In South Asia, we love to eat, sleep and drink cricket all the time. Be it Pakistan, India, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, everything takes a backseat when it comes to cricket matches. <b1>
So a book on the same by a Sri Lankan springs no surprise, but it's the treatment of the subject, which prompts the reader to take a second call.
While most writers over the years have associated cricket with national identity, social aspirations and 'oh it's just a game' attitude, Romesh Gunesekera is way ahead. His Match is more about longing for his home country - Sri Lanka. It is a funny family story of coming back home, finding roots, of cricket, growing up and falling in love.
As a teenager from Sri Lanka settled in Manila, protagonist Sunny and his father organise a cricket match. While most argue that it is just to impress a girl next door, Tina Navaratnam, but more than that it is all about missing his home country, marred by years of fighting between the Tamil Tigers and the government. All that young Sunny remembered of Sri Lanka were the sun-kissed beaches and the cliffhanger matches.
Sadly, Sunny's love for the game tapers as he gets busy with his career, love, marriage and finally kids. Cricket hogs only the initial and the concluding pages of Gunesekera's masterpiece. In between, the reader keeps wondering where have the bat and ball disappeared!
It is like a never-ending tail piece, but picks up in the end when Sunny Lands up at Oval, England to catch a Sri Lanka-India match. It is then that Sunny reconnects with the past. He meets Tina Navaratnam, his teen crush, an enthusiastic Sri Lankan crowd at the pavilion and his passion for the game comes alive once again.
He goes to Oval as a disinterested, brooding family man, but comes back refreshed and redeemed. Cricket changes his life. As the author puts it: "Suddenly the most important thing in the world was to see Sri Lanka play…in London. He had to make his life turn the way he wanted it to, like a true spinner's ball."
No doubt, Gunesekera writes with enormous passion, but it is his comic sense, which puts off the reader. The author tries hard to be humorous and he miserably fails. Nevertheless, The Match is surely Gunesekera's gift for cricket crazy South Asians.