Why Cricket can’t (quite) unite us all

The feeling was, as that old TV commercial of the 80s had it, "fabulous". There were crowds out on the street, but no one seemed to care - for once - that traffic blocks hampered progress in just about any direction. In shops and supermarkets, sundry shoppers thronged the aisles and the lines at checkout counters were a mile long… but no one seemed to mind, not least of all the checkout clerks - everyone was smiling. Lark on the wing, God in His heaven, all right with the world - excuse me, the World Cup!

Because all this bonhomie and camaraderie was on account of Sri Lanka having made it to the finals. And the pre-game fervour had permeated every nook and cranny of the national psyche. Sri Lankans were on fire with match fever, love was in the air, and everyone was on their best behaviour. Buddha, Mohamed, or Shiva and Vishnu would have been proud.

The élan of our team was not quite enough to curb the éclat of our opponents, though. The hordes of Rama cut a swathe through the tents of Ravana like a heated knife through ice cold butter on an Indian summer's day. Although the eventual outcome was, as those incorrigible enthusiasts maintain, an honourable second place, there was a general feeling that a glory had passed away. Even then, die-hard loyalists thronged the streets (well, perhaps we exaggerate) to welcome our sporting heroes home. And the aftermath of our players' return was tinted with a rosy enough glow. Fetes, tea parties, cocktail circuit dos, dinners hosting the returnees. No hints of opportunities missed?

Of course, the dream didn't - and couldn't - last. First, those unhappy faces: of players and fans alike (let's watch a replay, let's). Then, the moaning of doves in immemorial elms, and the murmuring of innumerable bees - which is to say that the conspiracy theorists came out of the woodwork like civil servants out of a government office at 4.30 p.m.: pell-mell. Finally, even the ranks of Tuscany coughed up and admitted that there was a rift in the lute… a suspicion confirmed by a slew of resignations, a fresh slate of allegations against politicos and management alike, and the onslaught of our country's sworn enemies on the field and off it. Foreign powers, vested interests, crooked politicos, gambling cabals. And that's only the rumours. The reality, one suspects, is much grimmer than bears inspection on a sunny day such as this…

The bottom line, then, is that the gentleman's game (the glorious summer game, the wonderful Sri Lankan reinvention of a colonizer's happy pastime) is not quite enough to unite us. Don't get me wrong. It had - and still has - some potential to do so. Just take a look at the gamut of people - from gamayas and godayas, through the hoi polloi, to the middle class and upper crust and crème de la crème of our café society - it brought together for one brief moment in time.

Camelot, thy name was Sri Lanka! At least in the heady fortnight or so or more in which the home country's cricketing knights were the nation's cynosure. But behind the glamour lay a veneer of iniquity, the grandeur tinged with more than a patina of corruption in its panoply of forms, and the glory left with little choice but to flee. In more prosaic terms, cricket too is a fallen institution in a sinful world. It still has the image and likeness of godhead in its soul, but the symbol inscribed on its forehead demonstrates that the mark of the beast has not left it untouched. Ichabod!

The last twist of the knife is that those inveterate patriots who had been hoping that the principles espoused by cricket would contribute to the shaping of an all-new national identity had their hopes dashed. No such uniting vision could now salvage a credible value from the ashes of cricket to quantum leap the country into a colourful new future. No, the visionaries must look elsewhere.

Where else can one look, however, when the likely vehicle to pin one's national-minded aspirations on has evaporated like the morning-after mist on a dewy track? However tempting it is to pin the tail of the donkey on democratic sportsmanship, there is now little grounds left to do so. In the long run, as those who resigned have affirmed, national cricket may return to a shadow of its former glory.

But for the republican dream of a united Sri Lanka - one race of indivisible islanders, one heart for equal fellowship, one passion for peace with justice - we may have to look beyond the game…

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