Overcast conditions with a slight south-westerly breeze blowing in from the Indian Ocean. The pitch length just slightly shorter then regulation, with a short straight boundary, marked out with three sticks and a line in the sand.
Each stump of different height and from a different make of tree, and while the ‘auto-wicky’ rule is in play, the length of the boat sitting in this position suggests a six-man cordon and a couple of leg slips.
Welcome to beach cricket in Sri Lanka. A country that has provided world cricket with the likes of Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara, who all hail from small provinces of this island.
The passion and love for cricket from Sri Lankans come as no surprise to the rest of the world, however the enthusiasm and desire to watch, play and experience this game can only come from witnessing a group of friends begin a competitive social game.
During the summer holidays, beaches around Australia will be filled with cricket being played on the sand, generally with an esky as stumps, a few mates fielding at deep mid-wicket in the water and perhaps a passerby acting as a sweeper on the off-side. However, there is always a jovial mood set with no real rules or expectations on how the game is played.
More than likely, after a few minutes of batting, a catch is hit and everyone rotates. Compare this to the ‘social’ games in Sri Lanka and you see a much more competitive environment, with two teams selected.
Those not batting are awaiting their turn behind the stumps. Two batsmen running between the wickets act as if they are channelling Usain Bolt over 20 metres. The bowler taking his time to manoeuvre his field into the right positions – even sending the square-leg fielder deeper and deeper into the water.
The cry for lbw can be heard all the way down to another game 100 metres away. A six is celebrated as much as a drop and run single. While similar in appearances, these two games are so different. In fact, the Australian beach cricket game might well and truly be finished before the Sri Lankan opening bowler has finished setting his field.
The story of Malinga’s rise to international fame began on the beaches of Rathgama, where he developed his unusual action from trying to get pace on the ball by skidding it through with a lower-arm action.
His story is unusual, however the one consistent theme is he developed his skill through playing cricket and a lot of it. The cricket he was playing was competitive, with modified rules created to suit the environment he and his friends were playing in and he developed his action in such conditions.
Former Australian captain Greg Chappell, for quite a number of years, has discussed the decrease in play that is occurring in Australian backyards. A mix of the growing number of housing developments, \’busy’ lifestyles and other distractions, Australian children are less likely to play cricket, rather rely on structured training at their local club.
The benefits of unstructured play allow those involved to make decisions, practice under pressure and shape their game in accordance to the environment. These skills can be then transferred into a structured game.
Without play, these cricketers are relying on developing these important game skills at training, which is reliant on a creative coach and time – which are both often lacking at local clubs around Australia.
Australia will continue to produce fine cricketers as we have the resources to continually provide pathways to the top level. However, with the increase in distractions and the promotion of other sports, the opportunity for young cricketers to experiment with their skills and develop their game sense is becoming less and less, and therefore may influence the amount of talented cricketers in the future.
The enthusiasm, passion and love for cricket in Sri Lanka is evident no matter where you travel to in the country. Despite the lack of resources and funding, these players make the most of the time spent playing, which consistently challenges their skills and asks them to adapt their techniques accordingly.
This suggests the future of cricket is bright for Sri Lanka. Mix this passion and enthusiasm with some homegrown talent and a clearer pathway to the top, then the 1996 World Cup victory memories may well be re-lived.
As the game was coming to a close on that beach in Tangalle, and the sun was starting to set over the Indian Ocean, it was clear that not only were these local cricketers still chasing the ball down as if it was part of a final, they were chasing their dream of one day representing their country.
The dismissed Lewis Gregory, Edgbaston crowd, commentators, and viewers were all left in disbelief – as was Jordan Cox himself. Kent’s Joe Denly described the moment of brilliant teamwork by calling it “as good as [he’s] ever seen.”