My dear friend, the late Sampath Agalawatta, who led the invincible rugger team of Royal College in 1984, was humble to a fault. Our batch calls itself ‘The Class of 1983’ or for short ‘The 83 batch,’ but if someone who was at Royal way before or way after our time inquired, we mention the year and if we noticed query in expression, would qualify thus: ‘Agale’s batch’. The inquirer would inevitably smile and acknowledge recognition with a simple ‘ah…’.
Agale was humble, as mentioned. Everyone who had the privilege of associating him has ‘An Agale Story’. His generosity, humility, humor and indeed humanity, are legendary. He was associated with rugby, naturally. People often asked him about THAT team which won all trophies on offer. This is what he said to them:
‘Fourteen players were always ready to help the 15th score a try.”
Team. That’s what he was all about. That’s what it is all about in most collective endeavors. Of course the stat book would show who scored the try. People talk, for example, about Kusal Janith Perera’s 153 not out in the first test in Durban in February 2019 which propelled Sri Lanka to an improbable victory against South Africa as a classic because he had to bat with Number 11. Kusal scored 67 of the 78 runs required. Vishva Fernando scored just 6, but he hung in there. Hanging in there was his contribution. He was the last of the 10 other men who did their bit to help Kusal see Sri Lanka through, not to take anything away from the latter’s memorable effort of course.
Just this morning, I was discussing hoops with a diehard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Tony Courseault, who I’ve known for 25 years now lives in Jacksonville, Florida. He was commenting on a game between the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks. He sent me a screen shot of a comment about the Rockets’ superstar, James Harden which carried the caption ‘James Harden is upset about always being double-teamed.’
He qualified that ‘comment’ by saying that Harden actually scores regardless of being double-teamed, but that he’s upset because he wants to be averaging 50 a game and feels that the double-teams are an impediment: ‘dude puts winning second; if not, then he’d just pass out of double teams.’
This led to a discussion about ‘assists’. I offered that player-value should be combination of assists and points scored. Tony disagreed.
‘Assists can, and usually are, misleading. A LeBron James (LA Lakers) assist is very different from a Russell Westbrook (Houston Rockets) assist. Russel is a stat-stuffer. He waits until you are open enough or close enough to the basket before he passes. Remember, as assist only counts if the receiver of the pass does NOT dribble. LeBron creates it by running the offense so effectively that he legitimately finds weaknesses in the defense. Then he directs the offense to exploit it. Assists are a natural byproduct for him.
LeBron is known for his point-production, rebounding, assists, court-vision, defense, on and off court leadership and many other things. Few would disagree that he’s one of the greatest ever to play basketball. In most cases, though, in most games such as basketball, rugby and cricket and even in life, be in achieving corporate targets, delivering well-being to those who are disadvantaged or anything else, assists and those who assist are forgotten. The transcript of process somehow neglects or devalues.
There are people whose assistance, however minute it may be, are imperative for overall success of the team. ‘Team’ could mean anything from the 11 who play a cricket match, the 15 playing rugger, the 5 on the court in a basketball game, a village determined to protect crops from animals, a company operating in an adverse environment or a nation besieged.
Sure, there will be those who do little but demand credit for the work of others. Some are praised even if they’ve done nothing. There are people who are associated with the victory because, well, their ascent happens to be the project itself. Some will believe it is their stellar qualities and the recognition of the same that got them to where they are. Then there are also people like Sampath Agalawatta. He received all the trophies his teammates secured for their school, but he never once claimed ‘I did it’ or ‘it was my team’. He was part of a team and he happened to be their leader.
Arjuna Parakrama, Professor of English at the University of Peradeniya dedicated his master’s thesis to his teachers. The meaning of the word can be extended beyond ‘teacher.’ Everyone who said or did something and even those whose decisions to remain silent or do nothing because these were what the moment demanded, contributes to success.
‘The act is all, the reputation nothing,’ said Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, the German writer and statesman. Acts can be big or small, seen or unseen, recognized or dismissed, celebrated or ignored, remembered or forgotten.
We don’t know who invented the wheel or who assisted the wheel-inventor. We can’t demand that anyone assists us, but assist we can; just doing that which needs to be done, to the best of our ability and with absolute integrity. Turns the world, makes things better, puts smiles on faces or, in the very least, makes for a good night’s sleep due to the knowledge we did the best we could.