DUBAI: After Sri Lanka beat India last Tuesday, their press conference was delayed for a bit. The team management was in a huddle of sorts at the door of the press conference room. Bhanuka Rajapksa opened the door and as he was about to enter the room, captain Dasun Shanaka pulled his arm and gave him clear instructions in his ears.
Rajapaksa is one of the most eloquent English-speaking cricketers in the Asia Cup. He is definitely the most fluent in the Sri Lankan team. He was tasked with facing the media after Shanaka’s Bangladesh-are-much-easier-opponent comments created a flutter on the opening night of the tournament.
Rajapaksa had come for the previous press conference too when they had knocked out Bangladesh. He tried to imply his captain was never mean with his comments. He was misunderstood. On Friday night, Shanaka and Wanindu Hasaranga sat together to talk to the media. Shanaka’s English is broken but Hasaranga really struggles to verbalise his thoughts in the language. As the press conference went on for 11 minutes, both helped each other find the apt words for their feelings.
This is a Sri Lankan team which has players taking care of each other both on and off the field. A team that respects its captain and a captain happy to play the underdog. If the world, watching and reading about Sri Lanka unravelling as a nation, needed any evidence of the indomitable Sri Lankan spirit, this team is it.
“With all the crisis, this is the only thing we could do to bring a smile to their faces,” Rajapaksa had said after defeating India. Shanaka on Friday mentioned his team has been flooded with messages from Sri Lanka. “It’s been a very good tournament for us. We are getting messages. We are giving them something back. All are sending wishes and love. They love the game,” Shanaka said.
Interestingly, the three teams – Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan – which have entertained the most in this tournament come from nations which are enduring political and economic instability.
Yet, Sri Lanka is a story of their own. Much before their political and economic collapse, their cricket seemed to be on a downward spiral forever. So much so, the Indian cricket board (BCCI) decided to send a second-string to Sri Lanka last August for a limited-overs tour more as a mark of charity for the dwindling Sri Lankan cricket board to generate some revenue and keep breathing. Even that Indian team looked too strong for Sri Lanka’s full-strength team. The drubbing at the hands of Afghanistan to open the tournament must have been gut-wrenching.
Who would have guessed that tour would become the trigger for Sri Lankan cricket’s resurgence? The likes of Rajapksa, Hasaranga, Maheesh Theeksana, Chamika Karunaratne and Pathirana all landed IPL deals after Sri Lankans were ignored by franchises in the previous years.
Sri Lankan cricket has been a joy factor from the 90s. Their passion and pride would stand out. They had a brand of their own–a small island nation fearlessly taking on the world. For most of the past decade, their cricket had lost the bite. Rajapaksa had made their objective clear: “We had a brand two decades ago. We want to rebuild it.”
“As a white-ball team we played a lot of youngsters. Last 12-15 months, we played with this coach (Chris Silverwood). That’s why we are successful. We have the confidence,” Hasaranga said on Friday night. Rajapaksa couldn’t harp enough how the same bunch of cricketers have stuck around for each other in the past 18 months, resulting in the team’s resurgence.
It’s again ironic that Sri Lanka announced their cricket revival by beating India here. “We are not underdogs anymore. We were the underdogs from the time we came to the UAE. We all know how good Pakistan and India are good on their day. All we wanted was to prove a point to the world. Especially to our nation,” Rajapaksa would emphatically state.
Going by what they have done here, the ‘underdogs’ have certainly started flaunting their canines.