A lesson in Sri Lankan politics, culture…and cricket

Chinaman book cover
Chinaman: the legend of Pradeep Mathew

I’m halfway through Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka. The book is already a classic in Sri Lanka and became a bestseller when released a few years ago. It is fantastic. Imagine a cross between Hunter S Thompson and Wisden’s Almanack and you’re almost there. Think Fear and Loathing in the SCC.

In true Hunter S fashion it is a hoot to read, with the lead protagonists – a drunk sports hack and his wild-eyed colleagues – finding themselves in bar-room brawls, casinos, penthouse parties where anything goes, and uncovering conspiracy theories aplenty.

And that’s the face of it. But there’s also another level that sets the main story, a search for overlooked and undervalued 80s spinner Pradeep Mathew, in a context that reveals a lot about the customs of local people, the recent conflict, and attitudes to current affairs at home and abroad .

Here’s a highlight to whet your appetite. During a discussion about Mathew’s performance (with ball on field, and his balls off field) during Sri Lanka’s ill-fated tour of Australia in ‘89, the conversation seamlessly moves to the present – a street game of cricket in Colombo viewed from a nearby balcony –  to national, then international politics.

        “‘I think you are the man talking crap’ [says lead hack, WeeGee, in response to a theory about global powerhouses postulated by his main aid, Ari].

        [WeeGee continues:] I believe the history of the world can be explained by climate. Year-round sunshine makes you want to sit under trees or dance in loincloths. Bitter winters make you want to invent heaters and guns and sail to warmer climes and scalp natives. The comfortable get docile, the uncomfortable get busy. Which is why, after centuries of European dominance, the pendulum has started to swing towards overpopulated Asia.  

        …Right then a ball is thwacked into Ari’s window leaving a spider web of cracks. Then the nurturer of grassroots cricket runs out into the street, screaming, and confiscates the ball.”

This is gonzo cricket journalism. Beg, steel, or borrow a copy now.

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3 thoughts on “A lesson in Sri Lankan politics, culture…and cricket

  1. I note (cricket pedant) that the man on the cover of the book is holding the ball in the wrong hand. If he were a Chinaman bowler it would be in his left hand. Sorry

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