There is something unique about the Sri Lankan cricket team, which endears them to followers of the game — apart from, of course, oodles of natural talent: It’s their ability to play with a smile.
It’s a quality, which has seen them winning the International Cricket Council’s ‘Spirit of Cricket’ award more than once but, more importantly, urges you to back the Islanders in the middle. Personally speaking, I am happy that they could finally lay their hands on a World Cup trophy after heartbreaks in as many as five finals — breaking a long drought since their 1996 triumph.
In a way, Sri Lanka’s win last Sunday in Dhaka serves as a good advertisement for the World T20 Cup and its realm of unpredictability — having produced five different champions in as many editions. It could have been back-to-back triumphs, though, had they not lost the plot in a somewhat identical situation in 2012 final — chasing a modest West Indies target on a balmy evening at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
The chroniclers of social history of cricket may find an explanation of their ability to stay calm and balanced in the religion of Buddhism that Sri Lankans follow — one of whose four virtues lie in equanimity. A fleeting image of a TV grab has stayed with me since 1996, for it possibly sums up their approach to life the best. Minutes after winning the World Cup, the camera took a peek inside their dressing room only to find captain Arjuna Ranatunga and his men locked deep in meditation.
If equanimity is one trait of their personality, their attitude on the field was further summed up by star batsman Mahela Jayawardene a few years back at an acceptance speech for the ICC’s Spirit of Cricket award.
“You have to be aggressive and passionate when you play for your country; you have to want to win. But you don’t have to cross the line and be personal. There are ways of being aggressive while still controlling your anger and passion,” he said.
It’s a pity, then, that only two members of the current World T20 team will be seen in action at the Broadway of the shortest format — the Indian Premier League (IPL), which starts in the UAE next week. Lasith Malinga, the stand-in captain of the world champions, will be the attacking linchpin of Mumbai Indians, while all-rounder Thisara Perera will turn out for Sunrisers Hyderabad. The legendary Murali Muralitharan, long retired, will be there for Royal Challengers Bangalore.
While Kumar Sangakkara had opted out of the IPL auction this year, saying that he wanted to focus on the Lankan tour of England next month, eyebrows were certainly raised when the likes of Jayawardene, Angelo Mathews or Nuwan Kulasekara went unsold with 20-odd Lankan players in February.
A conspiracy theory still floats around in the media as to whether their players were snubbed following the Sri Lankan board’s initial reluctance to endorse the ICC revamp plan, but it seems that question marks over the players’ availability may have also spoiled their chances. The itinerary says that Lanka’s arrival on English shores is due on May 9, with still a good three weeks’ of IPL action left after that.