Honouring an icon | Daily News

Honouring an icon

The Pallekelle International Cricket Stadium is to be named after cricketing great Muttiah Muralitharan, it was reported yesterday in our Sports pages. The stadium was originally christened after the world Test wicket record holder, but, for mysterious reasons, the name disappeared, soon thereafter, to the great anguish of the cricket fans of Kandy. In fact, the father of Murali even brought this to the attention of the Mahanayakes, recently, and pleaded to move on behalf of his son, to have the name restored. In the end, though, saner counsel appears to have prevailed and due recognition accorded to one of the great sons of mother Lanka.

Sri Lanka has few achievements to boast of in international sports. Only Duncan White and Susanthika Jayasinghe has achieved something of note for which we could be justly proud of. In that context, Murali's world record breaking feat is certainly a standout, particularly given its enduring nature. Hence, naming an international cricket venue after him cannot, but be, amply justified. The President, the Sports Minister and all those who moved in the matter should be commended for the recognition bestowed on the Lankan star who brought fame and glory to the country through his deeds on the cricket field.

Of course, there will be many cricket lovers who will argue that much more needs to be done to honour the only bowler in Test cricket history to capture 800 Test scalps, than mere naming of a cricket venue after the legend. This is because the record is definitely going to stand the test of time and it will be eons before any bowler will come even close to achieving the target. Murali, though, is firmly installed in cricket's Hall of Fame and nothing can be too big for him now. But we are certain that he will appreciate this gesture from his fellow countrymen for the service rendered to place the nation on the world sporting map.

True, there are cricketing venues named after legends of the sport, the stand out being the Sir Vivian Richards International Stadium in Antigua, named after one of most destructive batsmen the world of cricket has ever seen. But the icon that he is, Richard's batting records have already been surpassed, and, in any event, were not unattainable. Not so though Murali's. His record will not be broken. Certainly, not in our lifetime.

Murali is also unique in other ways. He acted as the binding tie between the two major communities. Not just local cricket fans, but even the general public did not wear racial blinkers in appreciating his achievements on behalf of the country. To them all, he was a Sri Lankan, and, he delivered for Sri Lanka. He succeeded in taking his cricketing prowess far afield to forge national reconciliation. At a time the country was wracked by an ethnic war Murali, weaving his magic with a cricket ball, stood as a unifying force between the communities. No cricket lover from the majority community begrudged his success over the world's leading batsmen but continued to applaud him all the way on his record breaking feats. For them, he was apey kolla who brought the masters of the game to their knees, caught up in his web of spin.

In fact, Murali achieved what no politician could, in transcending all ethnic barriers in reaching to the communities. This was amply manifested by the reception accorded to him in his hometown, in Kandy, following his single handed annihilation of England at the Foster’s Oval in 2000, in the process guiding Sri Lanka to it's maiden Test victory in Old Blighty. With the possible exception of the Kandy Esala Perahera, the hill country, arguably, had not witnessed such a mass gathering to give the returning hero welcome to their local boy. The streets of Kandy were lined for miles, with enthusiastic fans, as Murali was paraded around the town, with the star bowler waving from an open vehicle.

A similar scenario was also witnessed in Galle, during his final Test appearance, where he claimed his 800th Test wicket, playing against India, at the Galle International Stadium. The entire stadium took on a carnival atmosphere for the swan song of Murali, with the venue virtually saturated with the Murali marquees and giant cutouts. The entire Galle town reverberated to firecrackers when Murali claimed, what was to be his 800th and final Test scalp, ending a monumental career that began as a schoolboy, a testimony to the love and admiration the people of Galle - the traditional Sinhala Buddhist stronghold - had for this lad from the Tamil community, at a time the war in the north was raging.

It is time that a more comprehensive reappraisal is made of Murali's feat and a more fitting tribute paid, for his contribution to the nation, not just as a champion cricketer and a cricketing ambassador, but, what is more, a binding glue of the different communities.


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