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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sanga's lesson to the CVCD

University teachers have protested vigorously. Many of them have resigned from the voluntary positions that they have held, effectively bringing the university system to a standstill. They have shown the power of the voluntary work, of which nobody cared for or valued, to the government.  They have held placards, walked in processions in sweltering heat, and have held a series of public rallies, all aimed at telling the people of this country the truth. The truth about  the deterioration of our higher education, brain-drain, shifting of priorities, degradation of the values we have held dear and total denigration of the academic community. They are also telling the masses about the truth about  broken promises. Promises broken so blatantly and unashamedly that it has galvanized even a group of gentle university teachers into action.

The political appointees of the university hierarchy have done their best to suppress the truth, aiding the government to suppress the just concerns of the university academics. In the short run, this probably would make the government happy, but in the long run, this may not be the case. The political appointees representing the university hierarchy includes the UGC and the CVCD. The story about UGC is now well known, that is how the chairman of the UGC issued circulars that benefited himself, and those that suppressed his opponents. But yet, the masses do not know the role of the CVCD (Committee of Vice Chancellors and Directors), the group of vice chancellors (of all universities) who act as the buffer and bridge between the academics and the policy makers. CVCD is the litmus paper that portray the mood and will of the academics to the government and vice versa. But the CVCD is silent.

Please let the truth be told without wallowing in politics, as Kumar Sangakkara did, delivering the much coveted Lord Cowdrey speech at Lords. Let our UGC and the CVCD also have the spirit of righteousness to tell of our aspirations and our problems to the government. It is time for the CVCD to learn from a smart, liberal minded and outspoken cricketer as to how people at positions of responsibility should conduct themselves.

We include here the text of Kumar's speech in the hope that our deaf, blind and dumb CVCD wake themselves up from their deep slumber. May at least one member of the CVCD find the spirit to utter the truth.

University Teachers, Sri Lanka

Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s : The Spirit of Sri Lanka’s Cricket – A celebration of our uniqueness

Former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara was invited by the Marylebone Cricket Club, the guardians of laws of cricket and the owners of Lord’s Cricket Ground, to deliver this year’s Lord Colin Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket Lecture at Lord’s on Monday. He became the first Sri Lankan and the youngest ever to deliver the annual lecture. Here is the transcription of the full lecture, which received a standing ovation at its conclusion, appearing in three parts.

Mr. President, my Lords, Ladies and gentlemen. Firstly I wish to sincerely thank the MCC for giving me the opportunity and 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 cricket in Sri Lanka 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 Lanka’s cricket.

The History of Sri Lanka

Ladies and Gentleman, the history of my country extends over 2,500 years.

A beautiful island situated in an advantageously strategic position in the Indian Ocean has long attracted the attentions of the world at times to both our disadvantage and at times to our advantage.

Sri Lanka is a land rich in natural beauty and resources augmented 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 an inquisitive and fun-loving people, smiling defiantly in the face of hardship and raucously celebrating times of prosperity.

Living not for tomorrow, but for today and 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 colonisation 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 our anti-Western defences and has now become the most precious heirloom of our British Colonial inheritance.

Maybe 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 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 have 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 affluent children of 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 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 matches backed by newspaper publicity 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 affluent colleges. The clubs bore communal names like the Sinhalese Sports Club, SSC, Tamil Union, 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 as a sport. 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.

In 1981, thanks to the efforts of the late Honourable Gamini Dissanyake, the ICC granted Sri Lanka official Test status. It was obviously a pivotal time in our cricketing history. 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: 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 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 brave Sri Lankans from different ethnic backgrounds, opened his 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 sport 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.

I did not realise 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: "Is this going to happen every year as it is so much fun having all my friends live with us."

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 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 coat 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 men and women by the thousands in the service of Sri Lanka’s military.

Even Colombo, a capital city 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 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 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 peoples.

That inspiration was to come in 1996.

To be continued tomorrow...