Murali Cup November 4, 2013

Sanga rules the north

As Sri Lanka recovers from a devastating civil war, Kumar Sangakkara does his bit to help with reconciliation in the LTTE's former stronghold
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"The capacity for cricket to bring unity and to bring communities together is huge," Kumar Sangakkara says as he surveys the Kilinochchi Central College grounds, where the local Under-19 team is playing their neighbours from the east coast of Sri Lanka. It has been four years since Sri Lanka's Civil War ended, and this town, the LTTE's former capital, was one of the hardest hit.

Many of the scars of conflict have been cleared out of sight. New stores, houses and factories have been erected, but right in the heart of town, a million-litre water tank lies on its side, half-buried in red earth, having been detached from its concrete stem by explosives, in the final months of the war. The gargantuan ruin brings Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias" to mind, but in Sri Lanka's dry zone where months pass without a drop from the heavens, perhaps it is better cast as a tribute to the resilience of the town's people.

Even here, though, as in Colombo and Kandy, where life had never been so harrowing, Sanga reigns supreme.

Cricketers are almost never mobbed in Sri Lanka. Despite their fame, they need no escape to non-cricketing lands to regain a sense of normalcy. Rangana Herath goes shopping by himself, and even Nuwan Kulasekara - Sri Lanka's present cult hero - attracts plenty of smiles, but rarely harassment.

Not so, though, for Sanga in the north. When he arrived in Kilinochchi for the Murali Cup on Saturday, spectators craned their necks in unison when the announcer made his presence known in Tamil, and looked around the venue. Within seconds he was surrounded, caps and bats shoved in his face, requests for photos flying in from every direction.

Sanga had left Colombo before dawn and walked 12 kilometres with Ian Botham, on a leg of Botham's charity walk, but at the end of a long day, he bore the crowd's adoring assault with a grin. They smiled plenty back at him. That was why he was here after all. The crush of giggling local girls and eager young men in Kilinochchi and Jaffna proved beyond doubt that no corner of the island is immune to Sanga's charm, or his cover drive.

"You see the boys from the north and east on the field, the dancers, the security forces, people from Colombo and the locals. You see teachers, elders and community leaders - they are all here because of cricket"
Sangakkara

Even Muttiah Muralitharan has not enjoyed so much irrepressible, unruly love among a people whose language he speaks and culture he identifies with. Sanga had made his last public trip to the north alongside Mahela Jayawardene over a year ago, and Mahela drew a meagre following while Sanga posed, signed and talked his way into local hearts, lapping up the attention, loving every second.

Mahela had also visited the north on an earlier day of the Murali Cup, and this time his star shone brighter, not having to compete with the Sanga supernova. In Mankulam a group of eight-year-old boys in old t-shirts and bare feet squirmed metres away from him, too shy to approach for an autograph. So Mahela went to them instead, sitting on his haunches to greet them and staying long enough for a photo. The two cricketers' response to fame perhaps reveals a little about them as well; the more introverted Mahela has the common touch, but Sanga is a consummate celebrity.

But in both of them, and in others like Murali, Ravindra Pushpakumara and Sanath Jayasuriya, there is a heartfelt desire to see their fame and their sport foster healing and reconciliation in the north's communities. Thanks to their efforts with the Murali Cup and Jayasuriya's initiative as chief selector, five young cricketers from the north and east are on the verge of receiving central contracts from the board. That is not necessarily a reflection of the youngsters' talent, or potential, though they clearly possess plenty of each, but it is a message to the northern populace: "We are one people, and in cricket, if in little else, we will look after you."

"You see the potential of cricket in an event like the Murali Cup," Sanga says. "You see the boys from the north and east on the field, you see the dancers, you see the security forces, you see people from Colombo and the locals who have come to watch and support their teams. You see teachers, elders and community leaders - they are all here because of cricket. There's no talk of politics and no talk of anything other than watching this wonderful spectacle of sport. These children are sharing each other's experiences, sharing their effort out on the field, and putting on a display that all of us will enjoy."

Sanga returned to Colombo after 36 hours of the tournament. His last hour in the north was perhaps among the most hectic of his life, as he was surrounded by wave upon wave of unrelenting Jaffna devotees. If Sri Lanka's communities could rally together with the same fervour they reserve for the island's most cherished public figure, perhaps an underachieving nation will one day realise its immense potential.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • SL-USA-Lions on November 4, 2013, 23:50 GMT

    I'm keeping good on my earlier promise... I have a first hand account on how wonderful of a person Kumar is...

    We both were lucky enough to attend one of the best Private schools of SL, and the best in the "Hill Capital" of Kandy; "The Trinity College". He was two years my elder, Senior Prefect and had this awesome persona, leadership and integrity about him that transcended to his Cricketing career representing SL. He always had his signature smile and every student in the Upper school, the teaching & non academic staff liked, loved & respected him. I was a huge fan from the very first time I met him even before his Cricketing fame. We were lucky to be brought up in a school culture where Sinhales, Tamil, Muslim and Christian brothers grew up together as one BIG FAMILY with no reservations, respecting all and treating everyone as equals. That up bringing has been with me since and Kumar is a PRIME EXAMPLE OF IT. I'm proud to say I've known A REAL LEGEND BAR NONE.

    THANK YOU KUMAR.

  • Emancipator007 on November 4, 2013, 3:27 GMT

    Sanga is the recent cricketer of class and stature to emerge from the Indian sub-continent (after the likes of Gavaskar, Imran, Ranatunga, Ganguly,Kumble). His off-field poise, thoughtfulness, ability to articulate on various topics, sacrificing of personal cricketing ambitions (along with Mahela) for the future of SL cricket to go with his on-field supreme batting prowess (under-appreciated cos of being from a smaller country) and sharp-witted counter-sledging against the motor mouth Saffs/OZZies is to be admired. Sanga has the potential to be a peoples' politician/public servant in the future and will make a great President of SL when he is in his 50s.

  • Cric-Aus-SL on November 6, 2013, 6:12 GMT

    @SL-USA-Lions

    Growing up in SL doesn't make you knowing everything about the war, not sure people from south experienced atleast a single percent of what people from north-east of the country faced.. mate, i grew up in jaffna and lived in kilinochi and colombo too, you won't realize the pain unless you born as a minority elsewhere in a country like Sri Lanka,

  • SL-USA-Lions on November 5, 2013, 23:36 GMT

    @ since7...

    I don't understand what you're trying to say man. In your little paragraph I don't know how many times you contradicted yourself...

    Just give credit when credit is due and please try to be on the subject matter...

    So Sanga thanked the President for bringing peace to a nation that suffered 30 odd years of Civil War at the WC final?!! What's your point? Sri Lanka should still suffer through that conflict?!!

    I grew up in SL and I have a first hand account of everything that happened.... Everyone suffered... A Civil War doesn't take sides... Everyone in it suffers. That's the REAL TRUTH...

    I don't know what your agenda is. But that same President did something NO OTHER LEADER OF SL DID IN 30 YEARS. SO HATS OFF TO HIM TOO.

    THANK YOU SANGA FOR STANDING UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN.

  • Rooohan on November 5, 2013, 13:35 GMT

    Often we get caught up with the cricket played on the ground and this is a nice blog about the underneath foundation of Sri Lanka that is supporting cricket. These guys are providing a nice escape from the unnecessary turmoil and hope then help create a more positive nation.

  • kasifdotinfo on November 5, 2013, 6:28 GMT

    Kumar Sangakkara is a cricketing superhero, pure and simple. Parents of aspiring cricketers in Sri Lanka (and elsewhere) should feel fortunate that their children can look up to such a role model, and hope that he puts off retirement to keep inspiring.

  • s.g.a. on November 5, 2013, 4:52 GMT

    If sanga enter for politics near future he can be president of srilanka, because he is a great character, he has wonderful personality & talent in on & off the field.

  • Litmus on November 4, 2013, 23:03 GMT

    A great cricketer, great communicator, and apparently loved by all cricket fans in Sri Lanka. But will he make a great president? time will tell. I'm not a fan of famous people parachuting in to political leadership. I think that has been the curse of Asia since independence. Too many actors sportsmen and businessmen in politics but not enough statesmen.

  • RajasH on November 4, 2013, 22:37 GMT

    I must say I am very dissapointed with Ian Botham's much publicised walk in Sri Lanka. There was no focus on the children of Jaffana traumatised by war.

    Sanga, Murali and Mahela you guys are doing a great job in your own right

  • since7 on November 4, 2013, 21:27 GMT

    Since the article mixes politics with sports, I think it is fair cricinfo publishes the other side of the debate.I am in no way dismissing these acts but sangakarra was the same man who openly lauded mahinda rajapakse for 'bringing' peace to a strife bound nation during the presentation ceremony in a WC final.

  • SL-USA-Lions on November 4, 2013, 23:50 GMT

    I'm keeping good on my earlier promise... I have a first hand account on how wonderful of a person Kumar is...

    We both were lucky enough to attend one of the best Private schools of SL, and the best in the "Hill Capital" of Kandy; "The Trinity College". He was two years my elder, Senior Prefect and had this awesome persona, leadership and integrity about him that transcended to his Cricketing career representing SL. He always had his signature smile and every student in the Upper school, the teaching & non academic staff liked, loved & respected him. I was a huge fan from the very first time I met him even before his Cricketing fame. We were lucky to be brought up in a school culture where Sinhales, Tamil, Muslim and Christian brothers grew up together as one BIG FAMILY with no reservations, respecting all and treating everyone as equals. That up bringing has been with me since and Kumar is a PRIME EXAMPLE OF IT. I'm proud to say I've known A REAL LEGEND BAR NONE.

    THANK YOU KUMAR.

  • Emancipator007 on November 4, 2013, 3:27 GMT

    Sanga is the recent cricketer of class and stature to emerge from the Indian sub-continent (after the likes of Gavaskar, Imran, Ranatunga, Ganguly,Kumble). His off-field poise, thoughtfulness, ability to articulate on various topics, sacrificing of personal cricketing ambitions (along with Mahela) for the future of SL cricket to go with his on-field supreme batting prowess (under-appreciated cos of being from a smaller country) and sharp-witted counter-sledging against the motor mouth Saffs/OZZies is to be admired. Sanga has the potential to be a peoples' politician/public servant in the future and will make a great President of SL when he is in his 50s.

  • Cric-Aus-SL on November 6, 2013, 6:12 GMT

    @SL-USA-Lions

    Growing up in SL doesn't make you knowing everything about the war, not sure people from south experienced atleast a single percent of what people from north-east of the country faced.. mate, i grew up in jaffna and lived in kilinochi and colombo too, you won't realize the pain unless you born as a minority elsewhere in a country like Sri Lanka,

  • SL-USA-Lions on November 5, 2013, 23:36 GMT

    @ since7...

    I don't understand what you're trying to say man. In your little paragraph I don't know how many times you contradicted yourself...

    Just give credit when credit is due and please try to be on the subject matter...

    So Sanga thanked the President for bringing peace to a nation that suffered 30 odd years of Civil War at the WC final?!! What's your point? Sri Lanka should still suffer through that conflict?!!

    I grew up in SL and I have a first hand account of everything that happened.... Everyone suffered... A Civil War doesn't take sides... Everyone in it suffers. That's the REAL TRUTH...

    I don't know what your agenda is. But that same President did something NO OTHER LEADER OF SL DID IN 30 YEARS. SO HATS OFF TO HIM TOO.

    THANK YOU SANGA FOR STANDING UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN.

  • Rooohan on November 5, 2013, 13:35 GMT

    Often we get caught up with the cricket played on the ground and this is a nice blog about the underneath foundation of Sri Lanka that is supporting cricket. These guys are providing a nice escape from the unnecessary turmoil and hope then help create a more positive nation.

  • kasifdotinfo on November 5, 2013, 6:28 GMT

    Kumar Sangakkara is a cricketing superhero, pure and simple. Parents of aspiring cricketers in Sri Lanka (and elsewhere) should feel fortunate that their children can look up to such a role model, and hope that he puts off retirement to keep inspiring.

  • s.g.a. on November 5, 2013, 4:52 GMT

    If sanga enter for politics near future he can be president of srilanka, because he is a great character, he has wonderful personality & talent in on & off the field.

  • Litmus on November 4, 2013, 23:03 GMT

    A great cricketer, great communicator, and apparently loved by all cricket fans in Sri Lanka. But will he make a great president? time will tell. I'm not a fan of famous people parachuting in to political leadership. I think that has been the curse of Asia since independence. Too many actors sportsmen and businessmen in politics but not enough statesmen.

  • RajasH on November 4, 2013, 22:37 GMT

    I must say I am very dissapointed with Ian Botham's much publicised walk in Sri Lanka. There was no focus on the children of Jaffana traumatised by war.

    Sanga, Murali and Mahela you guys are doing a great job in your own right

  • since7 on November 4, 2013, 21:27 GMT

    Since the article mixes politics with sports, I think it is fair cricinfo publishes the other side of the debate.I am in no way dismissing these acts but sangakarra was the same man who openly lauded mahinda rajapakse for 'bringing' peace to a strife bound nation during the presentation ceremony in a WC final.

  • on November 4, 2013, 20:43 GMT

    Lovely article. Sanga is the first bonafide celebrity of Sri Lankan cricket and one of the country's greatest cricketers. He is articulate, diplomatic, intelligent, good looking, hugely talented and extremely dedicated. What a cricketer!

  • on November 4, 2013, 18:08 GMT

    Sangha has the highest average of 56.89 among modern batsmen and has a mind boggling average of 68 when he plays purely as a batsman

  • prashadguruge on November 4, 2013, 17:01 GMT

    mahela and sanga both of you are great

  • Nmiduna on November 4, 2013, 16:41 GMT

    Sanga is sometimes (in my opinion wrongly and unfairly) accused of being unpatriotic and not loyal to SL cricket. it is partly due to exaggerations by those who were hurt by his words at cowdrey lecture. and partly due to our own misconceptions about patriotism and failure to understand that he too play cricket for a living and has every right to enjoy the benefits that he get purely because of his talents on and off the cricketing field. It has got something to do with our subcontinent mind set. But I am thankful that he went through all those crap and still plays for SL and do these kinds of precious work. I hope he will have enough in him to deal with the future troubles on and off the field and play another couple of years for SL. We as cricket lovers and Sri Lankans has the responsibility of understanding the value of such cricketers and backing them up in times of crisis. Anyway I am glad that he is involved in such an important initiative! best of luck of all those involved!

  • Master_Mihil on November 4, 2013, 16:02 GMT

    Sanga's appeal is amazing. Certainly his character is one of the many things cricketing world will loose once he retires. Game needs more people like Sanga.

  • on November 4, 2013, 14:33 GMT

    why is everyone talking about sanga's retirement? he's got at least 2 morw years on international cricket, right?

  • ANUJA1 on November 4, 2013, 14:18 GMT

    Sangakkara is a famous public figure in the asian subcontinent.His personality, talent & humane qualities exceedes others.He is truely a gentleman who can act as a figure to strengthen the bond between tamils and sinhallese.

  • shane-oh on November 4, 2013, 13:56 GMT

    I just have to say that Kumar Sangakkara has always been one of my favourite cricketers (NZ fan speaking here). Not only is he one of the best batsmen of his generation with an incredible appetite for massive runs, but he has always struck me as the kind of person that the game needs; full of class, full of character, genuinely nice. This guy is a fantastic role model for kids all over the world, especially Sri Lankan kids. This article further confirms that I'm right about the man. Good stuff, Kumar!

  • on November 4, 2013, 13:51 GMT

    i am one who like to see kumara sangakkara as srilankan president..

  • KingOwl on November 4, 2013, 12:20 GMT

    Within SL, Singhalese and Tamils may have their differences. But when you are outside, they are the same people. In fact, everybody from the sub continent is the same, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. It is time to understand that. Sanga, being a true 'international, realizes this. I wish every Sri Lankan (both Sinhanles and Tamil) understood this as well.

  • SL-USA-Lions on November 4, 2013, 11:35 GMT

    A great read... Will comment more on the article later... Pressed for time at the moment...

  • Tijara on November 4, 2013, 10:25 GMT

    Thanks to Sangakara, he is a great man. Famous cricketers could do a lot more for their countries. Why does not a famous Indian cricketer take over the BCCI?

    Why not fight corruption? Why not care for living standard?

  • on November 4, 2013, 9:38 GMT

    Great work Sanga! Hope you get into politics when you retire.

  • on November 4, 2013, 8:32 GMT

    Sports in general and cricket in particular will help these countries affected by war to recover and reconcile...Afghan cricket teams success and these initiates will help.

  • on November 4, 2013, 7:08 GMT

    Hi Sanga, well done. Once again you prove that you are a true sports man and an ambassador.This brings back the memory of good old days,annual encounter : Royal Vs St. John's & Central college Vs Maliyadeva. and national zonal tournament,( Daily news trophy) .Good luck.

  • on November 4, 2013, 4:40 GMT

    There is no word to say Sanga is the gentlemen Cricketer srilanka ever produce recent years.good luck sanga.

  • Black_Rider on November 4, 2013, 2:26 GMT

    Sri Lanka...... A Land like no other......

  • Tweety20 on November 3, 2013, 22:21 GMT

    so happy to hear that cricket and SL cricketers are taking the initiative to heal hearts in the north.Im sure that they will succeed because what these people need is attention,sense of faith and confidence from people of other parts of the country.They need to feel like they are part of SL and the rest of the nation supports them in their road to recovery.Heroes like Sanga and Mahela are admired the world over,they have the power to do anything even mend the scarred hearts and minds of the war torn people of the north and what better remedy than 'cricket'.I highly appreciate what they are doing to unify SL under one flag and one people.JAYA SRI....

  • Tweety20 on November 3, 2013, 22:21 GMT

    so happy to hear that cricket and SL cricketers are taking the initiative to heal hearts in the north.Im sure that they will succeed because what these people need is attention,sense of faith and confidence from people of other parts of the country.They need to feel like they are part of SL and the rest of the nation supports them in their road to recovery.Heroes like Sanga and Mahela are admired the world over,they have the power to do anything even mend the scarred hearts and minds of the war torn people of the north and what better remedy than 'cricket'.I highly appreciate what they are doing to unify SL under one flag and one people.JAYA SRI....

  • Black_Rider on November 4, 2013, 2:26 GMT

    Sri Lanka...... A Land like no other......

  • on November 4, 2013, 4:40 GMT

    There is no word to say Sanga is the gentlemen Cricketer srilanka ever produce recent years.good luck sanga.

  • on November 4, 2013, 7:08 GMT

    Hi Sanga, well done. Once again you prove that you are a true sports man and an ambassador.This brings back the memory of good old days,annual encounter : Royal Vs St. John's & Central college Vs Maliyadeva. and national zonal tournament,( Daily news trophy) .Good luck.

  • on November 4, 2013, 8:32 GMT

    Sports in general and cricket in particular will help these countries affected by war to recover and reconcile...Afghan cricket teams success and these initiates will help.

  • on November 4, 2013, 9:38 GMT

    Great work Sanga! Hope you get into politics when you retire.

  • Tijara on November 4, 2013, 10:25 GMT

    Thanks to Sangakara, he is a great man. Famous cricketers could do a lot more for their countries. Why does not a famous Indian cricketer take over the BCCI?

    Why not fight corruption? Why not care for living standard?

  • SL-USA-Lions on November 4, 2013, 11:35 GMT

    A great read... Will comment more on the article later... Pressed for time at the moment...

  • KingOwl on November 4, 2013, 12:20 GMT

    Within SL, Singhalese and Tamils may have their differences. But when you are outside, they are the same people. In fact, everybody from the sub continent is the same, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. It is time to understand that. Sanga, being a true 'international, realizes this. I wish every Sri Lankan (both Sinhanles and Tamil) understood this as well.

  • on November 4, 2013, 13:51 GMT

    i am one who like to see kumara sangakkara as srilankan president..