The 1996 World Cup saw some creative banners at cricket venues.
‘Aussie PM is Keating,
Aussies are cheating,’ one of the banners said.
‘Hair or no Hair
Murali’s balls are fair,’ said another.
There was tension between Australia and Sri Lanka after security in Colombo became a bone of contention and these banners were targeting the Aussies. The best one liner of course was produced by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.
Prior to the start of the tournament when Shane Warne was asked why he was not willing to go to Sri Lanka, the leg-spinner had said that a bomb might go off in Colombo while he is shopping.
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Fans were waiting for someone to take on the Australian spinner when a television reporter reminded Kadirgamar about Warne’s statement. He simply replied, ‘Shopping is for sissies.’
All hell broke loose as there was a storm of protest in Australia. To cool things down, Kadir sent a bouquet of flowers to his Australian counterpart – Gareth Evans, the Foreign Minister. Kadir later said, ‘Flowers are also for sissies.’
A cricketer himself having played for Trinity College, where he was the recipient of Ryde Gold Medal, Kadir was looking forward for the World Cup in his own backyard and it was the refusal of Australia and West Indies to come to Colombo that came as a bitter pill to swallow. He tried his level best speaking to some of his top contacts to get the decision reversed but to no avail.
Eventually when a joint India-Pakistan team played a friendly match at RPS to prove that security in Colombo was not an issue, he came to the ground to greet the players against security advice. Kadir was a prime target of the LTTE for many years.
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When the tension died off, the Australian players embraced Sri Lanka warmly and they were welcomed by local fans. Warne himself toured Sri Lanka to play two Test series in 1999 and 2004. The second series was his return from a drug ban and he went onto claim 26 wickets at 20, still a record against Sri Lanka by a bowler. Australia went onto complete a 3-0 clean sweep in that series.
He also made a quick visit after the tsunami later that year. His arrival brought the world media to Sri Lanka and he took a trip to Galle to look at the devastation. Only nine months before that he had taken a match bag of ten wickets in Galle to guide Australia to a thrilling win. He pledged his support to help the Galle International Stadium rebuild.
Steve Waugh whose two autobiographies – ‘Never Satisfied’ and ‘Out of my Comfort Zone’ give detailed descriptions about what took place behind the scenes when Australia decided not to honour their World Cup fixture in Colombo.
Waugh goes onto describe how during the 1999 tour, he had come out of the team hotel at Taj Samudra and started jogging at the Galle Face Green and soon found two other guys in track bottoms accompanying him. They were soldiers protecting the team.
Then about a hundred meters from where he was running, armed soldiers were keeping a close eye to ensure he was safe. Waugh goes onto say that he felt like a ‘head of a state’ for a brief while.
During that tour, Waugh hurt his nose – broken into pieces – after a nasty collision with Jason Gillespie attempting a catch off Mahela Jayawardene. Gillespie returned home and was ruled out for several months. Waugh despite medical advice not to play the next game at SSC went onto lead the Australian side in a bid to square the series.
He is highly appreciative of the Sri Lankan medical staff in his book and that’s perhaps the best complement our health sector has received from a foreigner.