'The Asian psyche is more resilient'
Three days after the South Africans upped and left Sri Lanka, their hosts still nurse feelings of anger and injustice. At a press conference on Sunday evening, Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara and Chaminda Vaas, three of the team's most senior players, expressed their disappointment at the decision, saying that it had plunged Sri Lankan cricket into disarray.
The bomb blast that killed seven put paid to South Africa's participation in the tri-series, and Sri Lanka Cricket's plight has since worsened with endless showers decimating the planned three-match series against the Indians. When Murali was asked how the events of the past week had affected the team, he said: "It has been very hard, it has never been like this before. It was unfortunate that South Africa decided to go like that without considering the future of Sri Lankan cricket.
"We are heavily dependent on the revenues that come out of hosting international games, and by deciding to pack up and leave, South Africa have put Sri Lanka as a dangerous place on the cricketing map. It would have been nice if we could have played India and showed that cricket can be played in Sri Lanka, it is not a dangerous place, but the weather has deprived us of that as well."
Sangakkara, the most articulate of the Sri Lankan players added his two bits. "Our cricket board and our government offered the South Africans the best security cover possible, but it was their choice to go home. We are still keen to play cricket, India are still keen to play cricket. If the Indians are happy to play here, then I am in no position to comment on why South Africa did not feel safe in Colombo. It was supposed to be a tri-series, and two sides are still here and have decided to stay on and play cricket."
He expressed the view that Asia has been a volatile place for the past few years, but that the local population had learnt to deal with it and get on with their lives. "The Asian psyche is more resilient, we are tougher people," said Sangakkara. "But then, there are tensions all around the world. The countries that believed they were always safe are under threat now. Sport has almost always transcended political and other tensions. It is important that life goes on as normal.
"We saw that in England recently when, despite the threats, Pakistan decided to stay on and play cricket. In this region, security has been a bit of a concern. We saw that during the 1996 World Cup when some teams decided to not come here and play. But then, the whole of Asia joined hands and showed solidarity. We had a joint Asian team come here to play Sri Lanka and show everyone that Sri Lanka is a safe place. At the end of the day, sport and life must always go on. Cricket is an integral part of the psyche of people in this part of the world, and sport must always come out on top."
Vaas merely opined that "what they have done is wrong, it is not good for Sri Lankan cricket" and it was left to Murali to further emphasise what Sangakkara had said. "The mentality of a lot of sides is such that they think Europe and other countries are safe, but not Asia," he said. "It is difficult to see how we can change that. It is an unfair decision that people take when it comes to our countries. The issue will now be handled by the boards and the ICC. We are just here to play cricket, and we are firm in our belief that whatever happened here is not good for cricket."
He insisted, however, that there would be no hard feelings or any extra needle when South Africa and Sri Lanka next clashed on a cricket field. "I don't see any scope for that," he said. "As cricketers, we get along well with one another, we are all friends. We will continue to play the game in the best spirit. It is their decision and I can't speak for them. All I can say is that there will be no problems in future."
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo