Introducing an Essay on an Ethnic Confrontation at a Cricket Match in 1981

Michael Roberts

This ‘encounter’ took place in 1981 and involved a Burgher Sri Lankan barracker earning the combined ‘resistance’ of an Aussie cricketer and Sinhala bystander (Sinha). As an observer of this set of exchanges, I moved beyond a clarification of the historical understandings embedded in Sinha’s success in ‘defeating’ the aggressive Burgher to address the relationship and differences between ‘typical’ anthropological studies and ‘typical’ historical work.

The essay was published in Comparative Studies in Society and History in 1985. The pdf version has been converted into Word File by my Aloysian schoolmate KK De Silva, a cricketer and soccer goalkeeper in his school-heyday. Because it is a pdf, I have not been able to assemble the Footnotes as “End Notes.”

Abstract of Article

Some recent essays on the relationship between history on the one hand and anthropology and/or sociology on the other concentrate on the differences in the material with which the typical practitioner deals and the types of issues likely to be addressed (Thompson 1972, 1976, 1977; Davis 1981). They have tended to compare the perspectives that anthropologists and historians bring into their work. And both E. P. Thompson and Natalie Z. Davis advocate increasing mutual borrowing from each discipline: they wish the one discipline to deepen its sensitivity and to avoid the usual pitfalls by drawing on the strengths of the other. Thus, by way of illustration, one finds Thompson arguing that historians tend to be more attentive to the paradoxes and ambivalences of actual men, and that they are attuned to the discipline of context because of this attentiveness to heterogeneity, a strength which sociologists—who, he says, tend to overgeneralise and to swallow heterogeneity through the manufacture of neat typologies—would be well advised to draw upon (1976: 387,394).

Ethnicity in Riposte at a Cricket Match_ The Past for the Present


The Aussie squad were on their way to England for a series there. Dennis Lillee and Geoff Thompson chose to opt out of the Sri Lankan leg on this tour. If my memory is on the mark, Sri Lanka chose two different Elevens for the first ODI at Moratuwa and the Second at the SSC grounds. The 3rd Match was at the Tamil Union grounds and the Aussies lost that one too. I have a vivid memory of the interview conducted mid-pitch with captain Kim Hughes by TV commentator Skandakumar: the latter simply eviscerated the attempts by Hughes to paper over the defeat.

Note, too, that these performances were one pillar in the arguments for Sri Lanka to be granted ICC status – an event which occurred two months later in July through Gamini Dissanayake’’s intelligent campaign with aid/guidance from such individuals as Lord Michael Naseby. Let me stress, too, that Joe Solomon and the West Indians  also supported the Sri Lankan claim – because they  had been impressed by the cricketing capacities when they visited the island at the end of the Indian tour in 1981.


ACCESS to the 1985 CSSH version of the article = try

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One response to “Introducing an Essay on an Ethnic Confrontation at a Cricket Match in 1981

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