Cricket has always played a big role in my life. If you are Sri Lankan, whether or not you love the game, play the game or watch it, somehow cricket has the ability to get in the way of everyday life.
Say you are about to park your car somewhere in Sri Lanka. Not only should you check any nearby trees for falling coconuts, you should also make sure your car is safe from any potential flying cricket balls from kids playing nearby! In my suburb, whenever there is a major cricket final, it is normal to experience a power outage due to the sheer volume of people having their television sets switched on at the same time. Sometimes, the electricity board purposely switches off power before the match to save energy in preparation for the big day! If it turns out to be a thrilling game that comes down to a last ball victory or a super over, even the hospitals are prepared to take in the heart-attack patients! (Ok maybe I’m exaggerating here but we do hear in the news of people having heart attacks after watching action packed cricket games). If you find a big crowd huddled outside a shop in the middle of the city, it is less likely to be an emergency and more likely that the shop has a TV facing outwards with a cricket match showing.
A road trip is incomplete unless you’ve packed your cricketing gear, and in my opinion you are not Sri Lankan unless you’ve had one of your windows broken by someone playing cricket, or at least had some neighborhood kids seek permission to enter your garden in search of their lost cricket ball.
We also use a lot of cricketing lingo in everyday speech, such as “gone for a six”, “wicket kudu” (meaning stumps shattered), “90 not out” (meaning someone is 90 years old and not dead!) or “party like its 1996” (the year that Sri Lanka won the World Cup). I’ve seen random guys in the street swinging their arms pretending to be bowlers or playing with imaginary cricket bats, and it’s perfectly normal. Even certain Sri Lankan songs are hard to understand if you have no prior knowledge of Lankan cricketing legends!
We play cricket in Sri Lanka anywhere and everywhere. From beach cricket and street cricket to paper ball cricket inside classrooms, improvising and utilizing almost all kinds of everyday equipment to represent bats and wickets. My most memorable improvisation was using a card pack as the ball and hitting them with a coke bottle while a stack of shoes represented the stumps.
I’ve loved the game since I was a little girl. During the war, hearing something similar to gunfire meant two things. Either where we lived was under attack or Sri Lanka had won an important cricket match and firecrackers were being lit in celebration of the victory. It’s taught me how you can use sport as a method of peace building and conflict resolution in a country that was ravaged by civil war for 30 odd years. Cricket teaches you the value of sportsmanship; it is a wonderful way to unify people from all backgrounds and a great conversation starter. So if you happen to visit Sri Lanka, the biggest tip I can give you is: know your cricket people!!
Text by Virandi Wettewa.