Sri Lanka cool and committed

It will come as a surprise to the billion and more people who were consumed by Wednesday’s semifinal in Mohali, India, but the tournament does not end there.

The winner of that match, India, has to duel with an ever impressive Sri Lankan outfit, which may not garner the same obsessive passion from their fans, but which has a hungry public that loves the sport just as much.

Sri Lankans have struck a good balance between the fanatical and the interested and the tournament has done just as much for them as it has for the other two host countries, India and Bangladesh.

This is the first major sporting event held since the tsunami and the end of a bitter civil war.
It’s Sri Lanka’s chance to show off the progress it has made towards peace and its development since then. It built two new stadiums for the event: the first in Hambantota, a town that was destroyed after the tsunami and a venue that is being primed to host the Commonwealth Games; the second up in the hills of Pallekelle, a ground that will probably play a part in the World T20 next year.

Both grounds and the others that have hosted matches in this tournament have been packed to capacity, even when teams like Zimbabwe have been playing. The people have embraced the event in a lighter way than those in India and Bangladesh. They enjoy the game in an almost West Indian style: relaxed, carefree and with a touch of fun. They don’t have the same dark seriousness the other two hosts have, the kind that turns cricket into life or death, not sport.

It doesn’t mean they don’t revere it. The Galle Face hotel, one of the most popular in Colombo, is best known for having hosted Donald Bradman. The Cricket Club café in the same city is dedicated to the sport, with memorabilia like Rodney Hogg’s rebel tour jacket and the bat Sir Garfield Sobers used to hit his six sixes in the 1960s. It’s all there as a reminder that Sri Lanka has as much interest in cricket and that winning the World Cup will mean just as much, if not more, than it did in 1996.

The national team knows exactly what is expected of them, as captain Kumar Sangakkara explained after their semifinal win. “Cricket has always been the panacea that has healed Sri Lanka’s wounds. Whenever cricket is played it seems as if life is back to normal and we carry that responsibility as individuals every time we play.” The word “normal” makes all the difference in that statement. It means that when the Sri Lankans walk out to a frenzied Wankhede Stadium on Saturday they will likely be the ones with the air of calm around them because of the wonderful ­normality of their beautiful island.

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