Sri Lanka: For ‘Uncle Percy’ cricket is stronger than ‘crazy man’ in politics

GALLE: Sri Lanka’s Percy Abeysekara, an old cricket fan, has rarely missed a Sri Lankan team game since the first Test against England in 1982 and it is not today’s crisis that will eliminate him, however disastrous.

40 years ago, a person whom connoisseurs nicknamed “Uncle Percy” escorted, under the huge Sri Lankan flag, the famous British batsman Chris Tavare on the pitch of the P. Sara Oval international cricket stadium, in Colombo, the capital.

A staunch supporter of the national team, the respect he shows for opposing teams stands out, with grace, from the rudeness exchanged between the fans and sometimes even the players of certain teams.

Now 85 years old, this familiar place inevitably accompanies the Sri Lankan team, win or not, after every game, the colors of the country are still floating above his hat.

The old man was naturally at the Galle International Stadium, south of Colombo, for the second Test against Australia earlier this month when hundreds of protesters demanding the departure of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa climbed the walls of the old fort overlooking the cricket pitch.

In Colombo, residents, plagued by months of shortages of food, electricity, fuel and medicine, were on the verge of overthrowing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Since then, the latter has found refuge in Singapore where he has resigned.

“Our team is doing much better than Sri Lankan politicians,” said Mr Abeysekara. “Not a single politician comes close to these cricketers,” he told AFP, “they’re not politicians, they’re crazy.”

And to add: “I hate politics”.

He worked 59 years for the same Sri Lankan company, ACL cables. But he twice refused to sit on the Sri Lankan cricket board of directors who asked him to.

respect the loser»

“There are three things I hate in the world, first politics, then cricket administration and finally birth control,” the outspoken grandfather said.

One of his two grandchildren is named Garfield – after West Indian batsman Sir Garfield Sobers, who was the first to achieve “six sixes” in first-class matches, and the other is named Sachinka, in reference to the great Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar.

Cricket offers Sri Lankans rare entertainment in the hardships of their daily life.

Pakistan is currently on tour on an Indian Ocean island looking to bounce back on Sunday from defeat in the first Test.

A resident of Colombo, Pak Abeysekara joined Galle by bus to attend a series of matches, but had to walk to the stadium due to the lack of a tuk-tuk (triporteur).

“I’ve never seen a crisis like that”, he reassured, but “I saw world wars, I saw tsunamis, I saw the uprisings of the Tamil Tigers…”

Her friends and family arranged for her accommodations at all the venues she attended.

‘Uncle Percy’ saw Australian cricket legend Don Bradman play in Colombo in 1948 when he was just 12 years old. Nearly half a century later, he watched Sri Lanka beat Australia in Lahore (Pakistan) and win the 50-over Cricket World Cup, one of the most important things in his life.

Former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe offered him the man-of-the-match trophy and India’s Virat Kohli during a tour of Sri Lanka in 2015 invited him into the visitors’ locker room.

“When the Great Marker comes to write your name, he doesn’t write that you win or lose, but how you play,” he likes to say, quoting American sports journalist Grantland Rice.

It’s about, he says, “playing fair, cheering the winners and honoring the losers”.

Garfield Woolery

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