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Saturday 19 May 2012

Privatized Cricket

There are certain things we take for granted as being publically owned, like the air we breathe, water we drink, sunshine etc. For some Sri Lankans, the pride in the national cricket team feature way down this list as an entity that no single person or an institute could claim ownership and take it away from them. This is why some of us get disturbed when Lasith Malinga decides that it is in his best interest to sacrifice test cricket to play for the lucrative IPL. By his action, in a roundabout way, he is taking piece away from something that we used to think was a public “property”. Though western economists may not think so, that common public property is Sri Lankan Cricket, if you could call it that. Now as far as western style rights goes Malinga has the right to do whatever he think is good for him, after all cricket is his profession and like many of us he must earn a living by his profession. But, we Sri Lankan cricket lovers feel that some injustice has been done to us though the western style economics and individual rights say there is nothing wrong with what Malinga, Sanga , Mahela and Co. are doing. So we are in a conundrum.

Of course something is wrong here. Most of us do feel it. At least according to former captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, the intimidating Indian cricket establishment and the timid Sri Lankan politicians are to blame for all this. Good call! But I feel that these institutions and ordinary men including the players are both victims and the perpetrators of a sin of which they have no control. What is really in control here is the domineering western culture and its system of knowledge that teaches us to value individual’s needs over that of the society. We Sri Lankans are hurt when individual players put their needs over that of the country but we do not feel the necessity to burn down their houses, like some of our neighbors do, because we also don’t think that players like Malinga should sacrifice their individual needs. But the dominant western system of knowledge teaches us that it is irrational to feel hurt by the player’s action because that is what they are naturally supposed to do, hence the conundrum. The solution of course is to overcome this dominance and establish a system of knowledge wherein our feelings and actions become compatible. Ordinary men like Malinga, Sanga and Mahela cannot help but go with the flow, even the Cricket board alone cannot fix it. In order to have a meaningful effect, the change must come in all spheres of life including in politics and economics. At the end, if cricket still does not fit in, we should simply let it go. This is a long term project.

In that process, we must unlearn what the west has taught us and realize that giving too much importance to individuality is not compatible with our way of life. Imagine what would have happened if we were a highly individualized society when the tsunami hit us. There wouldn’t have been truckloads of men and women hurrying to affected areas with food and other aids; instead we would have depended on government funded agencies to take care of us. We all know how that works. With the burden of bureaucracy these agencies would have acted so slowly with very little or no benefit to talk about. We know this from the way the US agencies acted during a hurricane disaster, of a much lesser scale, in that country. It is not merely a case of inefficiency on the part of the officials it is how the system work in a highly individualized society. A society like ours can act as a whole to take care of those in needs, physically and emotionally, much more efficiently than any agency of government in an individualist society. This unique capability in our society comes about because we have the freedom to think and act as individuals while at the same time bounded to the society. Because we act individually we didn’t have to wait for the government or any other agency to take the leadership in assisting people. At the same time, because we acted collectively we were able to organize ourselves around those who took the lead. This was a spontaneous process which in my opinion would have required a huge effort in an individualist or even in a collectivist society. We are neither an individualist nor a collectivist society but are both at the same time.

Coming back to Cricket, it is correct for us to feel as if Malinga has hijacked a piece of property that belonged to all of us, while empathizing with him. These feelings are a result of how the Sri Lankan society is structured. What is wrong is the system of knowledge that tells us that our feelings are irrational because the player’s action is common sense economics and that it is his right. There is no reason to honour a system of knowledge that is not compatible with how we feel.

-Janaka Wansapura