Come on Sri Lanka, let’s see some of that spirit of 1996
Remind India and Pakistan that it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog
The first time I came across the cricketing nation Sri Lanka was on March 17 1996 when they played Australia at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. That was the 1996 World Cup final. Not quite armed with the knowledge I now have of their acrimonious Australian tour before Asia’s second World Cup, I saw them coast to an easy seven-wicket win.
I wasn’t aware that Sri Lanka were the first side to win a World Cup final when batting second. They had pinch hitters, they had classy middle-order batsmen, and spinners. They also wore navy, a colour I wasn’t accustomed to in international sport except for Scotland rugby.
They came to SA in 1998 and played feisty and competitive cricket despite losing both Tests and finishing last in the Tri-Series.
Sri Lanka also gave us Makhaya Ntini’s Test debut where one of my favourite cricketers, the stubby, bow-legged attacker par excellence Aravinda de Silva, flayed Ntini all over Newlands before he became the first of 390 Test scalps for “the Mdingi Express”.
They were charming, attacking and, with Major-General Arjuna Ranatunga in charge, they stared down teams and weren’t scared of taking a fight to the gutter. Ranatunga, a tubby, inventive and street-smart warrior who was allergic to a quick single, dragged them by the collar and taught them how to stand and fight as one. The current crew may not be fit to lace the shoes of the 1998 World Championship class but all I ask of them is to be competitive – to remind the likes of India and Pakistan that it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. (The same is applicable to the West Indies but this is about a different set of islanders, one with an unorthodox yet mightily effective approach to cricket.)
No other cricket nation has gifted us the legal dexterity of Muttiah Muralitharan, Lasith Malinga’s baseball evolution, De Silva’s “Mad Max” wizardry and Kumar Sangakarra’s purely beautiful batting.
Sri Lanka has produced cricketers who have left an indelible mark on the world. An island once racked by civil war has not only been able to produce world-class cricket, but punch well beyond its supposed welterweight.
Over the course of the changing of the guard, it would be nice to replace the likes of Sangakarra, Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera. However those are once in a generation players who won't be replaced overnight – but competitiveness and fighting spirit is transferable.
That is pretty much all we need to see from a side that plays only one Test in SA. Some of their best players never scored a Test ton here, but there’s always room for a new hero.
Rangana Herath was one of those old/new heroes when Sri Lanka triumphed in the 2011 Boxing Day Test and maybe an unheralded player may raise his hand. Just be combative, for the sake of world cricket.