Vision & Mission

Vision: A peaceful and just country in which freedom, human and democratic rights of all people are assured.

Mission:To work in partnership with different target groups to educate, mobilize and advocate to build a society of rights conscious citizens and a political culture that enables a political solution to the ethnic conflict and equal opportunities to all.

Monday, July 18, 2011


The forthcoming local authority elections to be held on July 23 are taking place mainly in towns and urban areas around the country.  However, the main focus of political interest has been on Jaffna in the north of the country where a large number of government ministers and senior politicians of opposition parties are presently campaigning.  The northern elections, while local in scope, are of national importance because of the unresolved grievances of the Tamil people.

The National Peace Council calls for the Tamil people to be provided with the right and opportunity to elect their representatives through a free and fair election. Any conclusions regarding the state of mind of the Tamil people and their attitude to the government can be judged only if a free and fair electon is held.  Otherwise neither the Tamil people themselves nor the International Community will accept any flawed victory as indicating  that the government has won the hearts and minds of the Tamil people.

We are concerned that the election monitoring organization PAFFREL of which the National Peace Council is a partner has stated that "It is being reported that promises are made to people about probable employment and other forms of gratifications if they vote for one party. So far eight cases of election violence have also been reported, namely damage to property, threats to life and indirect actions which would frighten voters by creating a threatening situation. There are also reports of intimidation of candidates."

One of the principles of democracy is to serve the people irrespective of their political affiliations, But if the availability of state resources in the future is  contingent on the government securing victory, then it is not a democracy that prevails but a distortion.  In addition the opposition should have the freedom to carry out their campaign without hindrance.  Otherwise it is not a free or fair election. Unfortunately, reports from other election monitoring organizations as well point to serious deficiencies on both counts.

The folly of interfering with elections depriving them of their free and fair character was shown up in the District Development Council elections in 1981.  These elections in Jaffna were delegitimised in the eyes of the northern people by the use of the security forces to favour the then government.  Any repeat of the same will be meaningless. The National Peace Council believes that only an election that is free and fair will ensure that genuine representatives of the people will be elected and who can help to usher in democracy to the people of the north. That alone will show the way to work out a sustainable political solution to the ethnic conflict.


Last week South Sudan became the world’s 193rd independent country and entitled to a seat at the United Nations.  The break up of Sudan came about 55 years after the country became independent of colonial rule.  During the colonial period, the north of the country was ruled by Egypt and the south by the British.  The fissure between the Arab-majority north and the non-Arab south was one that time did not heal.  Soon after Sudan became independent, power to rule the country became vested in the Arab majority north, where more than 75 percent of the country’s population lived.  An armed separatist movement began in the south, with the slogans of self rule and independence.  South Sudan emerged from long civil war after the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) in Nairobi in January 2005 between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. This eventually led to a referendum in January this year, at which 98.3% of the population of Southern Sudan voted in favour of secession.     

Although most Sri Lankans would have an aversion to separatist wars, the country’s government sent senior minister Prof Tissa Vitarana as its representative to attend the Independence day celebrations in Juba the capital of the new country.  It is significant that Prof Vitarana presided over the longest internal Sri Lankan process aimed at achieving a political consensus regarding a political solution to the country’s ethnic conflict.  He headed the All Parties Representative Committee that had been established by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to obtain a consensual political solution in 2006.  This body met over a hundred times and came up with an elaborate scheme of power sharing and devolution of power that could have satisfied majority and minority ethnic communities.  But with the end of the war in May 2009, this report has been off the national radar and perhaps in one of the President’s cupboards.

Unlike the Sudan government, the Sri Lankan government prevailed militarily over its separatist opponent. This has given it the space and time in which to recover, develop economically, achieve reconciliation and put the past behind it.  It has also given it the illusion that a political solution that is acceptable to the ethnic minorities as much as to the ethnic majority can be avoided.  South Sudan has mass poverty, only 15 percent literacy and its basic infrastructure is in shambles or non-existent.  The country it broke away from, Sudan, is also in poor shape with inflation soaring, as food prices rise, and it will have lost about three fourths of its oil income through the loss of South Sudan.  By way of contrast, Sri Lanka has a relatively high growth rate of 8 percent, has reached the level of a middle income country, and is trying to boost economic growth still further with ambitious infrastructure development projects.  However, the issue of a political solution to the ethnic conflict is no longer being emphasized.


The forthcoming local government elections that will be held in 18 local authorities in the north will provide an indication to the government of its success in winning popular support from the northern Tamil electorate, and one that will negate the need for a political solution.  So far the government has failed to obtain this support.  At both the Presidential and General elections held after the war victory of May 2009, the government was not successful in obtaining the support of the majority of northern Tamil voters.  It failed again at those local authority elections that were held earlier this year in March as well.  At a time when the government has come under international scrutiny due to accusations of violations of international law committed in the north in the course of the war, it will be very useful to the government if it is able to show that there is popular support for it from amongst the people in the north.

The importance of the northern electoral verdict explains why the government is giving so much of importance to the elections there in contrast to the other parts of the country where the balance 47 local authority elections are taking place.  Several powerful government ministers have been campaigning in the north for days, and the President has also campaigned there.  Speaking on the campaign trail, Economics minister Basil Rajapaksa said that the government is spending billions of rupees to develop infrastructure in the north and on clearing land that had been taken over by the military as High Security Zones, but which are now being returned to the people.  According to the government media, President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself distributed a large number of water pumps, spray guns, sewing machines, school uniforms, educational material, squatting pans and agricultural equipment to resettled people as immediate livelihood assistance.

At the same time opposition parties campaigning in the north have complained that the government is utilizing the security forces to intimidate their supporters.  There was a very bad incident at the very beginning of the election campaign when army personnel in uniforms broke up a meeting of TNA parliamentarians and beat up their government-provided security guards.  The JVP has also been complaining that its members have been arrested without legitimate reason by the army and subsequently released due to intervention by the police.  The government needs to be concerned that interfering with elections in such a manner can deprive them of their free and fair character, as occurred most infamously at the District Development Council elections of 1981.  While electoral victory at any cost might seem a pragmatic calculation to those in power, and an endorsement of the policy of centralization rather than devolution, the past experience of the country should warn against it.  


South Sudan is an example of the problem posed by an ethnic minority which will not go away through the centralization of power.  During the period 1972 to 1983, there was a regional autonomy agreement that granted a measure of self-rule to the south.  But this was abrogated by the central government which centralized power.  It was this act of withdrawing regional autonomy that led to the formation of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement army, which was gradually able to wrest military control over the south.   A similar sequence of events can be seen in the case of Eritrea, which separated from Ethiopia in 1993 following long years of war.  There too, the autonomy arrangements were unilaterally revoked by the central government.  The lesson is that the withdrawal of autonomy that is given to regional and ethnic minorities invariably leads to a strengthening of the separatist impulse.

Thus, even if the government does succeed in winning the elections in the north, it would be dangerous and counter productive to assume that this gives it the license to abolish or reduce the autonomy already provided to the provinces through the 13th Amendment and the provincial council system.  In the context of the international pressures that are relentlessly mounting on the government in regard to human rights violations and war crimes, it would be unwise for the government to seek to undermine the 13th Amendment in any way rather than to strengthen the autonomy arrangements within its mandate.  In addition to the long expressed desires of the Tamil people to enjoy greater rights of self-determination in their political lives, it must not be forgotten that the 13th Amendment and provincial council system is an Indian legacy.  Today’s Indian government is led by the widow and son of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who pushed for the implementation of the provincial council system in Sri Lanka.  India is a key ally of Sri Lanka in facing up to any imposition by the international community.

The visit of Prof Tissa Vitarana to South Sudan takes on significance because he was the chief architect of the final report of the All Parties Representative Committee.  When the government searches for a viable political solution to the ethnic conflict that promotes rather than reverses the devolution of power, this is the document that could form its basis.  President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been talking about setting up a Parliamentary Select Committee to work out a political solution, but this idea has been criticized as a likely time buying exercise in futility. It has been pointed out that this could lead to another several years of protracted discussion without consensus.  If the government is truly interested in coming out with a mutually acceptable solution to the ethnic conflict, it could request the Parliamentary Select Committee it convenes to consider the APRC report as its base and give it a short time frame of three or four months in which to come out with its political solution.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What the Modern Woman Wants... By Amanda Chong Wei-Zhen

In 2004, Amanda Chong Wei- Zhen, then a 15-year old Singaporean student of Raffles Girls’ School, took part in the Commonwealth Essay Competition, choosing to compete in the higher age category for 16-18 year old as a personal challenge to compete with writers older than herself. She won the Top Prize in the competition that attracted over 5000 entries from 52 countries!

Amanda Chong
Amanda Chong
Her short story, titled What The Modern Woman Wants, focuses on the generational gaps and the conflicts in values between a modern career woman and her old mother. She got the inspiration for her essay from the book “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan. She used mother-daughter relationship as a platform to explore the themes of identity and what a modern woman wants.
The message she wanted to convey was that we should not forsake our roots for the sake of success and material gains and that what society holds important today are fleeting and ephemeral. Material wealth does not equate to happiness.
Her essay was hailed as a “powerfully moving and ironical critique of modern restlessness and its potentially cruel consequences” by the Chief Examiner Charles Kemp.
This is her essay……..

What The Modern Woman Wants………by Amanda Chong

The old woman sat in the backseat of the magenta convertible as it careened down the highway, clutching tightly to the plastic bag on her lap, afraid it may be kidnapped by the wind. She was not used to such speed, with trembling hands she pulled the seatbelt tighter but was careful not to touch the patent leather seats with her callused fingers, her daughter had warned her not to dirty it, ‘Fingerprints show very clearly on white, Ma.’
Her daughter, Bee Choo, was driving and talking on her sleek silver mobile phone using big words the old woman could barely understand. ‘Finance’ ‘Liquidation’ ‘Assets’ ‘Investments’… Her voice was crisp and important and had an unfamiliar lilt to it. Her BeeChoo sounded like one of those foreign girls on television. She was speaking in an American accent.

The old lady clucked her tongue in disapproval. ‘I absolutely cannot have this. We have to sell!’ Herdaughter exclaimed agitatedly as she stepped on the accelerator; her perfectly manicured fingernails gripping onto the steering wheel in irritation.

‘I can’t DEAL with this anymore!’ she yelled as she clicked the phone shut and hurled it angrily toward the backseat. The mobile phone hit the old woman on the forehead and nestled soundlessly into her lap. She calmly picked it up and handed it to her daughter.

‘Sorry, Ma,’ she said, losing the American pretence and switching to Mandarin. ‘I have a big client in America. There have been a lot of problems.’ The old lady nodded knowingly. Her daughter was big and important.

Bee Choo stared at her mother from the rear view window, wondering what she was thinking. Her mother’s wrinkled countenance always carried the same cryptic look.

The phone began to ring again, an artificially cheerful digital tune, which broke the awkward silence. ‘Hello, Beatrice! Yes, this is Elaine.’ Elaine. The old woman cringed. I didn’t name her Elaine. She remembered her daughter telling her, how an English name was very important for ‘networking’, Chinese ones being easily forgotten.

‘Oh no, I can’t see you for lunch today. I have to take the ancient relic to the temple for her weird daily prayer ritual.’

Ancient Relic. The old woman understood perfectly it was referring to her. Her daughter always assumed that her mother’s silence meant she did not comprehend.

‘Yes, I know! My car seats will be reeking of joss sticks! ‘The old woman pursed her lips tightly, her hands gripping her plastic bag in defence. The car curved smoothly into the temple courtyard. It looked almost garish next to the dull sheen of the ageing temple’s roof. The old woman got out of the back seat, and made her unhurried way to the main hall.

Her daughter stepped out of the car in her business suit and stilettos and reapplied her lipstick as she made her brisk way to her mother’s side.

‘Ma, I’ll wait outside. I have an important phone call to make,’ she said, not bothering to hide her disgust at the pungent fumes of incense.

The old lady hobbled into the temple hall and lit a joss stick. She knelt down solemnly and whispered her now familiar daily prayer to the Gods.

Thank you God of the Sky, you have given my daughter luck all these years. Everything I prayed for, you have given her. She has everything a young woman in this world could possibly want. She has a big house with a swimming pool, a maid to help her, as she is too clumsy to sew or cook.

Her love life has been blessed; she is engaged to a rich and handsome angmoh man. Her company is now the top financial firm and even men listen to what she says. She lives the perfect life. You have given her everything except happiness. I ask that the gods be merciful to her even if she has lost her roots while reaping the harvest of success.

What you see is not true; she is a filial daughter to me. She gives me a room in her big house and provides well for me. She is rude to me only because I affect her happiness. A young woman does not want to be hindered by her old mother. It is my fault.

The old lady prayed so hard that tears welled up in her eyes. Finally, with her head bowed in reverence she planted the half-burnt joss stick into an urn of smouldering ashes.

She bowed once more. The old woman had been praying for her daughter for thirty-two years. When her stomach was round like a melon, she came to the temple and prayed that it was a son.

Then the time was ripe and the baby slipped out of her womb, bawling and adorable with fat thighs and pink cheeks, but unmistakably, a girl. Her husband had kicked and punched her for producing a useless baby who could not work or carry the family name.

Still, the woman returned to the temple with her new-born girl tied to her waist in a sarong and prayed that her daughter would grow up and have everything she ever wanted. Her husband left her and she prayed that her daughter would never have to depend on a man.

She prayed every day that her daughter would be a great woman, the woman that she, meek and uneducated, could never become. A woman with nengkan; the ability to do anything she set her mind to. A woman who commanded respect in the hearts of men. When she opened her mouth to speak, precious pearls would fall out and men would listen.

She will not be like me, the woman prayed as she watched her daughter grow up and drift away from her, speaking a language she scarcely understood. She watched her daughter transform from a quiet girl, to one who openly defied her, calling her laotu;old-fashioned. She wanted her mother to be ‘modern’, a word so new there was no Chinese word for it.

Now her daughter was too clever for her and the old woman wondered why she had prayed like that. The gods had been faithful to her persistent prayer, but the wealth and success that poured forth so richly had buried the girl’s roots and now she stood, faceless, with no identity, bound to the soil of her ancestors by only a string of origami banknotes.

Her daughter had forgotten her mother’s values. Her wants were so ephemeral; that of a modern woman. Power, Wealth, access to the best fashion boutiques, and yet her daughter had not found true happiness. The old woman knew that you could find happiness with much less. When her daughter left the earth everything she had would count for nothing. People would look to her legacy and say that she was a great woman, but she would be forgotten once the wind blows over, like the ashes of burnt paper convertibles and mansions.
The old woman wished she could go back and erase all her big hopes and prayers for her daughter; now she had only one want: That her daughter be happy. She looked out of the temple gate. She saw her daughter speaking on the phone, her brow furrowed with anger and worry. Being at the top is not good, the woman thought, there is only one way to go from there -down.

The old woman carefully unfolded the plastic bag and spread out a packet of beehoon in front of the altar. Her daughter often mocked her for worshipping porcelain Gods. How could she pray to them so faithfully and expect pieces of ceramic to fly to her aid? But her daughter had her own gods too, idols of wealth, success and power that she was enslaved to and worshipped every day of her life.

Every day was a quest for the idols, and the idols she worshipped counted for nothing in eternity. All the wants her daughter had would slowly suck the life out of her and leave her, an empty soulless shell at the altar.

The old lady watched her joss tick. The dull heat had left a teetering grey stem that was on the danger of collapsing. Modern woman nowadays, the old lady sighed in resignation, as she bowed to the east one final time to end her ritual. Modern woman nowadays want so much that they lose their souls and wonder why they cannot find it.

Her joss stick disintegrated into a soft grey powder. She met her daughter outside the temple, the same look of worry and frustration was etched on her daughter’s face. An empty expression, as if she was ploughing through the soil of her wants looking for the one thing that would sow the seeds of happiness.
They climbed into the convertible in silence and her daughter drove along the highway, this time not as fast as she had done before.

“Ma,” Bee Choo finally said, “I don’t know how to put this. Mark and I have been talking about it and we plan to move out of the big house. The property market is good now, and we managed to get a buyer willing to pay seven million for it. We decided we’d prefer a cosier penthouse apartment instead. We found a perfect one in Orchard Road. Once we move in to our apartment we plan to get rid of the maid, so we can have more space to ourselves…”

The old woman nodded knowingly. Bee Choo swallowed hard. “We’d get someone to come into do the housework and we can eat out – but once the maid is gone, there won’t be anyone to look after you. You will be awfully lonely at home and, besides that, the apartment is rather small. There won’t be space. We thought about it for a long time, and we decided the best thing for you is if you moved to a Home. There’s one near Hougang – it’s a Christian home, a very nice one.”

The old woman did not raise an eyebrow. “I’ve been there; the matron is willing to take you in. It’s beautiful with gardens and lots of old people to keep you company! I hardly have time for you, you’d be happier there.”

“You’d be happier there, really.” Her daughter repeated as if to affirm herself. This time the old woman had no plastic bag of food offerings to cling tightly to; she bit her lip and fastened her seat belt, as if it would protect her from a daughter who did not want her anymore. She sunk deep into the leather seat, letting her shoulders sag, and her fingers trace the white seat.

“Ma?” her daughter asked, searching the rear view window for her mother. “Is everything okay?” What had to be done, had to be done. “Yes,” she said firmly, louder than she intended, “if it will make you happy,” she added more quietly.

“It’s for you, Ma! You’ll be happier there. You can move there tomorrow, I already got the maid to pack your things.” Elaine said triumphantly, mentally ticking yet another item off her agenda.

“I knew everything would be fine.”

Elaine smiled widely; she felt liberated. Perhaps getting rid of her mother would make her happier. She had thought about it. It seemed the only hindrance in her pursuit of happiness. She was happy now. She had everything a modern woman ever wanted; Money, Status, Career, Love,Power and now, Freedom, without her mother and her old-fashioned ways to weigh her down…

Yes, she was free. Her phone buzzed urgently, she picked it up and read the message, still beaming from ear to ear. ‘”Stocks 10% increase!”

Yes, things were definitely beginning to look up for her… And while searching for the meaning of life in the luminance of her hand phone screen, the old woman in the backseat became invisible, and she did not see the tears.


Day after day the news that invariably grabs the media headlines is the effort of the Tamil Diaspora to put the Sri Lankan government into more and more difficulty in the international arena on the issue of war crimes.  Scarcely a day passes without an account of a big event in which leading politicians in foreign countries get together with the Tamil Diaspora to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government.  The most recent such event was an Indian television show that pitted Indian intellectuals and human rights activists, mostly based in Tamil Nadu state in debate with the army spokesman General Ubaya Medawala. Others who featured in the debate included retired Indian army officers, and former Indian and British Foreign Ministers, including David Miliband who has written against the Sri Lankan government’s stance on the last phase of the war.

The matter that was debated on Indian television was the Channel 4 video, for which the government has categorically blamed the Tamil Diaspora.  This creates an impression that the Tamil Diaspora in an active and powerful force abroad.   The high degree of prominence given in the local media about the activities of the Tamil Diaspora and the threats posed by it, have created an image of a public enemy that threatens the country.  The more successful that the Tamil Diaspora is in discrediting the government internationally, the more public support that the government is able to mobilize internally, as it presents itself to be unfairly victimized by some sections of the international community.

There is a perverse sense in which both the Tamil Diaspora and the Sri Lankan government reinforce and strengthen each other as enemies.  The Tamil Diaspora leaders who are engaged in anti Sri Lanka activism abroad, continue to find a relevant role in their society that enables them to address the larger society in their countries.  The LTTE no longer exists as a military power to give the hope of achieving an independent state of Tamil Eelam. But the determination of the Tamil Diaspora to bring the charge of war crimes against the Sri Lankan government gives them a continued purpose.  At the same time, the Sri Lankan government is able to use the international threat posed by the Tamil Diaspora to justify its own restrictions on democratic freedoms on the ground of national security considerations.


It is unfortunate that while the government and Tamil Diaspora duel on the issue of war crimes, the plight of the survivors of the war living in the former war zones does not receive equivalent attention by either party.   The energies expended by the Tamil Diaspora on bringing the Sri Lankan government to international justice does not carry over to easing the desperate struggle of the war victims to get on with their lives with even their basic needs satisfied.  The plight of these people can be illustrated by the fact that, at the present time, most of them would not ask for political rights, and only for food, clothing, shelter and education for their children.  This is in accordance with the basic needs theory of Abraham Maslow who argued that basic needs have to be satisfied first, before people ask for higher level needs, including political rights.  Although the government has ensured the resettlement of most of the war victims in their original places of residence, they have not been provided with adequate resources to restart their war destroyed lives.

There are many factors that would appear to have delayed the recovery process of the war affected people.  One is the shortage of resources and the misapplication of the country’s limited resources.  The government is cash strapped due to its priorities and unable to grant long promised salary increases to government sector employees, including university teachers who have been on strike for several weeks. Although this is no excuse for failing to cater to the most needy section of the country’s population, the government has apportioned little or no resources to channel to the war destroyed areas.

At the same time, the government has strictly limited non governmental agencies, both local and international, from going into the war destroyed areas to help the people. This is on account of its mistrust that non governmental initiatives will aim at stirring up trouble among the people and put various anti national ideas into their heads. Any non governmental group, whether NGO or ordinary people, who wish to provide resources directly to the war victims living in the north of the country, cannot do so without obstacles.  Instead they have to go through a complicated and time consuming process of getting governmental permission even to do good works for those who desperately need help.  


At a recent meeting with a section of the Tamil Diaspora in Europe they expressed the sentiment that they really wanted to support the war victims and war destroyed areas of the country with their financial resources and technical expertise.  The main point they wished to stress was that the Tamil Diaspora is not a monolithic one, with one opinion. On the contrary it is a plural society based in different countries and containing within itself a whole range of ideas, just as is the case with the different ethnic communities in Sri Lanka itself.  There are some who want above all to punish the Sri Lankan government leaders for what happened in the war, but there are others who want to help those who have been the victims of the war.

The group I met with was a group that was opposite to the stereotype of an anti Sri Lanka Diaspora. They wished to focus on the future as their contribution to the country of their birth.  They said they were about as large in numbers as those who were extreme in their Tamil nationalism, though not as well organized.  However, they also complained that when they tried to provide assistance to Sri Lanka, they encountered many obstacles put in their path by the government.  They referred to the need to get special approval for any project by the Presidential Task Force for the North, which has been criticized in the past for not having any Tamil members on it.  The government only partially rectified this problem by appointing two Tamil government servants to this regulatory body. 

Today, and especially in the Vanni and eastern districts there is a category of people that is especially weak and marginalized.  They have relatively few of their family or relatives living abroad to supply them with economic resources at regular intervals, as is the case with those living in Jaffna or Colombo.  As most of them have no access to personal resources, they are in need of official or organizational assistance.  At the present time, the official assistance they are receiving is very meager.  The war victims need much more if they are to rebuild their lives.  But two years after the end of the war, they continue to be left in the lurch.

The Tamil Diaspora would be one important source of economic and human resources for the empowerment of the war victims.  They have the resources and the motivation. But for them to be mobilized into action on a large scale, as opposed to a small scale, the enmity between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Diaspora needs to end, which is something still in the indeterminate future.  On the other hand, even small scale support by the Tamil Diaspora will be better than nothing for the war victims and needs to be explored by the liberal minded elements on both parties.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Kumar Sangakkara's speech in full

Mr President, my Lords, Ladies and gentlemen.
Firstly I wish to sincerely thank the MCC for giving me the opportunity and great honour of
delivering the 2011 Cowdrey Lecture.

I was in India after the World Cup when my manager called to pass on the message that CMJ was trying to get in touch with me to see whether I would like to deliver this year’s lecture. I was initially hesitant given the fact we would be in the midst of the current ODI series, but after some reflection I realised that it was an invitation I should not turn down. To be the first Sri Lankan to be invited was not only a great honour for me, but also for my fellow countrymen.
Then I had to choose my topic. I suspect many of you might have anticipated that I pick one of the many topics being energetically debated today – the role of technology, the governance of the game, the future of Test cricket, and the curse of corruption, especially spot-fixing. All of the above are important and no doubt Colin Cowdrey, a cricketing legend with a deep affection for the game, would have strong opinions about them all.
For the record, I do too: I strongly believe that we have reached a critical juncture in the game’s history and that unless we better sustain Test cricket, embrace technology enthusiastically, protect the game’s global governance from narrow self-interest, and more aggressively root out corruption then cricket will face an uncertain future. But, while these would all be interesting topics, deep down inside me I wanted to share with you a story, the story of Sri Lanka’s cricket, a journey that I am sure Colin would have enjoyed greatly because I don’t believe any cricket-playing nation in the world today better highlights the potential of cricket to be more than just a game. This lecture is all about the Spirit of the Game and in this regard the story of cricket in Sri Lanka is fascinating. Cricket in Sri Lanka is no longer just a sport: it is a shared passion that is a source of fun and a force for unity. It is a treasured sport that occupies a celebrated place in our society. It is remarkable that in a very short period an alien game has become our national obsession, played and followed with almost fanatical passion and love. A game that brings the nation to a standstill; a sport so powerful it is capable of transcending war and politics. I therefore decided that tonight I would like to talk about the Spirit of Sri Lanka’s cricket.

The History of Sri Lanka

Ladies and Gentleman, the history of my country extends over 2500 years. A beautiful island situated in an advantageously strategic position in the Indian Ocean has long attracted the attentions of the world at times to both our disadvantage and at times to our advantage. Sri Lanka is land rich in natural beauty and resources augmented by a wonderfully resilient and vibrant and hospitable people whose attitude to life has been shaped by volatile politics both internal and from without. In our history you will find periods of glorious peace and prosperity and times of great strife, war and violence. Sri Lankans have been hardened by experience and have shown themselves to be a resilient and proud society celebrating at all times our zest for life and living. Sri Lankans are a close knit community. The strength of the family unit reflects the spirit of our communities. We are an inquisitive and fun-loving people, smiling defiantly in the face of hardship and raucously celebrating times of prosperity. Living not for tomorrow, but for today and savouring every breath of our daily existence. We are fiercely proud of our heritage and culture; the ordinary Sri Lankan standing tall and secure in that knowledge.Over four hundred years of colonization by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British has
failed to crush or temper our indomitable spirit. And yet in this context the influence upon our recent history and society by the introduced sport of cricket is surprising and noteworthy. Sri Lankans for centuries have fiercely resisted the Westernisation of our society, at times summarily dismissing western tradition and  influence as evil and detrimental. Yet cricket, somehow, managed to slip through the crack in our  anti-Western defences and has now become the most precious heirloom of our British Colonial inheritance.
Maybe it is a result of our simple sense of hospitality where a guest is treated to all that we
have and at times even to what we don’t have. If you a visit a rural Sri Lankan home and you are served a cup of tea you will find it to be intolerably sweet. I have at times experienced this and upon further inquiry have found that it is because the hosts believe that the guest is entitled to more of everything including the sugar. In homes where sugar is an ill-affordable luxury a guest will still have sugary tea while the hosts go without.
Sri Lanka’s Cricketing Roots Fittingly, as it happens, Colin Cowdrey and Sri Lanka’s love for cricket had similar origins: Tea. Colin’s father, Ernest, was a tea planter in India. While he was schooled in England, he
played on his father’s plantation where I am told he used to practice with Indian boys several years his elder. Cricket was introduced to Ceylon by men like Ernest, English tea planters, during the Colonial period of occupation that covered a span of about 150 years from 1796. Credit for the game’s establishment in Sri Lanka, though, also has to be given to the Anglican missionaries to whom the colonial government left the function of establishing the educational institutions. By the latter half of the 19th  century there grew a large group of Sri Lankan families who accumulated wealth by making use of the commercial opportunities thrown open by the colonial government.
However  a majority of these families could  not gain any high  social  recognition due  to the prevalence of a  rigid hierarchal caste system  which  labelled  them  until death to  the  caste they  were born  into.  A possible way out to escape the caste stigma was to pledge their allegiance to the British crown and help the central seat of government. The  missionaries, assessing the  situation wisely, opened superior fee levying English schools especially in Colombo for  the affluent  children  of  all  races,  castes  and  religions. By the dawn of the 20th  Century the introduction of  cricket to this educational system was automatic as  the game had  already  ingrained  into the  English  life;  as  Neville  Cardus says  “without  cricket there  can  be  no  summer in that land.”
Cricket was an expensive game needing   playgrounds, equipment and coaches. The British missionaries provided all such facilities to these few schools. Cricket became an instant success in this English school system. Most Sri Lankans considered cricket beyond their reach because it was confined to the privileged schools meant for the affluent. The  missionaries in  due  course  arranged  inter  colligate  matches  backed  by  newspaper publicity to become a popular weekend social event to attend. The newspapers  carried  all  the  details  about  the  cricket  matches  played in  the  country and  outside. As a result school boy cricketers became household names. The  newspapers also  gave  prominent  coverage  to  English  county  cricket  and  it  had  been often  said that  the  Ceylonese knew  more of  county  cricket  than  the  English  themselves. Cricket  clubs  were formed  around  the  dawn of  the  20th century, designed  to  cater for the  school  leavers  of  affluent  colleges.  The clubs bore   communal names like the Sinhalese Sports  Club (SSC),  Tamil  Union,  Burgher  Recreation  and  the  Moors  Club, but  if  they  were considered  together they  were all uniformly cultured  with  Anglicized values.
Inter-club matches were played purely for enjoyment as a sport.  Club cricket also opened opportunities for the locals to mix socially with the British. So when  Britain  granted independence  to  Ceylon  in  1948  it is  no  wonder cricket was  a  passion  of  the  elitist class. Although in the immediate post- independent  period  the  Anglicized  elite class  was  a small minority,  they  were  pro-western  in  their  political   ideology  and  remained a powerful  political  lobby. In the general  elections  immediately  after  independence,  pro-elite  governments  were elected  and  the  three  Prime Ministers  who  headed  the  governments  had  played First XI cricket  for  premier  affluent  colleges  and  had  been the members  of SSC. The period between 1960 and 1981 was one of slow progress in the game’s popularity as the power transferred from the Anglicized elite to rising Socialist and Nationalist groups. Nevertheless, Sri  Lanka  was  made  an  associate member  of  the  ICC in  1965, gaining the opportunity to  play  unofficial test matches  with  players  like  Michael   Tissera  and  Anura Tennakoon impressing  as genuine world-class batsmen. In 1981, thanks to the efforts of the late Honourable Gamini Dissanyake, the ICC granted Sri Lanka official Test status. It was obviously a pivotal time in our cricketing history. This was the start of a transformation of cricket from an elite sport to a game for the masses.

Race Riots and Bloody Conflict

I do not remember this momentous occasion as a child.  Maybe because I was only five years old, but also because it wasn't a topic that dominated conversation: the early 1980’s was dominated by the escalation of militancy in the north into a full scale civil war that was to mar the next 30 years. The terrible race riots of 1983 and a bloody communist insurgency amongst the youth was to darken my memories of my childhood and the lives of all Sri Lankans. I recollect now the race riots of 1983 now with horror, but for the simple imagination of a child not yet six it was a time of extended play and fun. I do not say this lightly as about 35 of our closest friends, all Tamils, took shelter in our home. They needed sanctuary from vicious politically-motivated goon squads and my father, like many other brave Sri Lankans from different ethnic backgrounds, opened his houses at great personal risk.
For me, though, it was a time where I had all my friends to play with all day long. The schools were closed and we’d play sport for hour after hour in the backyard – cricket, football, rounders…it was a child’s dream come true. I remember getting annoyed when a game would be rudely interrupted by my parents and we’d all be ushered inside, hidden upstairs with our friends and ordered to be silent as the goon squads started searching homes in our neighbourhood.
I did not realise the terrible consequences of my friends being discovered and my father reminded me the other day of how one day during that period I turned to him and in all innocence said: “Is this going to happen every year as it is so much fun having all my friends live with us.” The JVP-led Communist insurgency rising out of our universities was equally horrific in the late 1980s. Shops, schools and universities were closed. People rarely stepped out of their homes in the evenings. The sight of charred bodies on the roadsides and floating corpses in the river was terrifyingly commonplace. People who defied the JVP faced dire consequences. They even urged students of all schools to walk out and march in support of their aims.

I was fortunate to be at Trinity College, one of the few schools that defied their dictates. Yet I was living just below Dharmaraja College where the students who walked out of its gates were met with tear gas and I would see students running down the hill to wash their eyes out with water from our garden tap. My first cricket coach, Mr D.H. De Silva, a wonderful human being who coached tennis and cricket to students free of charge, was shot on the tennis coat by insurgents. Despite being hit in the abdomen twice, he miraculously survived when the gun held to his head jammed. Like many during and after that period, he fled overseas and started a new life in Australia.
As the decade progressed, the fighting in the north and east had heightened to a full scale war. The Sri Lankan government was fighting the terrorist LTTE in a war that would drag our country's development back by decades. This war affected the whole of our land in different ways. Families, usually from the lower economic classes, sacrificed their young men and women by the thousands in the service of Sri Lanka's military. Even Colombo, a capital city that seemed far removed from the war’s frontline, was under siege by the terrorists using powerful vehicle and suicide bombs. Bombs in public places targeting both civilians and political targets became an accepted risk of daily life in Sri Lanka. Parents travelling to work by bus would split up and travel
separately so that if one of them died the other will return to tend to the family. Each and every Sri Lankan was touched by the brutality of that conflict. People were disillusioned with politics and power and war. They were fearful of an uncertain future. The cycle of violence seemed unending. Sri Lanka became famous for its war and conflict.

It was a bleak time where we as a nation looked for inspiration – a miracle that would lift the pallid gloom and show us what we as a country were capable of if united as one, a beacon of hope to illuminate the potential of our peoples. That inspiration was to come in 1996. An Identity Crisis The pre-1995 era was a period during which Sri Lanka produced many fine cricketers but struggled to break free of the old colonial influences that had indoctrinated the way the game was played in Sri Lanka. Even after gaining Test Status in 1981, Sri Lanka’s cricket suffered from an identity crisis and there was far too little “Sri Lankan” in the way we played our cricket. Although there were exceptions, one being the much-talked about Sathasivam, who was a flamboyant and colourful cricketer, both on and off the field. He was cricketer in whose hand they say the bat was like a magic wand. Another unique batsman was Duleep Mendis, now our chief selector, who batted with swashbuckling bravado. Generally, though, we played cricket by the book, copying the orthodox and conservative
styles of the traditional cricketing powerhouses. There was none of the live-for-the moment and happy-go-lucky attitudes that underpin our own identity. We had a competitive team, with able players, but we were timid, soft and did not yet fully believe in our own worth as individual players or as a team. I guess we were in many ways like the early West Indian teams: Calypso cricketers, who played the game as entertainers and lost more often than not albeit gracefully. What we needed at the time was a leader. A cricketer from the masses who had the character, the ability and above all the courage and gall to change a system, to stand in the face of unfavorable culture and tradition, unafraid to put himself on the line for the achievement of
a greater cause.
This much-awaited messiah arrived in the form of an immensely talented and slightly rotund Arjuna Ranatunga. He was to change the entire history of our cricketing heritage converting the game that we loved in to a shared fanatical passion that over 20 million people embraced as their own personal dream. Arjuna’s Leadership
The leadership of Arjuna during this period was critical to our emergence as a global force. It was Arjuna who understood most clearly why we needed to break free from the shackles of our colonial past and forge a new identity, an identity forged exclusively from Sri Lankan values, an identity that fed from the passion, vibrancy and emotion of normal Sri Lankans. Arjuna was a man hell-bent on making his own mark on the game in Sri Lanka, determined to break from foreign tradition and forge a new national brand of cricket. Coming from Ananda College to the SSC proved to be a culture shock for him. SSC was dominated by students from St. Thomas' and Royal College, the two most elite schools in Colombo.  The club’s committee, membership and even the composition of the team was dominated by these elite schools. Arjuna himself has spoken about how alien the culture felt and how difficult it was for him to adjust to try and fit in. As a 15-year-old school kid practising in the nets at the club, a senior stalwart of the club inquired about him. When told he was from the unfashionable Ananda College, he dismissed his obvious talents immediately: “We don’t want any “Sarong Johnnie’s” in this club.”
As it turned out, Arjuna not only went to captain SSC for many years, he went onto break the stranglehold the elite schools had on the game. His goal was to impart in the team self-belief, to give us a backbone and a sense of self-worth that would inspire the team to look the opposition in the eye and stand equal, to compete without self-doubt or fear, to defy unhealthy traditions and to embrace our own Sri Lankan identity. He led fearlessly with unquestioned authority, but in a calm and collected manner that earned him the tag Captain Cool.
The first and most important foundation for our charge towards 1996 was laid. In this slightly over-weight and unfit southpaw, Sri Lanka had a brilliant general who for the first time looked to all available corners of our country to pick and choose his troops. The Search for Unique Players Arjuna better than anyone at the time realised that we needed an edge and in that regard he searched for players whose talents were so unique that when refined they would mystify and destroy the opposition. In cricket, timing is everything. This proved to be true for the Sri Lankan team as well. We as a nation must be ever so thankful to the parents of Sanath Jayasuriya and Muthhih Muralidaran for having sired these two legends to serve our cricket at its time of greatest need.
From Matara came Sanath, a man from a humble background with an immense talent that was raw and without direction or refinement. A talent under the guidance of Arjuna that was harnessed to become one of the most destructive batting forces the game has ever known. It was talent never seen before and now with his retirement never to be seen again. Murali came from the hills of Kandy from a more affluent background. Starting off as a fast bowler and later changing to spin, he was blessed with a natural deformity in his bowling arm allowing him to impart so much spin on the ball that it spun at unthinkable angles. He brought wrist spin to off spin. Arjuna's team was now in place and it was an impressive pool of talent, but they were not yet a team. Although winning the 1996 World Cup was a long-term goal, they needed to find a rallying point, a uniting factor that gave them a sense of "team", a cause to fight for, an event that not will not only bind the team together giving them a common focus but also rally the entire support of a nation for the team and its journey.
This came on Boxing Day at the MCG in 1995. Few realised it at the time, but the no balling of Murali for alleged chucking had far-reaching consequences. The issue raised the ire of the entire Sri Lankan nation. Murali was no longer alone. His pain, embarrassment and anger were shared by all. No matter what critics say, the manner in which Arjuna and team stood behind Murali made an entire nation proud. In that moment Sri Lanka adopted the cricketers simply as “our boys” or “Ape Kollo”.
Gone was the earlier detachment of the Sri Lankan cricket fan and its place was a new found love for those 15 men. They became our sons, our brothers. Sri Lankans stood with them and shared their trials and tribulations. The decision to no ball Murali in Melbourne was, for all Sri Lankans, an insult that would not be allowed to pass unavenged.  It was the catalyst that spurred the Sri Lankan team on to do the unthinkable, become World Champions just 14 years after obtaining full ICC status. It is also important to mention that prior to 1981 more than 80% of the national players came from elite English schools, but by 1996 the same schools did not contribute a single player to the1996 World Cup squad.

The Unifying Impact of the 1996 World Cup

The impact of that World Cup victory was enormous, both broadening the game’s grassroots as well as connecting all Sri Lankans with one shared passion. For the first time, children from outstations and government schools were allowed to make cricket their own. Cricket was opened up to the masses this  unlocked the door for untapped talent to not only gain exposure but have a realistic chance of playing the game at the highest level. These new grassroots cricketers brought with them the attributes of normal Sri Lankans, playing the game with a passion, joy and intensity that had hitherto been missing. They had watched Sanath, Kalu, Murali and Aravinda play a brand of cricket that not only changed the concept of one day  cricket but was also instantly identifiable as being truly Sri Lankan. We were no longer timid or soft or minnows. We had played and beaten the best in the world. We had done that without pretence or shame in a manner that highlighted and celebrated our national values, our collective cultures and habits. It was a brand of cricket we were proud to call our own, a style with local spirit and flair embodying all that was good in our heritage. The World Cup win gave us a new strength to understand our place in our society as cricketers. In the World Cup a country found a new beginning; a new inspiration upon which to build their dreams of a better future for Sri Lanka. Here were 15 individuals from different backgrounds, races, and religions, each fiercely proud of his own individuality and yet they united not just a team but a family. Fighting for a common national cause representing the entirety of our society, providing a shining example to every Sri Lankan  showing them with obvious clarity what it was to be truly Sri Lankan.

The 1996 World Cup gave all Sri Lankans a commonality, one point of collective joy and ambition that gave a divided society true national identity and was to be the panacea that healed all social evils and would stand the country in good stead through terrible natural disasters and a tragic civil war. The 1996 World Cup win inspired people to look at their country differently. The sport overwhelmed terrorism and political strife; it provided something that everyone held dear to their hearts and helped normal people get through their lives. The team also became a microcosm of how Sri Lankan society should be with players from different  backgrounds, ethnicities and religions sharing their common joy, their passion and  love for each other and their motherland. Regardless of war, here we were playing together. The Sri Lanka team became a harmonising factor.

The Economic Impact of being World Champions

After the historic win the entire game of cricket in Sri Lanka was revolutionized. Television money started to pour into the cricket board’s coffers. Large national and multinational corporations fought for sponsorship rights. Cricketers started to earn real money both in the form of national contracts and endorsement deals. For the first time cricketers were on billboards and television advertising products, advertising anything from sausages to cellular networks. Cricket became a viable profession and cricketers were both icons and role models. Personally, the win was very important for me. Until that time I was playing cricket with no real passion or ambition. I never thought or dreamed of playing for my country. This changed when I watched Sri Lanka play Kenya at Asgiriya. It was my final year in school and the first seed of my vision to play for my country was planted in my brain and heart when I witnessed Sanath, Gurasinghe and Aravinda produce a devastating display of batting. That seed of ambition spurted into life when, a couple of weeks later I watched on television that glorious final in Lahore. Everyone in Sri Lanka remembers where they were during that final. The cheering of a nation was a sound no bomb or exploding shell could drown. Cricket became an integral and all-important aspect of our national psyche. Our cricket embodied everything in our lives, our laughter and tears, our hospitality our generosity, our music our food and drink. It was normality and hope and  inspiration in a warravaged island. In it was our culture and heritage, enriched by our myriad ethnicities and religions. In it we were untouched, at least for a while, by petty politics and division. It is indeed a pity that life is not cricket. If it were we would not have seen the festering wounds of an ignorant war.

Bigger roles for the cricketers

The emergence of cricket and the new role of cricket within Sri Lankan society also meant that cricketers had bigger responsibilities than merely playing on the field. We needed to live positive lifestyles off the field and we need to also give back. The same people that applaud us every game need us to contribute back positively to their lives. We needed to inspire not just on the field but also off it. The Tsunami was one such event. The death and destruction left in its wake was a blow our country could not afford. We were in New Zealand playing our first ODI. We had played 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. 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. His Seenigama project with his manager Kushil Gunasekera, which I know the MCC has supported, which included the rebuilding of over 1000 homes, was amazing.

The Lahore Attack

I was fortunate that during my life I never experienced violence in Sri Lanka first hand. They have been so many bomb explosions over the years but I was never in the wrong place at the wrong time. In Colombo, apart from these occasional bombs, life was relatively normal. People had the luxury of being physically detached from the war. Children went to school, people went to work, I played my cricket. In other parts of the country, though, people were putting their lives in harm’s way every day either in the defence of their motherland or just trying to survive the geographical circumstances that made them inhabit a war zone. For them, avoiding bullets, shells, mines and grenades, was imperative for survival. This was an experience that I could not relate to.  I had great sympathy and compassion for them, but had no real experience with which I could draw parallels.
That was until we toured Pakistan in 2009. We set-off to play two Tests in Karachi and Lahore. The first Test played on a featherbed, past without great incident. The second Test was also meandering along with us piling up a big first innings when we departed for the ground on day three. Having been asked to leave early instead of waiting for the Pakistan bus, we were anticipating a day of hard toil for the bowlers. At the back of the bus the fast bowlers were loud in their complaints. I remember Thilan, Thushara being particularly vocal, complaining that his back was near breaking point. He joked that he wished a bomb would go off so we could all leave Lahore and go back home. Not thirty seconds had passed when we heard what sounded like fire crackers going off. Suddenly a shout came from the front: “Get down they are shooting at the bus.” The reaction was immediate. Everyone dived for cover and took shelter on the aisle or behind the seats. With very little space, we were all lying on top of each other. Then the bullets started to hit. It was like rain on a tin roof. The bus was at a standstill, an easy target for the gunmen. As bullets started bursting through the bus all we could do was stay still and quiet, hoping and praying to avoid death or injury. Suddenly Mahela, who sits at the back of the bus, shouts saying he thinks he has been hit in the shin. I am lying next to Tilan. He groans in pain as a bullet hits him in the back of his thigh.
As I turn my head to look at him I feel something whizz past my ear and a bullet thuds into the side of the seat, the exact spot where my head had been a few seconds earlier. I feel something hit my shoulder and it goes numb. I know I had been hit, but I was just relieved and praying I was not going to be hit in the head. Tharanga Paranvithana, on his debut tour, is also next to me. He stands up, bullets flying all around him, shouting “I have been hit” as he holds his blood-soaked chest. He collapsed onto his seat, apparently unconscious. I see him and I think: “Oh my God, you were out first ball, run out the next innings and now you have been shot. What a terrible first tour.” It is strange how clear your thinking is. I did not see my life flash by. There was no insane panic. There was absolute clarity and awareness of what was happening at that moment. I hear the bus roar in to life and start to move. Dilshan is screaming at the driver: “Drive…Drive”. We speed up, swerve and are finally inside the safety of the stadium. There is a rush to get off the bus. Tharanga Paranawithana stands up. He is still bleeding and has a bullet lodged lightly in his sternum, the body of the bus tempering its velocity enough to be stopped by the bone. Tilan is helped off the bus. In the dressing room there is a mixture of emotions: anger, relief, joy. Players and coaching staff are being examined by paramedics. Tilan and Paranavithana are taken by ambulance to the hospital. We all sit in the dressing room and talk. Talk about what happened. Within minutes there is laughter and the jokes have started to flow. We have for the first time been a target of violence. We had survived.

We all realized that what some of our fellow Sri Lankans experienced every day for nearly 30 years. There was a new respect and awe for their courage and selflessness. It is notable how quickly we got over that  attack on us. Although we were physically injured, mentally we held strong. A few hours after the attack we were airlifted to the Lahore Air Force Base. Ajantha Mendis, his head swathed in bandages after multiple shrapnel wounds, suggests a game of Poker. Tilan has been brought back, sedated but fully conscious, to be with us and we make jokes at him and he smiles back. We were shot at, grenades were thrown at us, we were injured and yet we were not cowed.We were not down and out. “We are Sri Lankan,” we thought to ourselves, “and we are tough and we will get through hardship and we will overcome because our spirit is strong.”
This is what the world saw in our interviews immediately after the attack: we were calm, collected, and rational. Our emotions held true to our role as unofficial ambassadors.A week after our arrival in Colombo from Pakistan I was driving about town and was stopped at a checkpoint.  A soldier politely inquired as to my health after the attack. I said I was fine and added that what they as soldiers experience every day we only experienced for a few minutes, but managed to grab all the news headlines. That soldier looked me in the eye and replied: “It is OK if I die because it is my job and I am ready for it. But you are a hero and if you were to die it would be a great loss for our country.” I was taken aback. How can this man value his life less than mine? His sincerity was overwhelming. I felt humbled. This is the passion that cricket and cricketers evoke in Sri Lankans. This is the love that I strive every-day of my career to be worthy of.

Post 1996 Power Politics

Coming back to our cricket, the World Cup also brought less welcome changes with the start of detrimental cricket board politics and the transformation our cricket administration from a volunteer-led organisation run by well-meaning men of integrity into a multi-million dollar organisation that has been in turmoil ever since.
In Sri Lanka, cricket and politics have been synonymous. The efforts of Hon. Gamini Dissanayake were instrumental in getting Sri Lanka Test Status. He also was instrumental in building the Asgiriya international cricket stadium. In the infancy of our cricket it was impossible to sustain the game without state patronage
and funding. When Australia and West Indies refused to come to our country for the World Cup it was
through government channels that the combined World Friendship XI came and played in Colombo to show the world that it was safe to play cricket here. The importance of cricket to our society meant that at all times it enjoys benevolent state patronage.
For Sri Lanka to be able to select a national team it must have membership of the Sports Ministry. No team can be fielded without the final approval of the Sports Minister. It is indeed a unique system where the board-appointed selectors can at any time be overruled and asked to reselect a side already chosen. The Sports Minister can also exercise his unique powers to dissolve the cricket board if investigations reveal corruption or financial irregularity. With the victory in 1996 came money and power to the board and players. Players from within the team itself became involved in power games within the board. Officials elected to power in this way in turn manipulated player loyalty to achieve their own ends. At times board politics would spill over in to the team causing rift, ill feeling and distrust.
Accountability and transparency in administration and credibility of conduct were lost in a mad power struggle that would leave Sri Lankan cricket with no consistent and clear administration. Presidents and elected executive committees would come and go; government-picked interim committees would be appointed and dissolved. After 1996 the cricket board has been controlled and administered by a handful of wellmeaning individuals either personally or by proxy rotated in and out depending on appointment or election. Unfortunately to consolidate and perpetuate their power they opened the door of the administration to partisan cronies that would lead to corruption and wonton waste of cricket board finances and resources. It was and still is confusing.  Accusations of vote buying and rigging, player interference due to lobbying from each side and even violence at the AGMs, including the brandishing of weapons and ugly fist fights, have characterised cricket board elections for as long as I can remember.
The team lost the buffer between itself and the cricket administration. Players had become used to  approaching members in power directly trading favours for mutual benefits and by 1999 all these changes in administration and player attitudes had transformed what was a close knit unit in 1996 into a collection of individuals with no shared vision or sense of team. The World Cup that followed in England in 1999 was a debacle: a first round exit. Fortunately, though, the disastrous performance of the team proved to be a catalyst for further change within the dynamics of the Sri Lanka Cricket Team. A new mix of players and a nice blend of youth and experience provided the context in which the old hierarchical structures within the team were dismantled in the decade that followed under the more consensual and inclusive leadership of Sanath, Marvan and Mahela. In the new team culture forged since 1999, individuals are accepted. The only thing that matters is commitment and discipline to the team. Individuality and internal debate are welcome. Respect is not demanded but earned. There was a new commitment towards keeping the team from board turmoil. It has been difficult to fully exclude it from our team dynamics because there are constant efforts to drag us back and in times of weakness and doubt players have crossed the line. Still we have managed to protect and motivate our collective efforts towards one goal: winning on the field. We have to aspire to better administration. The administration needs to adopt the same values enshrined by the team over the years: integrity, transparency, commitment and discipline. Unless the administration is capable of becoming more professional, forward-thinking and transparent then we risk alienating the common man. Indeed, this is already happening. Loyal fans are becoming increasingly disillusioned. This is very dangerous because it is not the administrators or players that sustain the game– it is the cricket-loving public. It is their passion that powers cricket and if they turn their backs on cricket then the whole system will come crashing down. The solution to this may be the ICC taking a stand to suspend member boards with any direct detrimental political interference and allegations of corruption and mismanagement. This will negate the ability to field  representative teams or receive funding and other accompanying benefits from the ICC. But as a Sri Lankan I hope we have the strength to find the answers ourselves.

A Team Powered by Talent

While the team structure and culture itself was slowly evolving, our on-field success was primarily driven by the sheer talent and spirit of the uniquely talented players unearthed in  recent times, players like Murali, Sanath, Aravinda, Mahela and Lasith. Although our school cricket structure is extremely strong, our club structure remains archaic. With players diluted among 20 clubs it does not enable the national coaching staff to easily identify and funnel talented players through for further development. The lack of competitiveness of the club tournament does not lend itself to producing hardened first class professionals. Various attempts to change this structure to condense and improve have been resisted by the administration and the clubs concerned, the main reason for this being that any elected cricket board that offended these clubs runs the risk of losing their votes come election time. At the same time, the instability of our administration is a huge stumbling block to the rapid face-change that we need. Indeed, it is amazing that that despite this system we are able to produce so many world-class cricketers. However, the irony to this is that perhaps our biggest weakness has been our greatest strength. It is partly because of the lack of structure we are fortunate that the guys likes Lasith / Sanath / Murali and Mendis have escaped formalised textbook coaching. Had they been
exposed to orthodox coaching then there is a very good chance that their skills would have been blunted. In all probability they would have been coached into ineffectiveness.

The Challenge Ahead for Sri Lanka

Nevertheless, despite abundant natural talent, we need to change our cricketing structure, we need to be more Sri Lankan rather than selfish, we need to condense our cricketing structure and ensure the that the best players are playing against each other at all times. We need to do this with an open mind, allowing both innovative thinking and free expression. In some respects we are doing that already, especially our coaching department anyway, which actively searches out for unorthodox talent. We have recognised and learnt that our cricket is stronger when it is free-spirited and we therefore encourage players to express themselves and be open to innovation.
There was a recent case where the national coaches were tipped off by a district coach running a bowling camp in the outstations. He’d discovered a volleyball player who ran to the crease slowly but then delivered the ball while in mid-air with a smash-like leap. His leap would land him quite a way down the pitch in the follow through. The district coach videorecorded his bowling for half an hour. National coaches in Colombo having watched the footage invited him out of curiosity a week later to come for formal training. The telephone
call found him in a hospital bed tending a strained back as he had never bowled for such a long period as 30 minutes before in his life. Another letter postmarked from a remote village in Sri Lanka had the writer claiming to be the fastest undiscovered bowler in Sri Lanka. A district coach investigating this claim found the writer to be a teenage Buddhist priest who insisted upon giving a demonstration of bowling while still dressed in his Saffron-coloured robes. Cricket in Sri Lanka tempts even the most chaste and holy. On that occasion the interest in unique talent did not yield results. But the coaching staff will persevere in their search to unearth the next mystery bowler or cricketer who will take our cricket further forward. Cricket’s Heightened Importance in Sri Lanka’s New Era If we are able to seize the moment then the future of Sri Lanka’s cricket remains very bright.
I pray we do because cricket has such an important role to play in our island’s future. Cricket played a crucial role during the dark days of Sri Lanka’s civil war, a period of enormous suffering for all communities, but the conduct and performance of the team will have even greater importance as we enter a crucial period of reconciliation and recovery, an exciting period where all Sri Lankans aspire to peace and unity. It is also an exciting period for cricket where the re-integration of isolated communities in the north and east opens up
new talent pools. The spirit of cricket can and should remain and guiding force for good within society,
providing entertain and fun, but also a shining example to all of how we all should approach our lives. The war is now over. Sri Lanka looks towards a new future of peace and prosperity. I am eternally grateful for this. It means that my children will grow up without war and violence being a daily part of our lives. They will learn of its horrors not first-hand but perhaps in history class or through conversations for it is important that they understand and appreciate the great and terrible price our country and our people paid for the freedom and security they now enjoy.
In our cricket we display a unique spirit, a spirit enriched by lessons learned from a history spanning over two-and-a-half millennia. In our cricket you see the character of our people, our history, culture and tradition, our laughter, our joy, our tears and regrets. It is rich in emotion and talent. My responsibility as a Sri Lankan cricketer is to further enrich this beautiful sport, to add to it and enhance it and to leave a richer legacy for other cricketers to follow.
I will do that keeping paramount in my mind my Sri Lankan identity: play the game hard and fair and be a voice with which Sri Lanka can speak proudly and positively to the world. My loyalty will be to the ordinary Sri Lankan fan, their 20 million hearts beating collectively as one to our island rhythm and filled with an undying and ever-loyal love for this our game. Fans of different races, castes, ethnicities and religions who together celebrate their diversity by uniting for a common national cause. They are my foundation, they are my family. I will play my cricket for them. Their spirit is the true spirit of cricket. With me are all my people. I am Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. I am today, and always, proudly Sri Lankan.

The silent truth.

Sangakkara speech lands Sri Lanka Cricket in trouble

Page last updated at18:00 GMT, Wednesday, 6 July 2011 19:00 UK
When Kumar Sangakkara took to the podium to deliver the annual Cowdrey lecture at Lord's he was fully aware that the words he had prepared would send a shockwave through Sri Lanka's cricket establishment.
But by voicing his belief that the development of the game in Sri Lanka has been hindered by constant turmoil off the pitch, he was merely echoing the thoughts of many fans.
Cricket in Sri Lanka has been overseen by interim administrations regularly hired and fired by ministers who have also launched many investigations into allegations of corruption.
None of the subsequent reports were ever made public, though, and no former official has ever been charged.
Sangakkara's speech was delivered at a time when Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) also faces a financial crisis after co-hosting the 2011 World Cup with India and Bangladesh.
In addition, the authorities are struggling to launch the Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL) after India refused to allow any of its star players to take part, because they suspect the involvement of Lalit Modi. He faces corruption charges over the running of the Indian Premier League.
Meanwhile, whenever elections for the Sri Lanka board are held, they seem to be marred by ugly scuffles.
"Accountability and transparency in administration and credibility of conduct were lost in a mad power struggle that would leave Sri Lankan cricket with no clear, consistent administration," said Sangakkara, who captained his country to the World Cup final earlier this year and is currently playing in the one-day series in England.
"After 1996, the cricket board has been controlled and administered by a handful of well-meaning individuals, either personally or by proxy rotated in and out depending on appointment or election.
"Unfortunately, to consolidate and perpetuate their powers they opened the door of the administration to partisan cronies that would lead to corruption and wanton waste of cricket board finances and resources. It was, and still is, confusing."
Apparently sensing trouble, the International Cricket Council recently moved to end political influence in the game by ordering its member countries to elect their national boards instead of allowing governments to hand-pick administrators.
Despite ruffling many feathers in the establishment, Sangakkara's lecture has been hailed as an oratory masterpiece by many in Sri Lanka as well as abroad, and cricket fans - commenting on message boards - have applauded him for speaking out, albeit belatedly.
He is the first cricketer to dare to speak up against the administration while being a contracted player and, in the opinion of Channaka de Silva, sports editor of the Colombo-based Daily Mirror, by giving such a speech, he also indirectly admitted that he did not give the entire story when he said his own resignation from the captaincy was decided weeks before the World Cup began.
Sangakara's views merely confirm what Trevor Bayliss said when he ended his term as Sri Lanka's coach.
"I am constantly amazed how well the players do, with all the distractions put in front of them. It seems to be the sub-continent way. That's a skill in itself," the Australian commented.
Arjuna Ranataunga, who was Sri Lanka's World Cup winning captain in 1996 and has also served a year as a political appointee in the SLC, has continuously criticised corruption in the game and even provided documentary evidence to parliament.
But now, instead of launching an investigation into the latest allegations, sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage has ordered new Sri Lanka Cricket chairman Upali Dharmadasa to investigate and submit a report on Sangakkara.
In an apparent remark about Sangakkara, the minister said: "What has been happening was the player trying to be the ruler. If the player becomes the ruler we can't play a game."
Mr Dharmadasa described it as a "good speech" by Sangakkara but told the BBC Sinhala service that he should not have spoken about the cricket administration while under contract.
Recently, the government was accused of exerting pressure on the selectors to include Sanath Jayasuriya, a ruling party MP or a "ruler", in the one-day squad for the series in England.
As Sangakkara himself said: "Players from within the team itself became involved in power games. Officials elected to power in this way in turn manipulated player loyalty to achieve their own ends.
"At times board politics would spill over into the team causing rift, ill-feeling and distrust."
Cricket observers in Sri Lanka are, however, of the opinion that all former captains, including Sangakkara himself, have given preference to their own while picking teams for matches.
Despite that, fans are angry that the authorities are now trying to put the blame solely on the players - the BBC's Charles Haviland says that one even suggested that it could spell the end of the current government if they "touched" Sangakkara.
Following his decision to use a public platform to air his views, the entire cricket world will be watching as the situation develops.