If there is one team in the sporting world that can beat all odds, the rain, empty coffers, and even bullets fired at them, it is the Sri Lankan cricket team. They did most of that when they emerged victorious against Pakistan at Galle. Sri Lankan team for the past year have produced some remarkable cricket, but more importantly have shown what a nation, a cricket board and a coaching staff stricken with hardship can still do, when you play with an unyielding will to fight – fight as a team, not as individuals.
It was the glory of 1996 world cup history that rejuvenated Sri Lankan cricket. But in tests, Sri Lanka rarely showed fight, grit and character on all five days, let alone in a series. While the team shined in patches and showed moments of brilliance – more consistently in shorter formats of the game – it was the individuals that carried the team in test matches. More often than not, it was Muralitharan, followed by Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Atapattu and Chaminda Vass until the brilliance of Sanga and Mahela emerged. This has changed in the recent past. It is the number eleven batting of Nuwan Pradeep or one sharp bouncer from Shaminda Eranga or a skillful batting debut from Niroshan Dickwella that has underlied the success over the last few test series. Sri Lanka has learnt to fight as a team.
Sri Lankan cricket is about to witness the retirement of Mahela Jayawardena, one of their greatest cricketing sons and one of the best tacticians to enter a cricket field. Soon, Sanga and then Ranga will follow. While these experienced characters will be missed, the blooming captaincy – and the Bradmanesque batting average – of Angelo Matthews, promises a brighter future. But it is Angie’s ability to bring the best out of eleven players that walks very different paths of life, that has been the hallmark of the recent remarkable success of the Sri Lankan team. It is the infusion of his own unrelenting desire to fight till the end, to his fellow men that marks the future of Sri Lankan cricket.
Certainly there is not a single Sri Lankan cricket fan who has not had a near heart attack in the last 6 months. There cannot be a fan who did not shed a tear of happiness in that time. It is this passion and pride that powers heart of Sri Lankan cricket. It is what brings Rangas, Sangas and on occasion Malingas to make Sri Lanka proud. It is what drives players like Erangas and Surangas travel across the country, taking multiple buses to get home, while their parents are barely feeding their families. However, despite their recent success, if Sri Lanka wants to truly be acknowledged by the global cricketing pundits, their passion and raw talent extracted from across the rice fields and sandy beaches needs to be molded into the shapes of two heroes of the last game.
When Kumar Sangakkara warmly embraced Rangana Herath after his 6th wicket on the 5th day at Galle, there locked two bodies that belonged to opposite ends of the spectrum of life, style, and cricketing abilities. Two bodies, if it wasn’t for cricket, perhaps that would have never come together. Sanga, son of a renowned attorney, hailing from a prestigious private school, graces the world with his elegance and pure batsmanship. Ranga, starting his cricket at little known Mayurapada Maha Vidayalaya, who was asked bowl spin because he was not towering vertically, worked at a bank most of his formative cricketing years, until the great Muralitharan retired. Somehow, the intricate Sri Lankan cricket system conjured up a union of these two unlikeliest of fellows to hand Sri Lanka a thrilling victory against Pakistan.
While, Sanga, perhaps sipping a classic blend of Bordeaux, and Ranga, probably humming a tune to an old Sinhala song in his sarong, celebrated their own achievements and the country’s victory, every Sri Lankan cricketer must learn the one thing that is common to these two players; their methodical mental preparation. As neither is particularly naturally gifted, what has brought about their success is their patience, and willingness to learn, even during a game, delivery after delivery, with unwavering concentration. Every player (and perhaps every Sri Lankan) must look to the work ethic of these two, if Sri Lanka were to win tomorrow’s game, the next game and many more in the future.
With their newfound one-team – one-cause approach, if young prodigies like Dinesh Chandimal or Tharindu Kaushal can harvest the mental preparation of their iconic players, Sri Lanka can transform itself from a tiny island cricketing nation to the giant slayers they are destined to be. Then history will mark the victory at Galle as the game that changed Sri Lankan cricket. Their team will never have to beat the odds again, because all odds will just be stacked in their favor.