"Are you watching the match tonight?"
"Of course. Finally a game you feel like watching, no? It's been a while."
As nightfall hit Sri Lanka, televisions were switched on, families gathered excitedly in their living rooms, pictures of screens flooded social media feeds, alongside wishes of good luck, directed at cricketers' accounts.
While the national men's team has been getting shellacked across formats in Antigua, it is Sri Lanka's "Legends" team, playing the Road Safety Series
in India that captured the nation's affections over the past two weeks - Tillakaratne Dilshan
producing those breezy-but-brutal innings at the top of the order, Rangana Herath
sending down reliably cheap overs, Sanath Jayasuriya
unfurling that monster cut shot once more, their fans at home tumbling headlong into nostalgia, into ever distant memories of what Sri Lankan cricket once made them feel.
As the national side proper lost the T20I and ODI series to the West Indies, the narrative was inescapable. "Aiyo, who feels like watching those useless fellows any more, men? I bet if our legends team played them, they would still win." This is almost certainly untrue, and probably unfair to the members of Sri Lanka's current national team, but these, nevertheless, are the kinds of conversations that were being had across the island. "What is the point of our cricket any more?" "Uff, remember when we were good?"
As Sri Lanka collapsed on the opening day in Antigua, stumbling to their third sub-200 score in three Tests, national frustrations with this team can only have become more acute. Comparisons with the past only more embarrassing. Sri Lanka's 169 all out was their second-lowest first-innings score in the Caribbean
. The lowest had also been recorded by this team, essentially, in 2018, though the fast bowlers had gone on to rally and win that game in Barbados.
All across the batting order were signs of decline. Dinesh Chandimal
, the most experienced member of the middle order, has not hit a Test hundred since that 2018 tour of West Indies. He may argue that this is partly because he was dropped in 2019, perhaps unfairly, but this in itself is a problem.
Sri Lanka's selection over the past five years has at times been dysfunctional to the point of being ridiculous, selectors lurching from player to player - throwing batsmen in haphazardly, only to swiftly yank them out again when they fail. Then new selectors come in, and go through the same routine, almost invariably with the same group of players.
On Sunday, Chandimal was out nicking behind for 4 off 25. He is the only man in the top seven to average more than 40, but that average has been in retreat since 2014
(when he averaged over 50), and even now his place in the top order does not seem especially secure, partly because there is no predicting what mood will strike the selectors.
Selectors need only to look at Mendis' career to figure the pitfalls of pushing young batsmen - however gifted - into all three formats too early. But does Sri Lankan cricket learn such lessons?
Or take even Lahiru Thirimanne
, whose 70 off 180 balls was patient, determined, and was the only knock from the top five that wasn't an out-and-out failure. For all the recent signs that 31-year-old Thirimanne is turning his game around, he still averages less than 25 after a staggering 74 innings. It seems exceedingly unlikely this would have been tolerated in Sri Lanka's better eras.
The likes of Tharanga Paranavitana, Malinda Warnapura and Micheal Vandort all averaged over 30 and played fewer Tests than Thirimanne (Vandort averaged 36.90, and was dropped for the last time after 33 innings, at the age of 28). Thirimanne has now played well enough to deserve this run in the team, but his situation in this team is largely down to the paucity of competition for that place.
There are other issues. Niroshan Dickwella
has not quite mustered a century after 75 innings; Dhananjaya de Silva has been yanked up and down the order to fill the frequent gaps that appear; and the absence of Kusal Mendis is a reminder that even the most blinding natural talents are frequently squandered by the Sri Lankan system (Mendis was dropped after a string of ducks across the South Africa and England series).
It is difficult not to worry, too, for the newest member of this batting order - debutant Pathum Nissanka
, who has lit up first-class cricket over the past few seasons, racking up an impressive average of over 67, and yet was thrust into Sri Lanka's T20I and ODI teams first, despite not really having prospered in the shorter formats at domestic level. Was there really no thought to letting this 22-year-old get settled in the format he vastly prefers, first? Selectors need only to look at Mendis' career to figure the pitfalls of pushing young batsmen - however gifted - into all three formats too early. But does Sri Lankan cricket learn such lessons?
There have long been attempts to address the structural problems within Sri Lankan cricket - particularly to make the woefully-bloated first-class system more competitive. But none have been successful, as self-serving administrators have sought only to secure votes at board elections, and painted Sri Lanka's occasional cricketing successes as proof that the system is working. (This is despite Sri Lanka presently ranking seventh in Tests, eighth in ODIs and tenth in T20Is.)
On Sunday, Sri Lanka's supporters chose to revel in nostalgia, and the free-to-air channel that had rights to the West Indies series chose to broadcast the Sri Lanka Legends match instead of the first session of the Test. On Monday morning, the island will wake up to a scorecard from Antigua that suggests these decisions were justified.