always been a warm welcome to the national team by Sri Lankan cricket lovers standing under the scorching sun along the way from the Katunayake Airport, irrespective of the result being a victory or a loss. What values will be the behaviour of the cricketers as well as the conduct of the administration to secure the spirit of the game winning the influence of the cricket lovers of the country.
Finally, what should not be forgotten is that cricket is a game of unity and togetherness as a country where battles and coercion within will do nothing but disrupt the spirit of the game. It is indeed the responsibility of Sri Lanka Cricket Board, Selection Committee and the players as well to demonstrate the pristine quality of professional cricket with requisite measures taken to avert any unpleasant situations in future in the interest of this entertaining game. The erosion of public confidence in the Management of Sri Lanka Cricket Board may bring ominous downfall of the hard earned popularity with unprecedented decrease in the pavilion of spectators.
Desmond Tutu in his Cowdrey lecture said “Cricket has illustrated a central concept: when we work together, we are most likely to succeed. The best batsman or bowler can’t win on his own. He could bowl his heart out, but if he has lousy fielders, it will come to nothing. We are all at our best, our societies flourish most when we co-operate in the spirit of the essence of being human and when my humanity is caught up in your humanity.”
Game of cricket is a portrayal of honour, glory and patriotism. It is a sacrifice of abilities for secondary personal agendas. A disciplined player with responsibility who dedicates his life for the spirit of the game is regarded immortal. His name will glow writ large in letters of gold in the history of Sri Lanka Cricket.
Sri Lanka, a unique story in the world of cricket should balance out deficiencies and strengths in administration and performance to march a long journey over years to come, making Sri Lankan cricket saga fascinating as never before.
*Dr.Sulakshi Thelikorala . Email – email@example.com