Friday, 18 April 2014

Fourteen Days Later

Sri Lanka v India, Final, World T20 2014

Fourteen days after Sri Lanka were crowned world T20 champions; only their second world title in cricketing history, I find my self staring at my laptop screen, finally having wrapped my head around the fact that we are indeed world champions. Like many Sri Lankans, I have now watched the highlights over and over again to the point where my chrome homepage has a link to the highlights video on "" listed as "Most Visited". I have listened to countless press conferences and watched all the television and radio interviews from all the players. I've surfed through the web for various celebration videos from all around Sri Lanka and all around the world. This cycle has continued for two weeks, and still the mind, body or soul hasn't seemed to have enough of it.

But if you really think about it, Sri Lanka haven't really won a "World Cup" in terms or technicalities. The ICC prefers to call the tournament "The World T20". The trophy it self isn't termed "The T20 World Cup Trophy", instead it is called the "World T20 Trophy". As much as Sri Lanka are world champions in the T20 format after winning the tournament, it may only be a mere justification of their position as the #1 T20 side in the world via the ICC world rankings, something Sri Lankans knew and were proud of even before the tournament had begun. Then what is to be made of these wild celebrations? Of the tears that were shed of joy? Of the electric hair raising feeling you get when you watch that winning moment over and over again. As contrary to the whole point about the world T20 not being a real world cup, the emotion in winning it could yet be justified. A classic example would be the photograph of Misbah Ul Haq kneeling with his head on his bat, while the Indians celebrated his dismissal in the final ball of the final over, in the world T20 finale in 2007.

But that is not the epitome of it. The emotions us Sri Lankans felt when we won that world cup are far greatly justifiable if you put the following in to perspective. Consider the scenario if Sri Lanka had lost the final. Sri Lanka would have fluffed the so called "boon" that was handed to them by god, to bid farewell to their two favourite sons since the mid 2000s. On top of it, it would have been the fifth final in the space of 7 years that they had lost. They would have stamped the name "chokers" on their foreheads the same way the swastika was carved on Col. Hans Landa by Lieutenant Aldo Raine; in more ways than one making it the "greatest masterpiece yet". They would have lost to their nemesis; India, who have tormented them across formats and finals all over the world. And fed by all these memories and contemplating a thousand disastrous permutations about its out come, in the hearts of every Sri Lankan there was fear, going in to the final. There was fear that Mahela and Sanga would have to retire, with careers of glorious numbers and unmatchable statistics, without ever being crowned world champions. Further, there was fear that if these two cannot win one, then who will? Will Sri Lanka ever win a world cup again? There was fear of heartache of this horrid nightmare coming true. Again. All over again. And it was this fear of disappointment that all Sri Lankans was liberated of, when Thisara Perera swiped that length ball over Ashwin's head. Any good team with a bit of luck can win a final. A consistent team under stable leadership can win world cups. But it is not everyday a sports team can liberate a whole nation of a fear of drowning in sorrows and heartache of losing what is Sri Lanka's only shot at being something in this world, of being champions.

Any team that wins a world cup will be called world champions,
but the beauty is in making people truly believe that they are indeed fans of the best team in the world.

When Sri Lanka lost the final in 2007, they lost to the best team of the tournament. They lost to a team that seemed unbeatable. They lost to an innings that would not be replicated in a world cup final for a long time to come. Amidst claims of Adam Gilchrist being a cheat for using a squash ball; which in my opinion was as fair as wicketkeepers using inner gloves, and Colombo's power being shut down due to an air-raid by the LTTE, Sri Lankan let the world cup loss pass. It wasn't something they thought they would win in the first place. In 2009, Sri Lanka ascended to their position of the most consistent T20 side in the world, with the aid of Lasith Malinga's yorkers, Dilshan's dilscoops, Mathews' all round heroics and Mendis' magic box. In a final where they should have won, against a team they had already beaten in the group stages, Sri Lanka faltered. They choked. Signs of heartache had begun and wounds that would not heal had been made. In 2011, Sri Lanka dusted off the early loss to Pakistan and steam rolled their way in to the final, yet as underdogs to the final hosts India, then with the grit of Mahela and Thisara's bats and Malinga's ball, Sri Lanka held their sword against India's throat. But before the throat could be slit, the back to the wall India handed Sri Lanka a knock out blow. Sri Lanka choked once again. This time the heartache did not spare the tears. Sri Lanka cried. But it wasn't until 2012 that Sri Lanka wept. Sri Lanka were favourites to win in 2012. It was their reward for enduring three straight final losses; a world cup win at home, in front of the home crowd, with their ever loving leaders Mahela as captain, and Sanga as deputy. But from the jaws of defeat, Marlon Samuels snatched victory for the West Indies. Sri Lanka was left speechless. That was it. That was the final nail in the coffin. Sri Lanka, along with Mahela and Sanga, their pillars of success in recent years, Malinga and Dilshan, their pioneers of T20 dominance, Herath and Kule, their most hard working and humble workhorses, would one day have to bow down without ever tasting the a world championship. Sri Lanka bled and Sri Lanka wept. Such wounds took time to heal, and left scars that only a world cup win could slightly help cover. But one thing was for sure; Sri Lanka could not afford to lose another final. They had endured hell. Not this time. Not again. And they didn't. They won. And this feeling right there, of self realization that no matter how many bad memories were made, and no matter how many tears were shed since 2007, Sri Lanka had finally managed to WIN one, was what really and genuinely justified the emotions that were sparked.

Sri Lankans famously dub themselves as a nation that only remembers anything for a space of seven days. But with the emotional trauma that they suffered since 2007, for seven years of being bride's maids to everyone else's weddings, of an 18 year old trophy drought, the despair of being called chokers and the lack of hope for dreaming to be world champions, this win in 2014 will not be forgotten for a long long time. It may have sparked united celebrations across all races, ethnicities, religions cast and creed in Sri Lanka, but it may never be the final step towards attaining true equity and peace in the island. It may have put them on the map once again after 1996 for being world champions, but it may not make them a significant figure in the world as much as we would like to think it would. In truth, Sri Lanka's win, and being crowned "World Champions" may not be much of a deal at all to anyone else in this world but to Sri Lankans, but in a sense that with this win Sri Lanka may not have won the world at all, and yet has won the world of every Sri Lankan, makes this win a far greater gift than any win a sports team could win for their country.

Which is why these words from Harsha Bhogle, "Now, has he got it? Yes he has! Sri Lanka are the new champions of the ICC World T20! Well played! They've tried so hard so many times in the final. This is their day." will ring in the ears of Sri Lankan fans for years and years to come, let alone just for two weeks.


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

TL;DR "We Freaking Won the World Cup!"

Sri Lanka v India, World T20 2014

When Sri Lanka started their world cup campaign, to me it was all about bidding farewell to Mahela and Sanga in the T20 format. Having a minimum of four games to play in the space of ten days, a semi final and a final would only be a bonus for me to see the two greats bat together in the format that they stand as evidence for purists who can play the game that is desired by the team. It was also possibly the last World T20 for Sri Lanka's T20 fortune maker; TM Dilshan, and their spin wizard since Murali; Rangana Herath. But a farewell did not seem to be on the cards for any of these Sri Lankan legends. TM Dilshan looked like an old worn out deer in head lights, with not enough reflexes to see the vehicle coming. Herath didn't even get a game. And when Sanga couldn't get the ball of the square for the first four games he batted, scoring a telephone number for runs; 14,0,4,1, and when Mahela had to be dropped by the English over and over again for him to score which was perhaps the ugliest half century of his career, for me the swan song had started to end with an off key.

Then Sri Lanka lost to England. Chandimal was banned for a game for low over-rates. Thirimanne came in as replacement. Mendis got dropped for Herath. With Malinga being appointed as captain, his baby sitting duties were set on Mahela's, Sanga's and Dilshan's hands. The swan song had begun, and the whole country were singing in chorus, with their hearts on their sleeve, and tears in their eyes. In a heart-stopping game, Sri Lanka came back after a dismal batting collapse against New Zealand to bowl them out for 60 runs and make it to the Semi Finals. Rangana Herath heralded the charge, with Murali-esque figures of 5 for 3. Has there ever been a better left-arm spinner from the sub-continent, or even in the world, one would wonder. Dilshan was ferociously vocal and ever passionate in the field; he had found his aggression that Sri Lanka much depend on for crucial games. Dilshan's passion and aggression is the tonic to Mahela's emotion and Sanga's calm. And with the three combined, they provided the perfect advisory board for Captain Malinga to lead the troops to one last Semi Final for the three greats.

Transition of the captaincy from Chandi to Malinga;
a sub-plot that would be spoken about for decades.
Against West Indies, Chandimal was back to selection availability. In a gesture that perhaps won Sri Lanka the world cup, consciously or not, he made him self unavailable for selection, opting to leave the working machine as it is; letting Thiri play and letting Malinga captain his first World Cup Semi Final. Seekkuge Prasanna came in for Thisara to add the extra spin option against the big hitting Windies who like a bit of pace on the ball. Kusal and Dilshan put away Samuel Badree and Krishmar Santokie on to the ropes from the start and Sri Lanka raced to 41/0 in 4 overs, and completely upset the West Indian plans of getting early Badree wickets, and pushing cheap Santokie overs before Narine came and capitulated the opposition. In continuation of Sanga's failures with the bat, and Mahela's unneeded run out without facing a ball, the two Sri Lankan legends departed with a total of 1 run between them. But unlike the old Sri Lanka, who crumble when the stalwarts fail, Thirimanne and Mathews stepped up. With an unusually calm innings from Dilshan, a calculated charge from Thiri and a massacre in the last two overs by Mathews, Sri Lanka posted a commanding 160 runs. Mahela conducted the orchestra, with Sanga by his side, and with ever reliable spells from Sachithra, Kule and Hera, a surprise Afridi spell from Prasanna and a Gayle stopping, Smith crumbling two overs from Malinga, Sri Lanka cruised to one final "Final" for their legends on the S.S. Duckworth-Lewis, under the pelting hail. The Swan Song had peaked, and only one final verse remained. Sri Lankan hearts started beating faster and with fear-struck eyes, memories tainted in disappointment, but yet, still daring to hope and believe, they cleared their throats for the final verse.

It was only fitting that Sri Lanka would face India in the Finals; the team that they consistently struggled to beat in the recent past, specially in Finals. As Sri Lankan fans dreaded another blistering gut-wrenching Kohli innings, or a tsunami sized Helicopter shot from Dhoni, the team prepared for final battle. Thisara Perera came in for the impressive Seekkuge Prasanna, which was one crucial decision as it hindered India's options of using Mishra and Jadeja against the left handed hitter in the latter overs. Chandimal, once again, proving his courage and character, left him self out of his first ever world cup final as captain. Malinga headed out for the toss, and won one against Dhoni, and elected to field, knowing that India hadn't set a target to a formidable side in the whole tournament. In the back of his mind would have been the fact that Sri Lanka hadn't chased more than 39 in the whole tournament either, but it was a gamble he would have been willing to take, given India's chasing record. With a count down that pit Sri Lanka at 2 and India at 1, the game began.

If Sri Lanka wanted to prove a point about their mental strength in Finals,
India were the best team to do it against.
Kule and Mathews bowled four tight overs at the top, Sachithra and Herath then came in and plugged the big hits. Malinga made short bursts to try an put the Indian batsmen off track. Untill the 11th over, the cat and mouse continued. India rolled along at a run-a-ball, but never really got after the bowling. Then as he used to so many times during the most part of his career, Rohit Sharma threw his wicket away, chipping an orthodox Hera ball to short cover, where Sachi pouched a low catch. Enter Yuvraj Singh; and the contrast of an experienced campaigner who's out of form and the young gun who is in the longest purple patch ever known to cricket history was on show. Kohli cruised to 70 while Yuvraj couldn't differentiate ball from thin air. For every Kohli swish over cover, Yuvraj swatted flies outside off. For every Kohli's crack of the bat hitting ball at thunderous pace, there was a windy swoosh from Yuvraj missing the ball by a country mile. By the time he got out, India's momentum, run rate, confidence and chances of winning had slowly but surely started to demise. Malinga, Kulasekara and Sachithra then bowled what was perhaps the most impressive death bowling spell as a team in the whole tournament, and by restricting India to a 130, Sri Lanka had given them selves a chance to make history. With scars from 2012, faltering at chasing 137, Sri Lankan fans waited eagerly for that elusive victory, and bearing that hope in their hearts, the final words of the final verse they sang.

Kusal got a boundary and got out. Stone silence. But then the final words of the farewell began. Dilshan pulled and Mahela cut. Dilshan used his club with brute force, Mahela waved his wand with charm and grace. With four boundaries a piece, they knocked off a third of the target between them. They had both added their own little piece to the swan song. Sri Lanka's voice picked up. Hearts grew bigger, if they ever could get any bigger. And again, for the fifth time in seven years, Sri Lanka hoped. They prayed that their hour had finally arrived.

Since 1996, no Sri Lankan has ever deserved to win a World Cup
more than Sanga and Mahela
And cometh the hour, cometh the man. Kumar Chokshananda Sangakkara, who had been a shadow of the player he is during the tournament, who was only but a passenger in the team, played the innings that defined Sri Lanka's cricketing history for the past 18 years and the next 100 more with a half century that would be remembered for a lifetime. With a few lusty blows from Thisara Perera at the other end, Sangakkara sweeping his way to his 50, Sri Lanka's victory seemed not far. As the ball sailed flat in to the ropes staight backpast the bowler, Thisara roared. With him, so did Sri Lanka. Sangakkara jumped high in to the air and celebrated Sri Lanka's first world cup victory in almost two decades. The team raced to the pitch, and embraced Sanga; when the whole team had wanted him to have a world cup, he had won one for them. When the whole team had to carry him through the tournament, he had carried the whole team to the trophy in the final. When it was needed the most from him, he had delivered. He had tried with two half centuries in 2007 and 2009. Mahela had got a hundred in 2011, and Sri Lanka still lost, the first and only such occurrence. 2012 they both collapsed. But in 2014, with a composed 24 and a fluent calming 56, they had steered Sri Lanka to a world cup. The final verse had been played. Their legacy was complete.

With the perfect farewell for their two greats, and a world title against their name, Sri Lanka erupted. Sri Lanka erupted in Colombo, in Galle, in Kandy, in Kalmunai and in Jaffna. Sri Lanka erupted in Toronto, Brampton, Sydney, Melbourne, London, New York and in Dubai. Sri Lanka had finally won. The chokers tag, the jinx, the superstitions and the hoodoos, all were buried away with a silver trophy that Malinga lifted in to the air, as a silent tear trickled down one's face. Sri Lanka had not just won the cup, Sri Lanka had won the world.
At a time when Sri Lanka's ethnic stability is being questioned,
a unifying victory of such massive proportion could not have been better timed. 
I call my self the laptop spectator, for in Canada I do not have the luxury of watching cricket on Television. Whether I watch using the laptop or not, I am merely a spectator. All I do is watch. Unlike the players, I carry no weight, I bare no responsibility. Unlike them, I do not put an effort or endure pain during cricket games that the players do. I am nothing more than a pair of eyes starting at a screen. And for the past 18 years I've been nothing but that. For the happiness I feel, for the tears I cry of joy, for the electric feeling that runs through my veins, for the smile that I will wear on my face for the next hundred days, I have only the players to thank, for giving those pictures to stare at and hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.

So, thank you Kusal, for giving us a blistering start to the tournament by making Dale Steyn look like a net bowler at a division II club side. Thank you Thiri, for the two crucial innings against New Zealand and West Indies, for without which we would not have made it to the finals. Thank you Prasanna for your cameo in the semi final, hope you keep getting more chances to show your potential. Thank you Menda, even though you went for runs, your wicket of Albie won us the game in my opinion. Thank you for helping Sri Lanka create another world record against Netherlands. Thank you, Sachi for your tight spells of bowling through out the tournament. Your cricketing brain is one to admire, and your spirit and enthusiasm was one of the reasons for Sri Lanka's success. Also, you injuring Corey James Anderson was one of those subtle turning points of the whole tournament campaign for Sri Lanka.

Thank you Kule. Thank you so much. You have done loads and loads for this country although you quietly slip under the radar. That over against South Africa, the spell against England and that come back over against India, you are one of the most deserving players of a World Cup win. Thank you Hera, for again and again coming in to the team to save us from defeat. For that magical spell. For your sheer determination and never say die attitude. Thank you Thisara. Your three sixes in the final were the three happiest moments in my life, with the last one to hit the winning runs being the most happiest I've ever been and I ever will be. For that six, I cried the happiest tears of my life. Thank you for finishing it with a six! Thank you Angie. You are the rock in this team. You are who we depend on in our every hour of need. You are the future of this team and you must be the answers to Sri Lanka's prayers from the 2000s for a genuine fast bowling all rounder. True match winner, thank you. Thank you, Chandi. You brave brave boy! It doesn't matter if you stepped down by choice or not, even to take in that emotion, to be humble enough to wear the apron and carry drinks. Chandi, you are a leader for the ages. Your decision will be written in the history books as Sri Lanka's most selfless choice ever. Thank you, TM Dilshan. Your peaking at the right time during that game against West Indies was crucial for us. The way you threw your self around in the field, knowing that you are literally putting your body on the line for the country will be admired for ages. You have been a great servant of this little island from the day you walked in to the team. It was you who transformed this team in to a World Class T20 team with your batting in 2009. You put us at #1 in the rankings, almost single handedly. You deserve this. You really do. Thank you.

We do nothing for you, yet you do so much for us.
Thank you, Sri Lankan Cricket Team
Thank you, Lasith Malinga. You are the face of Sri Lanka now. You are the captain who has won the world. For us. For people like me. Thank you for playing for Sri Lanka with the passion that you do, regardless of how many fingers are being pointed at you for various reasons. Thank you for proving that arrogance and aggression are also needed in the field. Thank you for all the amazing spells you bowled, against South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies and India, if not for you Sri Lanka would never have won this world cup. Thank you for lifting that cup, and giving us a reason to smile for years and years to come. Thank you, captain.

Thank you, Kumar Sangakkara. I hate you. I hate you because you make it so hard for me to hate you. Why are you so good? How are you so good? Thank you for being superficially amazing with the bat, in a tournament I would have named you in the flop XI, before the final, in a match where I hoped you would sit out and made both Seekkuge and Thisara played. Thank you for proving me wrong. There's only to love about being wrong about you succeeding, because when you do and when we win, I am still the happiest person in the world. Thank you for saving the best for last. Thank you for showing that you can chase. Thank you for proving that you can win tournament finals. And last but not least, thank you for having Mahela's back. Thank you for winning this, even after he got out, at which point I did not think we would win. Thank you for being amazing, and making me look stupid.

Denagamage Proboth Mahela Desilva Jayawardane, little kids don't thank their heroes for being heroic. They simply expect from them. That's why they are heroes. They are always amazing. So although you are my hero, I sadly am not a kid anymore. At least not when Sri Lanka win finals, at which point I suddenly turn 6 years old and start running around screaming and crying and laughing and crying again and jumping on everyone and telling everyone how Mahela is finally a world champion. So thank you. Thank you for leading a team that needed a leader of your calibre. Sri Lanka would not be here without you if not for your genius tactics against New Zealand and India. The fact that Sri Lanka lost the one game you left the field as you broke your thumb, epitomizes your importance to this team. Thank you for not retiring in 2012, when we all knew you wanted to, being the captain, leading the team to a final at home. I saw it in your eyes, that was your moment, the moment you waited for all your life, to lift that trophy for all of Sri Lanka, and bow down on a high. But it was all shattered. So thank you for not giving up then. Thank you for backing your self and giving your self another shot at winning this. And you did. Lastly and most of all, thank you for being a champion. Thank you for being a part of this team, and winning a world cup and being a World Champion; for I would not want to live in a world where Mahela Jayawardane was not a world champion.

I do not know when I would die. But what I do know is that "when" I do will not matter, for I know when ever that would be, I would die a happy death, knowing that I was alive when Sri Lanka won the world cup.

And that is the most alive that I have ever felt.