Writing admin on 25 May 2012 01:10 am
I have just finished reading Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka’s debut novel, The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, and to be blunt, the business of writing this review is interfering with what I really want to do. Which is watch cricket.
I feel free to confess this because the narrator of this novel would be quite forgiving of my weakness. W.G. Karunasena, apart from being a spent sportswriter and a semi-tragic drunk, is also a cricket fanatic: He is dying but is still determined to find and write about the Tamil cricketer who was his country’s greatest and yet most obscure sportsman. When asked by his wife why he loves sport more than her, Karunasena responds that she is talking nonsense, but he confides to the reader: “Some people gaze at setting suns, sitting mountains, teenage virgins and their wiggling thighs. I see beauty in free kicks, late cuts, slam dunks, tries from halfway and balls that turn from off to leg.”
“Balls that turn from off to leg.” If that last phrase made no sense to you, then, benighted reader, I’m happy to inform you that The Legend of Pradeep Mathew contains within its pages helpful diagrams and breezy notes that serve as introduction to the rules of cricket and the magic of spin bowling. That is not all. In one of the book’s asides, and there are many, we read: “Hard to believe, but in the 19th century, cricket was America’s favorite team sport. Cricket clubs flourished in over 22 states, and the sport’s first international game took place not between England and Australia in 1877, but between Canada and the U.S. in 1844.” Unlike many other things in the book, all this is indeed true. One might also add that the 1844 match was the first sporting event in the modern world, predating the revival of the Olympic Games by more than 50 years.
The sun set on cricket in the U.S. and arose in the former colonies. Sri Lanka beat Australia to win the World Cup in 1996, and The Legend of Pradeep Mathew finds a pivot for its narrative in this victory. As W.G. says at one point: “Us brown folk play the game better and we should no longer apologize for our quirks; in fact, we should celebrate them, and, if necessary, defend them.” He is talking of a style of playing cricket, but it’s impossible to ignore the broader implications.