The Politics in and around Cricket. In Praise of Rangana Aiyya

Rip Van Winkle, in The Sunday Times, 8 October 2017, where the title is “400 wickets”

My dear Rangana Aiyya,
I thought I must write to you to congratulate you, because you have reached the magic number of four hundred test wickets – far more than all other Sri Lankan except for the legendary Murali. This came as a pleasant surprise, as did Sri Lanka snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against Pakistan.

Nowadays, seeing a Sri Lankan team win a cricket match is as rare as holding a provincial council or local government election, so I suppose when it does happen we should all be very happy about this and we are indeed. However, I am a bit sad about it as well and I will try to explain why.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Rangana aiya. That is not your fault. You have been a great servant of Sri Lankan cricket for many years, despite missing out on a lot of action because at the start of your career, you were always playing in Murali’s shadow and rarely got a chance to perform regularly.

You were also modest about your achievements. As the years passed, we saw grey hairs, not a frizzy hairdo with golden streaks. You didn’t consider yourself a ‘superstar’ who, when asked for a comment says ‘wedak balaagena yanawa manussayo yanna’ – or ‘go away and mind your business’.

Unlike some of your colleagues, you didn’t chase the riches doled out by IPL; nor did you go behind politicians to get international tours postponed, so they could play in the IPL, like some ‘legends’ did. Instead, you abandoned playing overseas and returned when your country suddenly needed you.

I cannot remember you being invited to deliver lectures to an audience of international cricketers, but even if you were, I doubt you would have used that opportunity to demean your own country in front of the rest of the cricketing community. What’s more, you don’t speak with a fake ‘posh’ accent!

You did have the good fortune of being appointed captain for a few tests, but that was only because someone else was injured. Even then, despite winning a couple of games under your leadership, you didn’t strut around making profound statements as some of our other skippers have done recently.

For all these reasons, Rangana aiya, I am happy you reached that milestone last week. It was a well-deserved reward for someone who does his work silently without the fanfare or the tantrums that we see from some of your team mates. Still, there is a reason to be sad about it and I will tell you why.

For the last few years cricket in Sri Lanka has been on a downhill trend. What began as the occasional lost game soon became the norm. Winning became the exception to the rule. When questions were asked, the answer always was that the team was in transition after the retirement of the ‘legends’.

We heard of how the number of clubs was increased to get more votes at Sri Lanka Cricket’s elections. It was said that players from some clubs got a free pass to the national team, that team selections were interfered with and that domestic matches were ‘fixed’ to accommodate certain teams.

We saw a procession of coaches take up the job and then leave it. Some resigned in frustration at the meddling in their work; others who didn’t agree were fired. Now, a coach worth his salt would be as enthusiastic about coaching Sri Lanka as much as the Bond Commission would be to reappoint Ravi!

Despite this, no one- except Captain Cool – dared to say what was wrong with our cricket. He didn’t get far despite being a World Cup winning captain because the Sri Lanka Cricket boss seems to have everyone – including Maithri, the Green Man, Rilaasiri and even Mahinda maama – in his pocket.

With the recent defeats at the hands of India, Bangladesh and even Zimbabwe we hoped that, at last someone would act because, for the first time, there was public anger against our cricketers. We hoped that the way Sri Lanka Cricket was being run- and who was running it- will finally change.

Now though, with your match winning performance, there is every chance that the powers that be will say that all’s well, that ends well and carry on regardless. That is why, Rangana aiya, we are still sad, although we are very happy for you and what you have achieved for us. We hope you will understand.
Yours truly,
Punchi Putha

PS: They tell us that they can’t get rid of the bosses of Sri Lanka Cricket because of its Constitution. At a time when the country itself is considering a new Constitution, we feel there is a better chance of that succeeding than replacing Sri Lanka Cricket’s Constitution and getting rid of you-know-who!

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