"Many of life`s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." - Thomas A. Edison.
Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews might have read this wise thought somewhere, before heading to England. Even though his team had not received its financial dues for long, Sri Lanka played their heart out against England and won the series, fighting against all odds.
When you are short of cash as an international cricketer, your morale is likely to take a dip. Sri Lankan cricket has, of late, witnessed some of the worst times financially. But that did not seem to affect their performance at all. Months after beating India convincingly in the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, Mathews and his boys stunned England in their own backyard, in a series where the second Test was another testimony to the fact that Test cricket is here to stay.
Ahead of the series nobody would have thought, not even the Lankans, I reckon, that they would emerge victorious. After all, this team didn`t have threatening seamers who could bowl out England twice. But then, they had Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara – two of the finest and the most hard-working cricketers the game has ever seen. Both these legends didn`t hit mammoth scores which would have made headlines, but they scored several pivotal half-centuries, which had `never-give-up` written all over them.
Sri Lanka also had a skipper in Angelo Mathews, who was determined not to give up. Mathews, who is known more for his batting skills, also shared the burden of taking wickets with his young seam attack. After scoring a brilliant ton in the first Test, Mathews not only followed it with a spectacular 160-run knock, but also dismissed four English batsmen in the first innings. There was no way his team-mates were going to let him down after such significant performances. The strength of the Sri Lankan team has always been their unity, both on the field and off it.
Upul Tharanga, who has represented Sri Lanka in 172 ODIs and 15 Tests, was left homeless as a devastating Tsunami ravaged at the coastal areas of Sri Lanka in December 2004. The Tsunami blew away several hard-earned trophies and even his kit. He had nothing left. It was the legendary Sangakkara, who extended a helping hand to his panic-stricken team-mate. Sangakkara not only supported Tharanga financially, but also gave him his bat and a kit. So probably when Tharanga played cricket the next time, he made sure to `live` each and every game and not just play it.
The Lankans are known to support each other on the cricket field. It was unity and not spectacular performances, which won them their first series in England in 20 years.
The Indian cricket team will be playing a five-match Test series with England beginning from July 9. MS Dhoni and his boys, who for sure have no financial burdens, can learn a lot from the Sri Lankan team. There was nothing spectacular about Sri Lanka`s performance in England. If you see their bowling line up, players like Nuwan Pradeep, Shaminda Eranga, Dhammika Prasad are still unheard of, and you could any day confuse one for the other. But it was their never-say-die spirit which earned them massive respect across the world.
The Indian team has been pathetic in overseas tours in the last few years. The team doesn`t have bowlers who can knock off helmets every now and then, but neither did Sri Lanka. It wasn`t the pace or a flurry of boundaries which gobsmacked Cook, but the intent.
"We take time to acclimatise," is something which we all are tired of hearing. The Indian skipper needs to show nerves of steel like Mathews, who had the belief that they could win the second Test and the series, even when they needed to dismiss England`s last pair, with just two balls remaining.
MS Dhoni needs to lead from the front. While those hefty endorsement deals will continue to inflate his bank account, the 32-year-old needs to understand that there are Indian fans dying to watch him celebrate with the Indian team on foreign soil, just like Mathews and his boys, who were determined to excel despite owning meagre bank accounts.