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29th August 1999

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Cricket and the Commonwealth

Diff'rent strokes

How the 'Game of Empire' become such a swinging success

By Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinha

If you look at the diverse nations that make up the Commonwealth," our late Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake was fond of saying, "you will find that they have only two things in common - the ability to communicate in English, and a familiarity with the game of cricket."

Earlier this year the eyes and ears of all these countries - from Antigua and Barbados to Zambia and Zimbabwe - were focused on Britain, where the 7th World Cup cricket tournament took place.

Commencing in London on May 14, when Sri Lanka took on host nation England, the competition saw the 12 best teams in the world compete for the title. A complete contrast, one must admit, from an American baseball World Series where the competition is limited to just two teams from one country!

How can one explain cricket's immense popularity - particularly since, with its complicated rules and terminology, it isn't the easiest of games to understand? How has this Game of Empire, with its peculiar language comprising maiden overs, leg-byes, chinamen, silly mid-offs, wrong 'uns and no balls, outlived even the British Empire?

Says my old friend Barney Reid, "Cricket isn't just a game - it is one of the highest forms of human culture."

And Reid should know, with a cricketing background that spans four decades and three continents. Selected as Sri Lanka's best schoolboy cricketer in 1965, he played for BRC and our President's XI before migrating to Australia - where he captained Melbourne University and then went on to play county cricket in England. Today he is a respected cricket umpire in Melbourne.

Cricket's origins are lost in the mists of time. It was certainly being played in 14th century England - and was well established by the time of the Tudor monarchs.

During the colonial era, cricket was carried across the oceans to British settlements all over the world. It used to be said that when a British contingent took possession of some remote land on behalf of the sovereign, they planted the Union Jack - and then set about preparing a cricket pitch.

The first international games recorded were when a team of Australian Aborigines toured England in 1868. The records show that the team led by Charles Lawrence won 14 games, lost 14 and drew 19.

The first officially recognised international game (termed a Test Match) was played between England and Australia in 1877 in Melbourne, when the Australians defeated a visiting English team led by James Lillywhite. Following this, the two nations have played a regular series of Test Matches about every two years, competing for a trophy called 'The Ashes" alternately in England and Australia, in what has become one of the world's most famous sporting competitions.

But it was not only in the antipodes that the game flourished. In the islands of the Carribean, among the many British settlements in southern Africa and on the huge subcontinent that today comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, cricket was introduced by the colonial rulers - and captured the imagination of the anglophone world.

The first "coloured man" to play for England was Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, a brilliant player who later on became Jam Sahib (Prince) of Nawanagar. Earlier this century two other Indian princes - K. S. Duleepsinhji and the Nawab of Pataudi - also played for England while they were undergraduates there. Interestingly, all three made centuries (scored over a hundred runs) on their first international appearance!

These days it is enthusiastic migrants from the Indian sub-continent who are spreading the game beyond the Commonwealth. In places like Dubai and Sharjah, eastern Europe and California, Indian and Sri Lankans emigres are playing the game, establishing cricket clubs and popularising the game among the locals.

With the waves of migration that took place during the colonial era, today's multicultural English team is a good example of one that has drawn on the best talents of the old Empire. Asian-sounding names like captain Nasser Hussain and Mark Ramprakash share England's scoreboard with the Australian-born and Hong Kong-raised Hollioake brothers and players of West Indian origin like Mark Alleyne and Dean Headley.

Headley represents the third generation of his family to play international cricket - his grandfather George Headley was one of the giants of West Indian cricket, and George's son (Dean's father) was also a member of the West Indian national team before migrating to England where Dean was born.

In this month's one day triangular tournament we see the new World Champions Australia - fresh from their magnificent "never-say-die" performance in England last month - play hosts Sri Lanka and the star-studded Indians.

Says Barney Reid, "The beauty of cricket's World Cup tournament is that no one team has dominated the competition since its inception in 1975. The West Indies under Clive Lloyd won that inaugural competition as well as the second in 1979 - followed by India in 1983, Australia in 1987, Pakistan in 1992, Sri Lanka in 1996 and Australia this year."

The exciting semi-final game between Australia and South Africa in Edgebaston recently was a fine example of the best of one day cricket - where the unexpected often becomes the norm. The underdogs often turn the tables on the bookies' favourites (even if the bookies manage to obtain inside information by bribing unscrupulous players!).

Despite all the brickbats our team has received recently after their World Cup debacle, I am confident that with the fresh direction provided by our new administration, this month's visit by the Australians will witness the emergence of new talent. If the selectors intelligently utilise the resources available, and a sense of discipline returns to the side, we can confidently set our sights on the 8th World Cup to be held in three years time in South Africa.

As a spectacle, admittedly, cricket's World Cup cannot rival events like the Olympics or the Soccer World Cup.

But as a shining example of the unity in diversity that symbolises the Commonwealth and as a feast for cricket's many aficionados, World Cup cricket is a truly grand celebration. And one, certainly, where in due course our favourite team has a fair chance of becoming world champions again.

Public sans publications

What goes on in the Publications Bureau of the Kandy Kachcheri is anybody's guess. The people wishing to buy copies of government publications, if only to know what's what, find the doors shut and nobody to tell them why or when they could hope to be served. Even the security guards vaguely point and say that the office will open soon.

"When?" and they scratch their heads and say, "soon, soon," and suggest that you wait.

The peculiar thing is that the door is locked from the inside. Hopeful customers knock and answer there is none. Two secretaries from a local firm came to purchase copies of Acts of Parliament. They had come several times, they said, and were very puzzled. "But somebody must be inside, no?'

Unless, of course, there's a rear door. Peons say the staff report to work on the dot. Of course they do, but where are they? That, to the people of Kandy, will always remain a mystery!.

The quick and the dead

When the Rotaract Club of Kandy decided to launch a community service project, members looked around the land of the living, naturally. Then, they focused on the Mahiyawa Cemetery which members agreed, was in bad shape.

It was decided to clean up the place. Some areas were quite inaccessible due to rank undergrowth. Weeds were as high as an elephant's eye, and the general air of disuse was quite depressing. Naturally, the Mayor was pleased. Nothing like having enthusiastic young people do the dirty work. Not only did the Municipal Council provide the tools, but the MOH also gave whitewash so that the retaining walls could be given a new look.

This is how over 25 Kandy Rotaractors in association with the Rotary Club and the Interact Clubs of Kandy set about this grave business on June 6. The rain was a spoiler, but they really cleaned up the place although the bad weather did not allow them to spruce up the walls. Even the Mayor was present to jolly them along.

Saheed Malik is 15th President

Mr. Saheed Malik, a young Kandy businessman and general manager of Saheed's Furnishing Company, Kandy, was installed as the 15th President of the Rotaract Club of Kandy following an all-island assembly of Rotaract Clubs held at the Hotel Tourmaline. Saheed succeeds out-going President Mark Stephen.

Victims of the assessor

Kandy's residents have yet another grouse. In this column, on Sunday, July 11, I had to comment on water bills and the city's water supply/non-supply. Now we have yet another wide-spread complaint about the way building assessment rates are being levied - levies that keep being increased and ludicrously so.

A case in point relates to the property of a gentleman who lives at Peradeniya Road. "I have a fairly large house," he says, "it is very old and some renovation has been done. For 1996/97 the Municipality assessment was Rs. 4,940/= and I was asked to make quarterly payments of Rs. 222/30. For 1998/99, the assessment has shot up to Rs. 23,529/= an increase of 476 per cent, and I am asked to pay Rs 352/94 quarterly."

Well, knowing how land values are climbing to the moon in these parts, he is not challenging the increase of 476 per cent. But he is asking, and most bitterly, how his garage merits an assessment increase - hold your breath -1998 per cent!

The garage in question is an open pillared structure. There are no walls, no cement floor, no lights and no water connection. It is quite useless as a structure, but handy to store all that hard-to-get-rid-of junk and an old unroadworthy vehicle. For 1996/97, this tin-pot structure was assessed at Rs. 471/= and the owner asked to pay Rs. 28/24 per quarter. He got the shock of his life to find that the assessment for l998/99 was Rs. 9,412/= and that he was required to pay Rs. 329/42 per quarter.

"This is an increase of almost 2000 per cent," he snaps. "Now my garage quarterly payment is only Rs. 24 less than what I have to pay quarterly for my whole house!''

The Municipality says that it considers no appeals. Quite a monstrous situation because, apparently, the Municipality blindly accepts reports of assessors of the Valuation Department. If a wall-less, floor-less garage - just pillars and roof of galvanised sheets can be treated to such crazy valuation increases, will the Municipality move in on open dog kennels and poultry cages next?

Many residents consider this a victimisation of sorts. "All we seem to be doing is pay and pay. And what do we get in turn? The roads are terrible, the markets are filthy, the pavements are taken over by hawkers, we are forced to swallow all sorts of indignities and find even the public roads closed in our faces. We are paying more and more for the doubtful distinction of calling ourselves residents of Kandy!"

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