By: Nitin Gadkari

This piece is written in honour of the Sri Lankan cricket team’s victory in the
Asia cup final in Dubai on Sunday, the 12 Sep 2022. After a very long time, the
Sri Lankans have found something to celebrate, and this one they fully deserve.

There was a reluctant compulsion on Sunday for any Indian cricket fan to watch
the Asia cup finals being played in Dubai. The build-up to this cup had hype
written all over it about India. A new coach, a new captain, and a new approach.
Many experiments were tried with the number two side playing in Ireland,
Zimbabwe and winning. There was an aura of arrogance on the Indian side. It
doesn’t matter who is not there, the likes of Bumrah or Shammi, we will win
matches. The superiority almost proved right in the first game of the cup. The
‘Clash of the Titans as it was labelled, India Vs Pakistan. India pulled out an
improbable win in the last over. It looked like Hardik Pandya could do no wrong
after the IPL. Whatever he touched was gold. Almost all cricket fans were sure
about the Asia cup coming home. So intoxicated was the cricket frenzy nation
that no one even bothered to find out the tournament format. The two groups and
then the ‘Super 4’. Those who knew predicted that there would be three clashes
between India and Pakistan.

In this hullaballoo, no one noticed there was a team called Sri Lanka. The island
nation’s current state and politics had overtaken all the headlines. Unfortunately,
all of it negative. Many did not even realise that the official organiser of the cup
was Sri Lanka. Because of the dire economic situation back home, they had
arranged to hold the cup in Dubai. So poor was the publicity that no Sri Lanka
dignitary or board member was even visible on the TV screen throughout the
tournament. If not for an ad Star TV ran in the breaks announcing that the island
nation is the tournament sponsor, many would never have come to know that the
cup was being organised by them. Sri Lanka has been on the decline cricketingwise and has not enjoyed a reputation for winning tournaments. Their last cup
win came in 2014 in Bangladesh’s ICC T-20 world cup. If you asked an Indian
fan to name two Sri Lankan players or the Sri Lankan captain, he would be
dumbstruck after the first; Hasaranga. Because of his fine performance in the IPL
this season for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. No second name would have
been remembered in all probabilities. The team came with minimum fuss but a
tremendous amount of grit, youth and talent.

This narrative is necessary to tell ourselves that a cricket team necessarily does
not win because of big names and individual performances. On a one-on-one
basis, the Afghanistan cricket team’s performances and players may have been
rated better by the bookies. India had the greatest star value to its team, followed
by Pakistan. The Rohits, the Viraats, the Rishabs, and Hardiks, from India, Babar
Azam, Rizwan, Iftikhar, and Fakhar Zaman from Pakistan, to name a few. The
galleries were packed to see these players give performances to see their sides
win. While the Sri Lankan diaspora is small in Dubai compared to India and
Pakistan, they still thronged in numbers, probably with little expectations. The
fans looked as simple and unglamorous as their players. The Sri Lankan team
came of its own when it mattered most: the super 4. They had lost their first game
in the league stage badly to Afghanistan. Their gritty performance against
Bangladesh saved the league and allowed them to march to the Super 4 stage. No
one had given the Lankan team a chance. But they learned their lessons well, and
every man contributed. They believed in the young talent and, after that, won five
games on the trot to lift the Asia cup. In the bargain, they broke many cricketing
myths, like the law of averages, losing the toss in UAE, playing unknown players
in the finals etc.

But their best was reserved for the finals. It was a tale only the best can script.
When Sri Lanka lost the toss, the Pakistani fans had a huge cheer, assuming a
definitive victory. The UAE pitches are famous for the dictum, ‘You win the
Toss, You win the match. An analyst would have given very little chance to the
Sri Lankans after the toss. Not to take things for granted, the new celebrated
Pakistani seamer had the first wicket in the first over. A clean bowled signaled
the doom to come, and soon enough, it was 58 for 5. If that is not doom in T 20,
then none else would be. But this is where the Sri Lankan story came to unfold,
its character, determination, and cool heads. Sheer timing and class of batting by
Rajapaksa and Hasaranga shifted the momentum in Sri Lanka’s favour. And as
they say, ‘Luck favours the brave’ the team ended with a flourish and put up a
formidable 170 on the board.

Knowing the batting strength of the Pakistani side, 170 on a good surface when
batting second was very much on the cards. The Sri Lanka bowlers and fielders
had something else in mind. When you are a team that works like the
synchronised swimming squad in Olympics, everything becomes smooth and
easy. The bowlers bowled to their lengths, and fielders never left a ball. The Sri
Lankan fielders took all the catches that came their way, no matter how high the
ball was hit and if it was entering the stadium from the dark stratosphere. They
caught it before it hit the earth, winning the match.

All the comments post the match from the Sri Lankan side were polite and
humble. They praised the hard work and team effort. When asked by a
commentator who was the best player, their English coach summed up the team’s
performance by stating that someone stood up and took responsibility in every
match. So I cannot name one person. It’s a team which won the cup. How one
wishes other national teams, especially India, could take that seriously.
Two of the best comments came from the commentators. The first is from Sanjay
Manjrekar “You guys look so casual outside, but explode when you play, and
make watching so much fun.” The second, most telling comment came from the
lady anchor right at the end after congratulating the Sri Lanka n side for victory
wrapped up by saying, “Remember, good guys, don’t always finish last”. It was
a telling statement that embodied everything good about this Sri Lankan side. I
would have been a very proud Sri Lankan that day. They have not only won the
cup, but most importantly, they won the hearts. Kudos Sri Lanka; your good days
have started.

Courtesy: Source: