Sri Lanka Cricket- my fiercest obsession

I’ve been itching to write this for awhile. At times i think, if i take all my cricket-related status updates from Facebook and make a compilation that would essentially sum up my feelings. And yet when i sit down to write, i don’t know where to start, and how to keep myself from rambling- trying extremely hard to hold back the bubbling pride and excitement to talking about Sri Lanka cricket; And on a more sombre note, to define how  Sri Lanka cricket taught me some of the most valuable lessons in life.

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Let me start with this; Sri Lanka, after 18 years, and 5 failed World Cup finals,  at last won their 2nd world cup today!!! April 6th, 2014 will live in our hearts, as we bid goodbye to two of our all time greatest cricketers- Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene from T20 cricket. In a way it’s been toughest for them, than the teams before, to be so close, so many times and not to win.

But they’ve proven themselves today. As they have proven themselves before. Even when they lost, their fans and the Sri Lankan people never gave up or were disappointed in them. They have proven time and time again that they are world class cricketers, loved and feared for their unorthodox cricket and complete dedication to their country and their people.

Where did this love start… i think in a way when the British introduced this game to the Sub continent they didn’t realize that they hadn’t just introduced a game. They had infected the water, and the earth and blood of every Sri Lankan with a taste for victory in a cricket stadium.

I feel  lucky to live in a generation when Sri Lanka rose to the height of world cricket. In 1996 i was 8 years old, Sri Lanka were the underdogs, and i remember the sizzle in the air as we slowly made our way to the final.

I wasn’t interested.  I didn’t know anything about cricket… but it infected me. My Thaththi worked for John Keells hotels and worked as Manager at Citadel Kandy. The Sri Lankan team was staying there for their Kandy games. I remember catching a glimpse of Aravinda, Sanath Jayasuriya and Gurusinghe in the pool- throwing a water polo ball at each other. I’m pretty sure i stood there staring until i was ushered away by my mom.

I stood in the presence of greatness… and it changed me forever.

Another thing that happened before the final- was meeting the Kenyan team. We played them, and beat them pretty badly- but that night when i went to the hotel with my parents it was a party atmosphere. Kenyan and Sri Lankann cricketers alike were mingling, sitting, laughing- i walked among them, unnoticed by these gentle giants as they went about their tomfoolery. I squeezed between bar stools, and crawled under their legs. I remember each hair tousle and saw for the first time what “Good sportsmanship” meant.

Then it was the big day. Playing the cricket Giants Australia. They had foregone a game with us, because of security concerns in Sri Lanka. I’m sure with good reason, but it rubbed us the wrong way, and when we met them in Lahore for the final- a good rivalry was forming already.

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What a game! I can’t remember the specifics, but i remember screaming till i was hoarse, jumping up and down and feeling the earth shattering happiness when we raised the cup.

I’ve been saying it changed me… but i believe that win changed our whole people.

There was no war, there was no terrorism. Sri Lanka was united by sport. It was another lesson i would later realize. Watching Chaminda Vaas make the sign of the cross, before he started our innings, cheering Mutthiah Muralitharan and the rest of our Lions- there was no race or religion. We were all Sri Lankan. (In later years, I recall a cease fire called by the terrorist leaders- because Sri Lanka was playing a cricket match.) I learned a tolerance that was not just “tolerant” but jubilant of various races and religions, under a single flag.

18 years later (man i feel old!) the win today was no less than it was back then. We never lost our “under-dog” status even while rising in the ranks to the top of world cricket. I’m not sure how it works, but whichever game we play- we continue to be the gentlest world champions.

There is kindness in our players, a playfulness, and pure enjoyment. There isn’t harsh sentiment or anger. Even when Malinga gets hit for a six he has a smile on his face. So much can be said for our players- but i can’t keep a lid on our fans.

Sri Lankan cricket fans are the most hopeful, joyful, encouraging, fun loving fans the world ever saw. As commentator Tony Greig can exemplify there is something special about our tiny island nation. Tony was a fierce proponent of the “little Sri Lankans”, and in return he was beloved by all Sri Lankans.

What i think we have is uninhibited love for our country, and a never ending hope for tomorrow. Be in a cricket world cup or a war, Sri Lankans through any hurt or hardship have never given up their warm spirit, and smile for another day, another sunrise. I remember a news article after the war ended in 2009- Sri Lankans were partying before the war, they partied during the way, and the party continues even as its ended. This defines our strong spirit, and ingrained “island” attitude.

When Sri Lanka lost the World Cup to India in 2011- i was in a small town in India. I can’t deny the tears that fell, but not once did i turn my back on my team. And neither did our country. Despite the loss, our boys were welcomed by thousands of people in the street, cheering and showering love on them. This tournament was over, but sure as the sun rises in the east, as Sri Lanka entered their next tournament our fans stood by them- cheering on till the last ball.

In this most recent tournament ICC T20 World Cup, we lost a game to England in the group stage. It was unfortunate loss, and unnecessary in many ways- but i did not see a single unhappy, angry, or whiny message online. My little island was pouring love- congratulating England on a well deserved win, regaling Hale with congratulations for a spectacular innings, and appreciating this unpredictable and magical game. Not a whisper of anger towards our boys, nor resentment toward the victors. We wished our boys luck for the next game.

During the last minutes of this final fans in the room were joking about the Indian players no longer being focused because of their fear of being pelted by rocks on their way home (based on historical reports). The sad part is that these jokes ended up being reality, as news of Yuvraj Singh’s house being pelted with stones by angry cricket fans filled the internet. I would not speak ill of any people, but my first hand experience in 2011 confirmed the “fair-weather” nature of Indian cricket fans. It makes me angry, and sick to my stomach- and if i end this post with a message it is this-

World cricket fans can learn a lesson from Sri Lanka. We must learn to appreciate this beautiful game. Rivalries must be maintained, but never turn your backs on your team. We all have our good days and our bad days- learn to enjoy the game. And if you need to see how this is done- just look at Sri Lanka cricket fans in the past 18 years. We never once turned our backs on our boys, our pride of lions, our heroes!

I’m bouncing off the walls, my face hurts from smiling and my heart is bursting with joy.

We won! We won! We won! We won! We won! We won! We won! We won!

And boy do we deserve it.

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