Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sri Lanka: Cricket Nation

In all honesty, I cannot write a blog on Sri Lanka without dedicating a number of posts to the island's favorite sport of cricket. It also strikes me that you have to be living under a rock not to know something about cricket if you live in Sri Lanka. The average srilankan with access to the internet lists ESPN Cricinfo, ICC and Sri Lanka Cricket as their favorite" websites.

Cricket is one of the nation's greatest passions and almost everyone (from market sellers, bus drivers, office workers, city slickers, politicians, shop owners, villagers and more), have a view on it.
Sri Lanka became a bona fide cricketing nation with its unexpected and prodigious win of the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1996. Led by the impressive captain Arjuna Ranatunga, the Sri Lankan cricket team defeated Australia in the final at Lahore. From this moment, playing cricket on this tiny island profoundly changed.

Since their win in 1996, Sri Lanka has made it to the semi-finals of the 2003, and the finals of the 2007 and 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup tournaments. In the shortest form of the game known as T20, there have been four ICC T20 World Cup tournaments held. Sri Lanka has made it to two out of the four finals coming runner-up in 2009 and 2012. All of this is no easy feat, however, the fact that there has been no outright win by the Sri Lankan cricket team at any of these tournaments since 1996 begs a multitude of questions.

The 2011 ICC ODI Cricket World Cup and the 2012 OCC T20 Cricket World Cup were both held in the Indian sub-continent. I had the very good fortune of attending some matches held in Sri Lanka, and I can confirm that I am an avid cricket fan.

The atmosphere across the cricket grounds in Sri Lanka is always lively and enjoyable, whether it is a test, ODI or T20 match, and definitely at the World Cup matches. The crowds, both local and visiting, get right into the  game and enthusiastically dress up in national colors, hold banners aloft, dance, sing and cheer. The live music and dancing at srilankan cricket matches is reminiscent of the crowd fervour at West Indian cricket matches in the Caribbean.

Funnily enough, for a tiny island with an area of approximately 65,610 square kilometers and a population of just under 21 million (2011), Sri Lanka has (by my count) at least seven active international cricket grounds out of possibly 11 recognized international-level cricket grounds. These seven would include the R. Premadasa Stadium, Sinhalese Sports Club Ground, Galle International Stadium, Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium  P Sara Oval, Pallekele International Cricket Stadium and Hambantota International Cricket Stadium. The latter two having been newly built and hosted matches for the recent 2012 ICC Cricket World  Cup. There was controversy surrounding the cost to build the Hambantota and Pallekele grounds as well as upgrading R. Premadasa Stadium in order to host the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup. In addition, there are constant reports of issues within the bowels of Sri Lanka Cricket, its Board, player association and leading figures. At times there is also criticism of the proximity between the sport of cricket and that of politics. It certainly makes for interesting reading if you follow cricket!

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