Cricket Bonds Sri Lankans' Enduring Affection for Pakistan

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Cricket Bonds: Sri Lankans’ Enduring Affection for Pakistan

Cricket, Cricket News

Colombo, Sri Lanka – In the heart of Colombo, amidst the bustling streets and vibrant neighborhoods, a deep-seated affection for Pakistan’s cricket team has blossomed among the people of Sri Lanka. For many Sri Lankans, this love affair with Pakistan’s cricketing prowess goes beyond the boundaries of the game and resonates through decades of friendship and camaraderie between the two South Asian nations.

A 27-Year Love Affair

Kalana Weerasinghe, a proud Sri Lankan cricket enthusiast, vividly recalls the moment that ignited his enduring support for Pakistan’s cricket team. It was 27 years ago when Sri Lanka clinched its maiden Cricket World Cup in Lahore, Pakistan. The captivating memory of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto presenting the gleaming gold and silver winner’s trophy to Sri Lanka’s captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, remains etched in his mind.

But what made this moment truly special was the unwavering support of the Pakistani crowd at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. As Sri Lanka battled Australia for cricket’s ultimate prize, thousands of Pakistanis unreservedly cheered for the Sri Lankan team. Every boundary struck by legendary cricketer Aravinda De Silva was met with thunderous applause, and the sea of Pakistan flags waved in solidarity.

Since that day, Kalana Weerasinghe has been donning his green Pakistan replica shirt whenever the Pakistani cricket team plays in Colombo. “I will never forget how all Pakistanis backed us then, so I have been backing Pakistan ever since,” he proudly shared during Pakistan’s Asia Cup Super 4 match against India at the R Premadasa Stadium.

A Decades-Old Bond

The connection between Sri Lanka and Pakistan extends far beyond the cricket field. These South Asian nations share a profound history of friendship and mutual support. It all began in 1948 when Sri Lanka gained independence, and Pakistan was among the first to recognize the newly formed nation.

During the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, Sri Lanka opened its air bases to Pakistani jets for refueling, showcasing the depth of their defensive cooperation. Decades later, during Sri Lanka’s struggle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist group, Pakistan provided vital military support, sending equipment and officials to assist the Sri Lankan army.

When Pakistan faced security challenges from armed groups, Sri Lanka reciprocated by offering to train the Pakistani army in counterterrorism operations. This history of unwavering support transcends the realms of diplomacy and extends to the cricket pitch.

Cricket: A Unifying Force

On the cricket field, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have shared numerous bilateral series and tours when other cricket teams hesitated due to security concerns. The fateful attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in March 2009 left six Sri Lankan players injured. While it shocked the Sri Lankan public, their government and cricketers stood by Pakistan, pledging their support.

The Pakistani bus driver, hailed as a hero for ensuring the team’s safety, was invited on a sponsored holiday to Sri Lanka a month later by the Sri Lankan government. In the aftermath of the attack, Pakistan’s cricket stars found solace in the unwavering support of their Sri Lankan counterparts.

In 2009, as Sri Lanka’s long-standing civil war came to an end, Pakistan reciprocated by sending its cricket team to tour Sri Lanka, aiming to restore international cricket in the island nation. A decade later, Sri Lanka returned the favor by touring Pakistan, bolstering the country’s efforts to resume hosting international cricket amid security concerns.

A Special Connection

Beyond political alliances and cricketing ties, Sri Lankans have always had a special place in their hearts for Pakistani cricketers. Even before Pakistan became a dominant force in world cricket in the 1990s, Sri Lankans held their Pakistani counterparts in high regard.

Today, Babar Azam and his team have found a second home in Sri Lanka. The Pakistani cricket team, with its star captain, has captured the hearts of Sri Lankans. In a unique display of camaraderie, even Indian cricket fans in Sri Lanka openly express their support for Pakistan.

Lamerika Rajeswaran, an Indian resident of Colombo, voiced her admiration for Babar Azam during an India-Pakistan match, transcending national borders in her appreciation for cricketing talent.

For Mohammed, a Sri Lankan Uber driver, supporting Pakistan is more than just a cricketing choice; it is a matter of emotional connection. He once openly proclaimed his allegiance to the Pakistani cricket team but now does so discreetly. In a country where Muslims constitute 9.2 percent of the population, and the majority religion is Buddhism, openly expressing support for Pakistan can sometimes be met with challenges.

However, Mohammed passionately speaks of his love for Pakistani cricketers like Shoaib Akhtar, Wasim Akram, and Shaheen Shah Afridi. He attributes his support to a special connection with Pakistanis, a sentiment shared by many in Sri Lanka’s Muslim community.

aljazeera.com

Cricket Unites Communities

The R Premadasa Stadium, nestled in the densely populated Muslim neighborhood of Khettarama, becomes a vibrant hub of excitement whenever the Pakistan cricket team is in town. Rows of narrow, multistory houses encircle the stadium, adorned with brightly painted mosques of varying sizes.

During Pakistan’s matches, the neighborhood comes alive with stalls selling Sri Lankan-made replica Pakistan cricket merchandise. Special prayers for the team’s success resonate in the area’s main mosque.

In the midst of this cricket fervor, S Keerthilal, a former Sri Lankan army soldier who now runs a tourist taxi service, expressed his disappointment with some of his fellow Sri Lankan Muslims for not supporting their national team

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