Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Sanga stuns Lord’s

by Rex Clementine - The Island

If you call Kumar Sangakkara’s batting charming, his speech is too. The top-order batsman who delivered this year’s Lord Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket Lecture stunned those who had gathered at Lord’s with a quality oration that made every Sri Lankan present there proud.

Sangakkara was invited by Christopher Martin-Jenkins, the President of Marylebone Cricket Club for this year’s Lord Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket Lecture and the standing ovation he received at the end of the event made Master of Ceremonies Mark Nicholas to say, "You are a hard act to follow sir. Many congratulations. Archbishop Desmond Tutu received a standing ovation when he delivered the Lecture and you have matched it."

Leading cricket writer Peter Roebuck called Sangakkara’s speech, ‘the most important in cricket history.’

Around 1,500 people comprising members of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), some leading figures of international cricket, invitees, members of Lord Cowdrey’s family and media were present for the Lecture that got underway at 6:30 pm on Monday.

Sangakkara gave a detailed description on how cricket developed in Sri Lanka and how after years of struggles the national team was able to become a formidable outfit with a charismatic leader Arjuna Ranatunga at the helm.

"What we needed at the time was a leader. A cricketer from the masses who had the character, the ability and above all the courage and gall to change a system, to stand in the face of unfavourable culture and tradition, unafraid to put himself on the line for the achievement of a greater cause."

"This much-awaited messiah arrived in the form of an immensely talented and slightly rotund Arjuna Ranatunga. He was to change the entire history of our cricketing heritage converting the game that we loved in to a shared fanatical passion that over 20 million people embraced as their own personal dream."

"Arjuna himself has spoken about how alien the culture felt and how difficult it was for him to adjust to try and fit in. As a 15-year-old school kid practising in the nets at the club, a senior stalwart of the club inquired about him. When told he was from the unfashionable Ananda College, he dismissed his obvious talents immediately: "We don’t want any "Sarong Johnnie’s" in this club."

"His goal was to impart in the team self-belief, to give us a backbone and a sense of self-worth that would inspire the team to look the opposition in the eye and stand equal, to compete without self-doubt or fear, to defy unhealthy traditions and to embrace our own Sri Lankan identity. He led fearlessly with unquestioned authority, but in a calm and collected manner that earned him the tag Captain Cool."

Sangakkara also shared his feelings when the Sri Lankan team bus came under a terrorist attack in 2009 in Lahore and probably gave an indication as to what led to his resignation as national captain after being in the helm for less than two years.

He went onto explain how success in the 1996 World Cup changed the cricket administration of the country, "from a volunteer-led organisation run by well-meaning men of integrity into a multimillion-dollar organisation that has been in turmoil ever since."

"Accountability and transparency in administration and credibility of conduct were lost in a mad power struggle that would leave Sri Lankan cricket with no consistent and clear administration. Presidents and elected executive committees would come and go; government-picked interim committees would be appointed and dissolved.

"After 1996 the cricket board has been controlled and administered by a handful of well-meaning individuals either personally or by proxy rotated in and out depending on appointment or election. Unfortunately to consolidate and perpetuate their power they opened the door of the administration to partisan cronies that would lead to corruption and wonton waste of cricket board finances and resources.

"It was and still is confusing. Accusations of vote buying and rigging, player interference due to lobbying from each side and even violence at the AGMs, including the brandishing of weapons and ugly fist fights, have characterised cricket board elections for as long as I can remember.

"We have to aspire to better administration. The administration needs to adopt the same values enshrined by the team over the years: integrity, transparency, commitment and discipline.

"Unless the administration is capable of becoming more professional, forward-thinking and transparent then we risk alienating the common man. Indeed, this is already happening. Loyal fans are becoming increasingly disillusioned. This is very dangerous because it is not the administrators or players that sustain the game – it is the cricket-loving public. It is their passion that powers cricket and if they turn their backs on cricket then the whole system will come crashing down."

Sangakkara is the first Sri Lankan to deliver Lord Cowdrey Lecture and the first active cricketer to be invited making him the youngest person ever to deliver the speech.