Priyan Weerasinghe, Courtesy of the Sunday Leader, 7 November 2010
Did that just happen? Did we just win? All I can see is a sea of blue and gold around me. Bodies heaving, dancing, jumping – this way and that. Families, friends and people who have never met each other before, bonded by patriotism and pride, hugging and high-fiving. A thousand Lion flags being waved with gusto by the young and the old – people with absolute joy in their eyes. What a match, what a finish, what players! Matthews and Malinga – you little beauties! Tell me I wasn’t dreaming.
This was a match not well promoted by Cricket Australia. Matches involving Sri Lanka never are in this country. In the public psyche, we are very much behind England, India, New Zealand, South Africa and Pakistan, in that order. Maybe it’s our World Cup win in ’96, maybe it’s the fact that Murali is the greatest wicket taker and Warne is second, maybe it’s Arjuna’s brashness in beating the Aussies at their own sledging game, maybe it’s the global financial crisis, or maybe it’s none of the above. Whatever it is, our team doesn’t seem to get a fair go from a scheduling, marketing or advertising perspective when they play in this country.
Why would they schedule this a day after the biggest sporting event in the state, the Melbourne Cup? The horse race that stops the nation! When was the last test match we played at the MCG? Hang on, that was 15 years ago, when Darrell Hair made the most silly of his many mistakes as an umpire who thought the game revolved around him. Murali a chucker? No, he was too big a threat to the beloved Warnie and needed to be put in his place.
Anyway, I digress. Park my car and walk to the ground. I can only see other Lankans beside me. Where are the Aussies? Still recovering from having over-refreshed themselves the previous day or did they just not know there was a game on? Doesn’t matter – I already know there are two papare bands inside the Great Southern Stand, and can’t walk fast enough! Inside the ground, looking for my mates – what’s happening here? Seems like the entire Victorian Police force is surrounding the aisle where the bands are.
This could be trouble – people in Lankan cricket shirts, a few saxophones, some trumpets, a couple of drums, catchy tunes, having fun, but in a language they don’t understand – trouble indeed! A threat to national security if ever there was one.
The match is underway. Lankan bowlers keeping a tight line, Watson and co. making a watchful start. Every good ball met with thunderous clapping and cheerful yelling, every good shot hardly getting any recognition – and that’s how it stayed throughout the Aussie innings. It’s a sad indictment on Australian cricket. The national team, ranked number one in ODIs, playing at their biggest ground, on hallowed turf, is most definitely not the home team here. If I closed my eyes, I could swear I’m in Colombo.
Lion flags outnumbering Australian flags 500:1. I’ve been coming to the MCG for 17 years, and this isn’t how it’s meant to be. Visiting teams are jeered and their supporters are sledged at – the outrageousness of both increasing in sync with the amount of beer consumed. I was here when they yelled “no ball” every time Murali bowled, I was here when they called Arjuna a “Fat so and so” every time he walked to the crease. No – the louts aren’t here today.
Murali bowls nine overs of top class spin. The zip on the ball isn’t what it used to be, but the crowd loves him anyway. Malinga surprises a few batsmen with his pace and lift – not sure why. Surely they know what he’s capable of by now. Randiv keeps things tight. But it’s Perera who gets the wickets – five in total. A quality performance from the 21 year old.
Aussie batsmen come and go. They get to 239. Not a bad total, but not a good one either. Mahela and Sanga in form, this should be a walk in the park. We take bets on when the game will finish. I’m feeling good about the chase and predict a win in the 44th over.
Sri Lankan openers make a quiet start. Then – disaster! Dilshan misjudges one and Tharanga gets himself run out after backing up too far. Not to worry, two of the best batsmen in the world at the crease and they start to turn things around. Doherty comes on. This will be a feast! A debutant against two masters of spin. Not to be. He gets three wickets in two overs, including the aforementioned masters. Silva – what were you thinking?
Anyway, we are done now. This will be a slow death. We will probably get to 150 all out in 40 overs. It’s cold and miserable (the cold increasing with the number of wickets), so I’m getting a coffee. Maybe I should just leave. No, that wouldn’t be right. I’ve been to many games when this has happened to the Lankans. I never left then, so why start now? I’m used to such beatings – I can stomach this.
By the time I get back to my seat, we are eight for 107. Won’t be a slow death after all. I can get home early and see my young family. Maybe I’ll see my mother who is somewhere in the stands. They flash Malinga’s stats on the big screen. A previous highest score of 16 means he’ll probably get less tonight. Murali will last a couple of balls and we’ll be done and dusted. They also flash the attendance figure – 19,309 – paltry by MCG standards. Paltry by any standard. 19,000 supporting the ‘home’ team, and 309 supporting Australia. At least that’s how it feels.
Matthews starts hitting out. Good thinking. No point hanging around with only two genuine tail-enders to bat with. Malinga connects a few big ones – typical tail-ender’s luck. The Aussies have taken the foot off the gas. They know this will be over soon.
They are taking big swipes and the scoreboard is rattling along. Come to think of it, this is incredibly clean hitting. Big sixes and flashy fours. Fifty run partnership. Soon, we get to 200 before anyone has time to say ‘Holy Dilmah Tea.’ Great effort, but they are teasing us. Surely, this can’t last long. I would prefer a slow death and a thrashing to a close one right now!
It keeps getting closer. Thirty to get, then 20, now 10. People watching amazed. The runs coming with ease. These two haven’t looked like getting out all night. Fairytales do come true, but this is beyond the realm of the fairies, at least the ones I know. The bands are still playing, but no one’s taking their eyes off the action on the pitch.
Finally, we have tied. One more run for one of the most extraordinary comebacks in the annals of one day cricket, or any cricket for that matter! The field has come in even closer, Malinga connects and takes off. Good throw – he’s out! What drama! This could not be scripted.
In walks Murali to the ground where he was harshly called for throwing all those years ago, for his final international performance at the ‘G’. Ghosts of the past all around him and all around us. Matthews plays a dot ball, and Murali is facing the next over. What will he do? Move to the leg and hit an agricultural shot to cow corner? Did I say it was cold? We are all sweating…profusely.
The ball hits the turf hard and takes a line to the leg. Instead of moving further away like you would expect him to, Murali glances it down the leg side like a pro with 8,000 test runs, not 800 test wickets. It glides along the ground, all the way to the fence. The batsmen are celebrating, disbelief abounds. I was only slightly out – we win in the 45th over! My friends are delirious with joy.
Did that just happen? Did we just win? We must have!