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Match Analysis

In a parallel universe, Sri Lanka offer a glimpse of normal, happier times

This series has lit up the island in ways that turbines, fossil fuels, and generators never could

Local fans enjoyed Sri Lanka's batting in the third ODI, Sri Lanka vs Australia, 3rd ODI, Colombo, June 19, 2022

In their own special way, the country's cricketers have made life feel good again for the fans  •  AFP/Getty Images

Is this it? Have they arrived? Is this the new Sri Lanka? The future? Bright? Blinding as the sun?
Energy. Remember that? Batters who will whisk the team out of a hole. Bowlers who will make an anthill of a target seem like a forbidding Himalayan peak. Fielders who don't comically clang into each while circling under a gently descending catch. It has been long enough. Too long. Years since #SangaMahelaDilshanMalingaHerathMurali.
Okay, but wait. What is the future, even? This is a nation run by a government essentially living hand-to-mouth. They are awaiting the next fuel shipments at the end of the week, desperately scrambling for money to pay for them. Meanwhile, fuel queues choke the roads like metal pythons, getting longer and fatter by the day. Trains and buses are crammed evermore with commuters who have no choice but to cling for life on the brimming footboards. The vegetable stalls and grocery shelves, though, are empty.
In normal times you ask what things will be like down the line. Will this batter develop into the next guy to get 10000 runs? Oh and that bowler has something about him, no? Five years time, just watch. He'll have won so many games by then. He'll have such an aura.
What about us, though? Where will we be in five years' time? Still struggling? In queues? Skint? Abroad, after giving up on a country we love? In daily fits of rage at the news out of parliament?
Stop. Save yourself the spiral. It's not worth thinking about. For one night, you tune it out.
It's easy when they play like this. Dhananjaya de Silva, spindly arms in those long sleeves, turning his wrists to drive a fast bowler past a diving backward point. Charith Asalanka camping on his back foot to launch no less a bowler than Pat Cummins over the deep midwicket boundary, with a half-pull, half short-arm jab, that leaves a stadium breathless for half a second.
Together, they put on 101 to rescue Sri Lanka from 34 for 3, and the papare is pouring out over the stands like a joyous waterfall, and the kids are dancing, the teenagers are selfie-ing, and a local pop hit comes on at the end of an over that has brought two boundaries, so in a second the entire stand is in voice, and you can feel it right? These are real smiles, not the barely-keeping-it-together smile when you learn that the bicycle you're trying to buy to save on motorbike fuel, costs twice what it did two months back. This is real laughter, and happy hugs, not the we-made-it-through-another-day-without-collapsing ones.
Look, it's not real life. Everyone knows that. We all have powercuts to go back to. But then why is it that these two guys putting on a century stand is what makes life feel good again?
Right through the tour, in Pallekele as well as Khettarama, there have been these moments of pure elation, which even the unrelenting press that Sri Lanka's daily life has become, has not been able to corrupt
Right through the tour, in Pallekele as well as Khettarama, there have been these moments of pure elation, which even the unrelenting press that Sri Lanka's daily life has become, has not been able to corrupt. Dasun Shanaka's manic hitting to win the third T20. The Wanindu Hasaranga googlies that batters still have not deciphered. Pathum Nissanka's big, bold hundred.
This was a Tuesday night, and traveling even a couple of kilometres is a trial because there's so little petrol into the country. But more than 30,000 have made it to Khettarama, a ground which, at times like this, it seems especially fitting, is in one of Colombo's most working-class neighourhoods. Who deserves this fun more than those who have been battered hardest and longest by the collapsing economy?
Will this team, full of potential young stars, be the one that drags Sri Lanka's men's team into a glowing new age? Maybe. In Hasaranga, there is a potential global phenomenon. In Nissanka and Asalanka, two reliable operators. In Dushmantha Chameera a rapid and increasingly clever quick. So is this it? Have they arrived? Is this the future?
It seems a silly question to ask right now. Because the future is the thing that poverty obliterates. And in this article, we're living in the now.
This series, which in cricketing terms is of no real use beyond preparation for an ODI World Cup that is more than a year away, and whose results don't count towards the Super League, and which in most other countries would not be nearly this well-attended, has lit up the island in ways that turbines, fossil fuels, and generators never could.
At Khettarama, on a Tuesday night, a team packed full of spinners turned derailed an opposition chase. There were close catchers in past the 40th over. Mid-pitch conferences on strategy as things got tight. A glimpse of a normal time.
Even Lasith Malinga, who has raised as many roars at this stadium as anyone, was in attendance in his role as Sri Lanka's bowling consultant. In that nerve-wracking final over that Sri Lanka should have had no trouble getting through, he was fuming outside the square-leg boundary like he wanted to beat up the universe for its failure to arrange for him to be the guy bowling to close out the game. An angry Malinga is, in its own way, a marker of normal Sri Lankan life too.
They won off the final ball, and Khettarama exploded. The last few moments in this parallel universe. One in which, thank god, finally, there might be a future.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf