Aussie cricketers finally win Lankan hearts
Aaron Finch has paid tribute to Sri Lankan cricket fans after they turned Colombo's largest stadium yellow on Friday night to thank Australia for touring the country despite the economic crisis.
Sri Lanka is in the midst of its worst financial crisis since independence in 1948, forcing the island nation's population to endure power cuts, shortages and months of sometimes violent protests.
Thousands of local fans donned the yellow that the Australia team wears in limited overs cricket as they flocked to the R. Premadasa Stadium on Friday after a social media campaign called on them to pay tribute to the tourists.
"It was outstanding, the Sri Lankan people are wonderful people," Finch added.
In 1996, Australia refused to play its opening match of the World Cup in Colombo, citing security fears after a bomb exploded in the Sri Lankan capital the previous month killing more than 80 people. Later that year, Australia refused to play a two-match Test cricket series in Sri Lanka in August.
Three years later, in 1999, Muttiah Muralitharan "chucking" row boiled over at Adelaide Oval in 199, when play was held up for 12 minutes after the Sri Lankans protested umpire Ross Emerson's no-ball call for throwing in the one-day international against England.
Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga gestured to his players to walk off to the dressing room after Muralitharan had been called from the square leg by umpire Emerson — one of three Australian umpires who had no-balled the Sri Lankan for throwing three years ago.
As Ranatunga argued with umpires, Muralitharan's team-mates threw their arms around him, consoling the dejected player. When play resumed, Muralitharan completed the remaining two balls of his second over without further incident. Ranatunga brought him on at the other end straight away, away from the critical gaze of Emerson, now standing at the bowler's end. Muralitharan bowled three overs from Emerson's end uneventfully.
23 years later, the Australian cricket team became a toast of the Island nation.
Australia won the T20I series 2-1 before Sri Lanka hit back with a 3-2 triumph in the ODIs. The tour concludes with two Test matches in Galle starting next week.
Amid a glow of golden shirts worn in thanks for Australia's visit to a nation in distress, Sri Lanka's ODI-series winning side shared in the goodwill by handing over a dead-rubber victory to the visitors in Colombo.
"It was outstanding, the Sri Lankan people are wonderful people," Finch added. "The support that they provide is second to none. They are great cricket supporters, it's not just constant noise, they ride the emotions of the game. When Sri Lanka are up and about, that's as loud as anywhere you'll visit in the world."