By David Green
There are intelligent and articulate sportsmen and sportswomen (and cricket has produced more than its fair share), and then there is Kumar Sangakkara whose words are as equally silky and smooth as his wonderfully graceful cover drives.
We have just finished listening to the riveting MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture he delivered at Lord’s on Monday evening and thoroughly recommend that everyone else should too.
Sangakkara’s story of Sri Lanka and how cricket slipped “through the crack in our anti-western defenses and has now become the most precious heirloom of our British Colonial inheritance” is a truly fascinating one.
He provided vivid and horrific detail of the civil war that plagued the beautiful island paradise for 30 years and how the stunning win in the 1996 World Cup enabled cricket to become a unifying force for all Sri Lankan people irrespective of background, ethnicity and religion.
Sangakkara also spoke of the horrors of the tsunami and praised Muttiah Muralitharan in particular for his heroic and instrumental role in organising relief and then rebuilding shattered communities and villages.
We enjoyed the humour that infused the lecture such as when he amusingly described Arjuna Ranatunga as a “slightly over-weight and unfit southpaw” when detailing how his leadership inspired the World Cup win of 1996.
Sangakkara even manages to instil humour into his gripping retelling of the Lahore terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus as the following extract from his speech powerfully demonstrates:
'Tharanga Paranvithana, on his debut tour, is also next to me. He stands up, bullets flying all around him, shouting “I have been hit” as he holds his blood-soaked chest. He collapsed onto his seat, apparently unconscious. I see him and I think, “Oh my God, you were out first ball, run out the next innings and now you have been shot. What a terrible first tour.” '
Wonderful stuff! To be harrowing and amusing at the same time takes some skill.
Predictably, much of the reporting of the lecture has been on Sangakkara’s damning words about the Sri Lankan Cricket Board and the unwelcome interference of the country’s Sports Minister.
He certainly doesn’t hold back as he eloquently details how accountability and transparency has been replaced by partisan cronies, corruption and a wanton waste of board finances and resources.
The real reason for his resignation of the captaincy becomes clear when he challenges the administrators to adopt the same values of the team: integrity, transparency, commitment and discipline. He also calls on the ICC to suspend boards with direct detrimental political interference and allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
Sadly, but not unsurprisingly, Sri Lankan Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage has already ordered a probe into the lecture so Sangakkara looks like he will have to face the consequences for his frank honesty and strong words.
Kumar Sangakkara – a credit to himself, his sport and above all his country. We salute him as a true cricketing hero.
(David Green is the brain behind the irreverent The Reverse Sweep blog and also writes for a number of cricket publications and sites such as World Cricket Watch. You can follow him on Twitter also @TheReverseSweep. David was a decent schoolboy and club cricketer (and scored his maiden 100 the same week that Sachin Tendulkar scored his first Test ton) but not good enough to fulfil his childhood dream of emulating Douglas Jardine by winning the Ashes in Australia and annoying the locals into the bargain. He now lives with his wife and two young children in the South of France and will one day write the definitive biography of Hedley Verity)