Four, six, and wicket. Popular terms for anyone who’s a fan of the sport of cricket. Introduced by the British, cricket spread its wings across borders courtesy of colonism, and Sri Lanka was one of the lucky beneficiaries of this pastime. Cricket in Sri Lanka has been played since the British rule, which is evident by the deep roots the sport has within the school, club, and provincial structure.
Sri Lanka’s defining moment as a cricketing nation came to be on 17th March 1996, when they defeated the mighty Australian team to win the World Cup, in front of a packed stadium in Lahore. Tears of joy swept down the captain Arjuna Ranatunge’s face, while the rest of the squad members wrapped around in joy to get their hands on the trophy.
Notable squad members from that winning campaign included the Player of the Match in the Finals Aravinda De Silva, Player of the Tournament Sanath Jayasuriya, Roshan Mahanama, Asanka Gurusinghe, Muttiah Muralitharan, and Kumar Dharmasena.
The Sri Lankan national cricket team emerged victorious in two other global cricket tournaments thereafter. The team was the joint winner of the ICC Champions Trophy in 2002 with India, and defeated the same opponents at the finals of the ICC World Twenty20 2014, which was held in Bangladesh. The 2014 victory featured the new group of stars, including Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Lasith Malinga, Thisara Perera and Nuwan Kulasekera. The massive crowds that assembled to greet the champions back in Colombo was a sight to revere for a lifetime.
The global cricket tournaments are held occasionally, but the Sri Lankan cricket fan can help themselves with a dose of cricket all-year long. Bi-lateral and tri-series fixtures are organized on a yearly basis as per the ICC Future Tours Programme. For games held in Sri Lanka, thousands of ardent fans flock to the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, SSC Grounds, P. Sara Oval Stadium, Galle International Cricket Stadium, Mahinda Rajapakse Stadium in Hambantota, Pallekele Stadium in Kandy, and Dambulla International Cricket Stadium. Regardless of the time of the year, many cricket fans could be seen gathering together to witness their favourite stars.
March Madness is a commonly known phrase in Sri Lanka, given its reference to the schools’ Big Match season. The Big Match is a two-day or three-day cricket encounter between two schools, and is a vital cog of the academic calendar that it is now a tradition within the school curriculum. Pupils from the participating schools, both young and old, mark their calendars every season in order to make their way towards the stadia and be part of the excitement and fellowship that follows.
One of the biggest contributions of cricket for the nation of Sri Lanka has been its capability of unifying people from all religions, ethnicities and backgrounds. In times of war, social issues, poverty, natural disasters, and despair, cricket has been the medication. Cricket has been the magic pill. The way all Sri Lankans get together to support the Lankan Lions, despite of all shortcomings, has been a story to commemorate, and one hopes that cricket continues to bridge the gaps of humanity for many more years to come.