By Sidhanta Patnaik
The cricket board in Sri Lanka has been dissolved, the contracts of cricketers and other staff have not been fully obligated, the domestic first-class premier Tier A and B league matches have been indefinitely postponed, three stadiums have been handed over to the defence forces, one-day series success against ICC’s full members has eluded them since the World Cup final night and a Test match win had not been attained since 15 months. Shambles is the word. Yet all of it is now inconsequential. History unfolded at Kingsmead, Durban, and with it triggered an overabundance of ‘I was doing this, when that happened’ chronicles!
A Test match victory on foreign soil is the ultimate high in a cricketer’s career and for a Sri Lankan its undertone is radically superior. A Sri Lankan Test cricketer is not as privileged as some of his international counterparts. Eligibility to be on the frequent flier guest list of most of the airlines outside cricket Asia can lead to question marks and for most of them African continent is a far land in the history books - where Nelson Mandela lives and lions roar. Only a few whose stars are brighter get to play Test cricket in South Africa.
The moment Marchant De Lange was bowled, Dilhara Fernando ran in as fast as he could towards the centre. He could have picked up a stump, the modern day way of celebrating a win, but he chose to embrace Rangana Herath as tightly as he could. The moment spoke a thousand words and Fernando might never be able to generate that kind of emotion again.
In a stop-gap career spreading over a decade and just 39 Test matches, Fernando’s relationship with the South African pitches had been bittersweet so far. At the same venue in 2000 he, in association with Muttaiah Muralitharan, had helped Sri Lanka attain its first draw in South Africa. At Centurion In 2002, his four wickets burst had nearly earned his side a win while defending a paltry score of 121. Today finally a circle was completed and it was urgent for him to reach out to the wrecker-in-chief first. A souvenir can wait. With two wickets against his name in the second innings he too can fill important about this sweet feeling.
The faces of Kumar Sangakara and Mahela Jayawardene did not need to be read to decipher the glow it reflected. Between the two of them they have scored a total of 19,322 Test runs, but only 907 of it - a dismal 4.69% - belongs to the South African soil. This victory is a reward of equality to the twin gifted talents of world cricket. Thilan Samaraweera must be the first cricketer after the world war era to have played Test cricket after having been struck by ammunition. He now has an on-field adventure to share, of which he was a lead cast for 356 minutes and 269 balls.
Rarely does a Sri Lankan wicketkeeper taste a Test victory abroad on debut, and to contribute in it with two fifties is a dream. Dinesh Chandimal lived it. Rangana Herath’s long wait to be recognised as the team’s lead spinner after Muralitharan was realised after a toil of 11 years. And then there is Chanaka Welegedara whose five wicket haul in the first innings initiated the opponent’s collapse and with it Sri Lanka’s opportunity to live history.
Sri Lanka’s 19th Test match win abroad is in itself a story that should impact the career graph of all those who played a role in scripting it. The1996 World Cup win happened 15 years back. The new landmark in Sri Lankan cricket has to be this win. There is still a Test match to be played and a series to worry about, but for the moment what matters is that they signed off the last day of the 2011 international cricket rooster with a fairytale ending.
Now Sri Lankan airlines will have a reason to start plying direct flights in the Colombo - Johannesburg sector and connecting more citizens with history.
(Sidhanta Patnaik is a sport marketing professional, public speaker and writes for Cricketcountry. His twitter id is @sidhpat)