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Last Updated: Friday, 30 July, 2004, 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK
Love of cricket unites Sri Lanka

By Ayanjit Sen
BBC, Colombo

Belonging to the minority Tamil community, Pradeep Jayprakash is a promising 19-year-old fast bowler in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lanka cricket team consisting of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims have only goal
Muttiah Muralitharan
Jayprakash, who plays for a leading cricket club, Tamil Union, says he was celebrating and did not sleep the entire night when the Sri Lankan team won the World Cup in 1996.

"Cricket fever has transcended the island's ethnic conflict between the Tamil and the majority Sinhalese people. It is time peace returned permanently in this island," he says.

For years now, he has seen images of gun battles, land mine blasts, bombs and killings which have also flashed across the world.

A Tamil rebel group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or the LTTE, had been fighting the government forces in this island for nearly two decades.

Violence in the country has prompted the authorities to place stringent security measures for visiting teams since the early years of international cricket in Sri Lanka.

But many local cricketers feel the game has been a binding factor in the strife-torn island.

The present Sri Lankan team has a member of the Tamil community that the entire country can boast of - star spinner Muttiah Muralitharan.

When Muralitharan's surprise doosra delivery was banned by the International Cricket Council, the entire country rallied behind him including the Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapakse.

Muralitharan says many of his fans belong to the Sinhalese community.

"Peace is what is required in this country," he says.

"The Sri Lanka cricket team consisting of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims have only goal - to perform well and bring laurels to the country."

Some of these Tamils are really good despite the fact that facilities there are not great
Chandra Schaffter
Former Sri Lanka manager
Chandra Schaffter, the manager of the World Cup winning Sri Lankan side, says the game has united the country.

Though there are not many Tamil cricketers who are playing the national league, there are many of them in schools whose talents are expected to lead them far.

Schaffter points to some talented young cricketers in Jaffna in the northern heartland of the country's Tamil community who he believes have the potential to become world-class cricketers.

"Some of these Tamils are really good despite the fact that facilities there are not great," he says.

Pradeep Jayprakash
Fast bowler Pradeep Jayprakash is a big Tamil hope
"I have even seen them putting plasters around cricket balls to hold them together."

But, this passion can also found back in the capital Colombo where both Tamils and Sinhalese wave the Sri Lankan flag together and cheer for the team when a match is going on.

Sri Lankan cricket has come a long way from the visit of Sir Donald Bradman's Australian team in 1948 to a team which trounced Australia to win the World Cup.

All this has been achieved due to cricketers for whom the country means much more than divided communities.


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