Kumar Sangakkara is known to be one of the most erudite cricketers on the circuit today, a far cry from the semi-literate brats who dominate the game. He now also qualifies as one of the bravest, after the exceptional lecture that the Sri Lankan cricketer delivered at Lord’s earlier this week.
His was the 11th edition of the MCC Spirit of Cricket Colin Cowdrey lecture. Previous speakers have included Desmond Tutu and Imran Khan.
The wicket-keeper batsman, currently No. 3 on the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test batsman rankings, used the opportunity to skewer a number of worthy targets. Unless, he said, “we better sustain Test cricket, embrace technology enthusiastically, protect the game’s global governance from narrow self-interest, and more aggressively root out corruption”, cricket would disillusion fans.
Most of all he used the opportunity to pull up Sri Lanka’s crony-run cricket administration.
That is not a malaise that is exclusive to the island. For most nations in the subcontinent, and a few outside, achievements by their national teams are usually not because of, but despite their cricket administrators.
A Pakistan Task Team formed by ICC has just submitted a report on reviving the sport in that country. But the report has already been widely criticized as meaningless. (In any case it was prepared without the team once visiting the country in question.) The Board of Control for Cricket in India may be the biggest benefactor of the sport, but it is by no means a gracious one to anybody but itself. Zimbabwe, South Africa and West Indies all have administrations that no one will waste goodwill on.
What is also worth noting is not what Sangakkara said, but that he said it all. Cricket is a sport in which criticism, when it comes at all, comes gently. Confrontations are rare and almost always in private. But Sangakkara has the safety of talent and performance behind him. Two days after the speech, he scored 75 out of 174 Sri Lankan runs in a One Day International against England.
There are other international players with equal, perhaps greater, security. Sangakkara’s cause is just. They must back him up enthusiastically and, more importantly, publicly.
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