Politics is not Murali’s cup of tea
Very few can hold a candle to Muttiah Muralitharan when it comes to his knowledge of world politics, of which he is a keen student. He seems to prefer Democrats in the US not because of the charismatic John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic to be US President. He seems to prefer Labour in the UK not because Jeremy Corbyn, who adores his bowling feats. He seems to prefer Congress in India not because of P. Chidambaram, who is well known to his wife’s family. His political leanings in Sri Lanka are all too well known. Given his choices, you can safely bet that he is inclined towards the left.
It was rumoured the other day that Murali would be made the Governor of the Northern Province. Murali is no doubt a keen follower of politics but it is not a game meant for him. To put it plainly, politics is not his cup of tea.
In politics one has to be diplomatic and proficient in doublespeak. It is said that one well versed in diplomacy or politics can tell another to go to hell in such a way that the latter really looks forward to the trip. That’s not Murali’s forte; he often calls a spade a spade.
When John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister questioned his bowling action, Murali told The Island in 2004 that he would boycott touring Australia. Despite being a contracted player and amidst several persuasions Murali kept his words. That was at a time when the race between him and Shane Warne for the World Record for the highest wicket taker was heating up. Politicians in our parts of the world say one thing in the morning but do the opposite thereof in the afternoon. That’s not our Murali. A man who insists on fair play, he cannot simply tolerate injustice or hypocrisy.
Murali speaks a lot of sense. When politicians of North dwell on the injustices that South is said to have done to them, Murali sees things differently. He believes it is time to bury the hatchet and move on. He is also a man of action having been involved in several charitable activities in the North and many families have livelihood thanks to his efforts. He has also helped out several talented sportsmen in the area through his charity – the Foundation of Goodness. Very few politicians in the north or the south can match Murali’s meritorious deeds.
Murali is someone who is easily moved when he sees suffering and he is ever willing to help the poor. He does most of these things, without bringing it to the attention of the public.
Thanks to the brand name called Murali, international organizations like Marylebone Cricket Club, the owners of Lord’s cricket ground and guardians of the game’s Laws, came forward to help the underprivileged in northern Sri Lanka. His efforts also saw another international organization Laures come forward to help both the North and the South. Along with them came the likes of Sir Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Steve Waugh and many others to help our people. When Murali was told that organizations like Laures and MCC wanted to promote those visits by former greats through the media, he reluctantly agreed.
It was an unwritten law for the national cricket team that all players who were new to the side go out to dinner with Murali every single day during overseas tours. He knew the financial constraints that young players faced and was ever willing to spend on their behalf.
The day the Sri Lankan team bus came under fire in Lahore in 2009, Murali donated every penny he had to the bus driver. He has a heart of gold.
During his playing days, for every single ODI played in Sri Lanka, he would purchase about 200 tickets as he simply couldn’t say no when people asked him for tickets. Even die-hard cricket fans who were not known to him would get tickets from him, free of charge.
When Sri Lanka Cricket wanted the main pavilion at the Pallekele International Stadium, just a stone’s throw away from his ancestral home, to be named after him, Murali declined the offer. When the press inquired why, he said, ‘People would think that simply because the stand is named after me, I would have all the tickets at that stand. Why invite trouble.’
Murali is not afraid of taking on the mighty. At a time when all involved in cricket feared Thilanga Sumathipala, Murali took him on. He did so because he did not fear losing anything.
Murali represented Sri Lanka for two decades. His feats, as Arjuna Ranatunga says, will never be matched on the cricket field. If Murali had been ambitious, he would have gone on to become Sri Lanka’s captain. For him, the national team’s captaincy was just a phone call away. However, he was sensible and not greedy for power. He knew that he could be of more use to the team as a player than a captain. Similarly, he could serve the nation better by being a philanthropist than a politician. Already he has done much.
Many Sri Lankan cricketers have taken to politics after retirement and have cut pathetic figures. Arjuna Ranatunga is revered the world over and in particular in Australia for he is the first man who fought fire with fire. Such is his popularity, but during the last two decades, he has contested five general elections representing three different parties across three different districts and has won handsomely on all occasions. However, he failed to achieve success in politics.
An airborne Sanath Jayasuriya cutting Angus Fraser over point at The London Oval remains an iconic image of the sport. When he quit cricket and entered politics, the people of Matara sent the district’s most famous son to Parliament with a record number of votes. Sanath didn’t even seek re-election.
If you wanted someone to bat for your life, you would invariably choose Hashan Tillakaratne, for no batsman puts a premium on his wicket than this southpaw. His time in politics was a failed one, though.
All these cricketing heroes have got attributes that require you to be successful in politics. Commitment, passion, popularity and all that. But they lack some essentials. They are neither cunning nor crooked.