On Poya Day, all roads lead to the cricket stadium

Monday, 1 October 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Anand Vasu in Pallekele

The greatest challenge you’re likely to face when going to the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium is the winding road that snakes around the lake in central Kandy. If you get past that stretch before 1pm, it’s smooth sailing, but between 1pm and 2pm when three schools situated on that lap let out, it’s bumper-to-bumper stuff on the road.

When Sri Lanka played West Indies, though, things were a bit different. It wasn’t just Saturday, it was Poya day, the Buddhist public holiday that takes place every full-moon night. All roads truly did lead to Pallekele.

The stadium, which has a capacity of approximately 35,000 – and it’s hard to settle on an exact figure because of the expansive grass banks that allow some leeway – was packed to capacity when Angelo Mathews started things off. In the stands there was a wide cross-section of fans.

 “We always come to matches here because the tickets are affordable and it’s great to sit on grass banks,” said Nihal Wijewardene, who was at the game with four of his college mates. For the ICC World Twenty20 2012, the least expensive tickets are priced at 55 Sri Lankan rupees (less than half a US dollar), and it’s hard to imagine international cricket being more accessible anywhere in the world. “Normally I like to watch Kumar Sangakkara bat. He’s from here and I also bat left-handed in my club matches,” said Nihal. “But, because this is a world event and all the teams are there, I am supporting the whole Sri Lankan team.”

Since it’s Poya, a dry day, the beer tent behind the stand is closed, but this does not stop anyone from having a good time. There’s enough food and drink available and kiosks selling Pepsi and snacks are only a short walk from the stands.

 “We don’t always get to watch matches, so when a friend was able to help out with some tickets I jumped at the chance,” said Fr. Niranjan Wijeratne, a Benedictine monk based in Kandy. “(Lasith) Malinga has been bowling really well and the boys who are with me enjoy watching him in action.”

 The boys, in this case, were eight young men studying to be monks, including Bro. Shihan Shanaka. “As you know, Sri Lanka is a cricket-crazy country, so almost anyone you meet will be interested in the game.”

With England playing against New Zealand in the first match of the day, there were plenty of England flags in the stands, either being waved vigourously or tied to poles with the place of origin of the travelling group prominently painted. In the second half, though, it was all Sri Lanka.

 “One of the best experiences is just before each match, when the Sri Lankan national anthem is played. Every time you hear it, it’s special,” said Christopher Fernando, who had come to the match with his wife and two children. “But, when there are thousands of your countrymen with you, and you hear the anthem being played, that’s all the more special. I wish it was made mandatory before all matches, not just ICC tournaments.”

For some, coming to the ground is all about the game, while others see it as a chance to glimpse their heroes from close quarters. While some take it as a duty, a pilgrimage to support their team, for others it’s an outing to be enjoyed with the family. Any which way, the common denominator for Sri Lankan fans at the ICC World Twenty20 2012 is fun. (http://www.iccworldtwenty20.com)