When the euphoria of 17 March 1996 sank in, most of us believed that Sri Lanka’s crack at a future World Cup Final was a pipe dream. But less than a decade hence, amidst administrative chaos and limited resources, Sri Lankans proved otherwise by illuminating the 2007 World Cup with unorthodoxy and skill.
The year in which Sri Lanka was reeling from bomb blasts and bloody battles was also a watershed in the history of the island’s sporting career. An improbable Cricket World Cup victory in 1996 was an unlikely balm for all Sri Lanka’s wounds – and fittingly, the islanders celebrated together.
Paradoxically, the rise to the top in the cricketing field triggered an avalanche of politicos, businessmen, and sundry others in committee rooms who began competing for honorary positions to administer the game on behalf of the nation.
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.
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.
After both elevens have been without from within twice,
including those not out,
then the barman may pull the stopper out!
Defying the playing ban, many played “Corridor Cricket” in small groups. Hitting a paper ball or a cotton-filled chalk duster with two palms pressed together in a corridor was quite popular.
A countrywide change in school hours took effect in the early 1970s. Accordingly, St Joseph’s College, Colombo, where I gathered my virtue and knowledge, advanced its closing time from 3.15 to 1.30 in the afternoon. The revised school hours reduced the one-hour break for lunch to half an hour. Students were not expected to run around and play any sport during the break, but “Book Cricket” was our innovative option. Two people played it, flipping pages of a textbook at random, and based on the last digit of the right-hand-side (even-numbered) page. Last digits of 2, 4, and 6, counted as runs scored; 0 would be a wicket, and 8, a no-ball. For the toss, both the players opened a page and the one whose last digit was greater won.
Soon after Sri Lanka’s infamous ODI win against Australia in Melbourne, November 2010, we were at the nearby rail station to get back to our hotel. There were posters in the station announcing the forthcoming “The Ashes” series. On seeing those, a young Sri Lankan cricket fan lamented, “Why aren’t we (Sri Lanka) invited to take part in The Ashes!”
This wonderful game has had its share of complications. I am no expert but have tried to clarify a few cricketing terms that fans regularly come across, but often not properly understood by them.
In sport, there are winners and losers. But for a genuine fan, what matters most is how you play the game. Sport can be elevated to higher levels when the participants start to measure their success against the respect they get from their teammates as well as the opponents. Cricket is supposedly a Gentleman’s Game. Is it now? Despite various initiatives by the custodians to uphold the spirit of the game, acts in line with that theme are few and far between around the world.