Posts Tagged ‘Sri Lanka’

Sri Lanka-South Africa: What a Mess!

March 18, 2015

By Anjum Altaf

Sri Lanka took a strategic gamble against South Africa in the first quarter-final of the 2015 Cricket World Cup and were blown away. What surprised me was how misplaced the gamble was and how unexpected from a team known for its ability to think.

The nature of the gamble was obvious from the first ball. It was clear that Kusal Perera was sent in to open under instructions to hit the South African attack bowlers off their lengths. The strategy might have paid off but even that would have required some sensible hitting. It was clear as daylight that Perera would not last more than a few balls, and he didn’t. More than throwing away a wicket, it put paid to the Sri Lankan strategy in a hurry and fired up the South Africans instead.

The fact that there was a slight chance the strategy may have paid off doesn’t take away from the fact that it still did not make any sense – it was simply not as good as any number of other possible gambles if the Sri Lankans were bent on gambling for some odd reason. Its biggest flaw was that it was conceived in complete disregard of the psychological burden under which the South Africans were laboring – their history as the team that had ‘choked’ repeatedly on the big occasion and one that had never progressed beyond the first round of the knockout stage of a World Cup.

Given that, a decidedly safer gamble would have been to put the South Africans in after winning the toss simply because psychic nervousness affects batting much more than bowling. More so, because one of the South African openers was in a prolonged slump and hanging on to his place only by virtue of being the first-choice wicket-keeper. There would have been a good chance of South Africa batting too cautiously or being consumed by doubt after losing an early wicket. That could have left Sri Lanka with a target it could chase and against which it could have paced its innings.

Even if it were the case that the pitch promised a huge advantage to batting first, it might have been a smarter strategy to start cautiously to see off the first spell of the much vaunted South African attack with minimal damage. Why substitute an opener who had been doing well in the tournament with one who was opening for the first time? A solid start might have aggravated doubts in the minds of the South Africans and affected the control of their bowling. Such an outcome would have allowed the Sri Lankans to go after at least one of the spinners later in the evening given that the spinners were considered the weaker part of the South African attack. Instead of that, the Sri Lankans generated so much pressure on themselves that it was actually the lowly-rated spinners who overwhelmed them.

How did it happen that in constructing their strategy the Sri Lankans ignored the big picture so completely and treated the South Africans no differently than say the Australians or the New Zealanders? How come the Sri Lankans opted for a gamble for which there was no plan B? Why did the Sri Lankans feel compelled to gamble at all? These are the questions that someone badly needs to answer. Winning and losing are part of the game but being decimated out of sheer stupidity was not expected from Sri Lanka.

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The Value of the Legend of Pradeep Mathew

August 9, 2012

By Hasan Altaf

The cards are laid on the table right away in Shehan Karunatilaka’s stunning debut novel, The Legend of Pradeep Mathew (Graywolf Press). The narrator, W. G. Karunasena – an aging, alcoholic former sportswriter, who has just been handed what amounts to a death sentence (if he limits himself to two drinks a day he can hope for one or two more years) – takes a moment to respectfully rebut the criticism that sports, in this case cricket, have no use or value: “Left-arm spinners cannot unclog your drains, teach your children or cure you of disease. But once in a while, the very best of them will bowl a ball that will bring an entire nation to its feet. And while there may be no practical use in that, there is most certainly value.”

Pradeep Mathew is in some ways like the great rock novels, the great books about Hollywood: From a specialized world, in this case that of cricket, it’s adopted a jargon, a built-in store of legends and myths and stories. (more…)

Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Asia

July 14, 2009

A Pakistani journalist has recorded his observations from a visit to Sri Lanka. He has asked a lot of questions but not provided too many answers; and some of the answers can be debated. I am extracting parts of the article that are of interest to us and hoping that readers would enrich the arguments and fill in the gaps.

On the regional bond: Everything told me this was still South Asia, that Colombo was not very different from Lahore, that somehow our regional bond held. Yet, something was very different, and I was struggling to pinpoint it.

Note: Why do we feel this regional bond in Colombo but not in Bangkok or Teheran? (more…)

Democracy in Sri Lanka

February 11, 2008

We found the book The Cultural Construction of Politics in Asia edited by Hans Antlov and Tak-Wing Ngo (St. Martin’s Press, 2000) referred to in an earlier post (Democracy in India – 1) very useful in furthering our analysis of governance based on concrete case studies. In this post we summarize the experience in Sri Lanka using the chapter by Peter Kloos (Democracy, Civil War and the Demise of the Trias Politica in Sri Lanka).

The author starts by noting that in 1947 Sri Lanka seemed to have all that was needed to transform itself into an independent democracy and few post-colonial states had such a favorable point of departure:

It had already had an elected parliament for more than a decade and a half… [It] had universal suffrage earlier than several European states. It had a high rate of literacy and also a newspaper tradition of a century and a half. It had a well-established, island-wide legal system and it had, inherited from the British colonial government, a Public Service… that was virtually free of corruption. It was finally, one of the most affluent countries in Asia… This made possible a welfare state with island-wide free medical care and free education.

So how does one explain the transformation from a promising democracy in the 1940s to the state of the present? As in pre-partition India, the new form of governance could not adapt itself to the exigencies of reality and the lack of creative accommodation only heightened the divisions in society.

During pre-colonial times, Ceylon was politically united only for one brief period in the fifteenth century. At the beginning of the colonial era, the early sixteenth century, there were three kingdoms, two Sinhala ones… and one Tamil, with its capital in the present-day Jaffna. Ceylon was politically united for the second time in 1815 [by] the British…. In 1947, the Sinhala formed in this polity a clear majority of about 70 percent. There was a politically and economically quite powerful minority of almost 23 percent Tamils. Somewhat less than half… were so-called Ceylon Tamils who had lived in Ceylon for many centuries… Somewhat more than half, however, were Indian Tamils, who as contract labourers, had been brought from South India to Ceylon by the British in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Once again, “the politics of Independent Ceylon was based on general elections. The electoral system was similar to the British district system, each electorate supplying one member of Parliament. This implied that the ethnic composition of the population came forcefully to the fore.” The disconnect between the elective principle and the reality came into play right at the very beginning.

Amongst the earliest acts passed by the House of Representatives were the Citizen Act (1948), the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act (1949), and the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Act (1949). The first two acts denied citizenship to the majority of Indian Tamils and the third one disenfranchised them. The political motive behind these Acts was fear of Sinhala leaders for the electoral strength that could be exercised by the Indian Tamils, especially in the Central Province, where they outnumbered the Sinhala in several districts.

The author sums up the case study by noting that “the introduction of the majoritarian model of democracy rule in Sri Lanka chosen already during the late-colonial period paved the way for political forms that were undemocratic in the moral sense of the term. In the end this led to violent opposition – and to dismantling of democracy…. The democratic process as a way of handling conflict failed and government rigidity led to violent opposition. The government answered in kind and in the ensuing life-and-death struggle began to manipulate both legislation and the judiciary, presumably to create greater freedom to fight its enemies. By doing so it contributed to further escalation of violence.”

The author notes that there are two dimensions to democracy – the instrumental one focused on regular elections, rules of representation (e.g., first-past-the-post or proportional representation), the drawing of electoral districts, division of powers, etc. and the moral one that includes an attitude to acceptance of majority rule and of respect for and protection of minority points of view. It should be obvious that for a system to work the moral dimension would need to take precedence over the instrumental one. Clearly, neither in pre-partition India nor in post-partition Pakistan or post-Independence Sri Lanka were ways found to make the borrowed system work. In fact, an elective principle was chosen that actually turned the rich diversity of society into its biggest weakness. Building a representative system on indigenous traditions or more creativity in adapting foreign ones might have prevented the loss of over a million lives sacrificed to mindless experimentation.

The bigger point the author makes in the context of Sri Lanka applies equally to all countries in South Asia:

Sri Lanka is a highly politicized society in the sense that the interest in the actual political process receives much attention. In fact, politics is one of the most common topics of discussion in most sections of society. But this discussion is predominantly on the level of actual political practices. Even among politicians and political scientists the interest in a more abstract political discourse regarding the principles of political behaviour is almost absent… Far-reaching decisions regarding the political process are based on political expediency rather than on fundamental discussions of democratic rule.

How relevant this is for Pakistan today heading once again towards the “restoration” of an instrumental democracy without any discussion of the adjustments that are needed to make democracy work in a society riven by extreme distrust and multiple conflicts.

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