Hello Madras, can you love all Sri Lankans like you do Pathirana?


Young Matheesha Pathirana has become the cynosure of all eyes in Madras. His match-winning effort the other night in the epic clash between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians has made him a household name in the south Indian city.

Not many Sri Lankan sides have gone to Bombay and covered themselves in glory in recent years. Oh, yes. There was the 55 all out in November last year inside 20 overs to suffer a 302-run loss. That was embarrassing and that margin of defeat eventually cost Sri Lanka a place in the Champions Trophy.

To see a Sri Lankan silencing a packed Wankhede Stadium was a treat to watch indeed. Lasith Malinga, Sanath Jayasuriya and T.M. Dilshan have had their moments in the IPL, but this Pathirana is taking it all to a new level.

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Pathirana is not the only Sri Lankan the state of Tamil Nadu has embraced. Puratchi Thalivar M.G. Ramachandran, also born in Kandy like Pathirana, ruled Tamil Nadu for ten years as Chief Minister from 1977 until his death in 1987.

CSK has used Pathirana cleverly. He has only played three of their six games this season and every time he has turned up, the 21-year-old has had an impact for the IPL’s one of the most successful franchises.

Some wonder why he hasn’t had the same effect for Sri Lanka. For that, of course, you should give full credit to the way master tactician M.S. Dhoni has handled him. Sri Lanka’s selectors should have listened when Dhoni warned them against overusing the raw talent of Pathirana. Stick to T-20s only for the time being.

While Pathirana has become a sensation in Madras, you wonder when they will give the same warmth to the Sri Lankan cricket team? The national cricket team hasn’t played in Madras for 20 years now. We are persona non grata in the South Indian city.

There was a lot of hope that Madras boycotting the Sri Lankan team will end during the recent World Cup that India hosted. Local authorities were confident that Sri Lanka will at least play one game there. However, the organizers feared troubles if Sri Lanka were in Madras and were happy to slot them at other centers. As a result, the team played two games each in Bangalore, Delhi and Lucknow.

Some people who are well versed with what’s happening back in Madras are of the opinion that the Sri Lankan boycott has nothing to do with the public. It’s the politicians who make all the noise.

Time was when Sri Lankan players were warmly welcomed in Madras. Of course, the now defunct Gopalan Trophy was a regular fixture in the good old days.

Subsequently when Sri Lanka toured India, Madras was slotted a game every time.

There are of course some fabulous memories. Duleep Mendis recalls the reception that he received after scoring hundreds in each innings in the 1982 Test.

Roy Dias felt the same affection although he didn’t make a hundred during Sri Lanka’s first ever Test match in India. He made 60 and 97 in that game in Madras.

World Cup winning skipper Arjuna Ranatunga is quite popular too and in January this year attended a wedding where he was the witness. A few years ago, Aravinda de Silva had got mobbed coming out of a restaurant by adoring fans. This wasn’t even when he was playing. This was well into his retirement.

So, certainly, there’s no problems with the fans. These are issues that are beyond cricket that are preventing the Sri Lankan team from playing in one of the iconic places in the game.

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Madras’ cricket ground – Chepauk – has a lot of history and tradition. When India hosted its first Test series, way back in 1934, Madras was one of the venues that was chosen to play the series with others being Bombay and Calcutta.

Madras has witnessed many records including the highest total ever made on Indian soil – 759 for seven declared by Virat Kohli’s side against England. There have been only two triple hundreds scored in India and both have come in Madras – Virender Sehwag and Karun Nair. It feels not alright to not to play at such a revered venue.

Bombay may be the headquarters of Indian cricket and Calcutta has so much hype, but you get the feeling that the most knowledgeable of Indian fans are in Madras.

Although you really feel that the Sri Lankan team should soon play in Madras, the reality is that it might not happen anytime soon. Pathirana has won over the fans of Madras and it is time that he wins over their politicians too.