August 26, 2008

Jamie Alter on India in Sri Lanka 2008

The party never stops

Jamie Alter
Sanath Jayasuriya and Harbhajan Singh have a chat while waiting for play to start, Sri Lanka v India, 4th ODI, Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, August 26, 2008
 © AFP
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Never mind it had been raining before the toss, the covers had been on for hours, and that there was hardly any chance that play would happen. The Sri Lankan spectators in the stands at the Premadasa were here to have a good time.

Running an inventory of the cricket grounds across the globe I've been too, it was hard to rival the interactivity of the fans at the Premadasa. This wasn't up there in the pantheon of pre-game rituals - Liverpool fans singing their anthem in a match against Chelsea – or fan-to-fan banter – a Red Sox v Yankees game at Fenway Park – but in cricketing isolation it was something else, because not a ball was bowled. I imagine it can only be bettered in the Caribbean. I've seen spectators in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and London leave when it rains. Fans are a part of any game, and the passionate ones at the Premadasa took plenty of attention off the lack of cricket. In a fantastic conglomeration of hip twists, knee jerks, claps and elbow shaking, the entire Premadasa came to life.

A bevy of beauties swayed to live music from an impromptu brass band, the beer flowed, and a good time was had by all. People love seeing themselves on television. The cameras panned across the ground and that only sent the fans into a tizzy. Girls batted their eyelids, feigned beauty-pageant waves, high-fived each other; men and boys broke into dance; others showed off tee shirts with graffiti; some covered their faces momentarily before getting up to do something funny; and one elderly lady in a sari even did her own take on the Funky Chicken. Others mingled around at the Keels kiosk, munching on pizza or fish rolls, sipping beer, even as the rain dripped down and they dodged big puddles. Snack vendors went through the bleachers, serving soft drinks and hot dogs with a smile.

Unlike the Indian team, who had returned to their hotel, the Sri Lankan players sat around on the balcony, lapping up the festive mood. That only added to the crowd's vigour. When Jade Roberts, Sri Lanka's physiotherapist, tried to dodge the big screen the crowd started chanting for him to come back, and he sheepishly grinned. Cue hysteria from the ladies. Paul Farbrace, the assistant coach, wasn't as obliging, but did get a kick out of seeing himself on the screen.

The highlight, however, was when one sharp cameraman panned in on Lasith Malinga in the stands. The crowd went berserk as Malinga flashed his hundred-watt smile and waved back, and when his Sri Lankan team-mates on the dressing room balcony saw him, they engaged themselves in a bit of banter, communicated via the giant screen.

Leaving the confines of the musty press box to lap up the mood, I caught a hold of a born-and-bred Sri Lankan fan, and two converts. Radhi, a National University student, was dancing herself silly when I approached her. "This is what we Sri Lankan fans are about, partying man!" she said, before grabbing an inflatable Idea Cup baton and throwing it up in the air. "I've been to so many games, and I love the atmosphere. We make it what it is!"

Nick and Aidan, two Englishmen living in Colombo for a few years, are now Sri Lankan fans. Wearing Sri Lanka jerseys, they too danced with the crowds and thoroughly enjoyed the beer and hot dogs. They didn't think it compared to a football crowd, but said they made it to most of the venues when Sri Lanka played one-day internationals.

The rain did not dampen anyone's spirits. There was not one person who wasn't smiling. The fans continued to trickle even after the toss was delayed and, once enthused by those there before them, didn't leave. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday afternoon at all. Let the beat play on.

Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jamie Alter
Senior sub-editor While teachers in high school droned on about Fukuyama and communism, young Jamie's mind tended to wander to Old Trafford and the MCG. Subsequently, having spent six years in the States - studying Political Science, then working for an insurance company - and having failed miserably at winning any cricket converts, he moved back to India. No such problem in Bangalore, where he can endlessly pontificate on a chinaman who turned it around with a flipper, and why Ricky Ponting is such a good hooker. These days he divides his time between playing office cricket and constant replenishments at one of the city's many pubs.

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