Cricket success boosts Sri Lankan morale

The economic crisis in Sri Lanka shows no sigs of ending soon. That is not surprising since the immediate cause of the current crisis is the severe lack of foreign exchange reserves to import even the most basic goods such as fuel, medicines, and food, and only other nations and foreign agencies can ameliorate the situation by giving loans and grants but that takes time to negotiate and then implement.

Meanwhile the government has issued desperate appeals to the population and ordered government employees to work just four days a week and to use the fifth day to grow food in their backyards in order to help with the food crisis. They have asked all workers to work from home as much as possible so as to reduce the need for transportation. But that has not been enough to stop protestors from marching to demand that the president and prime minister resign immediately.

At a time when the country has pretty much ground to a standstill because of the lack of essentials, I was stunned to see that spectators were packing the stands at the international cricket matches between Sri Lanka and Australia currently going on. Australia is a perennial cricket powerhouse but Sri Lanka is holding its own against them. In the three 20-over matches, Australia won 2-1 but Sri Lanka won the five match one-day (50 over) series 3-2. The two teams will now play two five-day Test matches.

A couple of weeks before the tour began, Australian players had considered pulling out of the tour, thinking it might be unseemly to play cricket in a country where the people were suffering from such hardships. These games have been exciting but watching those matches with the large cheering crowds, you would never guess that the country is going through its worst crisis in modern history.

This is a nation run by a government essentially living hand-to-mouth. They are awaiting the next fuel shipments at the end of the week, desperately scrambling for money to pay for them. Meanwhile, fuel queues choke the roads like metal pythons, getting longer and fatter by the day. Trains and buses are crammed evermore with commuters who have no choice but to cling for life on the brimming footboards. The vegetable stalls and grocery shelves, though, are empty.

This was a Tuesday night, and traveling even a couple of kilometres is a trial because there’s so little petrol into the country. But more than 30,000 have made it to Khettarama, a ground which, at times like this, it seems especially fitting, is in one of Colombo’s most working-class neighourhoods. Who deserves this fun more than those who have been battered hardest and longest by the collapsing economy?

One recalls the tour of Australia by England in 1932-1933 during the Great Depression when people packed the stands even though they had little money. That was during the ‘bodyline’ controversy, which added an extra edge to the already long-standing intense rivalry between the two nations.

Sports can provide people an opportunity to take their minds off troubles that they can do little about.


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