by Hemantha Warnakulasuriya
For all Sri Lankans it was the most exciting day of the year. None of the cricket experts, who contribute to various journals nor the panelists, attached to the many Television stations, which covered the T-20 World Cup, ever gave any chance to the Sri Lankan Cricket team.
Everyone was counting on the Australian, English or the Indian teams to be in the final.
Though Australia had a miserable T-20 record, before this and was ranked even below Ireland, the Australian Juggernaut had made an impressive comeback and the historic invincibility attached to the team had been re-infused into their souls and their spirit of invincibility surfaced much to the consternation of other teams.
Against all odds and much to the bewilderment of expert analysts and cricketing pundits, the two most unlikely teams booked their berths in the final. The hopes of the island nation rose to the crescendo heights of a Tsunami and it were so intense that one could feel the ferocity with which the T-20 captivated the hearts and minds of the people of this island nation. On the morning of the 7th October, 2012, in Colombo I saw something that I have never perceived before. The streets were empty, but when there was an occasional trishaw or a vehicle that moved along the road, it inevitably carried the lion flag. Some of the three wheelers and cars were decorated as if they were getting ready to participate at a cycle parade, which is a common sight when the school big matches are played.
My mind went back the days of the Royal –Thomian, as we were then in the upper school and the destiny of organizing the cycle parade and the motorcade fell on us. In order to establish a new niche in the historic Royal-Thomian cycle parade and rally, I was able to get from my father’s garage a Queen Mary Trailer. It was an 80-foot trailer which could carry about 15 to 20 tons and was specially designed to transport rails, for the Sri Lanka Railways, from the harbour to the government stores. It was an open trailer and not more than three feet from the ground. Anybody could jump into the back of the trailer and take a free ride if it was empty. About 200 school kids got into the trailer, which was decorated with Blue and Gold Flags and bunting and other decorative motifs. The driver found it very difficult to manoeuver the trailer in the narrow by-lanes of Colombo, where some girls’ schools were situated, like the Bishops and created such massive traffic jams which blocked all the arteries leading to the Oval.
I felt that there was a similar expectation among the Sri Lankans which galvanized the spirit of the nation which is still striving to come out of the gloom of that horrendous war which virtually decimated the spirits of the Sri Lankans. On Sunday morning various departmental stores in Colombo were full of young people, who had their faces made up with mock tattoos depicting on one side the National Flag and on other side and the T-20 symbol. And, others were now wearing the hairstyle, made world famous by Lasith Malinga. I cannot recollect any time such euphoria had engulfed an entire nation.
Even in 1996, when we entered the finals of the World Cup against Australia, only one plane load took off from Katunayake headed to the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore. The interest was mainly confided to Colombo and its suburbs but it was nothing compared to the frenzy and mass delirium that was generated by our cricketers entering the final in 2012 of the T-20 World Cup.
Much has been said about Malinga, Mahela and the reasons for our failing to win the T-20 World Cup. Those who had been sharpening their weapons to destruct them, unleashed their venom on these cricketers who had brought our nation to the forefront of the cricketing world. It was not an isolated fluke as thought by many when we won the World Cup in 1996.
We were considered minnows and played to fill the void created by some nation pulling out of a tournament especially in Sharjah or to fill the void in a triangular. The only team which had no busy schedule then was Sri Lanka and it filled the also ran position in a triangular contest. To be in World Cup final on several occasions was no mere achievement though we could not win it. This was an achievement we had accomplished by the sheer genius and the cricketing skills our cricketers possessed.
This year the entire population of this island nation believed that they would deliver and the elusive world Cup would be theirs.
When we lost, those who had been sharpening their hatchets went about their task of destroying the spirits of our cricketers who bravely and against all odds defied their critics, panelists and mediamen, who gave Sri Lanka no chance of proceeding beyond the Super Eight leave alone entering even the semi final.
When our cricketers lost to South Africa in a rain restricted game, everyone was of the view that this was a fore runner or a trailer of what would happen to us in the Super 8. The panelists conscripted by the ESPN, the official broadcaster, including Kevin Pieterson, Sourav Ganguli, Wazim Akram and Sanjay Manjrekar never thought that Sri Lanka would, under the present context, be left to rue over their failures and would exit from the Super 8 status.
I do not think anything that happened in the last thirty years, other than the horrendous war, which drew international attention, could overshadow our entry into the the T-20 world cup final. It was almost unbelievable that a country ravaged and torn apart by terrorists, holding on to the Northern and Eastern Provinces, which were the very hubs of the suicide bombers, would be considered a safe place to stage a world sporting event, especially when a world sports body, like the ICC is extremely careful and concerned about the security of the players.
It was in 1996 that the Australians and the West Indians refused to travel to Sri Lanka on the basis of the ongoing war. Even after the war was concluded and there was not a single reported incident, major European countries refused to change their travel advisories on Sri Lanka which were extremely negative in content.
Tourists were warned about not only the war but also about health facilities and tropical diseases. We must take this opportunity to thank President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa for having laid the foundation for this international sporting event in Sri Lanka.
This alone is a major achievement for the smiling people of Sri Lanka. The fact that all the cricket matches, from Hambantota to Pallekelle to the R. Premadsa Stadium were played in such a convival atmosphere and not a single incident, even of a minor nature, occurred to be complained of by not only international players and others directly involved, but even by the thousands of tourists who came to witness those matches. During the last World Cup there was so much negative publicity given to Sri Lanka, by the Members of the Cricket Board, who were mishandling many issues, including the sale of tickets. They gave the impression that the Board comprised crooks, political nitwits and embezzlers.
A bouquet of roses must be given to the entire Cricket Board, including Chairman Upali Dharmadasa, who was responsible for staging this tournament in Sri Lanka with such professional commitment and consummate skill.
Unlike the world cup, all the matches were staged in Sri Lanka and there was a huge additional responsibility cast on them and every minor detail had to be looked after. Even the weather gods benignly smiled as the semi-finals and the finals were played without any interruption from rain.
Mahela Jayawardene resigned immediately after the defeat and is at the receiving end for using Lasith Malinga repeatedly when he was flummoxed and seemed mystified by the Marlon Samuels onslaught.