As much as I love to watch, scrutinise and play it, the fact is cricket in Australia is just a game. But in many parts of the cricket playing world, this game has a much wider ranging and important influence.
In an era where the various forms of cricket in socially and financially stable parts of the world are being referred to as ‘products’ and judged on the level of entertainment they afford the assumed minute attention spans of today’s viewer, it is important to take a small step back and view the game in a more vital light.
Sri Lanka is a nation that has suffered 30 years of civil war along with bearing the brunt of one of the worst natural disasters in the planet’s history (the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami).
And among this dreadful bloodshed and loss, the game of cricket has helped keep a population from losing all hope.
In a 2011 article written by Andy Bull for the Guardian in the UK, Sri Lanka’s brilliant keeper/batsman Kumar Sangakkara was quoted as saying “(in Sri Lanka) cricket has been the heal-all of social evils, the one thing that held the country together during 30 years of war.”
Many nations are in similar challenging situations and place the same amount of expectation and hopefulness onto their respective sporting representatives, but for the Sri Lankan cricket team the burden is both external and painfully personal.
Not only do they bear the weight of being a potential healing force for their nation, many members of the touring squad are still haunted by the day in March 2009 when gunmen on the streets of Lahore, Pakistan attacked their team bus.
Their captain Mahela Jayawardene, along with Sangakarra, was in the bus that day that ended with six police officers and two civilians dead.
Flying shrapnel and bullets wounded both, along with several other players and officials.
They survived only because of the quick thinking local bus driver who courageously drove his vehicle through the attack, and the players to safety.
A trip to a sporting ground to play a game of cricket had suddenly turned into a horrific ordeal against masked cowards who played a deadly game of horror and death.
The sheer trauma of such an incident should probably have ended more cricketing careers than it did. Jayawardene and his fellow Sri Lankans are obviously made of sterner stuff.
It may prove true that Sri Lanka are weaker in certain cricket playing areas (as former test quick Rodney Hogg bluntly and perhaps prematurely pointed out recently) than our much better financed and developed Test team.
But they have witnessed harder times than any anyone can face on a cricket field. They have a level of responsibility that many other cricket teams could only imagine, and in this sense it matters not how their results are judged.
The Sri Lankans represent a population that sees its cricket team as a conduit in testing its courage and resolve against the wider world, and this is what matters.
To this end the teams’ worth as members of the international cricket loving community will go beyond merely being a ‘ideal tune up’ for Australia as they look toward the Ashes and beyond, as has been condescendingly written.
Sri Lanka will play cricket in Australia as a game. They will ask no favours and nor should they receive any. Their skills and abilities will be tested in the toughest and most competitive of cricketing environments against one of the strongest teams in the world.
But while we enjoy the fierce competition between Australia and Sri Lanka, we should not underestimate the importance that this team has in its unifying and pride inducing role for a nation that is still grief stricken and healing from a generation of civil war and natural disaster.
The Sri Lankan cricket team will play a game of cricket, but continue to represent the will and hope of a nation’s future.