April 9, 2014

Sri Lanka upset all calculations

Just when you stop trusting them, they pull off a grand triumph

"What's that again about good things coming to those who wait?" © AFP

There are 196 sovereign nations on Earth, and, since my plans for an underwater octopus-styled lair with nuclear submarine docking, shark enclosure and jacuzzi have been rejected by the International Maritime Underwater Lair and Deep Sea Abode Planning Committee, like most people, I am forced to choose one of them to live in.

This need not imply, however, that by choosing to reside within the squiggly borders of a particular geopolitical entity, that we are endorsing said nation. For instance, I continue to live in England because having finally mastered the intricacies of the eccentric English public transport system, I am far too lazy to begin wrestling once again with the rules governing the purchase of an off-peak inter-city all-day return ticket in a new country.

This does not, however, mean that I am obliged to cheer for England in any of the many flag-waving contests that modern life continually thrusts before us. The perfect cure for a case of nationalism is to sit through the whole of the flag-brandishing lap of grins that opens the Olympics, whereupon you will come to realise that your particular nation is merely one of a yawnsome number of republics, federations and islands, all with interchangeable flags and indistinguishable national anthems.

So generally, I have no sympathy for the idea that one country is better or worse than another. Like squabbling children at an out-of-control birthday party, nation states are pretty much all as bad as each other, and even if they appear to be squeaky clean and above board (yes Switzerland, I'm talking about you) you don't have to dig too far into their history to find all kinds of unsavoury goings on.

Nevertheless, recent events have compelled me to make an exception. In my unbiased and entirely objective opinion, Sri Lanka, as a nation, is not to be trusted, or, more accurately, Sri Lanka's cricket team is not to be trusted.

I don't mean they can't be trusted with the small stuff. I'm sure if you asked them all to keep a surprise party secret or to have a whip round to buy Virat Kohli some anger management sessions, they wouldn't let you down.

Yet when it comes to winning trophies, they are far less reliable. For 18 years, I have promoted the chances of the Sri Lankan cricket collective, often with confidently extravagant bets placed with grateful bookmakers, and what was my return? A string of semi-finals, slip-ups, and shrugged shoulders at post-match presentations.

So this year, I shunned them. I wagered heavily against them. I advised my cricket-inclined acquaintances not to give the men in blue and yellow the time of day. I told my milkman there was more chance of Russia starting a Third World War in the next month than Sri Lanka winning another major international tournament.

But while I am trying to come to terms with Sri Lanka winning, other cricket supporters have the equally sticky task of coming to terms with not winning.

There are many ways of doing this. England supporters can avail themselves of a shield of indifference, made up of excretions from the snobbery glands that every English person is born with, which harden over time to form an intellectual shell into which they can retreat, tortoise-like, muttering that T20 isn't proper cricket.

Pakistani and Indian fans have coped with not winning in the traditional manner; by blaming it all on one player. The South African approach, however, appears the most innovative. Captain Faf du Plessis has declared the tournament a success on the grounds that his team showed they could win the big moments.

This is true and should stand them in good stead when the ICC organises an international "Big Moment" tournament, with games lasting a few seconds. Sadly, until then, the column marked, "Major 21st Century International Tournament Wins" still shows a suspiciously egg-shaped number next to South Africa's name.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here