Australia tour of Sri Lanka 2022: How Cricket brought smiles to a country battling bankruptcy
Sri Lanka is under the grip of its worst economic crisis since it got independence in 1948; the country is on the verge of bankruptcy and burdened with so much foreign debt that it has no money left for basic imports. Sri Lankans are struggling to access the bare necessities like food, fuel, medicine and cooking gas.
Amidst this crisis, Cricket Australia (CA) accepted Sri Lanka’s offer of a tour with the aim of bringing about some financial stability with the sale of tickets. But this series was more than just money for the Lankans, as it was their ray of happiness and excitement amidst everything going haywire in their nation.
Economic crisis, revolts and cricket
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, cricket in Sri Lanka was played mostly in empty stadiums for two years, although a 50 per cent capacity crowd was allowed for the Test series against the West Indies in Galle last December.
Sri Lankan authorities, as well as fans, had pleaded with the Aussies to go ahead with the cricket series, as it was expected to bring in much-needed foreign exchange to the island. The Aussies were touring the island nation after six long years for an all-format full series and the Lankans needed it more than anything else to put a smile on the faces of 2.19 crore Sri Lankans. The roads were filled with revolutionaries shouting anti-government slogans at the top of their lungs, putting buses and trains on fire and putting people in agony. Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) has already pledged to donate USD 2 million to the health sector to buy essential medicines.
What was unusual about these demonstrations from a cricket perspective, however, is that they have received substantial support from past and current cricketers. Sri Lankan cricketing legends like Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Sanath Jayasuriya, Arjuna Ranatunga and Wanindu Hasaranga tweeted about their disgust at the "cowardly and barbaric... attack on innocent and peaceful protesters".
What is cricket up against with this much suffering? Some Australian players wondered that themselves, and asked whether it was appropriate to play cricket in a country that is gasping for air the way Sri Lanka is right now. When the tour began and videos of Khettarama's heaving stands made their way around the internet, Sri Lankan voices also began to throw shade at the crowd's merrymaking. Cricket has long been the one Sri Lankan passion that cuts across ethnicity, religion and class, but it has too often been merely an icebreaker - something that strangers from opposite sides of the various Sri Lankan spectrums can talk about, while being aware that they are not seriously talking.
A tour that brought happiness, money and unity
Sri Lanka needed miracles like a Sangakkara cover drive, a Jayawardene straight drive, a Muralitharan like spell and Malinga like toe-crushing yorkers to cheer their people up. And that cheer came in the form of Australia’s tour. A nation which saw clouds of stress and fear saw cricket as their sun, which shone brighter than Sirius (the brightest star in Earth’s sky). In a country that lurched from crisis to crisis to crisis, cricket was their only sense of distraction.
The Australian tour of Sri Lanka 2022 started with T20Is, fans in the stadium, happiness on their faces, slogans supporting the cricket team rather than against the government. Everything seemed back to normal with a cricket match. Though the first two games didn’t go Sri Lanka’s way, the third match was an absolute nail-biter, which made the crowd go berserk. With almost 60 runs needed in the final three overs, Sri Lankan fans were more hopeful of a turnaround in the match than they were hopeful of a turnaround in their financial situation.
Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka played an absolutely miracle of an innings, scoring 54 off just 25 balls, that converted the tears of sadness into tears of joy for the passionate cricket fans. Sri Lankans had a smile, laughter and something to look forward to after a very long time. This little part of their lives, this little part of their happiness which went missing was appearing to get back.
The Lankans then moved onto ODIs and showcased a dominant performance by winning the series 4-1. The Aussies are currently leading the two-match Test series 1-0.
Inside the stadium, Sri Lankans were shedding tears of joy and outside the stadium the Lankans were shedding tears of agony, pain, and disgust. Even though the Australian tour hasn’t been a success with respect to Sri Lanka's winning, it has been an absolute success in terms of sheer happiness it has brought into the lives of Sri Lankans. Not only the countrymen, but also the players, are suffering from depression, crisis and emotional turmoil. The Sri Lankan players fought against the tides, and their absolute mental toughness deserves a round of applause more than anything else.