Can anything but cricket unite our nation like this?

There’s a buzzing in my head, and a roar in my ears. The crowd has got its blood up. Men yell, women scream, children shriek. Many wave flags. Above the din, the warriors gird up to face the enemy on a merciless battlefield. Shouts go up as our champions rise to the occasion – and a deathly hush captures the souls encamped around when a man falls victim to skill, treachery, chance. The tally of the fallen and the gains they have made for each life sacrificed are the cynosure.

Arms are raised in defiance, blood pressures rise, calls of encouragement reverberate around the arena where these titans clash for glory and honour. Guilt, shame, and fear lie dead around the grounds – only pride and passion pound in the arteries of a mass of bodies whose heartbeat synchronizes like one giant organism.

The breath drawn in, and held… the eyes open wide… the mouth hangs open… dryness parches the palate – wait… and yes! The stadium erupts like a dyspeptic volcano as the game comes to a head, climaxes in a thrill after an agony of near-defeat and worrying hours of watching and yearning. And now at last the victors march back into the pavilion, like gladiators after mortal combat. A tsunami of relief and jubilation sweep over the assembled heads, and the tidal wave of jubilation is as palpable as the rocking of a cockleshell boat on stormy seas. Well played! Hurrah! The fight is done… it’s not quite cricket, but it is the game… if you know what I mean…

In moments like this, I want to burst into song so badly that it hurts my heart and lungs not to do so. The adrenaline is pumping, and the sinews are charged with a potent energy that will not be denied. We have been surprised by joy, and the pain of such pleasure is almost too much to bear. Look, warm salty tears of meaning and significance are flowing down the cheeks of many of those assembled here to see Sri Lanka romp home to wealth and happiness. But also, equally, in times such as these, I want to stamp my feet hard, or clench my fists tightly and slap balled fist into palm, or lie down with bitter laments surging through my clenched teeth. When I think of how this radiance will be dimmed tomorrow, and my fellow countrymen, women, and children will return to the solemn enclosures they inhabited before the game began. No, I want to plead: don’t leave this sacred enclosure! Stay here. And let us build a tent, a temple, a tabernacle so that the glory of one nation living as one can last forever. And not just for an awesome, awful, awe-inspiring night.

Can anything inspire our country like cricket can? Are there other principles and precepts that can compel us one and all to value the gift of nationhood that we were given, which we left to rack and left in ruin… and now have been given back again as a golden opportunity to own, grow, and gain from? What makes us move so synergistically as a smooth and organic unity when cricket is on; but turns us back into clashing and clanging parts of a monstrous ugly machine with individual entities that barely work, leave alone work together, when the lights are dimmed and the last fan has gone home? I know this reeks of exaggeration and nonsensical allusions, but the hyperbole and hoopla is the key to open a gateway to the nirvana of union that still eludes our nation. We worship the monolithic beast that is swallowing up all semblance of the democratic values we once loved and espoused, while at the same time we offer up these votive sacrifices from the comfort and sanctity of our perfectly safe and personal caves. My polemic against such rank individualism on the one hand and egregious ultra-nationalism on the other is (one hopes) a patch of purple prose with a singular purpose in mind…

Keep an eye on this value. That if a nation can be so united by something so alien to our culture, base in its aspirations, commercial, and desperate to please – but also exciting, feel-good, and glorious – as cricket… why, then, it can be united by something else as native, honourable, spiritual and selfless – to say nothing of positive, helpful, and perhaps even eternal – as an all new national identity. One that is not defined by whether Sri Lanka won, or played well enough to make us smile, or brought the trophy or glory or mere money home. Now if only we can persuade our nationalists and patriots and others of that ilk to drop the act, up their game, and begin the search for this evasive holy grail? It is more precious than any pursuit as mundane as winning the World Cup!

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