Sri Lanka lost their opening match of the tri-nation series Down Under. What is defeat however, to a team that has been battling misery for months and playing with empty purses against a side that is backed by the richest board in the world?
A 4-wicket defeat in itself shows that the winners did not have a dominating time on the field. And while Indian fans are docile enough to rejoice an overseas ODI victory after a little over seven months (despite humiliating defeats again and again), Lankan fans may just be equally pleased that they have a team, at all.
On the tour of England and then again in Australia, media, experts and fans kept lamenting India's lack of fight. A country came together to wonder why Sachin Tendulkar was unable to complete his 100th international century. Why seniors are not being rested and who is the best alternative to MS Dhoni as captain. Trivial queries if compared.
While an entire nation debated the above, there was another down below which had issues much more prolific - money and form. So while India debated the worth of new coach Duncan Fletcher, Sri Lanka fired theirs. While Dhoni was lambasted and retained as skipper, Tillakaratne Dilshan gave up his leadership role to let Mahela Jayawardene try his luck. The age-old debate of cricket vs IPL for Indian players persisted for the men in (this shade of) blue as defeat came thick and fast and around the same time, there were reports of Sri Lankan players determined to play for passion even without pay.
"We were not consulted (by the Sri Lankan board) on the coach and the captain. But we are here to play cricket. Our job is to concentrate on our cricket and that's all we can do," said vice-captain Angelo Mathews before the match at WACA. "Eventually we would get paid. Cricket board is trying to sort it out. Hopefully, they would come up with a good answer in near future. We are playing for the love of the game,"
Cricket is a game of spirit and Sri Lankan players have shown that they are in-tune with what most other national teams have sidelined. The team is in near tatters and the players have not turned a blind eye to this reality (read above quote from Mathews). Did Dilshan blame injuries or form when South Africa thrashed his side? No. Did Jayawardene give lofty ideas when asked of his plans for the team? No. Did the players refuse to tour Australia without pay? No. Did the Sri Lankan fans stop dancing and singing in the stands at WACA? No.
Actions speak louder than words is not just another phrase from the English language. Sri Lanka - the team and the fans - have shown that the lion on their national flag is not just a mute symbol but a sign of their spirit. To this humbled Indian fan, Sri Lanka truly comes across as the real champion of the sport, whatever the result and the ranking. And if Lankan fans rejoiced on Wednesday thinking their team denied Sachin a fifty, dare who may question them?