Knowing the Lankans

We played in the true spirit of the gentlemans game.

It is said that every person has a novel or book in him, although noted British novelist Jeffrey Archer recently rubbished this notion.

Similarly, every cricket-loving Indian has his/her favourite cricket story to tell. It may be about the time they got an autograph from a star cricketer or shook hands with him or a memorable match witnessed in a stadium.

My favourite story goes back to a quarter of a century, when I played for India against Sri Lanka. When I thus begin my story, there are jeers and sneers from the listeners. But it is for real and no dream. I was a shore purser at Mangalore Port for a shipping company which represented as an agent for the Sri Lankan government’s Ceylon Shipping Corporation. One of their container ships, “Lanka Muditha” called every fortnight carrying cargo from Bombay, Goa, Mangalore and Kochi to its home port of call, Colombo.

Every time the ship called at Mangalore Port, the ship’s crew including the first, second and third mate, quarter masters, radio officer and other crew members formed the Sri Lankan team and they brought out their bats, balls and wickets from the ship. Normally, nothing can come out of the ship without a cargo manifest and proper documentation. But the cricketing gear was an exception. The Indian team comprised of documentation executives, port employees, employees of the ship’s agency and even an odd casual labourer.

The game was played on the wharf, while the cargo was being loaded. “This time we are going to defeat India”, the Radio Officer would say while coming to the crease. “But you have consistently lost in Test matches”, a player from the Indian side would remark. “We only started playing Test cricket in 1982. We have improved. We will win”, a mate would interject. And similar remarks of rivalry and revelry would be made by the opposing players.

“Poi-ye” there would be screams from the Indian side, whenever a Sri Lankan batsman was out. It is a Tulu word which means, ‘Gone’ but it can also mean ‘out’ in cricket parlance. And thus the game would go on, until the players were tired or the loading of cargo was completed. They won some and we won some. We played in the true spirit of the gentleman’s game. The next venue for the Sri Lankan team would be the next port of call.

Since then, a lot of water has flown down the Palk Strait. Test cricket has progressed into ODIs, T20s and IPL. Sri Lankan players are now a part of the IPL teams. This year 13 Sri Lankan players are participating in IPL. Every IPL team, except one, has two or more Sri Lankan players. It is therefore sad that they will not be allowed to play in Chennai. They are good players, whether professionals or amateurs. I know this for sure. I once played with them.

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