Have Sri Lankans failed their great cricket icon Sangakkara?

Given that this is the farewell match of one of the greatest cricketers of all time, the spectatorship has been disappointingly thin.

 |  3-minute read |   21-08-2015
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Like Mumbai, Colombo too has three international cricket grounds, but is a notch ahead of India’s financial (and one time cricket) capital in the sense that all three stadia are still "active".

In Mumbai, the main ground is the Wankhede while the Brabourne Stadium is allotted a match only every now and then. The Bombay Gymkhana, where India played its first match on home soil in 1932-33 – and where Lala Amarnath scored the country’s first century – alas, never staged another Test again.

I am not including the DY Patil Stadium in this list where too an international match was staged (but was never played, sadly, because of rain) apart, of course, from Indian Premier League (IPL) matches. It is located in Navi Mumbai which, for want of a better description, is not quite Mumbai, call it snobbery if you will.

But while Colombo's pride about having three cricket grounds which still host international matches is justified ("Shows how much we love the sport,’’ says the manager of the hotel where I am staying), it is not necessarily always a boon; at least for visitors handicapped by a lack of knowledge of the city’s geography and/or the commonly spoken languages, Sinhalese and Tamil.

And so it was Friday morning that I hopped into a tuk-tuk at 9.10am and reached the P Sara Oval at 10.45am. What is a 20-minute ride at most took more than an-hour-and-a-half because the rickshawala just couldn’t get in sync - apart from understanding that I wanted to go to a cricket match.

So, we went to Khetarama Stadium, then the Sinhalese Sports Club (where the last match of this series will be played) and after what can be best defined as "Colombo darshan", finally reached the P Sara Oval where the current Test is being played.

"If you had told me Tamil Union Club, I would have brought you straight here,’’ said the rickshaw driver nonchalantly when we were on the final leg of reaching the venue. "I am also Tamil,’’ he said, as if I could have read it on his face.

Meanwhile, the meter had worked frenetically to tot up a whopping Rs 1,200, almost Rs 900 more than what one had paid the previous day. "You pay Rs 400, it’s my fault,’’ said the driver which, in a way, restored my blood pressure to normal and made me even smile weakly. "But can you take me in to see Sangakkara bat?’’ he asked.

Talk about temerity! I shooed him off the gate, parting reluctantly with a 1,000-rupee note and a warning that he shouldn’t be seen anywhere around my hotel tomorrow morning. But after entering the ground, I wished I had somehow brought him.

Given that this is the farewell match of one of the greatest cricketers of all time, the spectatorship has been disappointingly thin. On the opening day, there were fewer than a couple of thousand people at the ground.

On Friday, with Sangakkara expected to bat, the audience may have doubled, but still very, very short of full capacity. Considering that most tickets had been sold out in advance, what was happening?

"Corporates have picked up most of the tickets," explained a local journalist, "to give out to their clients and employees. They can come and watch when they want, if they want.’’

The privilege of being given tickets for international sporting events does not come easily and the effort that goes into reaching such a station in life cannot be undermined.

But it seems such a shame that this benefit is treated with frivolity when there are so many pining to be part of the action. Is it a problem with freebies that the privilege gets devalued I wonder.

So here’s my missive to the rickshaw driver who took me on a merry spin: all is forgiven. Come to my hotel tomorrow morning. I will get you a ticket to the match. But promise to get me to the ground on time.


Ayaz Memon Ayaz Memon @cricketwallah

Lawyer by qualification, journalist by profession... writes on cricket...and loads more.

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