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DON BRADMAN AND HIS MEN IN CEYLON

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(“From Essays on Sri Lankan Cricket compiled by Michael Roberts”)

by Neville Jayaweera

The image of Don Bradman exercised almost a mesmeric hold over the imagination of my generation, i.e. of those born in the 1930s, in (then) Ceylon. The dominion he exercised was so absolute that even now, 60 something years on, most of that generation would claim that there never was and never will be anyone like the Don taking guard at a batting crease. Speaking for myself, having watched cricket in England during the past 30 summers that I have been living here, I can vouch that no batsman I have seen ever came nigh Bradman. Neither in run getting nor in amassing statistics, neither in the capacity to concentrate nor in the fleetness of foot, neither in the murderous power of driving and pulling nor in the single minded devotion to the pursuit of perfection, and least of all, as a captain, did any batsman challenge Bradman.

In all these and in much else besides, he remains unique and without a peer. During those 30 years, I have watched every great batsman who played Test cricket in any part of the world, put his batting prowess on display on England’s green fields, and none amongst them can even remotely claim to have played the same game as Don Bradman. The only batsman who even hovered over the horizon was perhaps Viv Richards, and that too in his heyday in the late 1970s tours, but even him, on a scale of 100, where Bradman would be graded at 95, I would rate only in the 60s.

However, while much is very rightly made of Bradman the batting genius, there are two other aspects to the Bradman phenomenon, which discerning critics have written about and to which I shall return towards the end of this article.

A Michaelangelo masterpiece.

I first heard the name of Don Bradman about 1937 when I was only seven, and attending the Lower School of S.. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia. Every boy in class collected cricket photographs and every young collector’s ambition was to boast of the largest number of Bradman pictures in his collection. There were two pictures of Bradman that every boy wanted to possess, one of him executing the straight drive and the other of him executing his fabled pull shot.

As I recall even now, the picture of him executing the straight drive had almost a mystical quality about it and it was not just the quality of the photography either. It presented the Don almost as a demi-god. What was distinctive about that picture was the sense of imperious authority, fluency and power it communicated. One could imagine the ball speeding like a rocket between the bowler and mid-off and lodging in the fence before either fielder could move. Here was no mere batsman. Here was a man who seemed in total command, a be-medalled field-marshal on horseback, a demi-god condescending to grace a cricket field.

The picture of him playing the pull was equally mesmeric. It showed him shouldering his bat vertically close to his let ear, having carved a crescent through the air from above his right shoulder downwards as opposed to the hoik or cross bat which often passes for the pull with ordinary mortals. Obviously J. H. Fingleton, one time Bradman’s partner in run scoring and later his biographer, must have been equally impressed by this photograph because he used it on the front cover of his book, “Brightly Fades the Don.”

For all the symmetry, perfection and poise these two pictures portrayed, they could have passed for masterpieces in marble sculptured by a Michaelangelo or a Rodin or to switch to another metaphor, the cricketing equivalents of Yehudi Menuhin displaying his virtuosity.

 

A family heirloom

With such fantasies of the great man crowding our minds, it was with the greatest excitement and wonderment that early in 1938, we learnt that Don Bradman and his team would be passing through Colombo on their way to England and would be playing a one day match on the SSC ground. To my inexpressible joy, my father, who was himself a fan of Don Bradman, agreed to take my brother Stanley, who was eleven then, and me, to see the great Don arrive with his men at the Colombo jetty. What was more, my father even purchased a brand new bat from Diana and Co. for my brother to take with him, in the hope of getting the Don’s autograph.

I recall the events of that hot steamy morning as if they happened only a few years ago. We were not allowed into the lower jetty where passengers disembarked from launches but had to watch over the railing as the team arrived. As the players climbed up from the lower jetty to the upper floor where the public had gathered, the crowd surged forward. My brother Stanley, with me trailing behind, his new bat in his left hand and my father’s Parker Dufold pen in the other, went to the first Aussie he saw and thinking he was Bradman, thrust the bat under him with a polite, ” Please sir, may I have you autograph”. Whereupon the Aussie smiled, took the bat and scrawled right across its middle, ” Sydney G. Barnes”. Somewhat disappointed that he had missed the Don, Stanley took the bat to the next man in a blazer coat and he in turn signed, a few spaces above the name of Barnes, his own name, “Stan MacCabe”. Thereafter, hoping to get Bradman, Stanley kept running to whoever was wearing an Aussie blazer and was rewarded with the following signatures, Lindsay Hassett, W.A Brown, J.H.Fingleton, W. J. O’Rielly, W.G Fleetwood Smith, C. L. Badcock, B.A.Barnett, E.L McCormick, A. G. Chipperfield, F.A.Ward and M.G.Waite, more or less in that order. Sadly, there was yet no signature of Bradman. By that time the team had already climbed into their cars to be driven to the Galle Face Hotel, when my father spied policemen crowding round one particular car right opposite the Grand Oriental Hotel across the road. Sensing that Bradman was in that car he urged my brother to hurry towards it, which Stanley did with great speed, with me trotting along behind him. Just when the car was about to start off Stanley thrust his bat under the nose of yet another Aussie who was standing with his foot on the running board. He turned out to be W.E. Geanes, the manager of the team. Geanes signed at the bottom, under all the other names, but noticing that Bradman himself had not signed it, inquired smilingly, ” Son, but you haven’t got Mr Bradman’s (sic) signature” and handed the bat to the great man who was already seated in the car. Up to that moment, at the request of the management, the police cordon around Bradman had denied access to anyone who sought his autograph. So it was that purely through the chance intervention of manager W.E. Geanes that we had all the signatures of the 1938 Australian team to England, with the great Don Bradman and his vice-captain Stan McCabe, heading the list.

My father intended the bat to be an heirloom. So it was that, taking it home that evening, with great care he inscribed across it, just under the splice, the rubric “Australian Cricket Team to England – 29th March 1938.” The bat belonged to Stanley and had he held on to it, it would have fetched over £25,000 at Sotheby’s today. However, that was not to be, and as to how Stanley squandered that inheritance is another story.

 

Batting fireworks

The following day, the 30th of March, the Australians played a one-day match against an All-Ceylon team at the SSC. The SSC ground of those days is now the Colombo Municipality cricket ground, which by the standards of MCG and SCG must have looked to the visitors like a postage stamp. Although Bradman had played once before in Colombo in 1930 and had scored 40 runs, he did not play in this match and it was memorable therefore only for the extraordinary display of batting fireworks by Badcock and Hassett who compiled 116 runs apiece. Their runs came mostly in sixes and fours, most of the sixes being executed almost parallel to the ground, either between point and cover or between square leg and mid-wicket.

The match was also memorable because schoolboy Pat McCarthy, the captain of Royal College team that year, was included in the All-Ceylon team, much to the chagrin of us Thomians who fumed over the exclusion of our own captain R.B. Wijesinha. In hindsight I should say that the Thomians’ dismay was completely ill founded because Wijesinha’s performance that year had nothing to show to that of McCarthy. However, in later years Wijesinha did represent All-Ceylon in several international matches. I do not recall who captained All-Ceylon that year but the names of F.C. de Saram, one time Oxford Blue, and Sargo Jayawickrema, dominated the sports pages of those times, day in day out, year after year. According to the score card of the match given in Michael Roberts’ Crosscurrents, de Saram had scored 31 runs and in reply to an Aussie total of 367 for 9 declared, compiled by tea, Ceylon replied with 114 for 7 by stumps, with de Saram the highest scorer and Pat McCarthy scoring 24. I believe that in later years Pat McCarthy migrated to Australia and played for West Australia.

The next time I had the opportunity to see Don Bradman was in 1948 when he lead his famous Invincibles to England and himself played in Colombo. We had already had a taste of what was in store for us because three years earlier we had seen two of the Invincibles, Keith Miller and Lindsay Hassett, belt the daylights out of our bowlers when an Australian Services X1 played an All- Ceylon team at the Colombo Oval in November 1945. I recall a six that Miller hit, went soaring over long-off and almost knocked out the clock on the brand new Oval scoreboard. In that match Miller scored 132 runs and Hassett 57.

 

The Invincibles

The 1948 Australian team’s reputation had already been established during the 1946/47 Ashes tour down under. Australia had won four of the five Tests with one Test drawn and Bradman had made 187 in the First Test and 234 in the Second, winding up the series with an average of 90 something. Furthermore, several of the new team had also compiled centuries, among them, Sydney Barnes, Arthur Morris, Keith Miller, Lindsay Hassett, Sam Loxton, Ian Johnson, Ernie Toshack, the spinner, Don Tallon, the wicket keeper and Ray Lindwall, the fast bowler. Almost every member of the team a centurion was indeed a formidable record. However the deterioration of his fibrositis, which had plagued Bradman throughout the war years and had caused him to be invalided out of the army, had continued to hamper him and reduce him to a mere shadow of what he had been in the thirties. While Bradman’s appetite for runs had not abated and his instinct for excellence and perfection remained undiminished, most observers had begun to notice a definite waning of his skills and an impairment of felicity at the crease. We were to see it confirmed at the Colombo Oval on March 28, 1948.

That day in March 1948 I remember vividly. I was 18 then and could undertake the expedition to the Colombo Oval without being escorted by my father! In those days, if one did not have a car, there being no bus service to Borella from Colombo South, access to the Oval was very difficult. So it was that, dismounting from the train at Bamabalpitiya, I walked all the way to the Oval along Bullers Rd, a distance of over three miles. The roads were choked with the young and the old streaming towards the cricket ground. By the time I reached the grounds, the paid stands and the standing spaces were all full and the police were turning the public away. Not being adroit enough to climb a tree, as thousands of others seemed to be, I crept through the barbed wire fence and found myself about twenty rows behind the boundary line. Very soon, all that was reversed when a mass of people broke down the fences, overran the police cordon and surged forward, carrying me with them. By the time the police had restored a semblance of order I found myself seated on the ground, this time not twenty paces behind the boundary line but about six paces inside it, at the edge of a sea of people, and the game had not even started! The tension and the excitement was terrific and some spectators amused themselves by pelting my hat with banana skins and calling me “ado thoppi karaya” (Hey, you hatter!), a small price to pay for watching Bradman!

The sky was already overcast when sharp at ten, M. Sathasivam, captain of Ceylon and the Don walked out to toss. The toss was a formality because whoever won it, the Aussies were meant to bat. So it was that at 10.15, Sydney Barnes and W.A.Brown went out to open the innings. For a description of the day’s play I have had the advantage of two eyewitness accounts, from the Observer and from the Times, the latter written by J.H. Fingleton, and included in Michael Roberts’ splendid book Crosscurrents.

The Australian innings was notable for five things. First there were the breezy innings by Barnes and Miller the former scoring 49 in as many balls and the latter scoring 46 in even a shorter time, with some mighty hits all over the ground. Second there was the excellent bowling by Sathi Coomaraswamy who got four wickets for 45 runs and by B.R.Heyn who kept the batsmen pinned down with some accurate off spin. Thirdly, there was the stunningly good fielding display put on by our men in the field, which drew rounds of applause from the crowd of over 25,000. In particular the fielding of Heyn in the covers was quite exceptional. Fourthly, there was the magical display behind the stumps by our keeper Ben Navaratne, and finally, there was the distressingly disappointing batting display put on by the great Bradman.

 

Embers that went cold

Everyone had come to see Bradman bat and as he walked out to the crease after the fall of the first wicket the atmosphere was electric. We all expected that Bradman’s arrival at the crease would be like throwing inflammable stuff on embers that had been smouldering while Barnes and Brown were at the crease. Sadly however, that was not to be. If anything, the embers went cold and died. For over an hour and a half Bradman scratched and scraped, pushed to cover or point and ran singles. There was none of that legendary pulling or any of the ferocious driving that we had all come to see and in all that time, he scored not a single boundary. This was a ghost of the Bradman we had read about, a legend drained of all credibility. Just only an year and a half back, we had sat enthralled by our short wave radio sets listening to the great man compile 187 at the Gabba and 248 at the MCG, his driving and pulling resounding like rifle shots as the ball sped in all directions to the boundary, every shot accompanied by thunderous applause. It was partly the deadly accuracy of our bowlers, principally of Coomaraswamy and Heyn and partly Bradman’s sea legs, and not least his fibrositis, which were perhaps to blame.

While Bradman was batting, an eerie silence had settled around the ground. There were no scoring shots to cheer and it was as if the crowd was waiting with bated breath for Bradman to ignite and did not want to miss the critical moment. I recall distinctly, amidst this tensed and overpowering silence, a spectator unable to suffer the tension any longer, chimed in, in Sinhala, “Oi, Bradman! What is the karanawa?” (I say! Bradman! What is the problem?) As the cry rippled across the ground, the nervous tension snapped, and the crowd burst out laughing as if to a man.

Shortly thereafter, when Bradman was on 20, he spooned an easy catch to Kretser at point, off Heyn. Normally, anyone taking Bradman’s wicket would be applauded for extraordinary skill and rare excellence, but that was not to be here at the Colombo Oval that morning. The fall of Bradman’s wicket seemed to have cast a deathly pall over the ground and the darkening clouds overhead seemed to suggest that even the heavens had gone into mourning. In the enveloping silence, as the great man walked off the ground, there was a distinctly funereal touch to the atmosphere, and as hundreds of silent spectators flooded over the field to see him at close quarters, play had to be suspended for 10 minutes until order and sanity were restored again .

At tea, with the sky darkening with rain, Bradman declared their innings at 184 for four. When Ceylon went in to bat, the rain was already falling but it held long enough for Mahes Rodrigo, formerly of Royal College, to give the crowd a display of classical batting that was every bit as good as anything the Aussies had put on show. So much so that Fingleton singled him out for special mention for smart footwork and for his straight bat. When the score was 46 for 2, the rain came down in torrents and that was the end of the match.

Fingleton in his review says that the Ceylon team played much better cricket than the Indian team that had toured Australia the previous summer. It had included Amarnath (captain), Hazare, and Mankad, but lost all their Tests. In particular, he thought that our fielding was quite exceptional and exceeded anything the Indians had put on. Sadly however, he failed to mention in his review the wicket keeping by Ben Navaratne who was in my view the most outstanding of the Ceylon team. I thought his work behind the stumps was quite remarkable.

 

(To be continued next week)

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SLAF on hazardous wall, Sri Lanka Air Force has sent us the following statement……

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Sri Lanka Air Force has sent us the following statement in response to an article (That hazardous Ratmalana Wall) published on 21 Jan.

It is with regret that I would like to inform you that the newspaper article titled “That Hazardous Ratmalana Wall” published in The “Island” newspaper of 21 January 2021 contains false information which has not been clarified from the Air Force Director Media nor any other official channel of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).

It should also be highlighted that the Sri Lanka Air Force does not wish to challenge the freedom of reporting information by journalists. However, news articles of this nature published with the use of unsubstantiated information tarnishes the image of Sri Lanka Air Force.

The newspaper article in concern has caught the attention of the Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force. As alleged in the article, the Commander has not declared on behalf of the SLAF that there is no objection for the removal of the wall and replacing it with a fence. On the contrary he had in fact stated that a collapsible wall could be put in place of the permanent wall which should have a solid finish obstructing the view from outside due to security reasons.

In addition, to date there has been no incident/accident reported at the Ratmalana Airfield related to the wall along the Galle Road. Further, vehicles such as passenger coach/container etc; travelling on the main road would be taller than the wall in concern and according to the article, the main road would also have to be closed each and every time when an aircraft approaching of taking off from that end of the runway. International runway due to limitations which is also can be considered as hazardous to flight safety, SLAF consider Flight Safety is a paramount important factor as an organization which operates different types of aircraft over the years from this airfield.

It is pertinent to mention the wall in concern was erected by the SLAF before year 2009 with the consent of the Airport and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL) to address the security concerns at that time and maintained to date. The outer perimeter security of the Colombo International Airport at Ratmalana is being provided by the SLAF free of charge over years. As a measure of gratitude, with the consent of AASL and the approval of the Ministry of Defence (MOD), SLAF authorized to erect hoardings along this wall and to utilize the funds generated for welfare measures of airmen.

Further, publishing of an article which has an author with a fictional name will have serious and adverse effects on the newspaper as well as the goodwill which prevails between SLAF and AASL. The goodwill which prevails between the SLAF and your esteemed Organization will also be adversely effected by articles of this nature. SLAF Directorate of Media always provide accurate and precise information to media institutions which has an impact on general public as well as to other organizations. Undersigned is contactable any time of the day through mobile (0772229270) to clarify ambiguities of SLAF related information.

In conclusion, I would like to express our displeasure regarding the newspaper article in concern and the damage which has been done to the good name of the Sri Lanka Air Force and in particular to the Commander of Air Force.

 

WADC WIJESINGHE

Group Captain

DIRECTOR MEDIA

for COMMANDER OF THE AIR FORCEs

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Dog-eat-dog culture

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By Rajitha Ratwatte

There is an old joke that goes around regularly about Sri Lankans’ in hell. How absolutely no guards are needed to keep Lankans in hell because they do a very good job of pulling each other down into hell when anyone even looks like they will escape. When you extrapolate that into real life in the Pearl, the examples are plenty. All of us have personal experiences of neighbours, peers, relations and even our bosses “cutting us” as the popular phrase goes. It is mostly those who either realise and watch out for these pitfalls or those who clearly identify a powerful figure to “bum suck” for want of a better word that display pure unadulterated sycophancy to, that “progress” to propagate these trends in the future. This I believe is something that is triggered by the basest of all human emotions, jealousy, and probably egged on by a sense of insecurity as well.

One would expect that in a nation of devout Buddhists such reprehensible behaviour would be addressed and controlled. Alas it is not to be and looks like it never will be.

It is rather disconcerting to observe that this behaviour is ‘going strong’ among the Lankan community in this the land of the “long White Cloud” as well. The more I live here and mix with the community, the more I hear about people who try to start new projects or give fruition to new and possibly brilliant schemes who have been stymied by fellow citizens born in the Pearl. They indulge in the anonymous letter method (that dates back from time immemorial) made even easier by using false identities, and “one-off” e mail addresses on the web. They inform all government authorities of what they believe are attempts to break the law of their adopted country. If there are bilateral trade agreements, they diligently contact the other parties and try to cast aspersions on the people concerned. They even inform the management of any company that these people with the new ideas may be working at, that their employee may be breaking a sub clause in his contract and thinking of doing some other business while working for them. All triggered by a wonderful sense of self-righteousness from people who don’t think twice about breaking the law when it concerns their own affairs!

As a result, those who have had a measure of success, guard their positions very carefully and a few who have tried to include other Lankans in their operations have learned hard lessons from those who stole their trade secrets and started rival businesses on their own. I daresay this happens in other communities too, but among the Chinese and Indian communities that form similar minorities in Aotearoa, there are official networks formed to help new immigrants. There are schemes and methods in place to help their people do business, especially in the field of imports, to try and reach some sort of equilibrium with regard to the balance of trade between Aotearoa and their home countries. Sri Lanka imports so much milk from New Zealand but almost nothing of our spices, gems and jewellery, tourism products or even our tea that used to have a much larger share of the market, are imported.

In these desperate economic times, shouldn’t the government be looking at ways to improve our export trade? There are so many pockets and communities of Lankans in so many different countries who are doing well enough to be able to afford some luxuries from their home countries but have to pay exorbitant prices or do without. A recent import of ‘sweet meats’ for Sinhala New Year saw such a massive offtake that great plans for expansion were disrupted by Covid-19, before the Lankan rivals could put paid to it. Although such plans were in place!

Something that is rather obvious to those observing the antics in the Pearl from outside is that there seems to be no plan. Innovative thinking, especially in the field of ‘non-traditional’ exports does not exist. We have all seen how fickle tourism is. Using our fertile soil and the artistic skills of our people to build a reputation for quality exports has been totally neglected in recent times. I daresay the relevant ministries and export bodies exist, but it is a well-known fact that they simply serve as JOBS for political catchers, who do nothing except enjoy a foreign junket or two every year on account of the taxpayer.

That brilliant marketing idea of the Ceylon Tea Centers was so far ahead of its time that no one really understood it. We had the best retail locations in some of the greatest cities in Europe and the UK and were building up a great reputation for serving quality tea and promoting our cuisine. It should have been expanded to handle handicraft products on the lines of Laksala and even spices. Of course, promoting our culture, hospitality and tourism would have followed. There are two ways to handle a crisis. We can either put up our shutters and slide deeper and deeper into the mire of debt and economic ruin, or take some bold steps, make innovative investments and take a gamble on products and ideas that are endemic to our country.

 

Even if the latter method fails the end result couldn’t be much worse! Go down fighting I say! Rather than ask expatriates to come back and try to work in a totally corrupt and politician dominated society, approach expatriates with ideas in other countries and back them to promote those ideas if they show real economic benefits to our land. Not everything will work but even a 5% success rate is better than nothing at all.

It is also acknowledged that RANIL has been reappointed as leader of the UNP. Now then, what does this mean? Is it that the Uncle-Nephew party has stuck to tradition or does it mean that at least some people have realized that an experienced politician with world recognition and a certain amount of credibility in the first world, is useful to have around? Search your minds all you critics who blamed absolutely everything on Ranil. Have a dispassionate look at the Muppets in parliament and think for yourself what sort of account they would give of themselves on the world stage. After you do this, place Ranil on the world stage next to those morons and realize for yourself the DIFFERENCE!

 

fromoutsidethepearl@gmail.com

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Lenin comes to town (again)

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By Gwynne Dyer

When Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny returned to Moscow on Sunday after convalescing in Germany from an attempted poisoning by the FSB domestic spy agency, the regime-friendly media loyally failed to mention his arrival. With one striking exception: Vremya, the flagship news show of Russian state television.

Presumably, somebody there was hoping to win favour with the Kremlin, because they briefly mentioned Navalny three-quarters of the way through Sunday’s two-hour programme. In fact, they compared Navalny’s trip home to Vladimir Lenin’s famous return to Russia in 1917, and suggested that he was as great a danger to Russia as Lenin had been.

As every Russian knows, the Germans plucked Lenin from exile in Switzerland in the middle of the First World War. He was sent across Germany in a ‘sealed train’ (so he wouldn’t spread the infection of Communism there) to St. Petersburg, then in the throes of Russia’s first democratic revolution – and he did just what the Germans had hoped he would.

Lenin overthrew the fumbling democratic ‘Provisional Government’ in a military coup, took Russia out of the First World War – and launched a 73-year totalitarian Communist regime that cost at least 20 million Russian lives in purges, famines and lesser acts of repression. Is Navalny really that great a danger?

The ambitious presenter at Vremya probably won’t get the job he wanted, because President Vladimir Putin really won’t have liked seeing his noisiest critic compared in stature to Lenin, a genuine world-historical figure. Putin himself never mentions Navalny’s name at all.

Russians cannot even put a name to the system they live under, as the poor Vremya presenter’s confusion illustrates. It’s certainly not a democracy, although there are regular elections. It’s definitely not Communist, although most of the regime’s senior figures were Communists before they discovered a better route to power and wealth.

It’s not a monarchy, although Putin has been in power for twenty years and is surrounded by a court of extremely rich allies and cronies. And ‘kleptocracy’ is just a pejorative term used mostly by foreigners, although Navalny does habitually refer to Putin and his cronies as “crooks and thieves”.

In fact, Putin’s regime is not a system at all. Its only ideology is a traditional Russian nationalism that is lightweight compared to blood-and-soil religious and racist movements like Trump’s in the United States and Modi’s in India. It’s a purely personal regime, and it is very unlikely to survive his dethronement or demise.

Putin has been in power for twenty years, and he has just changed the constitution with a referendum that lets him stay in power until 2036. But that seems unlikely, partly because he is already 68 and partly because the younger generation of Russians is getting restless and bored.

Navalny is a brave man who has gone home voluntarily to face a spell in Putin’s jails. (He missed two parole appointments for a suspended sentence on trumped-up embezzlement charges because he was in Germany recovering from the FSB assassination attempt.) But his role in Russian politics so far had been more gadfly than revolutionary.

His supporters do their homework and make clever, witty videos detailing the scandalous financial abuses of the regime (the latest is a virtual tour of Putin’s new $1 billion seaside palace on the Black Sea near Novorossiysk), but he is probably not the man who will finally take Putin down. What he is doing to great effect is mobilising the tech-savvy young.

Since 2018 the average age of protesters at anti-Putin demos, mostly linked to Navalny one way or another, has dropped by a decade, and their boldness has risen in proportion. Moreover, their attitude to the regime now verges on contempt. Rightly so: consider, for example, the last two assassination attempts by regime operatives.

In 2018, the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency, sent two agents to England to kill defector Sergei Skripov and his daughter Yulia. The agents made two trips to Salisbury because they couldn’t find the right house, they were tracked by CCTV every step of the way, and in the end, they left too little novichok (nerve poison) on the doorknob to kill the targets.

Equally crude and bumbling was the FSB’s attack on Navalny in Tomsk, where the novichok was put on his underpants. Once again, the target survived, and afterwards the investigative site Bellingcat was able to trace FSB agents tracking Navalny on forty flights over several years before the murder was attempted.

Neither agency is fit for 21st-century service, nor is the regime they both serve. Russians have put up with it for a long time because they were exhausted and shamed by the wild political banditry of the 1990s, but Putin’s credit for having put an end to that has been exhausted. He may still be in power for years, but this is a regime on the skids.

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