As a bunch of cricketers stood fighting with masks over their faces in early December last year, it sprung forth a plethora of emotions. To some, it was a clever act of drama and to some, it was a genuine concern. Delhi’s pollution levels had hit the roof and Sri Lanka was hanging by a thread. Cricketers came in and out of hospital wards, they lacked the zeal to take the field after retching incessantly and most were in no position to even step on the ground, forget bowl or bat for hours on end.
After the retirement of stalwarts Lasith Malinga, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralidharan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, the team from the Emerald Isle have lacked both the charisma and the firepower that was once contained within them. They have fought but without creating ripples, they have held on only to sieve through at the last moment and just as the world was getting accustomed to see Sri Lanka whizz away, the images of the players in masks in an unhealthy environment went viral.
Would the Indian Board have allowed a more reputed team like England, South Africa or Australia to play in such conditions? Or would they have feared a strain in their bonds, that would have even affected financial revenue? The guess is relatively simple. Here was Sri Lanka, facing monetary issues, housing athletes who can no longer push opponents and so their complaints was hardly given much ado.
However, while it could have been an enactment for many, for the team in question it was much more. It was about not giving up. It was about fighting in dire situations even when India had notched up 536 runs on the board. Just as India was slipping into that comfort zone – it had been a trend in the recent past that a high score by the Indian batsmen would be followed by a magical show by the spinners – Odysseus emerged with his fighting spirit intact.
Not only did India have to bat again after the visitors scored 373 runs in reply, they caused a few stirs as India lost a couple of wickets in the second innings.
However, they managed to get to 246/5 declared and surely a score of 410 would have scared away the Dinesh Chandimal-led side. Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were spitting venom as they had done the entire season but Lanka held on. Dhananjaya Silva and Roshen Silva survived scares and spinning deliveries to draw the match and though the Indian fanatics could have been disappointed, the cricketing arena was abuzz.
The superior Indian team had been tamed at home by a squad that lacked any idols. As Sri Lanka were applauded for their efforts, it was secretly hoped that the strong showing did not cease, but little would have one realised how eager the cricketers themselves were. The new crop of players wanted Sri Lanka to be renowned as a team whose identity was removed from the Muralidharans and the Sangakkaras and this intent have carried on ever since.
Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka
On a pitch that was later deemed unfit for play, the Lankans did well to get to 222 runs in the first innings. An attempted comeback by Bangladesh’s middle order was thwarted in the bud as the opponents were shot out for just 110.
With uneven bounce and potential injury-causing deliveries on offer, Sri Lanka pushed the 112-run lead to 338. The match was over right then, but their ability to stand amid danger and to glide of it with such comfort must have brought joy to the retired legends who could not help but feel that the future of cricket in their nation was finally starting to look up.
West Indies vs Sri Lanka
A series that was marred by controversies was also in the news for Sri Lanka’s indomitable aura. Even as Shannon Gabriel was discarding fear all around, Chandimal created a stir for walking out for two hours after the umpires had accused him of ball-tampering. Though this move was hardly justified, it somehow revealed the rebellious attitude that had been ingrained among the boys who were asked to no longer take things lying down. The second match ended in a draw but the third was up and kicking again as both teams tried tooth and nail to emerge triumphant. Against sheer pace, the Lankans were expected to go down but they survived it all to draw 1-1.
But the biggest battle awaited in the form of the South Africans. The team that had made a mark whilst traveling. Under unknown conditions, they had fought dreadful combats to emerge victorious when the situation was turned against them. Though the Proteas were sans AB de Villiers for the tour, a mighty battle was set to ensue, and despite playing at home Sri Lanka were the overwhelming underdogs.
However, the passion that has now become a part of their culture wrapped around the cricketers again as they took on the biggest names. The spinners exploited their slightest weakness and the pacers finished off the good work. Their batsmen upstaged Keshav Maharaj’s efforts to make a mockery of one of the best teams. As they are en route a clean whitewash that will be achieved through consistent hard work, the realm of cricket can afford to smile at the beauty of Test cricket that entails struggles and obstacles but also victories and results for the one who perseveres.