‘The Dilshan’ and other cricketing lessons for a multi-ethnic society

As a long summer of cricket in England draws to its traditional close in September, after a memorable Ashes series and the Twenty20 World Cup, it is time to acknowledge cricket’s success in bring people together from a wide mix of ethnic backgrounds. There is a very positive message, which is not fully communicated.

Cricket, still sometimes perceived as a white, middle-class English pastime, is played at the top level by a geographically and culturally disparate set of countries for historical reasons:  India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the West Indes, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Most of these countries have produced renowned players and teams, with the consequence that any fan asked to name the best batsmen of the last 20 years would be likely to include an Indian (Sachin Tendulkar), a West Indian (Brian Lara) and an Australian (Ricky Ponting) as a minimum. Among bowlers such names as Wasim Akram (Pakistan), Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka), Shane Warne (Australia) and Anil Kumble (India) would be on the list. A brief glance at the statistics (for example, test match runs scored) shows that it would be absurd to try to argue that players from any country or specific ethnic origin are dominant.

The rise of the shortened form of the game, known as Twenty20, has led to significant innovations in the last two or three years as players try new techniques to gain advantage. Sri Lankan Tillakeratne Dilshan unveiled an audacious scoop shot earlier this year not seen in any coaching manual, now known as ‘the Dilshan’. Sri Lanka, a country which suffered a long and disastrous civil war, regularly produces talented and innovative cricketers.
It would be wrong to claim that cricket is colour-blind. In England it is still common enough for an amateur player to feel that their face doesn’t fit at a particular club but at professional level the need for results now seems to ensure that the most talented players break through. Cricket, like baseball, thrives on statistics so it is relatively easy to compare performances by individual players over a period of time.

At a South London cricket club where I play, one game we had a new player in the team whom we hadn’t seen before, recently arrived from South Asia. He was rather modest and, although he showed signs of athleticism in the warm-up,  we had little idea what to expect. When he went in to bat at number seven we all watched with interest. With one shot he changed the match completely. He played an effortless and immaculate on-drive for four which instantly said:
- It’s good to be on the cricket field again
- I’m pretty confident that I’m the best player on the pitch
- However, I haven’t played for a while so I’ll take it easy to begin with
- But just wait until I feel in form

The opposition captain immediately understood the situation and changed the team’s tactics but his field settings had as much impact as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Our new star smashed the ball all over the place and won us the match. Unfortunately we never saw him again – he was rightly moved up to a higher team.

In cricket, as with sport in general, a combination of talent and perseverance will generally shine through. In other walks of life it’s not as simple as that.

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