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Sunday, 13 April 2014

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Sport will strengthen national reconciliation

World Cup cricket fever gripped Sri Lanka after the national team, led by Lasith Malinga, emerged champions in the ICC World Twenty20 final beating India by six wickets in Dhaka, Bangladesh last Sunday.

The World Cup victory, Sri Lanka's second and the maiden triumph in the T20 version of the game, brought the nation under one banner. People cast aside petty political, racial and religious affiliations to celebrate Sri Lanka's World Cup win.

They celebrated the Sri Lanka team's victory by lighting crackers and fireworks. Cricket fans in their thousands who were glued to the giant screens erected in major towns, clubs and other public places to watch the final, celebrated until the wee hours the following morning after Kumar Sangakkara's explosive knock of 52 off 35 balls led Sri Lanka to victory.

This was indeed a significant moment which proved in no uncertain terms the power of sport as a great leveller. Apart from Colombo and other major towns, people in far-flung areas too celebrated the most cherished moment in Sri Lanka's cricketing history. The street celebrations continued till dawn as every citizen felt elated of being a Sri Lankan.

The celebrations were not only confined to the South and the West but also in the North and the East. It was heartening to witness people of all ages in certain Northern towns such as Kilinochchi joining in the night's revelry to hail Sri Lanka national team's victory. The euphoria was witnessed in all districts and even in villages with three-wheelers draped with the national flag.

It was cricket fever of the highest order as the rich and the poor alike, irrespective of social strata, celebrated Sri Lanka conquering the Mount Everest in cricket. It was a once in a life-time experience for many spectators as cricket fans of all walks of life turned up in large numbers to support the national team when the team was taken in an open motorcade to Colombo after a special flight brought the world beaters home.

The greetings extended to the national team amply demonstrated national unity in the fullest sense of the term with all Sri Lankans rallying under one theme! Sport could do wonders to bring nations together, irrespective of colour or creed. There is no doubt, whatsoever, that sport is the best mode that could bring nations together and the manner in which all Sri Lankans celebrated spoke eloquently of the power of sport to strengthen solidarity and brotherhood.

This spirit of camaraderie should be fostered in the country's reconciliation as well. It is still fresh in our minds how people in a spirit of unity celebrated Sri Lanka's first World Cup victory way back in 1996. But regrettably, the entire nation could not demonstrate their jubilation openly as those in the LTTE-held areas at the time were prevented from expressing their joy due to Tiger terrorism.

Now that people have been given a new lease of life after the humanitarian operation almost five years ago, those in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces also celebrated the national team's World Cup triumph.

The strength of the Indian team's batting goes to the low order, making things even more difficult for Sri Lankan bowlers. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka has proved beyond any doubt that nothing is impossible if one works according to a well-knit plan with devotion and dedication. Sri Lanka captain Lasith Malinga quite rightly pointed out in a post-match news conference that it is not luck but the hard work of the Lankan players which had paid rich dividends.

Sri Lanka reached the zenith of world cricket after 18 years through several unforeseen circumstances. Having won its first two league games of the group round, Sri Lanka only had to beat England in the third game to enter the semi finals. They came so near after scoring a commanding 189 for 4 with a blistering 89 off 86 balls by veteran Mahela Jayawardene. Yet, the gallant lads lost as England's Alex Hales smashed 116 not out off 64 balls to pilot his side to a six-wicket win.

This put Sri Lanka in a do-or-die situation, as it had to beat New Zealand in the last group match, where the winner could make it to the semi finals. Sri Lanka's regular captain Dinesh Chandimal was served with a one-match suspension for Sri Lanka's slow over rate in the previous game against England. Thus, Sri Lanka took the field in the decisive group match against New Zealand under Malinga.

The cherished dream of Sri Lanka team was virtually shattered after it made 120 all out in 19.3 overs in the crucial game. Yet, the Lankan bowlers Rangana Herath and Sachitra Senanayake staged a magnificent comeback to bowl out the Kiwis for just 60 runs in 15.3 overs.

The ICC's decision to suspend Chandimal in Sri Lanka's crucial league game against New Zealand turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it provided a better option for the lions to beat the West Indies in the semi finals.

West Indian captain Darren Sammy also gave credit to Sri Lanka after his team's disappointing exit from the tournament. "It's disappointing to come out of the tournament like this, but credit to Sri Lanka. God usually answers our prayers. Sri Lanka has two gentlemen (Jayawardene and Sangakkara) who have done a lot for Sri Lanka and world cricket. God probably wants them to leave on a high," Sammy was quoted as saying after his team lost to Sri Lanka.

Most cricket experts and local fans were under a delusion that Sri Lanka could never win a cricket world cup. They were pessimistic that the country's 1996 triumph could not be emulated in the near future. Their unfounded fears were understandable as winning another world cup was so near but yet too far for Sri Lanka, having lost four World Cup finals in the recent past.

When Sri Lanka made it to the fifth World Cup final in the ICC T20 tournament beating the West Indies in the first semi final, many felt last Sunday's final against India would eventually turn out to be another bitter experience. Yet, Malinga and his enterprising lads beat all overwhelming odds to mark Sri Lanka on the world's cricketing map again.

This was certainly not a singular honour for the team but for all Sri Lankans the world over. This is the reason as to why expatriate Sri Lankans celebrated the World Cup win in their adopted towns and workplaces. Malinga's team had made them proud Sri Lankans while the lion flag fluttered high over the cricket world.

Sri Lanka's second world cup victory comes at the most opportune time when the nation is moving towards reconciliation, despite various sinister forces trying to put a spoke in the country's hard-earned peace.

The manner in which Sri Lankans united under one banner after the T20 World Cup win demonstrated in no uncertain terms that ethnic issues don't exist in Sri Lanka, as the West continues to carp on. If people in the North and the East have any problems, these are purely due to its geographical locations.

Such problems are not confined only to Tamils but also Muslims and Sinhalese in these two provinces. The Government is making a determined bid to address these issues by launching various mega development projects that would ensure a better tomorrow for these people.

The steadfast unity demonstrated by Sri Lankans, including those in the North and the East, sends a clear signal to the international community. Some Western leaders talk ad nauseum about an ethnic problem or discrimination against Tamils so that they could thrive by projecting a gloomy picture about Sri Lanka. But these wild allegations were demolished by the unity demonstrated by Sri Lankans after the World Cup win.

This could be the right beginning towards a new Sri Lanka that would further strengthen national reconciliation. Although the youth in the North and the East tried to show their true feelings after the 1996 World Cup win, they were threatened to refrain from doing so at gunpoint by LTTE terrorists. Now that they are free to express their views openly, national reconciliation should be strengthened through sport from the Sinhala and Tamil New Year season.

People across the length and breadth of the country have shown true patriotism, loyalty and love for the country by uniting under the lion flag after the world cup win. Political parties of all shades hailed the cricketing heroes in one voice in Parliament and religious leaders invoked blessings on the national team. Do we need say more to prove the national unity prevailing in the country!

 

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