Mouth Cricket in Sri Lanka

I guess we have all played or at least heard of book cricket but the other day I came across what can only be described as mouth cricket in a rather remote part of Sri Lanka. All details shall remain undisclosed but I really did see this and I feel that your opinions on this matter are important.

It all began during a social service visit to an open prison camp around the hill capital of Sri Lanka. This place has a lovely cricket ground bordered on one side by the Mahaweli River and surrounded by mountains, with plenty of “voluntary” labour to maintain it this ground always looks good and is a feast for jaded city eyes.

This time the relative quiet of the area was getting repeatedly shattered by a loud male voice making noises of what sounded like pain and I thought to myself that I may be an actual witness to some terrible human rights abuse and hurried to the location of the ground.

I found a cricket match in progress. Subsequent inquiries made it clear that it was a “B” division, under 15 school game between two leading schools in the province. The noise was emanating from a man wearing the clothes of an official coach of one of the schools concerned. He was screaming an uninterrupted stream of what could be described as a mixture of detailed instructions, field changes, instructions to the bowlers, occasional invective to his players and sledges to the opposition. Now this person (and I deliberately refrain from calling him a gentleman) was doing this ball by ball. His team was fielding and he was setting the field for EVERY ball, telling the bowler where to pitch the ball and screaming it all out at the top of his voice!

There were two under 15 teams out there on the ground (I was told) but the battle was being conducted by this fully grown individual using every trick in the book. The umpires were not doing anything or saying anything to indicate that this was irregular.

So I stuck around for a while. I saw the yelling taking effect and I saw the under15 “B” team of the opposition succumb from what was a very strong position simply because of this adults efforts. I thought this must be why they pay these coaches so much these days….now it all makes sense.

But does it? Is this the way Cricket is being played these days at junior level? If so why was Bob Woolmer stopped when he tried to send the South African team out to the field with ear pieces so that they could hear his comments on field when he was coaching them? Wasn’t it considered ILLEGAL? In this day and age of match referees and all sorts of other officials cannot this type of abuse (for abuse it was) be stopped? I know it is under 15 and “B” division under 15 at that, but subsequent inquiries told me that this happens at most levels of the game and the Central province schools are known for actually taking their own umpires along to tournament matches and insisting on them officiating.

If this is true shouldn’t this be addressed? Or is this what the game has evolved into and maybe not just in Lanka? Increased parental involvement and the high stakes involved in making you budding cricketer into a star may have resulted in making this game that used to be fun just another source of stress to the child.

By the way that particular school has a current National player who is trying to cement his place in the middle order. A talented boy who is sometimes accused of not being able to “read” a game on field and getting himself out in a unbecoming manner and compromising his side. Is it a wonder? If all his cricket thinking was done for him by his coach and all he had to do was follow instructions ball by ball…he must be missing that and wishing that Woolmer was never stopped!

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