Give any Sri Lankan males of whatever age a bat, a ball and an open space—beach, road, wasteland, anywhere will do—and you’ve got a game of cricket.
Forget the national team, which regularly beats the best of the rest of the world; and put out of you mind—not an easy thing to do—the iconic status of our legendary batsmen and bowlers.
We’re talking village cricket here, street cricket, the grass-roots cricket that makes every young lad a sporting hero, and every young lad’s cricket-mad father a slayer of dragons.
At this stage of the game, it’s not the hard-ball, hard-eyed, knocked out if not bowled out by an express delivery that you don’t even see, never mind hit, cricket.
And it’s not the white flannels, afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches style of cricket first introduced by languid colonial Brits to pass a leisurely afternoon in Nuwara Eliya.
No. This is a bat carved out of driftwood, a tennis ball, raggedy shorts, bare feet, and the joyfully intense (and intensely joyful) expression of what lies at the heart of Sri Lanka’s national sporting identity.
And anyone and everyone can play. Except girls, of course. Whoever heard of a girl who even knew how to hold a bat properly, never mind wield it with that essential grace, power, and century-making insouciance of a Kumar Sangakkara. As for bowling, forget it.
So. If you’re male, fit enough to run 22 yards (and back, possibly, if you’ve hit the ball hard enough) and can stand around for an hour in the noonday sun waiting for a catch, you too are a Sri Lankan street cricketer. Well played, sir!