My Dear Malinga, I thought I must write to you because everyone is talking about you these days – without you even playing a cricket match! In fact, I don’t think anyone in this country has ever triggered such a reaction by saying so little — eleven words to be precise! When a reporter asked [...]

5th Column

From hero to zero, is he cricket’s Mervyn?


My Dear Malinga,

I thought I must write to you because everyone is talking about you these days – without you even playing a cricket match! In fact, I don’t think anyone in this country has ever triggered such a reaction by saying so little — eleven words to be precise!

When a reporter asked whether he could talk to you, you asked him if he hadn’t seen him before and told him to mind his own business. “Eyi meeta kalin maawa dekala nedda? Wedak balaagena yanawa manussayo yanda”, you said. And now you must be wondering what this fuss is all about.

That is because, Malinga, for many years cricket has been Sri Lanka’s passion. It is not our national sport but for a country which could boast of little else, especially when it was being devastated by a dreadful war for three decades, cricket was the only reason that made Sri Lankans smile.

Then we won the World Cup and began to perform consistently at the highest level, beating other countries even away from home. That also meant that cricketers were no longer mere professional sportsmen, they were national heroes who were treated with great respect and reverence.

That enabled them to earn enormous amounts of money and when the Indian Premier League arrived, offering players millions of rupees for a few weeks work, it was the icing on the cake. Cricketers were among the wealthiest people in the country. Don’t get me wrong, Malinga. It is not that we resent the fame you have acquired or the money that you make. You have a unique talent, a unique action and even a unique hair style, so we don’t come across someone like you every day. Therefore, you are entitled to all the privileges that you enjoy.

But with those few words you told that reporter the other day, when he even called you ‘mahaththaya’, I think you gave it all away. You asked him ‘haven’t you seen me before’ and indeed we hadn’t seen your ugly, arrogant side before. Now, we have seen you for what you really are. I suppose we should have always known that you were hard to tame. There was a time when Arjuna asked you not to sport fancy hairstyles and you refused. I won’t go so far as to say that Arjuna was right in making that request, but he was certainly right in demanding some discipline from you.

Then there was the time when you suddenly retired from Test cricket. You told us that your body will not be able to endure ‘too much cricket’ and that you were retiring from the longer format of the game to try and prolong your career. At that time, most people believed you. Only a few months later we saw you playing in several T20 competitions. I know your argument is that you have to only bowl four overs in one game, but people were baffled as to how someone who was complaining of ‘too much cricket’ could play in several competitions around the world!

That is when people started saying that not only you, but most of our cricketers were putting money before country and that is when they started asking questions about the integrity of our cricketers who were until then their heroes. Their suspicions would have been heightened when some of our leading cricketers ran behind politicians to have a tour to England cancelled because it clashed with the Indian Premier League. Sadly, even previously respected people like Mahela and Kumar were in the forefront of that move.

Even then, we continued to treat our cricketers with adulation and we were proud that they took us to so many World Cup finals, even though we haven’t won one lately. And, unlike in our neighbouring country, we don’t set fire to your houses when you lose a game!

All those sentiments may have changed last week, Malinga. To many people, those few words you spat out at that reporter were a symptom of what is wrong with cricketers today: like our politicians, you are in it for the money and nothing else. You and your team mates provided confirmation of that last week: you wanted a ‘cut’ out of what Sri Lanka Cricket earns, all of you wanted to be paid while you were making millions in the Indian league, and you and your mates also wanted free air tickets for your spouses! How greedy can you be?

Of course, it is unfair to blame all our cricketers just because of your outburst last week. But Malinga, just ask yourself the question as to whether a Tennekoon, Wettimuny, Madugalle or Ranatunga would have done what you did? You are the only man in the world to have taken four wickets in four balls in international cricket. You are also the only man to take three one day international hat-tricks. But, Malinga, you must have realised by now that after those few words you uttered last week, none of that mattered.
In those few seconds, Malinga, you have become the Mervyn Silva of cricket. And surely, you must know how much we love Mervyn Silva. Now, it is your choice: you can remain that way or you can turn a new leaf. Think about it, will you?

Yours truly,
Punchi Putha

PS: There was a time when you made us proud to be Sri Lankan. Unfortunately, now every Sri Lankan will think twice before cheering you on. You can still become a hero if you publicly say ‘sorry’ to the gentleman you insulted that day. We are waiting to see whether you are enough of a man to do that — and that will be a greater achievement than slinging those toe-crushing yorkers or taking a hat-trick! And that would also be what an innocent boy from Rathgama who spent his spare time bowling with a tennis ball would have done a few years ago.

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