Sri Lankan cricketers and netballers did their bit to bring joy to a nation struggling with its worst economic crisis.
The national cricket team showed tremendous fight to defeat favourites Pakistan in the final of Asia Cup T20 tournament in Dubai after the women's team were crowned the Asian Netball champions following a 63-53 victory over hosts Singapore on Sunday.
While the netball team's success crept under the radar, the Asia Cup T20 triumph captured the imagination of the Lankans.
Charith Senanayake, the former Sri Lanka opener and manager who oversaw their campaign in the UAE as chairman of the Asia Cup technical committee, said the inspiration behind the cricket team's journey was aragalaya – meaning 'struggle' in Sinhala.
“The original intent of the aragalaya was to stand up against corruption and for people to fight for their rights, and the whole country backed up the struggle and it rubbed off on our cricketers,” Senanayake told The National.
“Our cricketers felt what the people of Sri Lanka were going through. That motivated the players to give 200 per cent when they were out there on the field.
“It has a massive impact on the players and every time they went out to play, they played with the intention of bringing a smile to 22 million Sri Lankans.”
Sri Lanka’s revival began during Australia’s tour to their shores with the home country winning the ODIs 3-2 and drawing the two Tests 1-1, while they lost T20 series 2-1. That was followed by a 1-1 draw against Pakistan in a two Test series.
“When Australia toured, the country was at a complete standstill with various issues like lack of fuel, power cuts and long queues to purchase essentials. Yet people filled the stadiums to back our cricketers,” Senanayake said.
“There was a lot of emotions among the players, and it created a new bonding to collectively give their best to put a smile on the faces of the people.”
Sri Lanka’s Asia Cup campaign began with a heavy defeat to Afghanistan in the opener, but the islanders bounced back to win all their remaining games to end up as champions.
“It was a great team effort with everyone from seasoned players to freshers chipping in with valuable contributions,” Senanayake said.
“A lot of good work has been done by Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) and the selectors, who backed the players by providing them a long run to establish themselves. They picked the right combinations for every competition.”
According to Senanayake, a lot of work had gone in the last two years and even during the recent crisis, SLC kept cricket running despite their hardships.
“The domestic competitions were interrupted with the Lanka Premier League postponed. SLC arranged a [invitational] tournament to provide the players opportunity to play,” he explained.
“That was the platform given for these players. Kushal Mendis found his form back in this competition and it also gave the selectors a good look to find the right combinations.”
Sri Lanka will be hoping to take the momentum of their Asia Cup success into next month’s T20 World Cup in Australia.
However, they will have to play in a qualifier to book their place in the main competition, which Senanayake said would give the team a nice prep ahead of the main competition.
“The credit for this team’s revival must go to SLC and all the local coaches for bringing such talent to the table,” Senanayake added.