Colombo high

With India just next-door, across the Palk Strait, there are very visible influences from the bigger neighbour as you trot down Colombo streets.

Arjuna Ranatunga... “If bodyweight is an issue I could never have played for Sri Lanka. There is something called match-fitness and I had that. If six-packs are what you want in cricketers then have a team of 15 models! But can they play cricket?”   -  AFP

The Test caravan rolls into Colombo and as picture-postcard Galle recedes in the rear-view mirror, it is time to take in the sights and sounds from the Sri Lankan capital. Some of the Indian sports writers, who are regulars to Sri Lanka on cricket tours, often crane their necks from cars and trishaws (as autorickshaws are referred to in Sri Lanka besides the usual ‘tuk-tuk’) and a common chorus is — ‘the Colombo skyline has changed’. There are more skyscrapers, many buildings are under construction and like most global cities, the metropolis is growing vertically. With India just next-door, across the Palk Strait, there are influences from the bigger neighbour and The Mango Tree restaurant has a Lucknowi and Hyderbadi food festival. In a multiplex, Shah Rukh Khan’s latest flick ‘When Harry met Sejal’ is on and in another single-screen theatre, the Tamil hit ‘Vikram Vedha’ is drawing fans. The threads of culture and cuisine that bind India and Sri Lanka are evident everywhere.

At the lunch break during the second Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club, the few Malayalees among the travelling press corps can’t but help notice that the curries are very similar to the ones you get in Kerala, just that the spice-quotient is a touch high in the Emerald Isle.

A scribe’s 100

The days leading up to the second Test in Colombo are awash with expectation and nostalgia in equal measure for the sports scribes. There is a nice buzz in the build-up to the Test and the hype is turned one notch higher when India head-coach Ravi Shastri promises that the current team is bound to do things that past squads have never done. And as for remembrance of things past, it is time to doff our collective hats and raise our glasses to R. Kaushik, a senior cricket correspondent and currently executive editor with Wisden India. It is his 100th Test in a journey spanning more than two decades. After the pre-match press-conference, Virat Kohli gifts a signed team jersey to Kaushik, a gesture that gets the thumbs-up from the assembled reporters. Later, there is a party to celebrate the achievement, and journalists, usually cynics at large, turn wistful and recall their association with Kaushik, forged on tours and through long nights at the Bangalore Press Club.

The spirits flow, there is banter and mirth all around and as Sri Lanka bowling coach Chaminda Vaas walks in to greet the century-maker, the media contingent exhibits remarkable self-restraint and refrains from hounding the former spearhead for interviews. It is Kaushik’s night and the usual tropes of interviews and deadlines can wait.

A captain and a minister

It is time to meet a man, who is in a sense royalty twice-over — World Cup winning captain and the present Minister of Petroleum Resources. Arjuna Ranatunga meets a select group of Indian cricket writers at his office. Clad in a kurta and dhoti, Ranatunga is all warmth and is full of witty one-liners. “If bodyweight is an issue I could never have played for Sri Lanka. There is something called match-fitness and I had that. If six-packs are what you want in cricketers then have a team of 15 models! But can they play cricket?,” he says and laughs. Ranatunga had the numbers at his finger-tips, be it the revenue generated by the Colombo Port or the number of trishaws across the island.

“We solved the petroleum strike, else people will get affected,” he said and when goaded to talk about Sri Lankan cricket, he sighed and spoke without inhibitions.

“Nothing is done to improve schools cricket, there are many political issues in the cricket board and the focus is on making money more than promoting cricket. Sri Lanka has good talent but we need systems in place,” Ranatunga said. Asked about Virat Kohli’s captaincy style, Ranatunga replied: “Kohli has a long way to go. One thing I observed is his aggression. He need not show aggression all the time. There is a certain culture in our countries, be it Sri Lanka or India and Kohli should remember that.”