Dear Fans,

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We won! Even weeks after our historic and nail-biting Asia Cup victory we are still talking about it. I say, “We won,” but in reality we cricket fans had very little to do with the victory besides providing moral support and encouragement to the team. It is them who did all the hard work. Our relatively inexperienced team which thus far received nothing but criticism from not just fans and media but also from former cricketers as well, proved all the naysayers wrong by clinching the Asia Cup at a time when many had already written us off as clear losers.

After this triumph of the national cricket team, many are coming forward to claim a piece of the ‘victory’ pie. As the saying goes, ‘victory has many fathers while defeat is an orphan’. Oddly enough, the most recent cricket-related social media up-burst involves an actual father –the religious type.

A Christian father belonging to a recently-developed church came forward and claimed that if it wasn’t for him, a certain cricket player, without whose magnificent and fearless innings in the final, we surely would have lost the cup, would never have come out of retirement and decided to play for his country again. While it is not certain whether the father’s claim holds any water, it does raise some reasonable suspicions as to whether all of this is nothing but a publicity stunt since the relatively-new ‘church’ of the said father relies heavily on popularity.

But hey, can’t blame a man for trying right?

However, it doesn’t really matter if the said father truly believes his divine intervention helped the said cricketer to turn his game around or if it all is just a media show to gain more popularity because it is highly unlikely that the statement will ‘convince’ fans and other cricketers to convert, because in a country like Sri Lanka where faiths and beliefs are fed to us from our birth it takes more than a cup-victory for anyone to alter their religious orientations.

What really matters is that how the said cricketer is now scrutinised and even blamed for trying to force his beliefs onto others using his popularity and authority as a national-level athlete.

Sure, a picture of him attending one of the sermons of the said pastor is being circulated on social media platforms but can we really blame him for playing the ‘messenger’? Since the historic victory, the national team along with the said cricketer has taken part in many TV interviews, talk shows, and other events but nowhere did he mention his religious beliefs and tried to dedicate his performance to the support he received from his church. And why do you find it so irritating if one of your heroes does not conform to the mainstream religious beliefs and decides to attend a recently-formed church?

For those who have a problem with the religious orientation of the said cricketer, need I remind you how our beloved ‘Master Blaster’ Sanath Jayasuriya back in the day used to come to the crease wearing a bunch of ‘pirith nool’ around his wrist? When he played in the first IPL he was not finding his usual explosive rhythm so he decided to make a brief visit to Sri Lanka to take part in a religious ceremony. He went back to India with a few more white threads around his wrist and miraculously blasted the white cricket ball in every direction of the ground. He even finished the season with most number of sixes a player has hit.

How many times have we seen Pakistani players drop to the ground in prayer style after scoring a hundred? I’m pretty sure you all remember how South African cricketer Hashim Amla refused to wear the national team kit with a certain beer company logo in it because liquor went against his religious beliefs. Have you noticed how Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali decided to leave the podium when England celebrated their ICC World Cup victory with champagne since liquor goes against their religious beliefs?

In any of those incidents were the players scrutinised for having a certain religious belief and acting according to that? No, they weren’t. Although we consider them to be heroes they too are human beings. He can still be your hero even if he doesn’t share the same hometown, alma mater, diet, or the religious belief. As history suggests our cricket team always consisted multi-ethnic and multi-religious players. The beauty of the game is that it breaks the barriers and brings all of them together to play for a common goal. If the players are capable of putting aside their beliefs to play for the country why should you be hung up on their religious beliefs?

Just enjoy the beautiful cricket we are playing at the moment; don’t be a bigot.

Sincerely,

Another fan

By Sanuj Hathurusinghe