And life goes on

Published : Aug 11, 2001 00:00 IST


JULY 22: It's the day of the Big Game. The day/night encounter between India and Sri Lanka at the Premadasa Stadium. A battle that usually draws a huge crowd, with passions often running high. As yours truly and The Sportstar photographer move close to the stadium, we expect serpentine queues before the counters. Instead, hardly anybody is in sight. We are in for a further shock as we enter the ground. The stands are almost empty. We rub our eyes in disbelief. Have we arrived at the right venue? Yes, we have. It's the same old Premadasa Stadium, but just where are the spectators? Is the popularity of cricket dwindling in the emerald isle? No, the game still rules in the country. According to the local commentators, the state of the economy, in a shambles, is the actual cause of the poor ticket sales. The inflation level is rising, and the common man hardly has any money to spend. Some say the tickets have been priced too high this time around, forcing even die-hard fans to follow the action on television. At the ground, the organisers have done their bit to brighten proceedings. Around 100 schoolboys, dressed in whites, rush to the ground during the interval to play cricket. There is also drama during the match when two United National Party activists run on to the ground early in the Indian innings, holding posters reading Protect Democracy, Defeat Dictatorship. Before the officials whisk these two intruders away, millions of television viewers have already seen the images on television. The activists of the principal opposition party in Lanka were protesting against President Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga's decision to prorogue parliament till September 7 and hold a referendum on the constitutional changes next month.

July 23: The men in question, Premasiri Perera and Somasiri Perera, are produced before a magistrate's court, charged with criminal trespass, causing disturbance and offense against the Government. However, the two are then released on bail on a bond of Rs. 20,000 each. Interestingly, the Indian team, that lost an agonisingly close match by six runs the previous day, discovers an unexpected supporter in Inspector S. A. Suraweera, who pleads for remand of the duo on the grounds that their intrusion disturbed the concentration of the batsmen and cost India the match. He also adds, since there is already a threat against Ganguly, the security personnel thought the incident could be related to that. We travel for some shopping in the afternoon and sight a unique line of small shops selling second-hand two-wheelers and spare parts in Maradana, not far away from the Premadasa Stadium. Colombo is a bustling city bristling with life. Later in the evening, India captain Sourav Ganguly breathes fire during a press conference at the Taj Samudra Hotel. "The India cap comes too easy these days," he says, unable to hold back his disappointment at the lacklustre performance of some of the youngsters.

July 24: This is a day of high drama. The suicide squad of the LTTE had bombed aircraft at the Colombo airport apart from striking at the Katunayake air base nearby. Nearly 20 people are killed in the fierce gun-battle that follows and the Colombo airport is closed till the evening. All this means the tournament is in jeopardy. The interim panel of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (BCCSL) quickly swings into action. An emergency meeting is held at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground in Colombo where interim chairman Vijaya Malalasekara reassures the managers of the three teams - Ganguly is the only captain to attend since Sanath Jayasuriya and Stephen Fleming are busy with practice sessions - of more security. The team managements are convinced, and the tournament is saved. The city itself appears normal despite the incident at the airport. The people here have learnt to live with violence, for, life has to go on. The Indian cricketers have not won anything so far, but it's the 'Bingo Night' at the restaurant and two Indian journalists strike it rich sweeping the first two prizes. The first 'Indian victory' on the tour. Hope Sourav's men pick up the cue!

July 25: In an exciting duel, the Lankans stage a remarkable comeback to upstage the Kiwis at the Premadasa Stadium. Once again the crowd is sparse, but at least some of those at the ground present a colourful picture. The principal attraction in the stands is a Lankan supporter wearing a lion mask. The kids love it as he dances to the rhythm of the music. In the evening we find Ganguly at the Taj Samudra Hotel's business centre surfing the net. In these days of high-pressure, hectic cricketing schedules, it is important for the players to unwind and the internet comes in handy to most players.

July 26: The Indian batting capitulates against New Zealand, a third successive match is lost. However, there is greater trouble for the Indians when Ganguly, who points to his bat after being adjudged leg-before to Kiwi paceman Kyle Mills, is called for a meeting with match referee Cammie Smith. The former Caribbean cricketer says he would announce his decision the next day. The mood in the Indian camp is gloomy.

July 27: Another day of rapid developments. First comes the news that Cammie Smith has suspended Ganguly from the coming India-Sri Lanka match for showing dissent at the umpire Gamini Silva's decision. His verdict doesn't surprise many. The West Indian has been known to be harsh on Indian cricketers while turning a blind eye when cricketers from countries like Australia commit far greater offences on the ground. In the same breath it has to be said that two wrongs do not make a right, and it would be better if Ganguly, given his additional responsibility as captain, is more careful in similar situations in the future. Then we hear a shocking piece of news from Indian manager Anant Mate that key batsman V. V. S. Laxman (injured right knee cartilage) and pacemen Zaheer Khan (painful right shin) and Ashish Nehra (strained left groin) are to leave for India over the next few days. In fact, Laxman and Zaheer are slated to fly home on July 29 for investigation and treatment. Meanwhile, stand-in skipper Rahul Dravid, talking to the media, defends the youngsters and pleads for more time to be given to the budding stars. "In our country we have a tendency to hype things up when a young player does well, and as soon as he fails in a couple of matches, we tend to dump him completely. Both are extreme reactions. We need to have more balance in our thinking." These are worrying times in the Indian camp, but the Kiwis, a fun-loving bunch of cricketers, are keen to explore Colombo. We run into Dion Nash, Craig McMillan and Grant Bradburn taking a ride in an auto-rickshaw. It's a hugely enjoyable experience for the New Zealanders. In the evening, Mate invites the Indian media for dinner. A friendly man from Pune, Mate hopes the Indian fortunes, despite all the hurdles, will take a turn for the better.

July 28: In a dazzling performance, the Indians upstage the Sri Lankans and at last we can spot a few smiles of relief in the Indian camp. The side is back in the hunt. Laxman, braving his injury, is the hero of the triumph, and Zaheer and Nehra have played their parts too. Later, in the evening, Mate informs us that the team management is re-considering its decision to send Laxman and Zaheer home for treatment, since the side now has a chance of qualifying for the final. It is learnt that the players themselves volunteered to stay back. Mate's parting words for the day are, "I think I must invite the Indian media for dinner before every game now. You bring luck."

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