Even in the outskirts of the hill city of Kandy, anticipation has grown for their hosting of one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events.
It is not an unremarkable city. On account of Kandy and its environs being 500 metres higher than Colombo and purportedly superior for having resisted colonialism for three centuries longer than the coasts of Sri Lanka, the aristocracy here will deride the capital as a crime-ridden, sweat-fest.
This week, the city also hosted the Esala Perahera, the most dazzling Buddhist procession on the island, which begins at the Palace of the island’s last king. Do not disrespect this location.
Who could reasonably oppose India versus Pakistan? On the eve of this encounter, the Abeetha Ground, a little less than two kilometres from the Pallekele Stadium, was jam-packed with ticket-seekers.
The Sri Lanka vs. Bangladesh match was only about sixty percent full, owing in part to the exorbitant ticket prices set by the Pakistan Cricket Board, the official hosts of this Asia Cup.
But for this game, the PCB has made cheaper tickets available to locals, especially in Pallekele’s extremely popular grass banks.
This is nearly the same price (approximately LKR 1,500, or approximately USD 5) as tickets for Bangladesh versus Sri Lanka. But perhaps because the India vs. Pakistan match is on a Saturday, demand for these tickets is higher.
On the pitch, while the teams trained, the atmosphere was relatively calm. Two nations that share so much (language, culture, cuisine) should not be so irreconcilably opposed, so the argument goes.
On the eve of this important match, both India and Pakistan desired to train under the lighting. Shaheen Afridi and Babar Azam were jogging through their warm-ups and later fielding exercises less than 50 metres away from where Mohammad Siraj was bowling bouncers to Virat Kohli, as Pallekele had the facilities to have them both in at the same time.
The guidance staff of Pakistan was joking with their athletes. Pakistan’s bowling instructor, Morne Morkel, ran in with a few strides and bowled mostly off-side wides to the batter in the centre net.
Babar paused in the nets area adjacent to the field whenever Suryakumar Yadav or Shreyas Iyer, batting three nets away, sounded like they middled a ball.
Occasionally, pyrotechnics launched in western Amritsar can be observed in eastern Lahore.
BCCI officials are slated to visit Pakistan next week. PCB officials are scheduled to greet them at the frontier. This is the current status of the plans.
However, this is South Asia. Calls from ministers of high stature occur. Frequently, nationalist sentiments outweigh meaningful outreach.
On the pitch, eleven men play cricket against eleven other men. Shadab Khan and Mohammad Rizwan were greeted by Kohli at the top of the stairs, near the dressing rooms, as the tandem practise session at Pallekele concluded. Shadab and Kohli paused to converse.
At the press conferences, in a small room near the nets where dozens of sweaty media dudes (almost all dudes) gathered to ingest every word spoken by the captain of each team, Rohit Sharma stated, “They are a very good team, and they’ve performed exceptionally well over the past few years, both in the T20 World Cup and the 50-over format.
No team becomes number one overnight. Pakistan, which has laboured arduously to get there, appears to be a cohesive organism. We will face a formidable opponent if we play against them.”
Babar has been equally charitable to India’s cricketers in the past. On this neutral ground, despite the fact that both teams are undoubtedly aware of the magnitude of the occasion, their preparations had a straightforward, no-big-deal, going-through-the-motions vibe.
On Saturday, when the contest starts live, there may be hundreds of millions of viewers. In the stands will be tens of thousands of spectators, whose allegiances may be divided (Sri Lankans are traditionally fans of Pakistan, but have recently grown enamoured of India as well, though this is most common when India play teams from outside South Asia).
Perhaps because of its climate, Kandy seems like a suitable location for this match. A suitable perch for monarchs.