Lanka Cricketers’ Remarkable Support During Last Year’s Crisis Earns Heartfelt Appreciation from Fans

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It’s almost 1:30 on Friday night and roughly 25 minutes since Charith Asalanka scored the winning runs against Pakistan, propelling Sri Lanka to the Asia Cup final against India

The Sound of Love and Gratitude

It’s a remarkable turn of events. Only four years ago, with one cricketing name after another, including Sanath Jayasuriya, getting caught in a crackdown on corruption, and the team’s performance plummeting, fans had chosen to stay away.

Even the famous ‘Papare’ band could hardly be spotted during matches. And with some of the current players embroiled in disciplinary issues (some were sent back from overseas tours, a player was even arrested in Australia on sexual-harassment charges) and inflation hitting the pockets hard, cricket took a back seat.

All that seems to be forgotten now.

Packed Crowd with Love and Gratitude

“This is our way of returning the favour,” said Dayani, a working woman, who took a day off to celebrate at the stadium.

“Let us say it is just a thanksgiving. When we were struggling to make ends meet [during the financial crisis], they helped us in every way possible, including providing food materials and ration. We know they didn’t reveal it in public, but we do know these guys should be shoulder-to-shoulder with us.”

Fans’ Love for the National Cricket Team

There is something unmistakable that swells in from the stands along with the ‘Papare’ soundtrack, grown from Sinhala Baila music: it’s the sound of people falling in love again with the national cricket team, the single unifying force in a country that suffered through an economic turmoil in 2022.

India vs Sri Lanka – More than just a Cricket Match

As far as cricketing achievements go, Sunday’s game will be special for India, who have beaten Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the group stages and are looking to win a multinational tournament ahead of the World Cup final. But for the Sri Lankans, the Asia cup has gone beyond mere victory and loss. When the two sides meet Sunday, India will be facing not just 11 players but a packed crowd of Sri Lankans bursting with love and gratitude for their national cricket team.

Unity and Excitement in the Stands

During the match against Pakistan, as Maheesh Theekshana hobbled off the field, he received a standing ovation from the crowd. The cheer came despite Theekshana not having the best of the days with the ball and accounting for only one wicket in the match. They perhaps remembered the economical crisis last year when, just before joining his IPL team Chennai Super Kings, Theekshana visited his alma mater St Benedict College in Colombo to help a few school children.

Cricket Bringing Hope and Joy

During the turmoil, while most of their former players including the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralidharan were vocal supporters of the protestors, the current team helped by distributing rations, canned fish and even coming to the financial aid of many.

Looking forward to a Special Final

“Fans have been amazing in the recent past and the way the guys have performed has attracted more crowds to the game,” said captain Dasun Shanaka. “Especially the youngsters, they have been amazing in the last two years and the record is good so they see that we are fighting in the middle (rather) than (seeing) what the end result is. They are looking to enjoy cricket, apart from their jobs.”

Reviving the Cricket Spirit

The few years of difficulty behind, in Sri Lanka, cricket is beginning seems to look promising again. Having won the T20 Asia Cup last year, the team entered this year’s Asia Cup as underdogs and, despite the absence of four of their first-four bowlers due to injuries, are now waiting to seize their moment against top-dogs India.

Awaiting a Memorable Final

The locals have been waiting to throng the stadium since the Super 4 fixtures landed in Colombo. However, with the ticket prices prohibitive — even the cheap concrete seat cost LKR 10,000 (INR 2,500), they stayed away when Sri Lanka faced Bangladesh the previous Saturday, a contest that has evolved into a big rivalry in these parts.

Ready for a Joyous Final

The Papare band is ready. The people are ready. The love is real.

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

First published on: 17-09-2023 at 04:25 IST

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