Easily the biggest name in Sri Lanka cricket for a decade between the 1990s and 2000s. Sanath Jayasuriya revolutionized limited-over cricket batting with his attacking mindset at the start of the innings. Most Sri Lankans, including myself, watched cricket matches mainly to see Jayasuriya do well, and when he folded too early, so did our spirits.
The helmet – gloves – bat – pads – guard check before each delivery, bringing himself on to bowl the 50thand final over when the ending was tensed, the limited vocabulary during his post-match presentations – with the most prominent phrase being “I think” – and both hands up in the air celebrations made up the icon who carried Sri Lanka cricket for all those years.
His involvement in politics, anti-climatic latter years and retirement, failed tenures as a commentator and selector, and involvement in corruption activities stained the iconic reputation, but we should not forget to celebrate how one man made us all happy back in the day.
1996 Cricket World Cup
Coincidentally or not, the 1996 cricket World Cup is my earliest memory of watching and associating with cricket. To be precise, I vividly remember scenes of spectators at Eden Gardens Kolkata throwing bottles on to the field and setting things on fire. The five year old in me was too young comprehend that Sri Lanka was awarded that match, and was on the way to the World Cup finals.
The Finals. I remember our entire family surrounding the television as Sri Lanka was closing off the final few runs, with world stardom in sight. I could hear the manservant from our neighbour’s house whistling; so I dug up this green colour whistle we had and started blowing through it. That’s about it; cannot remember the winning moments. Sad to say that I also missed the live winning moments of Sri Lanka’s 2014 ICC World Twenty20 triumph.
In the aftermath of this World Cup win, the song We Are the Champions became a hit in the island. Little did I know that this song was by a prestigious band named Queen, and that I would be mad about them and their songs 23 years later.
Jayasuriya – Mahanama Partnership
As Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama kept going on and on, I remember my brother talking about some records being broken. At that time, I only knew of records which were used in the music industry, and couldn’t figure out how it connected with cricket. I remember that the final day of play was open to the public for free, as Sanath Jayasuriya was chasing history. Scenes of his dismissal – a simple catch to silly point and then walking off in tears with the Indian team patting him in the back – are still part of my memory.
The Ross Emerson Show
By 1998, I was big enough to properly understand cricket and comprehend what’s going on. With no internet at home, not much of school homework, and with no agency-work life to be stressing about, we actually had time to sit and watch full 50 over matches.
So the match where Umpire Ross Emerson called Muttiah Muralitharan for chucking is properly recorded in my brain’s inner folders. I remember all the drama that Arjuna Ranatunga put on, with the players almost leaving the field of play. Scenes. Everything settled down, and Sri Lanka somehow won the game against England. Good times.
1999 Cricket World Cup
Swarnavahini had just commenced operations as a television channel, and they immediately bought the rights for some cricket tours involving Sri Lanka. The 1999 Cricket World Cup was also covered by them for the Sri Lankan audiences. In the leadup to the tournament, they had a daily contest where they would announce a question and give their hotline numbers. Viewers were invited to call the number and submit the answers.
I remember waiting each day for this show to air. The questions were simple, so I used to call the number as soon as I figured out the answer. But I never got through. Just like Sri Lanka during that World Cup; trying to reach the knock-out stage. Never got through.
And so here we are, 20 years on. Awaiting another Cricket World Cup. Also to be held in England again. Things haven’t been great with Sri Lanka cricket, but it’s time to put such ill-memories behind. Prison Break’s Theodore T-Bag Bagwell also pointed out the importance of leaving the Captivity of Negativity; and this is what we Sri Lankans need to do.
We have the team, players full of talent and passion, amazing support staff, and unyielding fans. The biggest occasion is here. It’s about winning the moments, the deliveries, the overs, the innings, and the matches. Let’s give it all. Let’s put on a Sri Lankan show.