This article talks about Sri Lanka and cricketing memories. I capture elements of Sri Lanka, Travel and cricket in the island from the view of the 1990’s.
As I boarded the train from Dehivala to Bambilipitiya, a little station in Colombo, along the Colombo-Galle railway line by the sea, my mind went back to the summer of 96. The summer of annihilation, The summer that Prime Sports [Now Star Sports] advertised as Cricket’s greatest year with Brian Langley in the advert.
Summer of 96
The summer of 96, was strange because the Lankans were on fire. Tony Greig was all over them, calling them fondly as ‘These little Sri Lankans’ with a specific reference to “Little Kalu” who along with Sanath Jayasuriya, was causing grief to a lot of bowlers. The grief became internalised in Manoj Prabhakar’s last ODI, when Kalu and Sanath launched a blistering attach on a bowler forced to bow in front of his home ground, by bowling off spinner for half his quota of overs bowled in the match. The scar ran deep that day from what happened at the Kotla. A little under 2 weeks later, the scar had bigger ramifications when the Lankans spun India out at the Eden Gardens on a relaid track, but it somehow got assuaged when the Lankans beat Australia in the finals. That small little nation had grown bigger in my eyes, in a period of little over a couple of weeks. From Delhi to Lahore via Calcutta and Rawalpindi. I probably never knew what it meant to the island nation back then. I was to soon find out as I made my way to the Cricket Club Cafe, on a balmy sunday afternoon in September.
In search of the Cricket Club Cafe
The station was similar to the suburban rail stations, I would use back home in Chennai. A little platform that had a track on either sides, without any hustle and bustle, all for about 10 Lankan Rupees. These are usually 3rd class unreserved tickets, but have the best views of the sea, as the train ambles into Bambilipitiya. The railway stations from outside resemble a colonial bungalow in a hill station, but the reality is this little homely building is a railway station.
A zig zag walk of a kilometre later, I find myself still confused if I am at the right place. The place that i encounter is fresh with sunshine coming over, after 2 days of rains and inclement September weather. The white walls are shining well through the contrasts of the tropical combination of the azure skies and green trees
At the crossroads where there’s an interesting signboard that talks about the distances and directions of cricket grounds from that spot. I look west to Newlands, east to the Basin Reserve, North West to the Queens Park Oval, and angularly across to Lords and the MCG in opposite directions. Cricket’s little relic, at Colombo has just sent the cricketing hormones racing. I walk in feeling charged.
At the Cricket Club Cafe
The cafe has a very homely and warm vibe, with travellers who come here across the world. The cafe’s main hall has memorabilia hanging all over the walls. Shane Warne’s bowling in 4 different frames on the left and Allan Border is hooking and flicking in the other frames on the right, which is interspersed with panoramic view of cricket grounds.
A ‘Vivian Richards’ vegetarian menu item makes its way to the table, smelling of cheesy lasagne, while the travellers inside discuss Lara and his comeback in the summer of 1999 against the Aussies. The TV in the room, quietly shifts to the live cricket being played a few blocks away at the Premadasa.
As I move into the other room, I see an Image of Don Anurasiri bending his back, and a T shirt that has autographs of the Sri Lankan team. The ‘Don’ played in an era when Sri Lanka was hardly at its best.
Sri Lanka’s renaissance in my opinion started on that 1995 tour of Sharjah, where Kalu and Hashan Tilakratne almost chased down West Indies’s mammoth 333 (fuelled by 169 by Lara). WI were given their first shock then, which trickled to a little more as part of an Australian summer where SrI Lanka, made it to the tri-series final in 1996 with some inspired cricket. That set the tone for the summer in the sub continent, as Sri Lanka ambushed all other teams, on their way to the world cup victory
As the below newspaper cutting shows, a little dwarfed nation, troubled by the incessant strife in the north, and the threat of an attack, had a reason to smile and celebrate. Cricket had its ‘David beats Goliath’ moment yet again with a Sub continental team emerging champions. Cricket’s mount everest had been conquered, and the government chose to award the winning side a holiday package to Maldives. Maybe that was the height of luxury back then, when cricket was not yet a full time sport, that had as much money flowing in. Picking leather balls and pieces of woods, were an option, instead of picking guns and bombs for children and maybe this set off more people to bring their blaring horns and music equipment at the grounds in Colombo, though its always been part of the cricket scene in Sri Lanka.
The Cricket Club Cafe, made me revisit the 90’s through the eyes of a Lankan supporter, and I paid my bill visualizing Tony Greig’s voice shrieking “They are dancing in the Isles’, while the clarinet’s go off. [Though that comment was meant for Sharjah, I could very well use it in this context since Tony Greig was one of Sri Lanka’s very own]
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