Australian all-rounder pitches in at Room to Read event, making it a memorable occasion for 500-odd students
This was a Shane Watson of the kind the world hasn’t often seen – slightly embarrassed, completely moved, but totally in his element as he pitched in to promote Room to Read, a partnership of the International Cricket Council with the educational charity Room to Read.
Some 12 young kids aged between nine and 11 brought the best out of Watson at a simple yet beautiful function at Prince College in Kotahena. Prince College is essentially a primary school sponsored by the government, with classes up to Grade 11, and almost every one of the 521 students turned up to welcome the Australian all-rounder, who clearly enjoyed being away from the hustle and bustle of competitive cricket.
Watson is one of the ambassadors for Room To Read – along with Virat Kohli and Angelo Mathews – and both watching him and listening to him speak, it was obvious that he wasn’t merely lending his name to the cause.
“Room to Read is something I have been involved with for over a year,” said Watson. “Once I started to understand exactly what Room to Read is doing in trying to get as many young kids as possible to be able to learn how to read, I was totally committed to the cause because I know how important it was for my development as a young kid, and also my development as a person growing up, to read. It’s amazing how many people Room to Read have actually touched, not just in the sub-continent – I have seen it with my own eyes in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh especially – and given these young kids a chance to be able to achieve their goals and dreams in life. I have been lucky that I have had those opportunities as a young kid, and I would like to help out as much as I can to give the young kids the same opportunities.”
For the kids, it was both an eye-opener and an absolute thrill as Watson read out a story in English – Oshani Bilakshi from Grade 5 read out the same story in Sinhala – and then participated in a colouring exercise of his illustration. “I am not very good at painting and colouring,” said Watson, showing that he is human, after all, and that there are some skills that he hasn’t yet perfected.
The 12 children then asked him questions ranging from his favourite ground – Lord’s in London – to his favourite Sri Lankan cricketer – Kumar Sangakkara, “not just because he is a great cricketer but also because is respectful towards the game and towards his opponents. He is a very intelligent man and he knows how to play cricket in the right spirit.”
The one question that stumped him temporarily, and forced him to think long and hard, was about his favourite subject. “It was definitely not maths, though I was quite good at it,” he said, finally. “In school, we had a subject called Health and Physical Education. It taught us a lot about the human body. As a cricketer, I wanted to know more about how the human body functions and this subject helped me as a cricketer to know my body.”
His favourite batsman, he said, was Virender Sehwag. “He can play shots which others can only dream of doing,” he said. “He is absolutely carefree and he does not care about the score. All he is interested in is hitting every ball for a six, I make sure I turn the television on whenever he is batting. However, my idol is Jacques Kallis. To me, he is the greatest all-rounder that has played the game.”
Watson singled out Dale Steyn as his least favourite bowler – “He intimidates you with his eyes and will do everything possible to get you out. He is very, very quick but he is also extremely skilful” – and added that his father, who loved Test cricket, was the inspiration behind him taking up cricket as a profession.
“To be able to see how much it means to the kids to be able to have the skills that they are developing but also to see how much people do love cricket in Sri Lanka is great,” Watson remarked later. “I am very lucky to be able to have the opportunity to play cricket around the world. Sri Lanka is one of my favourite places to come and tour. People are very hospitable. To be able to come here and get away from the hustle and bustle of a World Cup, an ICC event, does mean a lot to the players. It gives you the chance to really see the true value of how important the life part is of what you do, leaving aside the cricket side of things.”
Watson’s involvement in Room to Read extends beyond just organised events. “I have been doing as much as I can. I brought out a book last year, 20% of all royalties from the book went to Room to Read,” he said. “I am trying to help as much as I can, not just with appearances but also trying in my own way to raise money because I know how important it is for young kids to have the opportunities that I have been lucky to have. In the last 10-15 years, I have read an amazing amount of books and it has really been a way for me to develop as a person, seeing how people learn from their mistakes. It has really broadened my horizons in trying to be the person I try to be.”