If not for a last minute decision to skip the Sunday mass in 2019, Sri Lanka’s captain Dasun Shanaka might well not be alive today. St Sebastian Church, in his home town Negombo, was one of the six churches and hotels attacked by terrorists. Shanaka was too tired to make it to church and when he heard the blast, he rushed to find it completely destroyed. A few months later, the nation would slip into economic chaos and political crisis, with people rising in protest against those in power. Inflation shot up over 50 per cent, people struggled with daily power cuts and shortages of fuel, food, and medicines, as the country defaulted on its debt repayments.
Cricket continued amidst this crisis. When the Australian cricket team toured Sri Lanka in June this year, they were met with lines of people protesting all around the city of Colombo against the government. But inside the stadium people turned out in large numbers to watch the game. Chamika Karunaratne, the allrounder who did the Naagin dance after the team won against Bangladesh at the just concluded Asia Cup, once had to miss practice as he was stuck in the line for petrol. Several former cricketers such as Roshan Mahanama participated in the peaceful protests and numerous others including Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, two modern greats of the game, voiced their support to the people.
If the chaos around wasn’t enough, Sri Lankan cricket went through a musical chairs of captaincy and coaches before settling with Shanaka as the captain and Chris Silverwood, who was unceremoniously sacked from England after the Ashes defeat, as the coach. Two years ago, they had dropped many senior players. In 2021, after a heavy defeat to England, Shanaka was made captain. The irony is that Sri Lanka is yet to qualify for the T20 World Cup, and have to play qualification rounds. From then on, to re-unite the team, infuse them with energy and purpose, it has been an unenviable task. On Sunday, Team Sri Lanka was crowned the Asian champions, a win they will cherish for a long time.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 13, 2022, under the title, ‘Cup of Joy’