Veni, Vidi, but we couldn’t conquer — whether from Colombo to Mumbai …. or Seenigama and Mankulam

Captain Elmo Jayawardena

The long-awaited battle for the World Cup is over. The winners colour-splashed the Mumbai night sky with fireworks and the spectators in the stadium went berserk, literally rendering the ‘Bombay Meri Hai’. The players leapt in the air and pirouetted on the grounds, laughed and cried hugging each other in front of the pavilion. The entire nation celebrated while we the losers switched off our televisions and gulped the last dregs in the glass and went to sleep.

 Murali’s lap of honour at the Premadasa Stadium — Pics by William West for AFP


 Kushil Gunasekera & Michael Tissera lap up victory at Premadasa Stadium — Pic by Roberts

The ancient Greeks, when they organised the Olympics never gave silver medals. May be they knew a thing or two about how important it is to win.  Yes, we wanted to be victors but we lost. All the post-mortems that are held by the pundits of the game combined with the expert opinions of the ‘not so’ learned will certainly not gift us even a much-needed maiden over or another opportunity to bend a little more and pick up a racing ball to stop a solitary single.

The curtain is down and the fat lady has sung, the defeated can say we played well, but it is the winners who took the prom queen home.I am simply a cricket lover and have no clue as to what we did right and what we did wrong. I saw the score increasing on the board and enjoyed the beautiful stroke play of the known and the ‘not-so-known’ of our side who dished-out super entertaining cricket to reach a formidable 274. Then came ‘goldi-locked’ Malinga with his ‘sling-shots’ and he ripped through the formidable Indian opening pair to send the two ‘wonder boys’ back to the pavilion silencing the entire Wankhede Stadium as if in a funeral wake.

But things changed, things always change.

We lost the cricket match and we lost our dream, derailing a long-awaited national aspiration that brought us all together as one nation in our quest to become the world champion team.

Let us not begin the blame game; starting with the players, then the selectors and the officials of the Cricket Board who organised everything. Let us stop the scolding litany; let us spare the drink-van driver who came to the field at water break, the umpires and the commentators and not proceed along the ladder to the President himself. No one is to be blamed. The match is over, King Dhoni reigns, Mother India won and we became the second best and thereby ends the fairy-tale. 

Let’s look at the eleven who was ‘Sri Lanka’. What they did in the World Cup is what our country needs. It was a national team, no Sinhalese team and no Tamil team and no Muslim team. A real Sri Lankan team, and maybe for the lack of a Burgher they had an Australian coach. Some bowled with ‘pirith nool’ on their wrists and some started their long run-ups with the sign of the cross. The magnificent old warrior was there, stalking in the periphery of the boundary line, all heart and total commitment in everything he did including perhaps what little prayers he offered to his Hindu God.

Similarly did anyone ask to which race another belonged when they stood on the pavements ofColomboand crowded around an Aban’s show-room television and watched their team play for the World Cup in Mumbai? They all had only one wish, forSri Lankato win. 

The road-side cheer squads were focussed only on ‘country and team’ and not where the players came from or who their fore-fathers were or what deities they worshipped. I do not think there was any less yearn for victory in a spectator who watched the match on television in his Wellawatta home to another who did the same from Panadura. A similar sentiment applies to fans from Kilinochchi and Kalmunai and to their fellow-countrymen in Beruwala or Battaramulla, all sitting in front of Panasonic screens and cheering their team. Were they from the blue party or the green party or Bolshevik red comrades or the jumping ones in multicoloured Joseph coats? Who cared?  It is the people of a land, not a language, a race, a religion or a political party that cheered the players. It was a country united supporting a team who played in that flamboyant Mumbai world stage.

That to me is the best part of this now completed World Cup. We Sri Lankans fought as a nation. I was buying ‘thalaguli’ in a Sri Lankan ‘have-all’ shop in Melbourne on match day and the cashier asked “Aiye, koheda match balanne? Where would you be watching the match? And he went on to show me a poster advertisement on his door, a Sri Lankan gathering to watch the cricket final in a hired hall on a wide screen and what do you think? They had even organised a ‘papara band’ with a local Lankan Louis Amstrong to blow his faded trumpet and a ‘has-been’ Ringo Starr to drum their baila beats. Man! This wasMelbourne. No different to any other place where Sri Lankans have pitched their tents and were counting hours for the match to begin. My ‘thalaguli’ friend was going to close doors and go home early to be ready for the grand finale. He knew the score, no Sri Lankan would be missing minutes of the cricket final to venture out that evening to visit his ‘have-all’ looking for malu paan or mas roti. It was cricket-time, and nothing else mattered. 

That’s what happened to us all, a collective obsession to support our team.

So we came together in cricket, the entire nation just like we did for theLahoretriumph in 1996.  That was when the ethnic war was at its worst, but it was World Cup time and the fighting had to be postponed to another day. Arjuna and his boys had to finish their business, they had to play their mesmerising cricket and bring the World Cup home. Then we could start fighting again.

It won’t be long before the cricketers from north of the border would come with their Gunn and Moore bats and Kookaburra balls to lay their claim on the national team. The magnificent Muralitharan has showed what class he is simply by the way he played forSri Lanka, his country, amidst the calamities that would have lacerated lesser men. He sure is the perfect example, the sterling role-model of racial harmony, the humble great man who spoke soft and bowled like a demon and played with utmost effort to become the unparalleled cricketing hero he is.

Yes, the Mankulam sports complex would give a new lease to the young of the north to compete. What better example for them than the exceptional Mr. Muttiah Muralitharan giving the lead.  This is all we need. The trigger-action to get us off the starting blocks to chip off first and then slowly and surely eradicate this cancerous racism in order to walk the land as one, just as Kumar Sangakkara’s team did in the World Cup final in Mumbai.

And to those who harbour hatreds and keep thoughts that fester the wounds of disharmony amidst the races, let it be an eye opener, how we gathered as a nation on the Second of April in front of televisions.  One day of peace and harmony can be extended to a week, a week to a month and a month to a year and then a life time and after. The possibility is within us, the blessings of unity and the ever important search for the amity. That is the way it should be, not only on a cricket pitch but through-out the length and breadth of the land, a sweeping desire within our souls to seek peace. It was there before and sadly got lost somewhere.

It’s time we found it again?

1 Comment

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One response to “Veni, Vidi, but we couldn’t conquer — whether from Colombo to Mumbai …. or Seenigama and Mankulam

  1. Mahinda Wijesinghe

    I say ‘Amen’ to what you assert – the possibility is within us.

    Let us all hold hands and go forward and ensure that those who died for us did not do so in vain.

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