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Authors: Shehan Karunatilaka

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary

The Legend of Pradeep Mathew

BOOK: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew
2.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Praise for
The Legend of Pradeep Mathew

“Funny and original, extremely revealing about Sri Lanka…. Brilliant.”

—The Times

“A crazy ambidextrous delight. A drunk and totally unreliable narrator runs alongside the reader insisting him or her into the great fictional possibilities of cricket.”

—Michael Ondaatje

“There’s much to enjoy in Wije’s garrulously meandering narrative—in the grouchy humor, the laconic observations on Sri Lanka’s political tribulations, the pathos of coming to the end of your life only to realize that maybe life does matter and you might have let people down…. A debut bristling with energy and confidence, a quixotic novel that is both an elegy to lost ambitions and a paean to madcap dreams.”

—The Sunday Times

“A delightful novel: reading it feels like a long dilatory conversation with an agreeable drunk companion at a Press Club somewhere, with assertions made and defended by diagrams penciled on paper napkins…. A baggy Test match of a novel. It charms because of its grouchiness, its open-heartedness, its humor and its honesty, obvious most of all when it comes to the obsessive, possessive passion that particularly centers on cricket.”

The Times Literary Supplement

“Karunatilaka has a real lightness of touch. He mixes humor and violence with the same deftness with which his protagonist mixes drinks…. He allows memory to be distilled through the filters of age and arrack, illustrating what the best fiction always does: show that there is never just one truth, one reality…. A great novel.”

The Guardian

Legend of Pradeep Mathew’s
] free-wheeling, zany tempo is part of its charm too. Its picaresque action… gives a vibrant comic pulse to Sri Lankan life, even though Karunatilaka’s portrait of the country is scathing…. It confirms that cricket, a game that is largely played in the head and inhabits a bizarrely detailed parallel world to our own, is ideally suited to the purposes of fiction.”

Financial Times

“A Great Cricket Novel. For a game without much great fiction, that’s a reason to applaud with drums—and forget the rules the marshals impose at Lord’s.”

The Independent

“The first genuine contender for the title of Great Sri Lankan Novel has entered the lists.”

—Richard Simon,
Sunday Times
(Sri Lanka)

“The best cricket novel I have ever read. Shehan’s love for the game is matched by his flair for storytelling. As spellbinding as an India-Pakistan one-day match. I felt like shouting Howzat on every other page. If you love cricket read this, if you love novels read this, and if you love both, you know this one is for you.”

—Mohammed Hanif

“This is one of the most astonishing novels I’ve read in a long, long while.
The Legend of Pradeep Mathew
transcends fiction archetypes and takes on a rhythmic, breathing, life force of its own. Just when you think you’ve got the story pegged, it refracts in a direction you didn’t expect towards a conclusion that doesn’t seem possible. Yes, there is cricket in this novel, but there is much, much more. To refer to
The Legend of Pradeep Mathew
as a book about cricket is a sin tantamount to calling
a book about a whale. I have not felt that tingle at the back of my neck since my first experiences with Murakami and Bolaño.”

—Jamil Zaidi, The Elliott Bay Book Company



A Novel


Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2011 by Shehan Karunatilaka
First published by Jonathan Cape, a division of Random House Group Ltd, London, as

This publication is made possible in part by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the Minnesota general fund and its arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008, and a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota. Significant support has also been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts; Target; the McKnight Foundation; and other generous contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals. To these organizations and individuals we offer our heartfelt thanks.

Published by Graywolf Press
250 Third Avenue North, Suite 600
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States of America

ISBN 978-1-55597-611-8
Ebook ISBN 978-1-55597-046-8

2 4 6 8 9 7 5 3 1
First Graywolf Printing, 2012

Library of Congress Control Number: 2012931911

Cover design: Kapo Ng

Suranjan, Dilo, Ranil,
Mani and Percy



First Innings

Second Innings

Close of Play

Follow On

Last Over


If a liar tells you he is lying,
is he telling the truth?

First Innings

‘I think the word ‘great’ is overused. It should only be used for the real legends of the game. We keep saying, ‘It’s a great goal’, ‘It’s a great save’, ‘It’s a great shot through the covers’, when we are talking about orthodox, normal things that happen in every game. I think it denigrates the word.’

Geoff Boycott, England batsman (1964–82)

Pradeep Who?

Begin with a question. An obvious one. So obvious it has already crossed your mind. Why have I not heard of this so-called Pradeep Mathew?

This subject has been researched lengthwise and breadthwise. I have analysed every match our man has played in. Why, you ask, has no one heard of our nation’s greatest cricketer?

Here, in no particular order. Wrong place, wrong time, money and laziness. Politics, racism, power cuts, and plain bad luck. If you are unwilling to follow me on the next God-knows-how-many pages, re-read the last two sentences. They are as good a summary as I can give from this side of the bottle.


I made my decision after the 1996 World Cup. The last years of my worthless life would be dedicated to a worthy cause. Not world peace or cancer cures or saving whales. God, if he exists, can look into those. No. In my humble opinion, what the world needs most is a halfway decent documentary on Sri Lankan cricket.

No one knows about this visit to Nawasiri Hospital. Not Sheila, who has begun to notice my falling hair, my swollen fingers and the rings under my eyes. Not Ari, who has remarked on how my hand shakes as I pour. Not even Kusuma, the servant, who wakes up every other morning to clean up my acidic, bloodstained vomit.

The doctor is younger than my son and has a put-on smile that does not soften the blow. ‘Mr Karunasena, your liver is being destroyed. And it will get worse.’

‘At least I have my heart.’

My giggle is as pathetic as my attempt at humour. He ignores it and begins scribbling.

‘Can’t you give me pills?’

‘I can give you pills for the nausea and the fever. I can also refer you to our alcohol counsellor.’ The doctor tears off a chit branded by a pharmaceutical company I have not heard of. ‘The rest, Uncle, is up to you.’

‘How much time?’ I keep my tone even and my eyes fixed, hoping the pup won’t see that the old dog is ruffled.

‘If you stop drinking and start eating, exercising, Uncle can bat on for another ten, twenty years.’

The things they don’t teach you at school. How to love. How to die. How to stage a dramatic comeback.

Is it possible to hammer 3 goals in extra time after trailing 2–0? Or to land a knockout punch at the end of the 12th? Is it too late to score a 10 an over and turn a paltry 170 into a magnificent 300?

In my life I have seen beauty only twice. I’m not talking
magazine front-cover beauty. I’m talking staggering beauty. Something so beautiful it can make you cry. Sixty-four years, two things of beauty. One I have failed to cherish, the other I may yet be able to.

Sheila at the Galle Face Hotel, 31st Nite Dinner Dance, 1963.

PS Mathew vs New Zealand, at Asgiriya, 1987.

‘What if I cut down to two drinks a day?’

He doesn’t look surprised. But at least he lets go of the smile. ‘A year or two. Maybe more.’

Thus it was settled. I would attempt to do a halfway decent documentary on Sri Lankan cricket. There is nothing more inspiring than a solid deadline.


‘I don’t mind you writing as long as you don’t depress people.’

My beloved wife is making me sweep the kitchen. The last time I held a broom, Diego Maradona was a thin, teetotalling teenager.

‘You used to be a poet, Gamini. Now you’re just a grumpus.’

She says I cannot spend my retirement in my room reading about cricket and drinking. So I have chores, which at sixty-four, I find abominable. But as long as I am helping around the house, we are not talking about my drinking, and in my retirement such mercies are welcome.

‘Don’t talk rot, Sheila. When we were young anger was fashionable. Angry young man and all. Now I’m a grumpus?’

‘That’s not a cricket bat, Gamini. Sweep properly.’

It is true. The world has changed and I have not. As with everything, my fault entirely.

‘Heard from Garfield?’

‘Just go, men.’ Sheila is cutting onions and not crying. She keeps jabbering. ‘He’s doing well. You better stop this business and talk to him. He’s calling tonight.’

‘Tonight I will be writing.’

‘Do whatever the hell you want.’

She adds the red chilli to the dry fish.

I say nothing, keep sweeping, and decide to do just that.

Pradeep Why?

Another question. Why am I chasing a man who played only four test matches for Sri Lanka? A man who denied me interviews, delighted me on occasion, disappointed those he played with, and disappeared three years ago. A man whose name is remembered by a minority smaller than our tribal Veddah population.

BOOK: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew
2.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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