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Even the biggest crisis of Lanka cannot reduce this 85-year-old cricket craze

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Percy Abasekera watches the cricket test match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan

Galle, Sri Lanka:

Cricket junkie Percy Abasekera has been a frequent presence in Sri Lanka’s matches since their first Test against England in 1982 – and even the country’s worst economic crisis can’t keep him away.

Forty years ago, a man now affectionately known as “Uncle Percy”, took England batsman Chris Taware to the pitch at the P Sara Oval in the capital Colombo, holding the Sri Lankan flag.

Now since 85, she has been a regular feature, allowed by Sri Lanka’s cricket authorities to accompany the team after every game on the field, win or lose, still carrying her flag.

And as an ardent supporter of his national side, he is known for the respect with which he treats the opposition – a far cry from the sledging employed by some teams’ fans and even their players. .

Naturally, he was in Galle earlier this month when hundreds of protesters climbed the walls of the ancient fort during the second Test against Australia to demand the removal of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The host country is grappling with its worst economic crisis since independence, without foreign exchange to pay for essential goods, including fuel and medicines, and is headed for widespread shortages.

Hours later, a furious mob in Colombo forced the president to flee his home, and a few days later he flew abroad before submitting his resignation.

“Our team’s performance is better than the performance of politicians in Sri Lanka,” Abasekera said.

“No politician can match these cricketers,” he told AFP. “They’re not politicians, they’re crazy.”

“I hate politics,” he said.

Abisekera was twice invited to join the Sri Lankan Cricket Board, but he declined the position.

“There are three things that I don’t like all over the world, one is politics, the other is cricket administration, and the third is birth control,” he said.

His grandson is named Garfield after the West Indian sobers, who is the first batsman to hit six sixes in a first-class over, and is Sachina to Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar.

‘Respect the loser’

Cricket has offered Sri Lankan players a way to distract from their country’s troubles, which have drawn a 1-1 Test series after a 3-2 one-day series win over Australia.

With Pakistan currently touring the Indian Ocean island, the hosts are looking to bounce back from a loss in the first Test in Galle on Sunday.

Abisekera has worked for a cable company for 59 years, and friends and family look after his accommodations in various locations.

He took a bus from Colombo to Galle to participate in the current series of games, but has to walk to the stadium with no tuk-tuk available.

“I’ve never seen such a crisis,” he said.

Referring to the Tamil Tigers who fought a separatist war for decades, he said, “I saw the world war, I saw the tsunami, I saw the LTTE attacks.”

“It’s something else, but I somehow manage to get on the field.”

As a boy, Abasekera watched Don Bradman play at the Colombo Oval in 1948, and nearly half a century later saw Sri Lanka defeat Australia in Lahore to win the 50-over World Cup, which became the mainstay of cricket throughout his life. was one of the attractions.

Abasekera’s sociable demeanor has earned him the affection of even the opponents of his beloved team.

Former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe once gave him his Man of the Match award and during India’s tour of Sri Lanka in 2015, Virat Kohli hugged him and was even invited to the visitors’ dressing room. did.

“When a great scorer comes up with your name, he doesn’t write whether you won or lost, but how you played the game,” he is quoted as saying by American player Grantland Rice.

“Play fair, please the winner and respect the loser.”

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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