Shenuka Corea was nine months old when the Cricket World Cup was won in 1996 but the heady emotions and fond memories that surrounded the victory were the perfect breeding ground for an award winning essay By Duvindi Illankoon Shenuka Corea, was just a nine month old baby when her country won the World Cup [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Writing the story of Sri Lanka


Shenuka Corea was nine months old when the Cricket World Cup was won in 1996 but the heady emotions and fond memories that surrounded the victory were the perfect breeding ground for an award winning essay

By Duvindi Illankoon

Shenuka Corea, was just a nine month old baby when her country won the World Cup in 1996. A defining moment for Sri Lanka and one that would be spoken of for years to come. 

Shenuka.Pic by Nilan Maligaspe

Seventeen years later, she’s in her sitting room-the very same one her parent’s watched Sri Lanka ride to victory- and she knows everything there is to know about the 1996 Cricket World Cup. Perhaps more than most, as a reader of her submission for the Commonwealth Essay Competition 2012 will conclude. ‘Cricket World Cup’ was the winning entry from over 8000 submissions that the Royal Commonwealth Society received for its 130 year-old annual competition.

For Shenuka nothing symbolised her country more than cricket and its status as a rallying point for unity. A student of Ladies College, Shenuka showed an interest in writing about three or four years ago when she submitted her first entry for the Commonwealth Essay Competition. She was won runner-up in the junior category for ‘Butterflies’ Pilgrimage’. “It was all the encouragement I needed to keep writing,” she smiles. Three years later in 2012, she struck lucky once again when her essay was chosen as the winner of the Senior Category at the Commonwealth Essay Competition. 

The story of ‘Cricket World Cup’ is a figment of her imagination, she says, but then again it’s not. “The streets of Colombo were deserted”, she writes, moving onto an ordinary family engrossed in the match. The scene shifts into an entire village gathered in the mudalali’s house to watch the match from the flickering lights of the sole television set in the village. We’re taken to a glitzy club in Colombo, unusually silent save for the sound of the television as society ladies and affluent men forget their merriments for the duration.

Move on to a growing crowd outside a shop window, and a beggar smiling to himself with pride. Over to the dry regions of the North and East, where gunfire intersperses with the sounds of a television hidden inside a home. Across the ocean to Lahore, where millions are on their feet cheering their team on. And finally, to Shenuka’s own household. Her Ma is just coming in with a plate of stuffed dates when Sri Lanka scores that final boundary and all is chaos after that.

“Writing the story required some research,” she says. “I asked a lot of older people about how they felt at that moment and just to be on the safe side I watched the full match online!” As a writer looking for inspiration, Shenuka struck gold with the heady emotions surrounding the 1996 World Cup. “As a Sri Lankan, no matter how young you are you’ve heard this story. I thought it would be interesting to see it from the perspective of a third party. I also wanted the story to represent all Sri Lankans-not just one select group.”

There is no ‘prize’ as such for winners of the competition, as to secure the win itself is a prestige few are afforded. But as the winner, Shenuka was given the opportunity to travel to England in November for a ceremony at the Royal Commonwealth Society headquarters in London, where she also met and presented a bouquet to the Queen for her Diamond Jubilee year celebrations. “It was very, very exciting!” she grins. “I was very nervous but the Queen was so down to earth. She asked me about my essay and because cricket is a shared passion amongst Sri Lankans and the British, it was very easy to talk to her about it.”

Shenuka presenting a bouquet to the Queen for her Diamond Jubilee year celebrations

Shenuka met her fellow Junior category winner John Samson from Malawi, an orphan who wrote about ‘The Day I Wore My Best Clothes’. She met the Dean of the Westminster Abbey, took a tour of Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament and the Cambridge University and met High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK Dr. Chris Nonis. As an aspiring architect, she was also lucky enough to visit top architecture firm Foster & Partners in London. 

“Writing will always be something I do,” she says. “As a young writer it’s important to take up opportunities-if you read a paper or surf the internet you’ll find that there are a lot of opportunities for young writers who want to be recognised. So my advice would be to keep writing and enter competitions. But at the same time, write because you want to, not because you want to win a competition.”

Full transcript of Shenuka’s essay – ‘Cricket World Cup’  

The streets ofColombowere deserted. The sodium lamps cast rings of amber light onto pavements free of pedestrians and bats flapped through an amethyst sky over empty and abandoned roads. Dogs barked, bats squeaked, but on the road, not a human voice was heard. The usual bustle of city traffic had turned into silence, a silence that was bursting at the seams with tension.

A million television screens blared in the night. The same flickering images were reflected in millions of dark eyes. A single voice echoed through a million homes. Every word spoken was absorbed by millions of people. A nation waited in earnest anticipation, counting down on their fingers, the last few runs to victory.

The boy sat on the edge of the settee, resting his head on his palms, sucking on a toffee. He was surrounded by his family (and most of the neighbors too). They were all crowded into the stuffy living room. The five older children were packed onto the settee, sipping tumblers of cool orange juice to counter the heat. The parents sat on the edges of chairs brought in from the dining room. The little ones clutched wet cushions on the floor, their thumbs in their mouths. A baby tugged at its mother’s necklace but she didn’t seem to notice. Little Anushika sneaked more than her share of roasted cashew nuts from right under her brother’s nose as he sat with his mouth open and his eyes glazed.

The entire gathering leaned toward the flickering screen that sat on a small stool in the center of the dim room. “Pray for our boys!” an old uncle reminded the children.

The broken line of villagers had climbed the beaten footpath like termites on a hill, the flaming coconut branch torches they carried, illuminating the way. The whole village had made its way up to the hut of the village mudalali. It was the only household in the village that owned a TV. The TV was a small, battery operated one that buzzed with static from bad reception, but the mudalali was tremendously proud of it.

Everyone, from the baby girl that had been born only three weeks before, to the mudalali’s grandfather with a tortoise shell comb in his oiled, gray hair, had gathered on the hillside to get the best view they could. Children weaved in, out and around arms and legs to get to the front of the crowd, where they sat cross legged on the bare ground, entranced by the bright images they saw on the flickering screen.

The whole crowd of villagers erupted into cheers as they watched the ball sail into the stands.

“If the boys score a few more sixes like that one, we’re sure to win in style” The village mudalali’s grandfather declared sagely. 

Ice cubes melted slowly in slim, crystal glasses of champagne held forgotten in jeweled fingers. Men with gelled jet black hair sit on high stools, puffing at cigarettes. A woman gazed under eyelids heavy with mascara, one hand resting upon the velvety fabric of her evening dress, the other under her chin. In the bar room, misty with cigarette smoke, everyone’s eyes were fixed on the flat television screen that gleamed in the corner of the bar. The hum of voices raised slightly in polite chit chat that usually filled the room was no more. It seemed that no one was in the club any more. They were out in the stadium, cheering their favored team.

A thud, as bat meets ball. Smiles gleam in the dim half-light and crystal clinks against crystal as the ball crosses the boundary for four. A new round of cocktails is bought to celebrate.

Screens crowded the shop window, like the eye of a fly. A crowd clustered around the eye for a glimpse of some of the action on the field. They crowded the pavement and the empty road. Dark rimmed eyes of sleepy shop workers gazed at the myriad of screens. They did not have televisions in the crammed and noisy boarding houses that they called home. Their faces were lit up by the coloured light from the screens as they called out comments to each other, even to those they had never met before: “He’s scoring a century this time, for sure!”  Slowly more slinked in from the dark night to watch.

A beggar sat on a dirty sheet in the doorway of the shop, slightly amused at the sudden popularity of his usual spot. A small smile drew from his scraggly beard as he glanced at the activity on the screens. He had something to be proud of.

The sound of shooting could be heard in the distance. The battle field lay glowing in the horizon, beyond the tall silhouettes of the headless palmyrah trees and the dry, cracked ground. The fighting would go on far into the night.  Danger was ever present. The pattering of gunfire: a constant reminder of the fact. The blackout curtains were up, to hide the flickering glow of the screen from the eyes of the enemy outside. They temporarily shut out the danger and fear as the family huddled around the television on a woven mat. They had lost so much, this war-torn family, people and possessions alike. But they had one thing that not even a thousand men could take away: their Sri Lankan identity.

So they cheered their team on. 

Hundreds of miles away inLahorethe game raged on. The Pakistani crowd turned Sri Lankan for the day as they wielded the lion flag high. Fists pumped the air and banners cut through the wound up atmosphere. The din in the stadium was deafening. The noise built up into a tumult as the ball flew out in the air like a comet. Would it be caught? The fellow in yellow shot out, but missed it by a hairsbreadth. The uproar rings throughout the stadium, the stands rear up like a living and breathing animal as a Mexican wave circled the stadium.

Somewhere in the heart ofColomboanother family was watching. Grandpa and Ma’s room was the gathering spot. The adults were scattered all over the bed and all over the floor chattering excitedly. They’d never believed their team would be this close to winning, especially after that disastrous start. Ma was just coming in with a plateful of stuffed dates when it happened. There was an uproar within the room and then the fireworks started up outside. The nine month old baby woke up and began to yowl. The baby was me.

“All the way to the boundary for four! What a victory for the Sri Lankans.” The rest of the players charged out onto the field to embrace their brothers in blue. They were heroes, never to be forgotten, for weren’t they part of the team that had won the greatest victory in the history of Sri Lankan cricket!

As the captain hoists the trophy into the air a million people whoop, clap and whistle their support. The title of World Champions goes to the boys in blue from the emerald island. Who would have thought?

A nation, torn apart by differences in race, religion, caste and creed was united as one by team spirit and brotherhood. Its people were united under one identity: they were all Sri Lankan.

Word Count: 1225 words

SENIOR PRIZE – Shenuka Corea, Sri Lanka, age 17

“This is an ambitious entry about Sri Lanka‘s victory over Australia in the 1996 Cricket World Cup. The writing is finely observed, vivid and beautifully detailed. Although the outcome of the match is already known, Shenuka conveys the excitement and passion felt by Sri Lankans from different walks of life. There is a complex layering to the writing which is based on a personal story linked to an event of national significance. This is the work of a confident writer aware of her abilities.” Charles Kemp, Chief Judge

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