Kumar Sangakkara has received two standing ovations in the past week, for performances both on and off the field. The first was in response to his rousing and inspirational speech at Lords where he presented the Colin Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket lecture. As an international sportsman and one of the finest cricketers Sri Lanka has produced, Sangakkara has received many accolades during his life, but the honour of being the youngest person to deliver this lecture, and the first to be chosen while still playing the game, must have been a special moment for him. And he rose to the challenge brilliantly, delivering a speech that was remarkable not only for the boldness of its content, but also for the eloquence of its articulation. The second came on Wednesday afternoon, as his plucky determination was put to the test in the arena of the game he loves so much, on the field against England in the fourth ODI at Trent Bridge. Staunchly defiant in the face of adversity, Sangakkara remained resolute and steely as he refused to be cowed by the English bowling line-up when his teammates withered around him.
In many respects, the qualities of courage, resolve and self-belief that he exemplified on the field, had already been proven earlier in the week in the lecture room of the MCC. In the eyes of one cricket journalist, Sangakkara had delivered “the most important speech in cricket history.”
Sangakkara’s speech was important for the world of cricket, but it was also important for Sri Lanka. He was honest and heartfelt in the picture he painted of his homeland. This is a man to whom both the sport and the nation he represents hold a very special place. In his criticism of the current cricket administration his true patriotism for his country, and its people, shone through. And if the example is set of the necessity of good governance in the world of cricket hopefully the lesson will be learnt in other spheres of society. But it seems that Sangakkara’s bold words are already causing ripples of discontent. It would be a terrible shame for Sangakkara to be reprimanded for his brave speech. He deserves not punishment, but admiration for speaking his mind and putting the good of the sport above self-interest. As his endeavours over the past few days have highlighted, Sangakkara is not only an example on the field but off it as well, for sportsmen and ordinary citizens alike.
While cricket cannot solve all the nation’s problems, it can help bring people together. Through cricket or otherwise, that is what we need to aspire to. In the post-war situation that Sri Lanka currently finds itself in, it is that sentiment, the need to interact and communicate as one community across ethnic, religious or caste differences that we should keep foremost in our minds, if reconciliation is to have any chance at succeeding. It is only through that can sustainable peace be developed, which is what Sri Lanka requires to move from a merely post-war context, to one that is truly post-conflict.
If we remember one thing from Sangakkara’s speech, let it be his closing lines and the inclusive, pluralistic spirit that they convey:
“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.”