Sunday, February 12, 2017

Lakshina Rodrigo: Batting and bowling on

Cricket scores enthral me. Individual scores enthral me even more. Good players are not hard to get, and the better ones among them always find reason to celebrate victory and lacerate defeat. Sure, the game quickly subsumes the individual in the collective, but through the billboard, individual players tend to come out and compel our attention. The collective matters. But so do names.

It’s school cricket season in Sri Lanka. The season of focusing on outcomes and playing fair. The season of teams and names. The season of individual and collective scores. The season, in short, of not just cricket, but also school colour, parades, and papare bands. And stories. Especially stories. Of the latter, the players have plenty to tell, enough and more to splash some colour and make it to the headlines. This is one such story, of one such player.

Lakshina Rodrigo will be captaining the St Peter’s College team this year. A right-handed batsman with a flair for top averages, he’s played the game elsewhere too, in his hometown and abroad. This is not, however, only about his cricket scores or the debacles he’s faced so far to get to the proverbial top. Those have been recorded and reported. This is about his other life, the life he led to complement his love for cricket that will not be recorded in its entirety by others.

Lakshina began his school cricket career in Grade Four (back in 2006). Before that, he joined the Bandula de Silva Cricket Academy in his hometown Moratuwa when he was in Grade Two. He rose up the ranks and eventually captained the Under 13, Under 15, and Under 17 teams at St Peter’s, clinching the provincial championship for his school and along the way other titles. In 2011, he was the Man of the Match while captaining the Under 15 team. To a considerable extent, his love for cricket had been inherited: his father, Priyalal, had been a heady player in the eighties (when he played for St Sebastian's and later represented Sri Lanka at the Under 19 World Cup in Australia).

He has certainly won many tokens and awards, but these hardly go by way of assessing his true worth. He was the Observer/Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of 2015 (together with Randev Pathirana from Royal and Shanaka Sampath from Sri Piyaratne Maha Vidyalaya, Padukka). He then captained the Under 19 team and, in his first season, managed to hit 738 runs, eventually ending up as the Most Promising School Cricketer that year (2014). He managed to hit 1,016 runs in 2015 (becoming the Runner Up Most Promising School Cricketer) and 680 in 2016 and so far.

The ball doesn’t stop there. While captaining the Under 19 team Lakshina was also part of the Tri-Nation Tournament and the World Cup Squad. 2016 in that sense was a veritable year for him and his team, with victories as League and T20 Champions, emerging gradually as the All Island Best Team (Division I) with St Sebastian's, at the Singer Under 19 School Cricket Awards. It was also, however, a deeply turbulent year.

Lakshina sat for his A Levels last August. The exams had begun for him on August 2. The following day, his mother had succumbed to cancer. Through the busy schedule and harrowing experience that no doubt entailed, he managed to sit for his papers (in the Commerce stream). With a line-up of matches and the many classes he missed for the sake of his team, this would have been tough enough. Coupled with his tragic bereavement, the pressure would have been even tougher.

And yet, he sat for them. The results, which came last month, were astounding. Not only had he passed, he had passed well: four A’s, top scores certainly, and in all likelihood enough for him to enter University and play around with a lucrative career in whatever he opts for.

Resilience would have figured in there, no doubt. I asked Lakshina as to how he managed to wade through these difficult waters. “It’s true that I missed classes and it’s true that when you play for your school you have to choose between your academic record and school colours, but that wasn’t a problem considering that when term tests were around the corner, our teachers ensured we were up to date with all subjects.” I sense some modesty in his explanation, but that (considering the many debacles one must pass to ace our exams) doesn’t belittle his accomplishment. Not by one jot.

I am sure there were names involved here, names of teachers who didn’t forget to cross that extra mile to help him. Lakshina, needless to say, lists them all for me.

“L. H. Sunil, Malinda Warnapura, and Keerthi Gunarathne, the Coaches at St Peter’s, helped me a lot. So did Sanath Chinthaka and Vasantha Haputhanthri, the Masters in Charge. When it comes to my academic record, I have to mention Mr Anthony, the head of the Commerce Section, as well as my subject teachers: Mr Dhammika for Business Studies, Ms Premani for Accounting, and Mr Shirley for Economics.”

Given his past, what were the values he learnt? “First and foremost, discipline. Without it, none of the other values matter. With it comes loyalty, along with dedication, the ability to stand up for yourself and more importantly your team, leadership, and, as a Peterite, the pride entailed in batting, bowling, and fielding for your school.”

I am no cricketer, but I appreciate the struggles encountered by those who opt for it as more than just a pastime. Lakshina, I fervently believe, has restored my faith in the individual constituent of a veritable sport. He will of course be captaining the St Peter’s team at this year’s Battle of the Saints, which may or may not echo what transpired last year (when St Joseph’s lost). We are not prophets, so we can never tell. In any case, it does not matter.

The Battle of the Saints, like all other Big Matches and One Day Encounters waged by school teams against each other, doesn’t really belong to its Captains. This time around, though, it will be special to one person, one name, and one captain. Lakshina Rodrigo, no doubt paying a tribute to his father and his mother, will bat and bowl harder. He will claim victories, I hope. He will also take back something from the field. Something that will add meaning to his life. When he takes off.

Writing for: The Island YOUth, February 12 2017