Cricket proves welcome distraction from bloodshed in Sri Lanka

Aug 2, 2006 (AFP) – As the bloody ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka escalates, people in the island nation are turning to their top-flight cricket team to provide a balm for the misery. When Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels were locked in the bloodiest ground battle since 2002 on Monday, the nation’s cricketers were cheering some 4,000 home fans in the capital with a resounding victory over South Africa.

The massive first Test win by an innings and 153 runs also featured a world-record stand of 624 between skipper Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, further boosting morale at the serene Sinhalese sports club.

“What else do we have except cricket?” asked Colombo resident Rohan Wijesekera. “Prices are going over the roof, the economy is in a shambles, the tourists have dried up.

“Thank God, we still have our cricket.”

Cricket and the war in the north-east have co-existed side by side for decades with the country’s favourite sport thriving despite the killings and bombings that have become a way of life here.

More than 60,000 people have been killed in the three-decade-old Tamil separatist conflict, but that appears to have had little effect on the cricket.