Farewell Mahela but still time for you, Sanga

Thursday, 28 August 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

This is a salute to two gentlemen cricketers. How best could I, a lover of the game, pay tribute to a fine pair without sounding maudlin except perhaps to say thanks for the memory, the first line in a lyric which I think was sung by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross in days long gone by. I seldom write about the game unless there is a real cause to take up as happened over the mankading (what an unfortunate coinage which tends to denigrate a great Indian cricketer) of Jos Butler during Sri Lanka’s tour of England this summer.
 Kumar Sangakkara

 Mahela Jayawardena
It was turned into a controversy by some English cricketers-past and present-when the law on it was clear enough, so clear that the MCC, the high priest of the game, stamped its imprimatur justifying as lawful Sachitra Senanayake’s running out at the bowler’s end of Butler who was regularly stealing runs. Regular writing about the game is better left to those who are more equipped to do so. But this is not about the game as such but two individuals so different as personalities but bound together by some strange umbilical cord. They have individually and together brought so much credit to Sri Lanka not just as players any side in the world today would love to have, but as gentlemen who added lustre to what they did, albeit in their different ways. Their personal qualities should be recognised and applauded all the more at a time when officials and administrators quarrel like dogs over a bone, when the hunger for power and influence diminishes a sport that was once called a gentlemen’s game. That is why the loss of Mahela Jayawardena from the test arena and eventually from cricket as would Kumar Sangakkara in time to come, should be an occasion to rue and hope that at least some of their qualities as persons would rub off on those who administer the game. It was less than three months ago that I met Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara when they were here on the short tour of England. They, and the rest of the team, were at the High Commission for a reception held in their honour, attended by several high commissioners from cricket playing nations, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Kamalesh Sharma, other high-ranking officials and local cricket enthusiasts. Before that reception in early June, I met coach Marvan Atapattu and some of the cricketers including Captain Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga at a luncheon at Lords hosted by the Asian Trust. It might be said right now that what endeared our cricketers to officials and the public alike is their simplicity and gentlemanly conduct which is sadly lacking in the game today as the greed of Mammon subsumes and destroys the spirit of the sport. They are in a way contrasting personalities. Mahela Jayawardena is a quiet, soft-spoken, self-effacing personality. Kumar Sangakkara is more articulate, not averse to giving vent to his thoughts, ready to enter into discussion with ideas that enhance that discussion. Despite this fundamental difference in their make-up, they are excellent foils and this is what makes their presence on or off the field so charming and agreeable. Let me illustrate. When I met Mahela at the reception he was so absorbed with the addition to his family, the baby daughter that he was cuddling and he seemed to have eyes only for her. But that did not stop him from engaging in conversation or posing for pictures with staff and guests who so wanted them as mementos, while his wife held the baby. Sangakkara was less encumbered, if I may put it so, and was his ebullient self, ever ready to enter into discussion and keep a conversation going. This is why I always try to engage him in long conversations as I did again on this occasion. Kumar’s mother, Kumari Welaratne, was a contemporary of mine at university at Peradeniya though some years my junior, and that is another reason why I like to talk with him. Now that I am on the subject of the Peradeniya University, which I must add, is one of the most picturesque campuses I have seen, even more than Manoa campus of the University of Hawaii, we got talking of D.H.de Silva who had passed away in Australia quite recently. He was one of those who influenced Sangakkara in the early days that led to an illustrious cricketing career. D.H. or Hema as most of us called him, was wedded to the game as he was to sport in general. Moreover he was a thorough gentleman. He captained the Peradeniya cricket team and I had the honour of playing under him. If I remember correctly some of the others at the time were Merrill Gunaratne, a former Josephian and later a DIG; Trinity College cricketer Malsiri Kurulasooriya; Antonian W. Premaratne, once schoolboy cricketer of the year; another Josephian M.D.D. Peiris, a distinguished civil servant in later life; Rhodes Scholar and academic Michael Roberts (who I think won six or seven university colours for different sports) and, if I am not mistaken N. Thavaneetharajah who played for Royal College. The mention of D.H. de Silva was sufficient to have Sangakkara mention how much he owed him for setting him on the cricketing path. We know that both Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara are engaged in charity work often unsung and even un-honoured. The other day I read that a woman somewhere near Anuradhapura wept watching the farewell to Mahela for he had donated a substantial sum of money for her medical treatment in her hour of need. There are such persons who help others without a word of publicity because they truly believe in helping the less fortunate unlike many of today’s politician that thrive on publicity, often undeserved. We know that Muttiah Muralitharan is similarly engaged in charity work. But do these gentlemen shout it from the rooftops as do some politicians and their henchmen who have hardly brought credit to their country as these cricketers have done. Is it because their good work is recognised and appreciated by the public that political nonentities with over-sized egos who have contributed little or nothing to furthering the game, try to hound and harass them? When I watch the silken stroke -play of Mahela Jayawardena and the calculated, field-piercing driving of Kumar Sangakkara, my mind rewinds fast recalling some of the world’s great cricketers I have seen play. I wonder how many living today at home have seen the great Don Bradman, who I saw as a kid playing in Colombo. If I remember correctly he was caught in the covers for 20 runs. I might add here that it was later found that the pitch several feet short of the regulation 22 yards. Among the other Australians I have seen are the debonair Keith Miller and his bowling partner the great Ray Lindwall; Lindsay Hassett; the Chappel brothers; Dennis Lillie and the jet-propelled Jeff Thomson both of whom I have personally met; Alan Davidson who I admired so much to mention a few. Talking of fast bowlers I have seen the West Indian greats such as Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Sylvester Clarke, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, and the three ‘Ws’- Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott not to mention Gary Sobers and Alvin Kallicharan. How many can boast of actually seeing Len Hutton and Denis Compton, Bill Edrich, Cyril Washbrook and Peter May or such Indian greats as Vijay Merchant, Lala Amarnath, Rusi Modi, Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Hazare and Sooti Banerjee? Who could forget one of Ceylon’s greatest batman, if not the best, Mahadevan Sathasivam who Frank Worrell is said to have named for his World Eleven or the stylish Michael Tissera or the superb technique of an Anura Tennekoon to name just a few of those who have adorned the playing field of Sri Lanka and elsewhere ? If writing about Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara bring to mind all these giants from the cricketing world, it is the best tribute I could surely pay two of them (The writer is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was until recently Deputy High Commissioner in London)