Drought-hit Sri Lankans prefer cricket to rain

By Kuldip Lal (AFP)

24 August 1996

Drought-hit Sri Lankans are performing a different rain dance these days - to keep the rains away for at least the next two weeks.

No one here wants the weather to ruin Sri Lanka's biggest cricket carnival, starting on Saturday, which features Arjuna Ranatunga's World Cup heroes for the first time on home soil.

Cricket took centre stage in this strife-hit island when Ranatunga's unfancied, but hugely talented side fought off their eternal underdog status to win the coveted World Cup last March.

That the memorable win was achieved by defeating arch-enemies Australia in the final was icing on the cake.

Few Sri Lankans have forgotten last year's acrimonious tour of Australia, where Ranatunga's boys first accused of ball tampering - cricket's version of cheating - before frontline spinner Muttiah Muralitharan was branded a chucker.

Then came the ultimate humiliation as the Australians boycotted their World Cup match in Sri Lanka fearing the safety of their players after a bomb in central Colombo killed 91 people.

For a while, the Australians upstaged the separatist Tamil Tigers as the country's enemy number one.

Now, the Australians are finally here to play in the four-nation Singer limited-overs tournament which also features India, Zimbabwe and the hosts - and an entire nation is agog with excitement.

''It's a very important competition,'' said Sri Lankan cricket chief Upali Dharmadasa, without stressing that it afforded his cricketers an opportunity to prove the World Cup triumph was no fluke.

Sri Lankan fans are, however, not so diplomatic.

Said collegian Roushan Wickremetunga: ''The Australians need to be told that Sri Lanka is a safe place to play cricket and our guys are the best in the world.

''I know the economy is in shatters because of the drought, but I still pray the rains keep away for at least the next two weeks.''

When the inaugural Singer Cup was played during the same period in 1994, heavy rain almost ruined the competition and the final had to be shifted away from the water-logged Premadasa stadium.

The rains usually set in by the end of August, and the present tournament runs till September 7.

Ominous clouds hung over Colombo through Thursday, and the weatherman sees rain on the horizon.

Thoughtful organisers have kept a reserve day for each match in case the weather intervenes and have ordered fresh covers for the two venues, the Premadasa stadium and the Sinhalese Sports Club.

Sri Lanka, who take on world 11 in an exhibition match on Saturday before the serious work starts on Monday, have expectedly kept faith in their triumphant World Cup squad.

But Australia are without their injured captain Mark Taylor and spin sensation Shane Warne, who opted to rest his spinning finger after off-season surgery.

Wicket-keeper Ian Healy leads the Australians, while both India and Zimbabwe also have new captains - but for different reasons.

Batting superstar Sachin Tendulkar replaced the beleaguered Mohamed Azharuddin as Indian captain after a disastrous tour of England where they lost both the test and one-day series.

Alistair Campbell takes over for Zimbabwe after World Cup skipper Andy Flower stepped down voluntarily to concentrate on his batting.

The pragmatic Ranatunga, a regular part of Sri Lankan cricket since they attained test baptism in 1981, however refuses to take victory for granted. ''The onus is on us to maintain the high standards we set last season,'' he says. ''And that is never an easy task.''

Source: The Daily News

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:06