THE BIG PICTURE
MEN OF THE MOMENT
The men who personify the spirit of cricket in our land
Clad in white flannels or blue pyjamas, depending on what the game plan is, Sri Lanka’s cricketers have led the nation’s hopes and aspirations on and off the field – and they’ve led by example. The young man in charge of the Test side has grown in stature, and his record in all forms of the game has been the stuff of legends this year – which is why he swept the line-up at Sri Lanka Cricket’s annual awards, in September.
With the two perennial heroes of Sri Lankan cricket playing out their swansong – and Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara are doing so with aplomb, as we’ve come to except – Angelo Mathews knows full well that the weight of 20-plus million citizens rests on his 27-year-old shoulders.
And when the International Cricket Council (ICC) named Mathews as the captain of its Test team for 2014 – ahead of the Dhonis, Clarkes and Amlas of the cricketing world – his leadership credentials multiplied incalculably.
Meanwhile, Sangakkara has been named in the ICC’s Test team on seven occasions in the last nine years – and both Angie and Sanga were on a four-man shortlist for the ICC’s highest honour (the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for ICC Cricketer of the Year) last month. Few Sri Lankans will forget that the latter won the award two years ago.
And in the shortest format of the gentlemen’s game, Sri Lankan cricket has been blessed with the inimitable Lasit Malinga at the helm. He learnt the ropes of leadership (in his case, by committee, it would seem) in a matter of a few games at the helm, and has the distinction of captaining Sri Lanka to its second World Cup, in April this year.
The Sri Lankan Cricketer has truly embodied the Spirit of Cricket in recent years; and Mahela’s ICC award last year, for this facet of the intriguing game we call a religion in our neck of the woods, was the ultimate test of sportsmanship.
So we’ve come full circle, from the days when Arjuna Ranatunga taught The Sri Lankan Cricketer the nitty-gritties of gamesmanship which were desperately needed at the time, to turn the plenitude of talent on hand into hard-nosed World Cup champions.
Since that time, Jayawardene and Sangakkara have moulded a team that now has both qualities: Mahela is the perfect embodiment of grace and talent, whereas Sanga took off from where Arjuna left – and he’s done this with so much élan that Kumar Sangakkara is arguably Sri Lanka’s most iconic personality today, both on and off the field.
And last but not least, and no matter what the critics (an absolute minority, thank heavens) say, playing for Sri Lanka continues to retain the pride and honour that it so richly deserves. Why else would a squad of young men take the field when they haven’t been paid, and when their bosses are often accused of transgressions that we would rather not repeat here?
And why else would they embark (grud gingly, as we know) on a hastily arranged tour of India, when they were in the middle of an allimportant physical training regime, in-between a muchdeserved sabbatical… simply because their bosses wanted them to?
Ironically, the recent series against the Indians filled in for the sudden suspension of our neighbour’s duel with the West Indians, who literally walked out on the hosts and their own bosses because of a pay dispute.
That was, perhaps, because The Sri Lankan Cricketer believes that not taking the field is a betrayal of his duty to a nation and its people. Which is why The Sri Lan kan Cricketer is our Sri Lankan Of The Year.