For the third consecutive year, the annual ‘SILK Sports Awards 2017’ organised by sportsinfo.lk, Sri Lanka’s premier sports promotion network, and sponsored by Sri Lanka Telecom was held on 28 November 2017 at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, Sri Lanka. It is recognised as Sri Lanka’s first annual sports awards ceremony for sporting excellence and contribution, with the objective of appreciating those who contributed to sports in numerous ways in the past years, including the greats of the game and those unsung heroes behind the scenes.
On yet another wet, slippery and gloomy early summer day in England, two Sri Lankans were heading to Heathrow Airport. The owner-driver, a UK resident, picked up his mild-mannered, chubby-looking passenger, from Stoke-on-Trent in the northern country. Even at the end of a five-hour journey, they barely knew each other, save for their names and what they did for a living. This of course, is not a typical taxi-driver-and-passenger story. The wheelman was doing a favour to a friend. His unknown passenger in the shotgun seat, having received ‘summons’ from a cricketing heavyweight in Sri Lanka an hour before, was in a hurry to catch a flight to Colombo, departing in seven hours’ time. Feeling nervous to perform once again on the biggest stage, the passenger’s thoughts wandered around his childhood dreams. Never a bragger, he was focused, conserving all his energy for the forthcoming event.
Closer to the airport, the driver’s patience ran out. In Sinhala, he asked, ‘Malli (younger brother), up to what level of cricket have you played?’
Politely the passenger replied,
He being an ordinary fan and not an aficionado, was left speechless. In retrospect, it was hard to remember someone who had played only 14 Tests across nine years.
First, allow me to lay out a bias: I was probably always going to like this one.
Sri Lanka does not, alas, produce a wealth of cricket books. Where Ben Stokes already has a hardcover in circulation, Muttiah Muralitharan is yet to flog a 400-page grievance – the likes of which has recently become the prerogative of so many retired cricketers. (And of endured hardships, who could possibly have a greater store than Murali?)
A cricket book out of Sri Lanka is rare enough, but with Winds Behind the Willows, Ranjan Mellawa has produced something truly unique: memoirs of a lifelong fan. There are no tiffs with former captains, or gripes about selectors here. Here are rough-and-ready touring tales from six global tournaments, and many Tests besides. Here is a bird’s eye view of Sri Lankan cricket’s many tumbling transformations in Mellawa’s five decades of following cricket.
England hosted the 2009 ICC World T20, where Sri Lanka showcased its famed unorthodoxy at its brilliant best. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
On 10 June 2009, Sanath Jayasuriya having violently demolished the Windies attack with an 81-run blitz off 47 balls, it was Angelo Mathews’ turn to treat the fifteen thousand plus crowd at Trent Bridge, Nottingham to an outlandish piece of innovative fielding.
Due to the ignorance of the officials of the (Sri Lanka) cricket board, players of that era [1982-1988] although they did play cricket, which could have been awarded the first-class tag, lost out. Such records could have been entered against their respective names in the international first-class cricket records. A tragic loss.
Old timers would recall Billy Wilder’s whimsical Hollywood film made in 1955 starring Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. In this satire, Wilder attempts to portray that most men after seven years of marriage their passions tend to stray. Hence ‘The Seven Year Itch’. Sri Lanka cricket too had that itch but due to different reasons! Reasons of ignorance.
The greatest lovers of cricket and the connoisseurs of the game are not necessarily the greatest cricketers. Most often we find that the true lovers of the game are those who have played a reasonable amount of cricket but have never attained the great heights to which the great cricketers have. Ranjan Mellawa is one of them, and like me, he started his cricketing career in his father’s coconut grove, but unlike me, his fellow cricketers were his brothers and his friends. Mine were my sisters and my maids.
Playing with the rubber ball and the bat was how most of us started our cricket in Sri Lanka, and Ranjan weaves an interesting tale not only of his own beginnings but also of the beginnings of the game in England, Sri Lanka and how it has spread the world over. Particularly, he talks of how Sri Lanka itself matured over the years, and after a long struggle, gained international status and subsequently built on it to achieve greater heights, by winning the World Cup in 1996.
In 2014, one of the most dominant sides in Test cricket, South Africa were touring Sri Lanka, and the series commenced at Sri Lanka’s fortress, the Galle International Cricket Stadium.
‘Machan, shall we go for the Galle Test match. It has been a while since I saw Sanga bat’, I said to my friend, longing to see the legend bat one last time before his retirement.
Our plans were temporarily put on hold by the Proteas, who batted for two days while rattling a mammoth score. Sri Lanka were 30 for no loss at stumps on the second day.
‘Let’s go early morning tomorrow’, said my friend, convinced that Tharanga was not going to survive the early swing for too long.
Colombo, 21st August 2017
My dear Ranjan
Just finished reading your book ‘Winds Behind the Willows’.
I am no fan of cricket except when Aunty Sita pushed me into watching TV whenever Sri Lanka was playing. She was a devoted fan – who would shut the TV down when Sri Lanka is doomed to lose. She would also watch the international finals so long as the Australians were not winning; from their lip movements, she said that they were very crude in the swear words.
I know very little of the game of cricket as I hardly ever played it after a cussed boy hit me on the forehead with a leather ball I was facing. I was then 15 years. I thereafter took to tennis, badminton, table tennis, swimming & rowing.
I knew Andy from years gone by. No one bothered with his real name, he was simply Andy Roberts, of course, connected in some way to cricket and the West Indian fast bowler. Andy’s mother, Cicilin, worked for Aunty Dee, job description, Major Domo in the kitchen, plus all the chores that went with a middle-class home in the sixties. Big, charcoal black, that was Cicilin, hefty as a hippo, with a smile that sprouted through toothless gums and an abundance of breast that overflowed out of size forty-two. Cicilin was ramrod at Dee’s home, duties including everything, plus occasionally spanking the little masters of the household. This was Sri Lanka, sans wars and turmoil, times of life in a lighter shade, slow lane and lazy stuff, where laughter came easy and plenty to all comers.
Ranjan’s different type of book on cricketing stories, titled ‘Winds Behind The Willows: A Sri Lankan’s Life in Love with Cricket’ amply portrays his passion and love for the game. In my view, his effort gives in-depth analysis of the matches he had witnessed, that are so precise that the reader is engrossed and enlightened in a delightful way.Winds Behind The Willows is an interesting book...for everyone who wishes to enhance knowledge Click To Tweet