The Lankan Cricketers’ Response to the Tsunami of 26 December 2004

Kumar Sangakkara, … extract from his 2011 Colin Cowdrey Lecture before the MCC

We had [just played our first ODI in New Zealand and lost badly] and were sitting disappointed in the dressing room when, as usual, Sanath’s phone started beeping. He read the SMS and told us a strange thing had just happened back home where “waves from the sea had flooded some areas”. Initially we weren’t too worried, assuming that it must have been a freak tide. It was only when we were back in the hotel watching the news coverage that we realized the magnitude of the devastation. It was horrifying to watch footage of the waves sweeping through coastal towns and washing away in the blink of an eye the lives of thousands. We could not believe that it happened. We called home to check what is happening. “Is it true?” we asked. “How can the pictures be real?” we thought.

Pics by Charlier Austin

All we wanted to do was to go back home to be our families and stand together with our people. I remember landing at the airport on 31 December, a night when the whole of Colombo is normally light-up for the festivities, a time of music and laughter. But the town was empty and dark, the mood depressed and silent with sorrow.

While we were thinking as to how we could help, Murali was quick to provide the inspiration. Murali is a guy who has been pulled from all sides during his career, but he’s always stood only alongside his team-mates and countrymen. Without any hesitation, he was on the phone to his contacts both local and foreign and in a matter of days along with the World Food Programme he had organised container loads of basic necessities of food, water and clothing to be distributed to the affected areas and people.

Amazingly, refusing to delegate the responsibility of distribution to the concerned authorities, he took it upon himself to accompany the convoys. It was my good fortune to be invited to join him. My wife and I along with Mahela, Ruchira Perera, our physio CJ Clark and many other volunteers drove alongside the aid convoys towards an experience that changed me as a person. We based ourselves in Polonnaruwa, just north of Dambulla, driving daily to visit tsunami-ravaged coastal towns like Trincomalee and Batticaloa, as
well as southern towns like Galle and Hambantota on later visits.

We visited shelter camps run by the Army and the LTTE and even some administered in partnership between them. Two bitter warring factions brought together to help people in a time of need. In each camp we saw the effects of the tragedy written upon the faces of the young and old. Vacant and empty eyes filled with a sorrow and longing for homes and loved ones and livelihoods lost to the terrible waves. Yet for us, their cricketers, they managed a smile. In the Kinniya Camp just south of Trincomalee, the first response of the people who had lost
so much was to ask us if our families were okay. They had heard that Sanath and Upul Chandana’s mothers were injured and they inquired about their health. They did not exaggerate their own plight nor did they wallow in it. Their concern was equal for all those around them.

This was true in all the camps we visited. Through their devastation shone the Sri Lankan spirit of indomitable resilience, of love, compassion, generosity and hospitality and gentleness. This is the same spirit in which we play our cricket. In this, our darkest hour, a country stood together in support and love for each other, united and strong.

I experienced all this and vowed to myself that never would I be tempted to abuse the privilege that these very people had given me. The honour and
responsibility of representing them on the field, playing a game they loved and adored.

The role the cricketers played in their personal capacities for post tsunami relief and re building was worthy of the trust the people of a nation had in them. Murali again stands out.


SEE Asanga Welikala: The political lessons of the smiling assassin: Murali, cricket and Sri Lankan identity —

 Roberts: The Laureus Foundation, Botham & FOG announce a cutting-edge school and sports centre project for Mankulam

About the Seenigama and Mankulam projects by FOG — basic statements —

Michael Roberts: “Murali is not a Tamil,” says a Tamil doctor during a World Cup encounter“murali-is-not-a-tamil”-says-a-tamil-doctor-during-a-world-cup-encounter/



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2 responses to “The Lankan Cricketers’ Response to the Tsunami of 26 December 2004

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