14 March 2014

Of big matches, camaraderie and playing with a straight bat

The Cricket World Cup (2011) was more than compensated for the drag-farce that was the 2007 edition of the event.  The great thing about one-day matches is that rain permitting there’s always a result.  Someone wins, someone loses and when there are no winners, i.e. in the event of a tie, the anticipation, breathlessness, agony and heroics are as or more exciting than those generated by wins, even those that are decided in the last over. 
Courtesy 'Daily News'

Now I am not anti-Test.  Tests are different.  They call for a vastly different approach and temperament and although they do drag (I prefer rugby, by the way), they have their moments and magic, things to savour and do generate heartaches and mindless celebrations from time to time.  Frequently enough not to abolish the format, I might add.  Still, the shorter versions (ODIs and T-20s) are arguably more exciting and generating of spectator interest. 

Cricket is not just matches between two countries.  There are a lot of versions between Tests and the odd games that are fiercely contested in countless neighbourhoods with rules of their own, field and stroke restrictions etc. In between there are what are called ‘big matches’, annual encounters between two schools which generate as much or more spectator interest as a World Cup final.

Some people bemoan the fact that most big matches end in draws and sometimes dead boring ones to boot.  The assumption however is that ‘action’ is what happens on the field.  The truth, however, is that while people would love their school to do well and notch a win or two every decade or so, most spectators are not emotionally invested in the run of play or the outcome.  What happens outside the boundary line is what matters and it is for this that old boys attend big matches, some traveling from the other end of the earth just to relive the schoolboy experience, meet old friends and teachers, reminisce and so on.  This is why I attend the Royal-Thomian. 

I am not blind to school colours or what scoreboard story but hardly ever turn my eyes to the cricket, except when there’s a surge in the cheering indicating wicket, boundary or a batsman reaching 50 or 100.  I can generally tell what the cheering was about by a quick survey of flags. If it is mostly black and blue then it’s something the Thomians can cheer about and if it is blue and gold it’s a Royal moment.  It is almost always after-the-fact and I have found myself instinctively waiting for replay that will not come.  I am a creature of the idiot-box, I humbly acknowledge.

On the third and last day of play, as I was doing my usual rounds from tent to tent, I ran into my old friend and former boss, Krishantha Cooray.  It was late in the day and both of us were in high spirits.  ‘Write about the camaraderie,’ he requested. 

He related a story.  Some Thomian prefects had been passing the Seylan Bank tent, waving flags and cheering their school.  For some reason this had irked some young old Royalists who had started pelting these Thomians with whatever they could lay their hands on.  It was ugly.  An older Old Royalist had stood up and urged his younger schoolmates to desist.  He had been quite vocal and very insistent.  Sanity was restored and everyone reverted to whatever it was they were doing before this silly incident took place. 

‘There is camaraderie, Malinda,’ Krishantha explained, cautioning, ‘but it’s the older generation that understands this.’

Krishantha is a Thomian.  He’s not my only Thomian friend though.  Every year I go to ‘The Stables’ which is an enclosure that is open to anyone although organized by the Thomian Group of ’79.  I meet Royalists there, but I go there specifically to meet up with a bunch of Thomians including Harinlal Aturupane and Sidath Samarakkody (he was missing this year).  There’s something in what Krishantha says.  There is school loyalty but this is secondary to inhabiting and absorbing of the overall spectacle that is the Royal Thomian.  There is the occasional fraying of tempers, the wrong word being said at the wrong place and time, drink-fuelled overreaction and such, but things are sorted out very quickly for the most part.  Speaking strictly for myself, I am all for draws. ‘Dead-boring’ is great in my book and ‘Rained-out’ truly magical. I don’t want anyone to be unhappy.  I believe that others would define ‘camaraderie’ in different ways, but I am sure few would disagree with Krishantha. 

I wondered however about the incident, though. Was it about camaraderie?  Was it a Royal-Thomian thing?  Made me remember a story about an incident that took place at Kelaniya University (then Vidyalankara).  Some boys from Vidyodaya (now Sri Jayawardenapura University) had come for a volleyball match along with some supporters. Some words were spoken, someone was irked, someone cast the first stone, someone else reacted with a stone-casting of his own and soon there was a fully fledged battle going on. A student leader from Vidyalankara had noticed one boy from the opposite camp turning his back to the missiles directed towards his friends, urging his friends to stop it.  He had realized that if this boy had been hit, things would have got totally out of control. He himself had turned around, ignoring the missiles that came his way and urged his friends to stop. Sanity was restored.  Camaraderie may have been a factor in the Seylan Tent incident, but there must have been something more too. 

The boy who stood up to his mates later pioneered the revitalization of thrift and credit cooperative societies in the island and built a movement that has earned the accolades of the entire international cooperative movement.  He was awarded an honorary doctorate and conferred the enviable national honour of ‘Vishva Prasadhini’ (Universally Acclaimed).  His name is known across the length and breadth of this nation. He is leader to a movement that consists of over 8000 village-level societies and close to a million members, has spawned a number of national-level commercial and cooperative outfits. He ‘did’ microfinance long before corporate financial entities discovered the term and concept and moved in to tap hitherto ignored market segments, and yet senior government officials lament that there’s no Sri Lankan version of the Grameen idea. 

The other boy, who related the incident, once defied a vote-and-die edict issued by the JVP, cast his vote the moment the polls opened and went around showing his inked-finger to all saying ‘They said they’ll kill the first to vote; I was the first, now you go ahead and exercise your franchise’.  He was shot at and escaped by throwing at his assailants a bottle of milk he had grabbed from an old woman nearby. He is the author of several books on a wide range of issues. He lives frugally and observes all precepts pertaining to the idea of Anagarika

It is not a Royal thing or a Thomian thing. It is still cricket and referes to camaraderie with the larger collective and commitment to things good and wholesome. These individuals subjected themselves to the greater Tests, played ODIs on a day-to-day basis, were equally adept at playing the necessary cameo in life’s T-20s, i.e. the bigger ‘Big Matches’.   I am not watching the scoreboard and didn’t see what happened, but these out-of-ground strokeplay is all that matters. Krishantha would agree, I am sure. 

[First published in the 'Daily News' on March 11, 2011]