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An Indian and a Sri Lankan flat-mates — brought together by cricket

Arjun Poddar (left) and Sameera Viswakula.
Arjun Poddar (left) and Sameera Viswakula… Cricket maniacs from the subcontinent in the US.

Arjun Poddar and Sameera Viswakula are cricket-loving flat-mates staying in Norfolk, Virginia, USA. In an interview with Abhishek Mukherjee, they re-live their memories of watching cricket, and a lot more.

 

Arjun Poddar hails from India; Sameera Viswakula from Sri Lanka. They are both pursuing their PhDs in Statistics at the Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, and have been sharing a two-bedroom apartment since July 2013 near the University. It had taken the cricket-maniacs less than a month to turn into the best of friends. As is often the case with two peace-loving people; they get along very well.

The atmosphere in the apartment was not really heated up before the big match, but there was been a suppressed tension of sorts. Arjun had, after all, been taunting Sameera since that 2011 day in Mumbai. Sameera, after all, wanted to strike a balance in the cricket discussions. Things have not changed even after the ICC World T20 2014 final.

CricketCountry interviewed the flat-mates after the T20 World Cup. Here are the key moments of the interview.

CricketCountry (CC): Have you been cricket fans all along?

Sameera Viswakula (SV): Yes, I have been a cricket fan since I was very young. My father has been following cricket for a long time. He maintains two books (one for ODIs and one for Tests) which he updates regularly. Those days we didn’t have internet, so he kept updating them from news and magazines. If there was a cricket match anywhere in the world (even if it started at 4am) he would wake up and follow it. I had my father’s influence and I have been following cricket a lot. But lately, I got busy with my studies so I had to satisfy with highlights or live feeds.

 

Arjun Poddar (AP): I had started following and playing cricket at a very young age. The first memory of watching a match on TV is a match that was held at Jamshedpur — India vs England, in 1993. I remember it because my uncle was at the stadium. My first vivid memory of a world cup was of 1996— I remember the brilliant display of cricket skills by Sachin [Tendulkar], [Shane] Warne, [Anil] Kumble and Mark Waugh, but more distinctly I remember myself, crying after the semi-final against Sri Lanka. Remember [Vinod] Kambli leaving the field, also crying. And I almost believed the rumour that spread around our school that [Sanath] Jayasuriya had a metal plate embedded into his bat which gave him the power to hit the cricket ball so belligerently! Man, that was a brutal way to hit the ball! He and [Romesh] Kaluwitharana showed the world that you can get 50 runs in the first five overs.

CC: India and Sri Lanka seem to have been bumping into each other quite frequently for some time now. How have you guys been reacting to this?

SV: Actually, it is sad because there were a few times where we lost to India or got eliminated by Indians. So, Arjun always picks on me. Sometimes, even at the department, our colleagues and professors who are not familiar with cricket, ask some questions about cricket (the discussions start with baseball or American football). So Arjun used to say Sameera’s country always makes it to the final and gets beaten by them. Just for fun though. I am glad that it has ended. Now he cannot say that anymore.

 

AP: I came to know Sameera at a time when we already had the ICC 2011 World Cup for almost four months. Since then I would sometimes tease him about it and every time he retaliated citing 1996.

India and Sri Lanka have played against each other so many times in the recent years that I feel I know about Sri Lankan players more than Sameera does. Though it is me who starts the teasing and friendly taunting (because I follow it more closely), I told him several times that I was amazed by many Sri Lankan players — [Aravinda] de Silva, [Arjuna] Ranatunga [that relaxed late cut], Jayasuriya, Mahela [Jayawardene], [Kumar] Sangakkara [that cover drive].

I have pictures of Sachin in my room and in my work-station. Sameera would tease me that he has heard that whenever Sachin scored a ton India used to lose to which I would become angry and usually asked him to go get his facts right (more so because he is a Statistician, as am I).

CC: How do you prefer to watch cricket?

SV: We watch matches by ourselves (on our laptops, we don’t have television) most of the time since we have different schedules. But we have talked about the matches whenever we get a chance, especially during the Asia cup. I was happy since India got eliminated and we could win the final.  <Evil grin>

AP: I generally watch it alone at home. I would chat with my friends in India at the same time on my phone and discuss things like who should bowl the next over or whether sending Yuvraj [Singh] instead of [MS] Dhoni or [Suresh] Raina at second down in the final was a historical blunder. After moving to the US, I have watched cricket in weird places. A friend and I had watched the match of India-Bangladesh in this World T20 on his tablet sitting in a seminar, nodding our heads, pretending to fathom complex statistical research. Our Professor almost caught us, but India won, so what the hell!

CC: Sameera, has Arjun been taunting you about the 2011 World Cup?

SV: Ha ha, yes. He does that all the time!

CC: Tell me more about the ICC World T20: were you following the matches together?

 

SV: Yes, we have been following the tournament. Arjun had texted me a couple of times during this series saying that Sri Lanka was winning when I was in a seminar or in a meeting. I followed most of the games of the tournament online and watched the highlights at night. When India beat South Africa in the semi-finals I had told all my Indian friends at the department that Sunday lunch will be on me. <Smiles>

 

AP: I have not watched it with Sameera though we discussed a few times. I used to update him about the whereabouts of the cup. Though India and Sri Lanka were in different groups, I was sure we would meet in the later rounds.

CC: What was the build-up in the apartment like, before the final?

SV: It was friendly. He watched the game in his room and I watched it in my room: two laptops, same wi-fi connection, supporting two teams. It was fun when [Virat] Kohli got run out on the last ball, I was clapping. When we were batting, he started clapping when we lost a few wickets, especially when Mayya [Jayawardene] got caught. Then eventually I heard him clapping for [Kumar] Sangakkara’s batting.

Then, when we got the winning run, I opened my door and shouted “Hey, let’s go have lunch!” He said, “Okay, man — but not for losing, but for Sanga [Sangakkara] and Mahela [Jayawardene]”. He was a bit upset about the last four overs of the Indian innings and he told me he would have dropped Yuvi’s catch if he was the fielder! Then we had lunch at my favourite Mexican restaurant and it was on me.

 

AP: Sameera asked me the day before the game if I had an Indian jersey so that we can take a picture donning our respective team’s jersey before the match. I said no as I thought it was lame. He also put forward the idea that if his team wins he will buy me lunch and vice versa.  I was pretty psyched and excited about the final, but I was not taking it out on Sameera. I was hoping that India will win the toss and choose to bowl first. I was continuously texting my cousin and friends in India, out of tension I guess. I was focused on India winning and not so much on the team India was up against. So there was no sense of rivalry in the apartment. I was at the apartment the whole time but I did not see Sameera before the match started. The game was delayed due to rain and there was no talk exchanged in our apartment.

I remember clapping very hard when Virat got going and when Mahela was caught. I tried to keep myself down but there were moments when I could not. But those moments started to die down towards the end.

CC: Arjun, what has life been in the apartment after Sri Lanka lifted the Trophy?

AP: When it was over, I was sad but was clapping since this game was a fitting farewell to Jayawardene and Sangakkara. I did not talk much. I watched the whole presentation ceremony. I told him he should celebrate since these moments do not come very often in one’s lifetime. I told him about the night when India won the ODI World Cup in 2011 — how we had danced and celebrated all around Kolkata all night long. I was sad and hungry and desperately needed a drink. We went to a Mexican restaurant nearby, I ordered a mojito and he ordered a non-alcoholic daiquiri. He paid for the drinks and the food that followed.

CC: Sameera, you know your cricket board has not been treating your players well. What does this victory mean for your country?

SV: Yes, we had a few problems. But I heard they were going to offer $1million bonus if our team wins the final and it was announced after we won the semi-finals.

Despite all the problems with SLC (Sri Lanka Cricket), the Sri Lankan supporters were with the cricket team all the time. I remember the way our people welcome our cricket team even after we lost the World Cup final in 2011. From Katunayake Airport to Colombo it was a huge parade. When we heard the bomb attack in Pakistan, everybody was shocked and couldn’t wait to see the cricketers. Recently we won the Asia Cup and since then we were craving for the World T20. It has been 18 years and we lost like a half a dozen of finals. My Facebook status was “Now I can rest in peace.”

CC: Do you think cricket has been managed the fans to bond in an alien country thousands of miles away from your homeland?

SV: I have Sri Lankan friends who live in New Zealand from all the way to the west coast of the USA. We comment on and share cricket posts on Facebook and twitter. We are in different time zones. But we manage to follow cricket somehow.

The funny thing is when there is a game between Sri Lanka and India we get to see so many creative cartoons and memes. It’s funny how some people make fun of Indian cricketers, especially of Kohli. In Sinhalese, Kohli is a type of banana, so they make fun of him in cartoons. Dhoni means “daughter” in Sinhalese, so they relate him to some local songs. It is fun. I am pretty sure Indians have also been making fun of our players.

I saw Mayya’s and Sanga’s tweets and FB posts during the welcome parade. The Sri Lankans were really celebrating. Too bad I am missing out on all the fun.

 

AP: Cricket is not a part of the culture in America, but I have somehow managed to find people from parts of the world where it is. Besides people from the Indian subcontinent, I know people here who are cricket-enthusiasts hailing from England, Scotland and the Caribbean islands. I know a person who is from Jamaica who played serious cricket in his youth many decades back with players who later represented West Indies: he tells me all about Rohan Kanhai, Garry Sobers and other greats. I chat with him for hours. Another person from Kenya had Steve Tikolo as his classmate. I miss the cricket culture so much that I seize every opportunity I get and I never miss any chance to explain the sport to the uninitiated and yet interested people here — sometimes by drawing stupid diagrams of the field.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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