12 March 2015

On making the ‘First XI’ and relevant political lessons

Only 11 can play, yes.  This is about some who didn't make it
but not because they lacked talent or had not performed.
Perhaps it is the fact that Sri Lanka is not playing any international cricket right now and has a fairly lean schedule ahead that makes me dwell on cricket these days, forgive me.  I was remembering an article written by my school friend and now architect, Sumangala Jayatillake for a Royal-Thomian Souvenir a quarter of a century ago.  He was relating a dream about playing in the Roy-Tho and coming up with a fantastic performance. He ended the piece, if I remember right, with a quote: ‘Everyone is a hero in his dreams’.  He followed it up with another post script: ‘I knocked out Mohammed Ali in another dream!’

I have had cricket dreams like that and long before Sumangala articulated his.  My dreams were associated with records.  As a young boy there were two things that bugged the hell out of me.  The first was the fact that St. Thomas’ had shot out Royal for 9 runs in the 1885 encounter.  Thomians maintain that Royal didn’t turn up on the second day and considers the game forfeited while Royalists, given absence of any proof, considers the game drawn.  There is no disagreement however regarding the fact that Royal were all out for 9.  That bugged me. It also bugged me that STC had the highest total of the series (at the time): 351 for 7 if I remember right (broken several times since). 

So here’s the dream.  Royal bowls out STC not for 8 runs, not for 7, not for 3 or 1 but zero.  The scoreboard reads: St. Thomas’ all out for 0.  The innings is all done in 10 deliveries and includes 3 hat tricks.  The wrecker?  Self.  Obviously I couldn’t take all wickets if the innings was over in 10 deliveries, so there was a partner in crime. RajithaDhanapala, a classmate who from Grade Three used to come home after school and stay with us until his father, who taught at Royal along with my mother, came to take him home.  Rajitha and I, in my dream, opened batting and we broke the record for the highest total. I am sure one of us broke the record for the highest individual score, then held by Duleep Mendis (184) but can’t remember who it was.  The rest of the match was not dreamt.  It was not necessary.  The point was to dream-out those uncomfortable bragging-rights owned by the ‘other school’.

Rajitha was a cricketer. I was a fan.  He played first eleven cricket. I cheered.  Fast forward to the year 1984.  Check the big match souvenir. Royal was led by Sandesh Algama.  The book will show that the top 4 run-getters of the season didn’t play in the big match.  Chandana Panditharatne and Assaji Ranasinghe, both stylish and dependable batsmen were dropped, along with Rajitha, the only one to score a century that season The fourth, Kapila Dandeniya, was touring Australia with the Sri Lanka Under 19 team.  Royal escaped with a draw thanks to the heroics of Nalinda Premachandra and Chandana Jayakody, both in the team for their bowling skills, incidentally. 

More than a quarter of a century later, I went to see an ‘Under 13’ cricket match being played at the Mercantile Cricket Association grounds.  This is the first junior level cricket match I went to see after leaving school.  Royal vs. St. Peter’s.  Semi-Final. I went there because there was a boy called Thiran playing.  Thiran Dhanapala.  He made some runs. Royal lost by a few runs in a closely fought game.  Whether Thiran will go further than his father is left to be seen, but I was happy to be there with my friend.  It was not exactly justice catching up after a quarter century, but it made me happy. 

It happens a lot doesn’t it, this business of the deserving being sidelined and those with ‘connections’ being penciled in?  It is less about what you have done and what you can do but who’s who you are, isn’t it?  It is about the Old Boys Club, about wining and dining with the right people, throwing parties and having a certain air about you, isn’t it?  And it is not limited to Royal College or cricket, is it? 

In a few days time nominations will be submitted for the forthcoming General Election.  Peruse the lists carefully. Try to find out how many decent people with credentials were ‘dropped’ by the various parties in favour of those who have lots of money or have ‘spectacle’ value.  There will be film stars and sports personalities, the filthy rich and the thugs, I have no doubt.  Already the city walls have been plastered with the ugly mugs of the rich, those who have the bucks, the men and are absolutely free of shame. 

There are rare cases when a good rugby player is also a decent cricketer.  Among those at Royal in my time I remember Ajitha Pasqual, Michael Muller, Jagath Fernando, Graham Lawrence and Rajiv De Silva.  Krishan George and Sampath Agalawatte were likewise multi-sports personalities, the former securing colours in basketball, rugby and athletics.  For the main part, though, cricketers don’t make good politicians and neither do film stars, singers and beauty queens. 

Check the lists.  Let us see if any of the major political parties can come up with candidates with some kind of relevant accomplishment.  I am willing to wager that incompetence and unsuitability will be what describes best those who do make the lists and indeed those who get elected, which of course is an indictment of the voter and supports the contention that people get the governments they deserve. 

Strong and visionary leadership does not on the other hand pander to the least common denominator, does not calculate a candidate’s worth in terms of his/her ‘star value’ or spending capacity but the ability to function as a responsible and honest lawmaker who delivers on tasks assigned. 

The ‘lists’ then will show us what kind of people we are (for candidates are chosen for ability to secure votes) and as seriously what kind of leaders we have. 

Thirty five years after dreaming a crazy dream and twenty five years after burning inside at an injustice my friend had to suffer, I got some kind of consolation.  That is too long for a society to wait, especially since we’ve waited for several decades now for a different kind of politician and political culture to emerge.  Today it is up to the leaders of the various political parties.  And if they don’t deliver then tomorrow they will not be consulted or heeded.  

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The Nation' can can be reached at menevira@gmail.com