1996, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2014. Days and years which are indelibly etched into the minds of Sri Lankan cricket fans, both for good reasons and bad. Days where the whole country would get together as one and cheer on our national team, where we would be glued to the television screen for hours on end willing our cricketers to success and glory. The 21st of March, 2021 was shaping up to be one such day, but this time it wasn’t our national team that had captured the heart and imagination of the nation, it was our past cricketers representing the Sri Lanka Legends team in the Road Safety World Series final against the Indian team led by the little master, Sachin Tendulkar, himself. Nostalgia was back on the menu and in a way, it was an attempt to relive past glories at a time when the current prospects looked bleaker than ever before. Sure, the reflexes had dimmed somewhat, the hand-eye coordination was not what it used to be, but their pride and passion were clear for all to see.
Ultimately, despite a valiant effort, Sri Lanka fell in a close run game where the pendulum swung back and forth numerous times. However, I would not call it a futile effort, as this was a match that reignited the passion for cricket in many households in the country and there is many a thing we could stand to learn from our very own legends, from their own experiences in the cricketing arena.
First take our openers, Sanath Jayasuriya and Tilakaratne Dilshan, both of them spin bowling all-rounders who were more than useful in the field in their heyday. And the parallels do not end there. Both players were forced to bat down the order for a sizeable portion of their international careers, where they persevered and kept giving their best for the team until, at a certain point, both of them were thrust to the top of the order where they could showcase the full range of their capabilities. Sanath Jayasuriya would go on to revolutionize the game as we know it, and even though this tournament would not see the Master Blaster as the destructive force he once was, he saved his best for last with signature shots lighting up the final. Tilakaratne Dilshan would go on to be one of Sri Lanka’s most consistent performers, ending up as the highest run-scorer in two global ICC tournaments. He was almost a one-man team at times at the Road Safety World Series with both bat and ball as well as in the field, where he would dive around like a man half his age
What about the trio of Upul Tharanga, Nuwan Kulasekara, and Farveez Maharoof, three players who embody humility, with their actions speaking louder than their words. Kulasekara, a constant second fiddle behind the effervescent Malinga. But he was a second fiddle who would rise to No.1 in the ODI bowling rankings and one who would win a T20 World Cup for Sri Lanka with his bowling. And he claimed the best figures of the tournament in the semi-final. Tharanga, the dashing opener who later on in his career was happy to bat wherever the team wanted him to bat, amassing more than 6000 ODI runs in the process, who also lit up the tournament with his 99 not out. And then Maharoof, an underrated performer with a stellar ODI record, who was more than handy with the bat in hand, would go on to pick up the crucial wicket of Tendulkar in the final.
Chamara Silva and Russel Arnold, our two middle-order rocks in the tournament. Silva, who fell for a pair on debut in test matches but would show his mental strength by scoring a match-winning century in just his second test match, all in the hostile conditions of New Zealand and then Arnold, more often than not the lone warrior for Sri Lanka in international commentary who wouldn’t take any undue criticism for Sri Lanka lying down.
Rangana Herath, the epitome of never giving up, the one who spent more than a decade under the inescapable shadow of Muttiah Muralitharan, toiling on for countless overs in domestic cricket without ever losing hope. Who, when he finally got the chance, made sure to grab it with both hands and would go on to pick more test wickets past the age of 30 than any other player in cricket history. Herath, who surely is a role model for never giving up in the face of adversity.
What about Dhammika Prasad, a lion-hearted warrior who was cut down by injury in his prime but one who never gave up and tried his very best to get back to full fitness in what was ultimately a futile attempt to get back in the national team. However, his dedication was never in doubt and for anyone who watched Prasad bowl, you could see that he would always give his 110 percent for the team.
The lesser heralded names in the Sri Lankan lineup were Chinthaka Jayasinghe and Kaushalya Weeraratne. Jayasinghe was the perfect ambassador for the theme of the tournament, “road safety” having experienced a harrowing accident during his regular job as a bus driver in Australia which, while ensuring the safety of his passengers, had left him with serious injuries and the risk of paralysis. However, his perseverance was key to his recovery and he would eventually make his way back to league cricket and ultimately a place in the Sri Lanka Legends team. Cricket fans of a certain vintage will also have fond memories of both Jayasinghe and Weeraratne from the 2007 Hong Kong Sixes tournament where both were part of the victorious Sri Lankan team and where they would display the big-hitting skills that were on show in the World Series, one which helped Weeraratne set the still-standing record for the fastest limited-overs 50, off just 12 deliveries.
Finally, let’s not forget the other faithful servants of Sri Lankan cricket in Ajantha Mendis and Thilan Thushara, who were also part of the team as well as the Road Safety Champion of the Squad, Dulanjana Wijesinghe, a former Wesley College cricket captain and national rugby player as well as an accident survivor and a perfect ambassador for the message behind this series.
After all this, all that is left to do is to thank the Sri Lanka Legends team for their outstanding performances at the Road Safety World Series, with their passion and performance helping a nation fall back in love with the beautiful game. Hopefully, we all learnt something valuable along the way.