Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Murali's Hand

Modern sportspeople are not usually known for their generosity of spirit or social solidarity - self-absorbed narcissism more like it. So today's story of the great Sri Lankan bowler, Muttiah Muralitharan, and his hands-on role in the distribution of aid to victims of the earthquake in the north of the country is especially heart-warming. Together with his team-mates Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, Murali has been involved in two aid convoys under the aegis of the World Food Programme to some of the worst affected coastal areas. There are some interesting undercurrents here. Murali is the only Tamil in the national cricket team and, whether he likes it or not, symbolises the possibility of unity in a conflict-riven country. Actually Murali seems all too aware of the political significance of his intervention:
My concern at the moment, apart from possible corruption, is that distrust between different ethnic and religious communities is hampering the distribution of the aid which is now in the stores .... There seem to be some problems in getting the aid from the government stores to some of the people. If we cannot all come together now then what hope is there of us rebuilding this country?
This appears to echo recent criticisms made by the Tamil Tiger leadership that the government is not only corrupt but using the disaster relief efforts to score propaganda points in the festering dispute. By contrast, the Tamil Tigers themselves are
recognised to be distributing aid efficiently through two autonomous task forces.

As a cricketer, of course, Murali has been the subject of some vitriolic abuse and ignorant comment despite his undoubted genius with the ball in hand. While he was a fabulous overseas player with my own team I had to listen to the regular catcalls of "chucker". Perhaps when he next plays - in England or Australia - those fools might pause for a moment and ponder on the humanity of the man as well as his greatness as a cricketer.


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