14 July 2012

On delivering with unforgettable smiles

There was high drama at the Galle International Cricket Stadium on Thursday, July 22, 2010.  Muttiah Muralitharan was poised to make history, to become the first bowler to reach the 800-wicket mark in test cricket.  He was the first to get to 799 too of course, but there’s something about round numbers that turn mark into landmark, subject to the observation that cricket enthusiasts do not revere Donald Brandman less because he failed to 4 runs in his last innings that would have sent his average to 100.  

Anyway, he was just 8 short of 800 and if he so wished he could have played in all three of the tests against India.  He was determined to end it all in Galle, according to Warnaweera, the curator of that ground, because that had been a promise Murali had made.  Who knows, perhaps he knew that he had the legs for one more test and nothing more.   He downplayed the 800 landmark, some might say out of doubt, while others would say ‘as he always did when it came to records’. 

He took 5 in India’s first innings and after trapping Harbhajan Singh LBW to reach 799, people started holding their breath.  For 51.4 overs.  Then, in the 4th ball of the 116th over of the innings, the commentary entry read (for a record 77th time), ‘c DPMD Jayawardene b Muralitharan’ after the name of the batsman, P Ojha, who in being bested became part of history.  That, ladies and gentlemen, ended the test and a career. That, ladies and gentlemen, was not the defining moment of this remarkable test match.  There were two in fact but this was not one of them.

The first was after Lasith Malinga had bowled the 4th delivery of the 102nd over of that innings.  Ishant Sharma steered it past cover. There was confusion over a second run but in the end the batsmen reached safety. Someone threw the ball.  Muralitharan. 

Moment No. 2.  Over No. 106. Delivery No. 2.  Dilshan bows to Ojha who pushes to mid-off. Murali picks and has a shy at the stumps.  Ojha just makes his ground.  On both occasions Murali might very well have won the game for Sri Lanka and denied himself that magic number, 800.  Bradman got out for a duck in his last innings.  Murali would have been ‘stranded’ on 799 but I think would have dabbed that little bit of grace to his immortality to rise (marginally) over the Don in the romantic history of the game. 

There is a lesson here that I first saw demonstrated in the years 1992-1994.  Pilimatalawa.  Sunny Hill Hotel.  That’s a boutique, a wayside shop at the bend just after you pass the clock tower when going to Kandy.  There were two waiters.  I think they were brothers.  I spent a lot of time during this period in and around Pilimatalawa, holed up with friends somewhere near the Giragama guru vidyalaya.  Sunny Hill was a plain-tea stop.  We were served by one of these two waiters. Cheerful.   

Any time of the day. Any day of the year.  Totally committed to giving their best.  I don’t think they made more by way of tips than other waiters and I don’t know whether they were happier than others when they went to bed on account of having done justice to task assigned despite paltry wages. 

Murali made bucks.  When he retired he was gifted a souvenir that’s worth over Rs. 2.5 million.  He bowls his heart out and gets a lot of money for his efforts.  The waiters I mentioned, if they still wait at tables, would get close to nothing in comparison.  Murali is a household name in the cricketing world.  The waiters?  I write about them, but even I don’t know their names.  Or if they are still alive. 

Same lesson, though.  Commitment to task at hand.  Professionalism.  Service with a smile.  At the end of the game, Muttiah Muralitharan is carried around the grounds on his captain’s shoulders.  Murali carried us all and in doing so doffs his cap to a man who carried him and all of us almost 15 years before, Arjuna Ranatunga.  The waiters at Sunny Hill will get carried someday by their near and dear. Not when they are alive.  They too carry us.  All the Sunny Hill waiters all over the land who deliver with a smile, who stand ramrod straight in the face of adversity, who get up and serve even when felled to the ground, all of them without exception define for all of us something of the citizen and human being we can be and perhaps ought to try and be. 

Just after the tea break on the final day of the first test between India and Sri Lanka at the Galle International Stadium on July 22, 2010, a man rode the shoulders of colleagues, cheered by adoring thousands.  I don’t know his name.  He used to be a waiter in a small boutique called Sunny Hill Hotel in Pilimatalawa.  He has an amazing smile.  I don’t think he has a bank account.  That’s something to think about.  



Ramzeen Azeez said...

The beautiful fact of the matter is that although most of us; including the waiters, wouldn't have personally known Murali, we all stood shoulder to shoulder and cheered the man. In spite of our personal battles in life, that is. Thanks for the reminisces.