15 youngsters have the experience of a lifetime as part of ICC's programme in collaboration with UNAIDS and UNICEF
It was an opportunity of a lifetime for a group of 15 youngsters, fortunate enough to interact and discuss cricket with Allan Donald, as well as a host of South African players participating in the ICC World Twenty20 2012.
The R Premadasa Stadium reverberated with laughs and giggles on Wednesday, the seriousness of the competition put on the backburner as some of South Africa’s leading cricketers pitched in to support the ‘Think Wise’ campaign, an initiative of the International Cricket Council, the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Alongside Donald, the legendary pace bowler of yesteryear who is now the bowling coach of the South African national team, current players Richard Levi, JP Duminy, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell and Farhaan Behardien interacted with the young group that has been involved in spreading awareness of HIV/AIDS through road shows across 114 locations in Sri Lanka during the ICC World Twenty20 2012.
“It’s just fantastic to be able to meet these great players and spend a few minutes with them, not just posing for photographs but actually playing a bit of cricket with them,” said Anshani Dissayanake, unable to contain her excitement. “This day will forever remain special as far as I am concerned.”
The players gave tips on fielding and catching to the wide-eyed group, and Levi and Duminy devised a novel way of keeping a playful exercise competitive. A group of five youngsters was entrusted with the task of hitting three mini-stumps some 10 yards away. Every time someone from the group scored a direct hit, Levi and Duminy did two push-ups each. Each time there was a miss, the group collectively had to endure the ‘punishment’ of push-ups.
“It’s very important to create awareness among people about HIV/AIDS, not just for our generation but for generations to come,” said Duminy. “It’s great to see the ICC getting involved in this initiative, and as players, we are more than happy to play our part in ensuring that the message spreads far and wide. Sport is something that has brought nations together, so it is good to see sport being used as a vehicle to spread messages of social awareness.”
South Africa has a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, but Duminy said this was as much a global menace as anything else. “Yes, there is a big HIV problem in South Africa, but it’s not exclusive to South Africa,” he said. “ICC events have been involved in heightening AIDS awareness, and I hope this is a starting point for us to get rid of the problem.”
The group of young people, all aged between 18 and 26, have been living with, affected by or working on HIV/AIDS awareness, and for them to listen to Donald hold forth on the intricacies of bowling was quite the high point of a sweltering afternoon.
“I have only seen Donald on TV,” said Menaka Madhushani. “To actually see him in flesh and blood, and hear him talk, was memorable. I am glad we could meet with him and other South African players through this campaign.”
Donald had his young audience enthralled as he spoke of swing bowling, of how to tilt the seam slightly inwards or outwards to get inswing and outswing respectively, and how the position of the wrist was crucial to procure swing. “Some bowlers like to go wide of the crease and get some inswing,” he said. “But you remember Sreesanth, the Indian fast bowler? He is very good, very smart, just runs in straight and uses his wrist to get inswing.” Donald had worked with Sreesanth during his days with Warwickshire in the English County championship.
The Think Wise campaign is almost a decade old, with Virender Sehwag, Kumar Sangakkara and Ramnaresh Sarwan, among others, as ambassadors. Through them and other cricketers, the campaign has reached out to people and addressed key issues around HIV/AIDS, and especially about the stigma associated with it.
“Through cricket, we can reach millions of people and the message is clear: Let’s talk about HIV, let’s get informed,” Sehwag said through a media release. “We know that stigma kills. Let’s ‘Think Wise’, don’t stigmatize.”
The message the young bunch sported on the back of their T-shirts wasn’t dissimilar: Get the Facts, Protect Yourself. Think Wise, Don’t Stigmatize, it read. Succinct, but very, very significant.