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Tuesday / May 21.
HomemitwocentsSport and Study in Sri Lanka

Sport and Study in Sri Lanka

Welcome to Sri Lanka, a land of contrasts. Where ‘Ray Bans’ can be picked up for AUD$2.50, travelling student cricketers are treated to lavish five-star hospitality, and inland, the locals rely on international aid for vision care and eyewear.

My duties as a coach and administrator at UNSW cricket club were delightfully intertwined recently when I was asked to accompany the UNSW Intervarsity cricket team on a short trip to Sri Lanka.

As winners of the Australian University Games 20 overs title – a viciously fought tournament between 16 varsity teams of varying sobriety last December, UNSW had won an all expenses trip to play in the College Campus World Titles.

Imagine attending a few lectures each week, sitting a couple of exams per semester, slogging a few cricket balls, trundling an over or two, having a damn good time and then, being rewarded with a free overseas trip.

I know the feeling, having sprinted in the opposite direction of Principles of Optical Instruments lecture (apologies to Graham Dick)…

It’s tertiary education at its finest and a wonderful illustration of why sports and study are complementary… a fact that many Australian universities have woken up to (now if only government would wake up to the fact that depriving universities of a couple of BILLION dollars in exchange for secondary school funding doesn’t make for a cleverer country).

Five-star Treatment

The World Championships were held at the premier international stadium in Colombo under lights and fully sponsored by a world-renowned brand of energy drink that may have an Australian driving one of its F1 cars.

Students were granted time away from attending lectures by generous faculty Deans as long as their assignments and essays were completed on time, and as far as I could determine, I spotted a couple
of the more diligent scholars with text books open and note pads scribbled upon (NB: no tablet devices or keypads but actual pen and paper – didn’t they realise that Sri Lanka has wireless internet?).

They stayed at a five-star hotel and received embroidered towels (although some names weren’t quite spelled correctly), dressing room nametags and personalised carry bags.

How times have changed since intervarsity trips were feats of physical, mental and gastric endurance. Train journeys were third class, on the rattler to Melbourne or Brisbane. Sleeping in the luggage racks was a luxury and in flight service meant a cold pie and a lukewarm cup of tea. For those so disposed, a few smuggled 26 ounce bottles of Cold Gold KB Lager or Resches Pilsener kept them company on the 14-hour rattler special to Brisbane from Sydney Central.

I thought the young students may have benefited from the hardships of back packer accommodation and exposure to the local life style but five-star it was to be, even if they didn’t utilise the free laundry allowance – some habits are hard to break for male undergraduates even if they are in international hotels. They probably took sweaty smelly socks and jocks home to their mums.

War Crimes of Cricket

Since the 25-year civil war has ended, Sri Lanka has returned to the gentle nation of welcoming people. However, there was a war related controversy when we were there and cricket played the leading role.

Sri Lankan players in the Indian Premier League (IPL) had been banned from playing matches in Chennai – the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu – where the chief minister is Tamil.

Tamil Nadu is separated from Sri Lanka’s Jaffna Peninsula by a few bridges and a few kilometres of Indian Ocean. The banning of Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakarra and others became the main issue on the front pages of the national newspapers. Debate raged on TV stations and talk back radio as to whether the Sri Lankan government should be making representations to the Indian government so that the banned cricketers could play in a state of India and, as a consequence, pick up some more of their millions.

All Part of an Education

The opposing universities came from India: Chandigarh up north in the Punjab, Pakistan Karachi University where I had some familiarity with the campus from conducting a coaching clinic there back in my Pakistan coaching tenure, the local Sri Lanka College, and Bangladesh Dhaka University. There was also a composite team from Great Britain’s big six universities (among them Oxford and Cambridge) that carry sports scholars and run specific elite sporting programs – cricket is one of the elite sports that governments deem worthy of funding as it carries an international imprimatur and a national status.

The old sportsmaster’s adage ‘all work and no play makes Mohammed / Tristan / Sachin / Mahela / Shoab /Bruce a dull boy, probably originated at Oxford or Cambridge or Delphi or Varanasi or anywhere where students got sick of the hectoring Dons. The rumour is that Phidippides accidentally invented the marathon when escaping a Euclid geometry tutorial… I know the feeling, having sprinted in the opposite direction
of Principles of Optical Instruments lecture (apologies to Graham Dick).

I was not the only ex-international player and coach who attended the tournament. Moin Khan from Pakistan (who was my wicket keeping coach with the Pakistan national team in 2008) was in charge of the Karachi Uni guys and Clive Radley who played for England in the late 1970s through to the early 1980s was leading the British. Another indication that cricket and sport, in general at tertiary education level, is still considered relevant and important.

I had conversations with a number of the students but could not find a single budding optometrist anywhere… plenty of accountants though and the odd environmental scientist… not sure what that says about society’s future. The UNSW mob contained engineers, economists and alas, a couple of lawyers. Maybe all of our future eye care specialists are going to be female.

Ray Bans $2.50

While in Sri Lanka, we did manage to get out and about on the days off and visit the nearby centres of local commerce…the Fort markets. ‘Ray Bans’ were AUD$2.50 if you haggled, AUD$5 if you couldn’t be bothered.

Unfortunately though, time didn’t allow a visit to some of Optometry Giving Sight’s projects in the interior of the country, but it’s a great reason to get back to the tear drop island sooner rather than later!

Vision care and cricket… still a winning combination!!