08 August 2014

The UNP and the joys of the ‘warm-up’

On Saturday, September 12, 2009, Sri Lanka beat India by 139 in a day-night ODI cricket match at the R.Premadasa Stadium.  Spectacular batting performances by Sanath Jayasuriya (98) and Thilina Kandamby (91 not out), followed by an amazing spell by Angelo Matthews (6 for 20 off 6 overs) and neat work behind the stumps by Kumar Sangakkara (4 spectacular catches) elicited the following observation from Indian captain, M.S. Dhoni:

"It was the worst day for us. We didn't start well neither in bowling nor in batting. The Sri Lankans started very well. Sanath (Jayasuriya) along with Dilshan gave them the perfect start with the bat and then Angelo Mathews came good with the ball."

The most pertinent sum-up was this, however: “The only thing that went well for us was the warm-up before the game.

The Indian captain’s telling sum-up was right on the money and even the most ardent fan of Indian cricket would not disagree, I am sure.  I had already forgotten the comment but was reminded of it on Monday morning when I read in the newspapers that the UNP’s General Secretary, Tissa Attanayake, had vowed to topple the Rajapaksa government within three months. 

Politicians are full of promises, this is generally known.  Tissa, to his credit, had inserted a caveat to cover possible embarrassment later: ‘this would depend on a UNP victory at the forthcoming elections to the Southern Provincial Council’.  That’s like a bank saying ‘We will give all account-holders Rs. 100,000 regardless of the value of their accounts or status on loan repayment, PROVIDED that the Government does away with taxation.’  It would be like the USA saying ‘we will cease all operations at Guantanamo Bay and return the island to its legitimate owner, Cuba, PROVIDED that we find evidence of water on the sun’.  In short, it is a safe prediction. 

The nice thing about the UNP and elections (going by the track record of that party since 2004) is the run-up, the campaign. At least in a relative sense. The aftermath has been pretty dismal; defeat, defeatism, call for the leader to resign, internal strife and a smothering of dissent by Ranil Wickremesinghe, swatting one and all with the party constitution.

The warm-up, then, goes well.  Lofty ideals are spelled out. Ambitious predictions are mouthed at every turn. Grand pronouncements are made about the great future that awaits the voters in the event that the UNP wins (‘you will all be crowned kings’).  The promise-balloon, the prediction-bubble and other air-filled things get pricked, deflated, on election-day.  Nothing clicks. 

To begin with, the UNP is on the backfoot, as all opposition parties tend to be given the realities of the 1978 constitution and a general climate of apathy on the part of the public.  In addition, the UNP has, especially under Ranil Wickremesinghe, developed a penchant to go fishing at deliveries that pitch off a good length and leave the batsman, resulting in snicks that are gleefully gobbled up behind the stumps.  Faulty stroke play has been the bane of that party in recent times. In political parlance what we have seen in a remarkable ability on the part of the party leadership to say the wrong thing at the wrong time at the wrong place. 

When Zimbabwe or a non-Test-playing nation takes on Australia, everyone knows the result before hand.  Excellent bowling will always find the best batsmen of these countries struggling.  Skilled batsmen will take apart the best bowlers of such teams.  This is expected. It is one thing to be castled by a peach of a delivery and quite another to get out to a scandalously careless stroke or to get run out.  It is one thing to be hit for six by Sanath Jayasuriya because you gave him that extra one inch of space outside the off stump and quite another to offer him a full toss on the leg side.  There is no dishonour in the former; the latter is unpardonable. 

This is the problem of the UNP.  The popularity of the President, the euphoria of the defeat of the LTTE and the anomalies embedded in the constitution that work against the opposition are realities that the UNP can’t do much about.  There is no reason to self-destruct though. 

There is a reason why the UNP can only enjoy the ‘warm-up’.  India can and will bounce back.  Sooner or later.  The reason is that there is a willingness to engage in self-criticism and correct flaws.  Not so the UNP. 

In a sense, then, Tissa Attanayake is doing his best: enjoying the warm-up.  If the UNP is happy with that consolation prize, that says a lot about the direction that party is heading, election-wise: nowhere.   

*First published in September 2009.  Almost 5 years later, with 'Uva' beckoning, will things be any different? 



Liberal One said...

The problem with the UNP is that the English speaking elite, civil society activists and foreign missions that have taken hold of UNP are not prepared to let UNP restructure itself fearing they may lose control of the party. They prefer to control an UNP that is in opposition than face the prospects of not been able to control any of the main political parties.

The pro Sri Lankan section is unable to get the control back and no such young leader is also visible in the horizon. Sajith had golden opportunities to show the country that he is different from the current lot of leaders but looks like he also lack the wisdom to understand what the voters are screaming in their ears.