By M. V. Muhsin
Once again, cricket – cricket luverly cricket – will be alive in this resplendent Isle. This time, for sure, with a vibrancy, a variety and a veritable flamboyance that the privilege of hosting the World Cup bestows on us.
|MP Namal Rajapaksa visited Suriyawewa International Cricket stadium with. Colonel Ratnayake to inspect the preparations for the inaugural match to be played on Sunday between Sri Lanka and Canada. He was accompanied by members of the Cricket Board - Pic by Nishanka de Silva
It’s a well-earned tribute to a nation that has travelled the hard road that winds through the intrigues of international sporting events. That we have overcome the roadblocks and risen to these heights to enter the inner sanctums of King cricket is in itself a matter of national pride and an expression of confidence in our country.
As compared with Test cricket, the “limited over” concept has opened vistas of unlimited enjoyment for both players and spectators. The game has acquired a sense of urgency. There is excitement and inspiration.
Hardly anyone sits around with long faces, patting their hands together delicately, whispering to one’s neighbour in the most Catholic of manners. They now shout and cheer. Often laugh and sometimes jeer. They give cricket what was a few decades ago the much desired Caribbean treatment that the founders regarded as revolting behaviour!
Ah! Welcome to the scene of the cricket calypso in Lankan style. It has its own sound waves and rhythm to the accompaniment of the brass bands and saxophones adapting the Portuguese inheritance of the Baila that propels our batsmen and bowlers alike.
Time was when in the first half of the almost 85-year history of first class cricket that Sri Lanka was associated with, that the game was played in the colonial mould. Interest in the game often dwindled. But those of us who belonged to that early vintage recall with some nostalgia how we hugged the transistor radio to listen to the ball-by-ball commentaries of the Ashes. Many would root for the Australians as a bold rebuke to our colonial masters who nurtured the cradle of the game but held it close, jealously.
And then arrived the wonder of the Windies... the refreshing evangelists. They made an immediate connection with the heartstrings of the Sri Lankan or the Ceylonese as we were then known. They brought their cricket calypso to life in our hearts and on our wickets.
From the tradition of Worrell, Walcott and Weeks, from the dreams spun by Ramadin and Valentine, from the magical spell cast by a Sobers or a Kanhai, we built those cricketing castles in our minds from which the wonder – like Windies – emerge.
To many of us, this was our dream that will turn into reality; this was the distant drum, the beat of which resonated in our hearts and this was our hope that someday and somehow we shall belt out the cricket that was their domain.
We had our own trailblazers in the long game, Sathasivam the “Gay Cavalier” –a sworn enemy of all bowlers. The bowler knew no line or length nor could a skipper place a field to subdue him; there was C.I. Gunasekera who blasted Aussie Lindsay Kline his first over with three fours and two sixes. While the math tots up to the figure of 24 runs, the trashing is still remembered 40 years later! And there were many more of this ilk in the form of a later generation in Roy Dias, Duleep Mendis and Arjuna Ranatunga.
With the welcome introduction of the short game and I dare say thank heavens not the shorter (IPL) game with its attendant monetary pollution, we saw the game expand exponentially. What was once the preserve of the cities is now a way of natural life in every village in the island. Cricket grounds and fields dot every nook and corner, all schools and neighbourhood habitats. And these sites are as revered as the many temples, churches and mosques that blend with the secular culture of our land.
King cricket in this country with its freshness and radiance is the accessible domain of the labourer tilling the rice fields, the lads in the hamlets and market places, the lasses who are tea pluckers and cadju nut sellers.
They listen to the scores and soak in the imagery of the days play conveyed in all its colour and splendour through the tubes in television. And they soak in the detailed scores, the commentary in the daily papers and enter into their own analyses.
What was once the preserve of the English media is today a natural in all languages. And for many of the war weary subjects, it was the only respite from the fighting that consumed the country for nearly three decades. This was the diversion – the psychic pay – that people in the country felt they earned.
It must be said however that limited over cricket or even the long game did not become what it is today by itself. Like with everything else, there are people behind it. And while we often tout individual achievement, what has been our experience is that “team spirit” is the strong fibre that binds the human endurance that makes or breaks games.
Yes, our cricket grew to its splendour with a capricious blend of batsmen, bowlers, fielders and most importantly leaders or captains who caused cricket to expand. And expand it did beyond the scope of the game that our narrow minds could envision.
The folklore – or folk music that provides the rhythm, the cadence and the rich repertoire – could not be what it is today without, for instance, the dazzling and remarkable mix of powerful hits, fine straight drives and finer cover drives that constituted the personal genius and dazzle of Sanath Jayasuriya, one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 1977; the spectacular batting and world cup winning performance of Aravinda de Silva; the magical doosra of Muralitharan that not only shattered world records like Jayasuriya did, but wrapped batsmen in knots and rendered bafflement and tears; the near perfect fielding of Mahela Jayawardena whose geometric precision was impeccable; and of astute team leadership of Kumar Sangakkara, not only by the quality of his interactions but by the example he sets with bat and with his feats behind the wicket
Cricket in Sri Lanka, however, is not only about Sri Lankans. The culture and our tradition and the hospitality we are renowned for is respectful, warm hearted and all embracing. Fittingly, therefore, no pain has been spared by the Sri Lanka Cricket authorities led by a cricketer of his own distinction, D.S. de Silva, to ensure that the logistical challenges of such a mega event are met with a courage that stills the voices of those who revel in negativism.
To put a positive spin on this – the egging has only helped to improve the quality of the event. With the rallying cry: Play up! Play up! And play the game!
Sri Lanka sell out Canada clash
(AFP): Sri Lanka’s opening World Cup match against cricketing minnows Canada has sold out, Sri Lanka Cricket said.
Ticket prices for the new 35,000-seater Hambantota stadium in Sri Lanka’s deep south start from 150 rupees ($1.35) up to a maximum of 1,000 rupees.
“All tickets were sold out for Sri Lanka’s maiden encounter against Canada,” Sri Lanka Cricket said in a statement.
The match will be played on February 20.
Sri Lanka, World Cup champions in 1996 and runners-up in 2007, are co-hosting the showpiece event with India and Bangladesh, with the opening match in Dhaka on February 19.
Hambantota and Pallekele, in the central region of Kandy, will host five World Cup games while the renovated R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo will host seven.
Sri Lanka are in Group A with defending champions Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya.