I don’t remember exactly when I stopped watching cricket. It may have been somewhere in my sixth year shortly after daddy moved away to work, what is for sure is that by time Ambrose and Walsh hung up their hats I had long lost interest in the game. Saturday afternoons sitting on the living room floor watching matches just weren’t the same without daddy to explain the nuances of the game.
Occasionally, I could muster interest in a one day match, test matches are just far too long; and I was drawn to the world cup only because of the spectacle an event of that scale is in of itself regardless of one’s feelings on the particular sport.
I arrived in Galle three days ago on one of my field visits. I was informed by one of the residents at the office where I’d be working that the West Indies were in the area playing a test match and that I should go see if I had the time. I nodded politely, aware that my schedule would not allow for such an excursion and simultaneously glad of that fact because it is has been a long time since I have been a fan of cricket. The years of West Indies’ lack lustre performance on the international scene did little to entice me back.
I arrived to the office on Thursday, my primary contact was on leave and the person who was to assist me with my work was away at a wedding but would try to make it back to the office by 3.30 to help me. After some work on some other projects it was clear that I suddenly had a huge hole in my schedule – but what was I to do with this time.
Cricket? I was told by one friend before leaving Barbados that I had to go watch a cricket match while in Sri Lanka, and while I told myself that it would have to be a 20/20 match, an afternoon of test cricket seemed just as good.
After an early lunch back at the hotel I boarded a three-wheeler and headed for the Galle International Cricket Ground. Admission was Rs.250 (approx. $2.50CAD/$5.00BB) somehow I had expected it to cost more but that was it and I was seated in the a pretty nice covered set of seats pretty much on the boundary. Though, to be fair Galle International is a pretty small ground so all the seats seem to be right on the boundary.
The grounds are located in the shadow of the historic fort built by the Portuguese. On the other side the Indian Ocean glistens, its shore lined with colourful fishing boats. Today is Day 4 of the match and Sri Lanka is at bat – 276/7.
I have long since forgotten the fielding names of the fielding positions but the basics of the game hang vaguely in the corners of my mind. I took my seat safely out of the reach of the blistering sun and began to observe the game – first, simply as a means of killing time; a promise I had made to a friend to partake in this ritual but soon it as more than that.
It was the first time since my arrival in Sri Lanka that I had seen black people in the flesh. It may seem a trivial thing but when one is constantly on display as some kind of novelty, every element from your odd skin colour to the texture of your hair critically examined; it’s a pleasant reminder that there are other people who look like you. That you aren’t actually an alien, people just look at you like you’re one.
But as the minutes ebbed away at the cricket ground the feeling I was experiencing was more than identifying with people of my own race. I was suddenly invested in this cricket match…amidst the rhythmic chants of "Sri Lanka" and the Sri Lankan flags and supporters I felt like the only one backing the West Indies and it was right that I should support them. Every saved run, every near miss and wicket that fell I felt it. This was my team.
A group of wide-eyed youngsters scrambled into the empty seats next to me, the area had previously been occupied by an old British couple which had since retreated from the turning sun. “Miss? Miss? You, West Indies?” A smile crossed my face…it was the first time since arriving here that my being black did not make me African. I proudly responded in the affirmative and they chattered excitedly amongst themselves in Sinhala before asking which country I was from. My limited Sinhala and their limited English meant that this would be the shortest of exchanges but it is definitely one which I will remember.
“Sri Lanka has lost their final wicket. 378 all out. They trail the West Indies by 202 runs” came the voice over the loud speaker. He repeated his announcement in Sinhala but I was no longer listening. I was the only person who applauded the catch that would bring the Sri Lankan inning to an end, beaming with pride in a team and sport that an hour and a half earlier I merely felt indifferent towards.
I’m not even sure of the present roster of players for the West Indies. There was a time I could recite the team in order and knew which batsmen were strongest in which position, but that time is long gone but today it didn’t matter. Today I was a West Indian watching a team that represented me and feeling a bit at home.
P.S. A camera man got pretty up close to me so if by any chance you see a black person with a frizzy coif in blue in any coverage of the first test match – That’s me!!
I’ll post pictures once I get back to Badulla and can get them off my camera but I just wanted to share.