A Day at the Cricket


By Mark Gereis

True sub-continental cricket is a freak phenomenon that hits Australia’s shores once every two or three years. I deliberately use the word ‘freak’ because I can’t explain it – in truth, I don’t think anybody is able to explain it. A certain magic permeates the atmosphere as we crowd the family television set in the company of friends and family. We hang-off each delivery that Muttiah runs into bowl; each six that Sanna sends crashing into the fans; every word uttered by our adopted uncle – Tony Greig. Watching cricket is very much a mutual experience. Half of the atmosphere is created by those waiting in eager anticipation of another of Sanga’s centuries. “Aiyoooooo…” is as close to an expletive that you will get during the course of a match. This is often accompanied by quick-witted humour; then a sudden outburst of laughter. Only the little ones fail to grasp the irony of the situation. Their little downcast expressions do not fail to betray their innermost emotions. With time they will come to see the humorous side of cricket.

But there is something special about watching cricket live. Tuesday 12th February 2008 was no exception. As we all piled onboard our Canberra-bound coaches at Strathfield station, one couldn’t help but feel the excited buzz. Today, the little Sri Lankans (a phrase coined by Tony Greig) was to take on the might of Dhoni’s boys – India. Our prospects of a full days play seemed poor but thanks to Australia’s sporadic weather patterns, we were graced by a visit from the sun gods.

Throughout the course of the journey there was a constant excited chatter. The coaches were packed with supporters from either camp. Each clad in blue and gold or; red, green and white. Brief words were exchanged but all in the name of fun, “Chak de India” or “Jai Hind” or “Go Lanka” (Sri Lankans unfortunately have a limited vocabulary when it comes supporting their team). The Indians seemed quite optimistic after having beaten the Aussie’s. They didn’t fail to rub that fact in. Meanwhile the Sri Lankans tried to remain cautiously optimistic. Losing, however, has never been of much consequence. The previous Friday, one Sri Lankan held up a sign saying, “win or lose we booze”; a sentiment common to all sections of Sri Lankan society. Partying and dancing – regardless the context – seems to come quite naturally to all Sri Lankans.

Our arrival at the grounds was greeted by an onslaught on red t-shirt clad Tamil protesters. Many of whom we knew from university. Their t-shirts read “Voice of Tamils”; which some mistook for “Voice of Tigers”. They were by and large quite peaceful but very entertaining. Their drums pumped adrenalin as their catchy tunes flowed across the ground. The Indians stood to one side and watched as this remarkable spectacle marched itself from one end of the stadium to the other. They were occasionally hailed down by Bhangra-mad Punjabis. Their resistance futile as the red T-shirted youths were joined by a group of Sri Lankan flag-toting supporters. Then a war broke-out as the rhythm of the baila clashed with that of the bhangra until it was eventually silenced. All the while long, Sri Lankan supporters of all cast and creed continued to dance the baila. Even the Australian police – who often mistake sub-continental crowds for mere rabble – were unable to restrain the baila-crazy youths. It was reminiscent of 1996 – not even the bombs could stop the baila!

The drums stopped for one hour before play began. Then the rhythmic pulse of the drums began again. As the majority of Indians remained glued to their seats – absolutely riveted by their heroes: Tendulkar and Sharma – the Sri Lankans began to dance again. And we did not stop until the game finished. It didn’t matter that the Indians were coasting along at over a run-a-ball. What mattered is that we were having fun. It was a true celebration of culture. In the presence of our boys – we were all children again; seated around the crowded television set. Only this time, we could understand why our elders were laughing. Food packets were opened and distributed amongst new friends. Smiles were continuously exchanged between Indian and Sri Lankan fans alike. The alcohol flowed freely but not excessively. Humorous remarks in both Tamil and Sinhala were indiscriminately thrown at players and spectators alike. Much to our delight, we were sometimes able to illicit some response from players themselves. A wave; a smile is all it took to make us feel special. Meanwhile, the pappara bands punched out their melodies. Surangini was the order of the day despite our inability to speak Sinhalese. The tune would pipe up and we would all join, “Surangini, Surangini…da da da da…..Surangini….da da”; before falling into fits laughter. It was enough to make our parents cringe. But what did it matter? It didn’t. We were children catching a mere glimpse of what our parents had experienced, a generation before us, at the SSC. And we liked what we saw.

The mingling was free and open. That day I saw many a Sri Lankan-LTTE spectator barrack for Sri Lanka; as I had many times in the past. Red-shirts – that had traded their Tees for Sri Lankan jerseys – were not an uncommon sight. This is the greatest irony of this beautiful game – how does one hold gripes when it comes to the likes of Murali and Sanna?

The sprinkling of Australians in the crowd were wrapt by the Sri Lankan spectators – how could they celebrate regardless of the thorough thrashing Murali was receiving? It seemed inconceivable to them as they rushed to catch the moment on film. For years now, this type of behaviour had been frowned upon by the cricketing authorities – regardless of whether it was the Barmy Army; the Swarmy Army or; the Appu Army. They unfortunately fail to see and appreciate the culture that accompanies the game.

As the post-match presentations drew to a close, two Sri Lankan players strolled out to the wicket. Their hands held high above their heads – joined in a gesture of gratitude. They were applauding us – their fans; their family. With their heads held high, their gaze met ours. There was an instant yet silent recognition of what we had witnessed today. No words were necessary. As we returned the gesture; a tear sprang to my eye, “thankyou Sri Lanka, thankyou…”

This article is not intentionally political. This article details what I experienced along with many other thousands of fans.