Besides batting overs and taking runs and losing innings, South Asia’s top cricketers were bowling hat trick of another kind during the Asia Cup in Dambulla.
The four skippers of four of the biggest cricket playing nations in the world - Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara and Bangladesh captain Shakib al Hasan – took their eye off the ball briefly to speak from their heart about children. At a joint press conference between the Asian Cricket Council and UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the message to governments and communities was: invest in a healthy hat trick – good nutrition, sanitation and girls’ education – three critical interventions to save children’s lives.
“We don't just care about cricket, we are fathers, we are husbands, we are brothers and we care about our communities. They are our families, our fans and they are our people, “ said Kumar Sangakarra. “If we really care about our fans we have to know what’s going on in these communities. And good nutrition and sanitation and girls education are for us ultimate Hat Trick."
The shocking statistics that 45 per cent of the population in South Asia lack access to sanitation and 41 per cent of children suffer from malnutrition leading to three million child deaths, has triggered the cricketers into lending their voice to amplify these issues. Cricket for South Asians is like a religion and cricketers are like gods.
“By harnessing the magic and power of cricketers to talk out on these issues and promote very simple measures - like hand washing with soap, access and use of toilets, immediate and exclusive breastfeeding and educating girls – we can help save these children’s lives,” said Philippe Duamelle, Representative of UNICEF Sri Lanka.”
“Bangladesh has come a long way since the mid-1970s when we had one of the highest child mortality rates in the world,” Shakib al Hasan. “Now today this is not so much the case but small things like handwashing with soap and making new mother is allowed to breastfeed immediately after giving birth and exclusively for 6 months, these things will help our children.“
Talking about the situation in Pakistan, Afridi said, “For us in Pakistan the most important thing now is to educate our girls because this affects everything. Like India we have a big issue with sanitation and we still have polio - too many children are still getting crippled from this disease. When a girl goes to school and stays in school til her twelfth year, then she is going to have healthy, educated children and she will make sure her children get vaccinated. So education is like a social vaccine."
Dhoni : “I am shocked when I hear that in India there will soon be more mobile phones than toilets - 638 million people in my country still do not use or have access to toilets. So we have advanced technology but we are neglecting such a basic human need. We cannot expect our children to avoid diseases like polio and other things if they are being brought up in unhygenic conditions. India has a real responsibility to the world to eradicate polio. So we have to make sure our children are immunized. Vaccines together good sanitation can eradicate this crippling disease. We can and must do this."
With a flurry of activity between UNICEF and cricketers – encouraging cricket among former child combatants, fielding links between cricketers and Bollywood celebrities like at the Indian International Film Academy -- sports journalists are sitting up and taking note of children’s issues.
“Like in any world class cricket match a hat trick is that rare formula we all aim for,” said Syed Ashraful Huq, CE of Asia Cricket Council. “Investing in a healthy hat trick will make this a world class region.”