A battle in the lion's den
As our car makes its way through the parking lot, there is high intensity brewing in and around the Premadasa Stadium. After a minute as I make my way into the ground that intensity is now evident on the faces of the Sri Lankan players, who are busy with last-minute fielding drills, shouting "Yes, Yes, Yes", as they take their catches or field the ball, pick up and throw. Sanath Jayasuriya has an animated face that is shining with a different kind of fervour - it is as if he is transmitting some signal that says `Watch out India'.
Half an hour later, Jayasuriya is doing what he does best, batting with characteristic belligerence as he thrashes all bowlers to every part of the ground. Not happy with just boundaries, he runs like a mad hare stealing singles from under the Indians' noses. Sana, which means son in Sinhalese, is rocking and the fans are going mad.
The 30,000-strong Premadasa is choc-a-bloc and the fans at every corner are shouting their guts out to support their son. The atmosphere is war-like and the war cries are loud and clear. The Sri Lankan flag with the trademark lion embossed in the middle is flying high around the ring and every time a Sri Lankan batsman hits a boundary the roar from the crowd gets louder. It is easy to get lost and even intimidated in this din.
At times, it's strange for a journalist to really understand this nationalistic fervour because he is normally supposed to be a neutral observer. But peeping out of the media-box window and seeing the Sri Lankans everywhere - screaming, dancing madly, enjoying the bayla, blowing the paparan (trumpet) - I am beginning to feel for tri-colour, which is hardly seen around the ground.
Unfortunately for the Indians, for all the fight they are showing, things are not going well. Though they are trying their best to raise their waning spirits, their tired body language is depressing. Rahul Dravid, their leader, is seen making desperate bowling and fielding changes. Clearly the Indians have panicked and have been caught unawares by the rampaging Sri Lankan batsmen.
But not everything is lost for the Indians. Virender Sehwag, whose sharp blade can scythe through and over the best attacks, has taken the battle to the opponents. His 22-ball 48 has momentarily silenced Atapattu and his army of lions and for the moment Dravid is carrying the fight to the opposition. The battle is on.
Nagraj Gollapudi is sub-editor of Wisden Asia Cricket