Will Devindu Senal Herath be our next Sanath Jayasuriya?
This is World Cup time and being a cricket lover I can’t get enough
of the action, at least outside the venues and the television. I am
tension-averse so I wimp my way through matches courtesy cricinfo. I
read the write-ups, the pre-game comments, overall predictions, stats,
who is in form and who is not, strengths and weaknesses of each time and
the key factors that might decide outcomes. It’s 50-over stuff and so we
get to hear about all-rounders, i.e. batting all-rounders and bowling
In the ODI format Sanath Jayasuriya leads the rest far behind at
least among Sri Lankans. Chaminda Vaas was a bowling all-rounder and
didn’t get much crease-time but was still an excellent role player.
Aravinda De Silva didn’t bowl enough one feels. This team has Angelo
Matthews, Thisara Perera and the irrepressible Tillekeratne Dilshan with
Nuwan Kulasekera fitting easily into the role that Vaas used to play. A
team of 11 all-rounders would not work for obvious reasons and so
wouldn’t one without any. We are not lacking, shall we say?
Customs and values
I am thinking of a different kind of all-rounder this morning, in
particular a little boy called Devindu Senal Herath, just seven years
old. I first saw him about a year ago at the Jana Kala Kendraya,
Battaramulla. He was attending (along with his older brother and my two
daughters) a workshop devoted to folk song and dance as well as other
things traditional including customs and values, conducted by the
immensely energetic Sahan Ranwala under the aegis of the foundation
carrying his father’s name, ‘Lionel Ranwala Padanama’.
All children are ‘naturals’, unless their natural inclinations
towards song and dance are dented by overanxious, overambitious and
overbearing parents. A few are of course more natural than others or,
let’s say, endowed with above-average talent. This is reflected in
things like voice projection, voice control, modulation, speed of
picking up a tune, gesture, facial expression and rhythm, as far as the
activities relevant to the workshop are concerned. Devindu is as big or
small as the next child but in general more self-effacing than his
peers, until called upon to deliver. He grows taller on such occasions.
Devindu is only one of the children who show greater talent than the
rest of the class. What separates him, makes him an all-rounder and made
me write about him is the fact that he is more than music, dance and
He was recently awarded first prize in his age category at the 11th
International Environmental Children’s Drawing Contest, organized by the
Japan Quality Assurance Organization and UNICEF. This followed a Silver
Medal for his submission to the Shankar International Art Competition
2010 in his age category. Young Devindu has won numerous prizes for his
drawings at art competitions and exhibitions organized by his school,
All this is achievement enough for someone as young as he, but
Devindu seems to have the time, energy, discipline and enthusiasm to
engage in other things as well. At the recently concluded All Island
Shotokan Karate National Championship, he won the Gold in the Kata
discipline for his age group. Earlier he was adjudged the Under Seven
Champion of the Western Province in Kumite at the National Karate Do
Championship. He’s also an up and coming exponent gymnastics I later
found out, which might explain his considerable dancing skills. Or vice
versa, as the case may be. Time will tell what else he’ll take on or if
he will pick one and pursue excellence in that particular field. He’s an
all-rounder and a remarkable talent, this much is clear.
He’s not an exception though. A few months ago I was privileged to be
one of two who judged the Musaeus College Inter House Drama Competition.
The other was Rajitha Dissanayake, one of the most accomplished
dramatists of our time. I was struck by the wealth of acting talent at
Musaeus. I still remember Rajitha pointing out that this was not
peculiar to that school. He has judged other such contests in other
schools and conducted drama workshops all over the country and knew
enough about the talent available.
He told me that those who were good at acting, typically, were good
at a lot of other things too; they excelled in their studies as well as
extra curricular activities including sports. Naturally they had a wide
range of career options to choose from. It was the rare individual who
would stick to drama, he said.
It brought to mind something that the former principal of D S
Senanayake College and current Director General, National Library and
Documentation Services Board, Asoka Hewage told me about 25 years ago.
Back then he was a final year student at Peradeniya University,
President of the Arts Students Union, an enthusiastic sportsman who
spent a lot of time in the gymnasium and an invariable and thoughtful
contributor to political debates in the Arts Theatre.
He told a bunch of us freshers how a professor had once observed that
while it is good to be engaged in extra-curricular activities including
politics, if the primary purpose of being in the university - the
pursuit of knowledge - is abandoned then the overall achievement is
minimal. Twenty five years later I would add that it would also amount
to unpardonable irresponsibility to the general citizenry who pay for
Whether students in general take heed of such words of wisdom I am
not sure, but there is a discernable tendency for someone who excels in
one discipline to be reasonably good in others as well. It would be
enough I feel to excel in one thing and yet it seems advisable to
explore many fields if the opportunity is there because it makes for a
more wholesome upbringing and makes an individual better equipped to
face with equanimity life’s vicissitudes.
Hewage, given 25 years of experience as an educationist said that an
all-rounder is more than likely to do reasonably well in his/her studies
but adds that ‘getting by’ is not enough. Endowed with average
intelligence and an above average ability to multi-task, a sportsman
would not find it difficult to pass an exam, but might nevertheless lose
out on the benefits of structured instruction.
What is lacking is guidance, I feel. Not all parents are equipped to
advise their children or offer informed guidance when the time comes to
make difficult choices. Such expertise is absent in the school system as
I think we have enough all-rounders. What we don’t have is a
structure that help them make the best out of their talent and thereby
serve nation and fellow-citizen in more productive ways. Perhaps, by the
time young Devindu gets to the ‘difficult age’ these flaws would have
been corrected. For now, I feel proud that we have children like him in
our country. I am not sure if he’ll be another Sanath Jayasuriya but
what he does do indicates that we must have many Sanaths around. They
might end up as doctors who are exceptional vocalists or civil servants
who are outstanding sculptors of course. I would not complain.