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Next entry: Let the feral kids get jobs
Previous entry: The many degrees of Robert Mugabe
Tuesday July 15 2008

Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lankan batsman and wicketkeeper, writes about why Sri Lanka has produced so many highly effective, yet highly individual cricketers:

Over the last few years Sri Lanka have had quite a few self-styled unorthodox cricketers coming through - Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan, Romesh Kaluwitharana, and now Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis. It’s wonderful to have this newness, this difference, because it opens up everyone’s eyes, including fellow cricketers who might get something new from these guys to improve their game overall.

One of the reasons for so many unorthodox cricketers coming through in Sri Lanka could be, as in other parts of the subcontinent, the way kids learn to play cricket: they learn by watching, and then start playing in backyards or streets or wherever they can find space. It’s possibly there that they develop these individual styles. Unless they have access to formal coaching, they tend to develop along their own lines, especially if they come late to proper leather-ball cricket.

He talks in particular about Muralitharan, who is about to become the most prolific taker of wickets in the entire history of test match cricket, albeit with a highly unusual (some say illegal) action:

In some instances, if they are discovered at a very young age, there arises a problem when coaches start trying to make them conform to orthodoxy. All the above mentioned cricketers, with the exception of Murali, were discovered quite late. Murali had the luxury of having an open-minded, liberal, forward-thinking coach in Sunil Fernando, who let him develop along his own lines and just tidied up what needed to be tidied up without changing what made him unique.

All of this reminds me very much of the difference between how classical and rock musicians get their start.  The classicals get coached and coached, the rocksters just copy and play, in the musical equivalent of the backyard or the street, i.e. the upstairs bedroom or the garage.

Rock and rollers thrive on novelty, on being different from the pack, and this kind of start ensures that they are indeed highly individual.  But cricketers also do well by being different.  Much of Murali’s success has happened because batsmen have never faced anything quite like him before, and can’t practice against anyone else who is similar, because no-one is.