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Cricket in Lanka is a 'Sinhalese' game

In the current context of the ethnic conflict it is easy to come to the conclusion that skewed ethnic representation is due to discrimination, but this is not the case, writes PKBalachandran.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2007 12:18 IST

One of the striking features of the Sri Lankan cricket team is that it is mainly a Sinhalese team, with one or two members from other major communities like Tamils and Muslims.



In the present team, there are only two Tamils (Muthiah Muralitharan and Russel Arnold) and one Muslim (Farveez Mahroof).



In the current context of the ethnic conflict, it is easy to come to the conclusion that this skewed ethnic representation is due to ethnic discrimination.



But perceptive observers of the Sri Lankan cricket scene say that this is not the reason. "Cricket in Sri Lanka has all along been a Sinhalese game essentially. Ninety per cent of the players have come from this community. Unlike the other communities, the Sinhalese are passionate about sports and they have a special fondness for cricket," said Mahendra Ratnaweera, a walking encyclopaedia on Sri Lankan cricket.



"It is not uncommon for a five or six year old Sinhalese boy to demand a cricket bat and a ball for a birthday gift, and the parents to yield," he said.



The passion for cricket, which was Colombo and Kandy-centric till the late 1980s, spread to the rural areas of the Sinhalese districts in South and Central Sri Lanka later, thanks to Arjuna Ranatunga and also the World Cup victory in 1996.



But this expansion of interest by-passed the Tamil districts because of the ethnic conflict. By the late 1980s, the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern districts were embroiled in militancy, terrorism and an endless war. This very adversely affected sports, including cricket, there.



If Colombo or Kandy-based Tamils did not play cricket, there were no members of these communities in the national cricket team. The pool of budding Tamil cricketers had shrunk while that of the Sinhalese had expanded. This situation continues.



And to add to it, the studies-oriented Tamils of Colombo were not very much into sports anyway. Like the Tamils, the Muslims too did not attach much importance to sports.



However, in earlier more peaceful times, there were outstanding Tamil cricketers. In the 1930s, Mahendran Sathasivam was a legendary bastsman. The 1975 World Cup team had the Chanmugam brothers Denis and Neil, both bowlers. These were followed by Vinodan John and Sritharan Jeganathan, who played in tests in the early 1980s.



As for Muslims, there was Uvais Karnain, a bowler, who played in 1985. The other players are Jehan Mubarak and Farveez Mahroof. But many Colombo-based Tamil businessmen and professionals have been outstanding cricket administrators and team managers. Skandakumar, Mathivannan and Chandra Schaffter, have distinguished themselves in this field.