To be elected as the first foreign, the first non-white (and probably the youngest) President of the MCC since that venerable body was founded in 1787, one would have to be a remarkable human being. Kumar Sangakkara is certainly that, as I found out over lunch with him in London last week.
He is a handsome man, aged 42, with a full head of curly black hair and an attractive personality. He speaks intelligently and, though he clearly enjoys a joke, one is left in no doubt that he is a fundamentally serious person.
His record on the cricket pitch between 2000 and 2015 is also serious: a Test match average of over 57, which only four players in history (Don Bradman, Wally Hammond, Ken Barrington and Garfield Sobers) have bettered. He scored 28, 000 runs in international cricket, including 11 Test match double centuries (beaten only by Bradman’s 12) and 63 centuries (beaten only by Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Virat Kohli).
He holds a number of other world records, both as a batsman and a wicket-keeper, including taking part with his great friend Mahela Jayawardene in a stand of 624 for Sri Lanka.
But it is his stature as a person, as well as a cricketer, that makes him so remarkable. He and his wife Yehali, who is a doctor, have raised several millions for a new hospital for disabled children in his home country. He raised much of this money personally by calling on millionaire Sri Lankans who had made their fortunes in other countries.
When the MCC invited him to give their annual lecture on the spirit of cricket, founded in memory of Colin Cowdrey, he made a brave and blistering attack on the corruption in Sri Lankan cricket that has dogged it for over 20 years. The Sri Lankan government announced an investigation into the speech, but it came to nothing because his claims were unanswerable.
His appointment is an indication of the changes, all for the good, that have taken place in the character of the MCC since I was a bit of a rebel on the club committee 30 years ago. It is no longer the stodgy establishment body that it has seemed to be in the past.
By appointing Sangakkara, the racist stain that was left by the MCC’s inept handling of the D’Oliveira affair has finally been erased after 50 years.
Flim-flam election campaign
Having worked on newspapers through seven general elections, I pity the journalists covering the present one. There is only one story – who will win on December 12? – and nobody knows. The rest is flim-flam.
Interviews with the leaders tell us nothing we didn’t know before. Even revelations about their past – in Johnson’s case about his honesty (or lack of it), in Corbyn’s case about anti-semitism and fraternising with terrorists – don’t seem to shock their supporters.
Opinion polls, as we should all know by now after Theresa’s May’s disastrous 2017 campaign that caused the Brexit logjam, are not reliable guides to how people will actually vote on the day. Party manifestos and spending promises tend to cancel each other out - and nobody believes them anyway. Covering the campaign is just filling in time and space.
Death of a great reporter
My friend Richard Lindley, who covered the world as a reporter for ITN and Panorama, has died at the age of 83 after being hit by a truck in Covent Garden. He was already suffering from Alzheimer’s; in the early stages of the disease he made a radio programme about the effects it was having on his life.
He and his wife, the celebrated networker Carole Stone, came to Alcudia every year for a holiday with Richard’s daughter from his previous marriage and his grandchildren. My wife and I would join them for convivial lunch, usually at Mirador La Victoria, and sometimes they would come to our house. Carole held famous parties in London every December for movers and shakers in the worlds of politics, business, showbiz and journalists - for “a thousand of her closest friends.” She had collected celebrities from her time as producer of “Any Questions” for the BBC.
As a reporter Richard secured the first interview with Saddam Hussein, describing the Iraqi leader as the most honest politician he had ever met – for admitting openly to torturing his enemies. He also wrote the definitive history of ITN, deploring the fatal decision to move it from its 10pm slot and the lack of resources that had made the news programme a shadow of its glory days.
In another book, about Panorama, he was critical of John Birt’s rule at the BBC, saying he lacked the most crucial element in a broadcaster: creativity. He described the typical chaos at the BBC when 9/11 erupted in 2001.
Tom Mangold, one of the Corporation’s most experienced reporters, was investigating a story in Florida at the time and offered to fly to New York. He was told sternly to fly home instead, as a special team of 20 people had been assembled to cover the crisis. All Transatlantic flights were then cancelled and the BBC’s special team found themselves stranded in Canada with no one on the spot.
Richard had dozens of such stories to tell. His professional integrity was so highly respected that he was invited to become TV regulator, but after a year at the office job he felt the call of on-the-spot reporting and went back to it.
He and Carole were a well-matched couple, she a talkative, outgoing personality balanced by Richard’s quiet shrewdness. He will be badly missed by many of us. His funeral next month at St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square will be packed. I must make sure to get there early.