30 September 2018

The importing-mania in school cricket

The school cricket season is about to start. Newspapers, as they usually do, will feature the top teams in the island. The top players will be talked about, the records too and of course the greats produced by the particular school. The particular scribes will no doubt put their fingers on what’s most important about the particular teams. 

Think about the team photos. They’ll get the names. They’ll indicate captain, coach and teacher-in-charge using brackets. It is unlikely, however, that they’ll talk about the schools that the players attended prior to being enrolled in the school being featured. 

Of course, there’s nothing illegal in students moving from one school to another. They do so for various reasons. Some get into schools with better facilities on account of performance in the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination. Some move after the OLs. Some, on the other hand, are ‘imported’ to use a term that’s been used for a long time when referring to the phenomenon.

It’s simple. Schools, usually the ‘bigger’ ones with all kinds of resources, especially name-value that opens corporate doors to school-leavers, scout for talent. It could be at the Under 15 or Under 17 levels. In certain situations they might even look for talented players for the First XI.

There’s nothing illegal in all this. As for ethics, it can cut both ways. One argue that the particular kids’ chances in cricket, studies or career are significantly enhanced. One can say, ‘it’s demand and supply, stupid!’ for after all we’ve embraced or have been made to embrace the relevant ‘ethics’.  It’s a reality bro, someone might say. 

As for those who talk about the ‘full-blooded’ kids, i.e. those who’ve been in the school from Grade 1 and have worked hard to make it to the team, toiled through the various age-groups only to find themselves displaced by an ‘import,’ well it can be argued that it’s all about performance and that the better player gets the spot in the team.  

We can talk about loyalty to the school, that hard-to-identify ‘something’ that will persuade a player to dig in and fight to the bitter end. I don’t have the stats on that one, but gut says that those who have over the years formed strong attachments to the school will fight long after others have given up. Still, the jury is out on that one, to be fair.

The issue that remains unresolved in my mind is this: the obvious motivating factor of winning (or not losing as the case may be) at all costs.  Drive is one thing. The will to win is good. However, the ‘at-any-cost’ of anything cannot be wholesome. 

Forgotten in all this is the fundamental purpose of schooling. Learning. Learning not just facts and figures, properties of matter, how to resolve complex problems, the histories of the world, a sense of the great architects of the edifice of knowledge and science etc., but obtaining something that would make for a more wholesome and benign engagement with friends, family, community, nation and the universe. 

What does ‘importing’ do, apart from the disillusionment that gets ingrained in those who worked hard for years only to see ‘an outsider’ parachuting into the team? When schools act in ways that students get a message such as ‘by any means necessary, putha’ out goes all values, all ethics and all notions of fair play.  Sure, they could pick such things from any number of sources outside school or even within the school, but why risk it?  

Cricket, importantly, is a glamour sport. Cricketers are held in awe by younger students. They are mini role models for many kids. If character is imprinted on them, it rubs off on many. If by-any-means-necessary gets tattooed on their general conduct, it pricks the kids and could leave scars they could very well do without.  

Principals could be principled about such things. Coaches too. And of course old boys who seem to have a big say in decision-making with respect to getting ‘the right team’.  If they ‘import’ questionable values, they invariably export the building blocks of a decent, responsible and ethically solid character.  

Somehow, I can’t convince myself that this is the best way to go about dealing with talent-deficits.  

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. malindasenevi@gmail.com