Cricket for Americans: 23 Feb. 2019: Lankā

Today in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, at the bottom of the world, Sri Lanka beat their hosts in a Test match to win the series 2-0.

It was the first time Sri Lanka had won a Test series in South Africa. In fact, it was the first time any Asian nation had won a Test series in South Africa. But the fact that it was Sri Lanka makes it even more special.

Sri Lanka has documented history that dates back more than 3,000 years, and there’s evidence of humans on the island going back 125,000 years. It was an important harbor on the Silk Road. It was conquered by the British at the beginning of the 19th century and held through the middle of the 20th. Independence was followed by a 30 year civil war lasting from the early 1980s all the way to 2009, when peace was finally declared. The war took the lives of over 100,000, and displaced over 800,000. Five years before the war ended, on the day after Christmas, a tsunami struck the island and killed more than 35,000.

It is a beautiful nation, blue sky and heat and beach. There are elephants and leopards. It is acacias and ebony and ironwood. Nearly a quarter of the island is forest. It is a nation of Buddhists. A nation of kindness. A nation where all of that beauty has been consistently throughout history marred by war and tragedy.

And it is a nation that loves cricket.

The Colombo Cricket Club was formed way back in 1832. And the national team has been playing First Class cricket since the 1920s. They were promoted to Test status in 1981 and won their first Test match in 1985, beating India in Colombo. In 1996, they won the World Cup. In 2014 they won the World Twenty20. All of this success, despite having one of the more corrupt cricketing systems on earth.

A island nation that once provided the world its cinnamon and coffee, that now provides it its tea and its beaches. A nation with pearls in its harbors. A nation, as Jarrod Kimber wrote, with Test quality bowlers playing cricket in Colombo backstreets who will never bowl with a hard ball in their lives. A tiny island nation that produced Muttiah Muralitharan, the greatest bowler of all time, according to Wisden, plus Lasith Malinga, and Rangana Herath. And Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jayawardene.

And a nation that today, in the late afternoon Colombo time, watched from the other side of a vast sea as its heroes pummeled the second best Test team in the world on their own patch, and become the first Asian nation to do so. Before Bangladesh, before Pakistan, before India. An island nation of just 65,000 square kilometers in the middle of the Indian ocean. An island that the Persians and Arabs referred to as Sarandīb, the origin of the word ” serendipity.”

Pearls, cinnamon, coffee, cricketers. And now a Test match series win to savor.

Until tomorrow.




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