Enjoying a meal with friends Roshan Iddamalgoda and Ramiz Raja - Photos courtesy: Roshan Abeysinghe
Enjoying a meal with friends Roshan Iddamalgoda and Ramiz Raja - Photos courtesy: Roshan Abeysinghe

The Sri Lankan cricket team may have lost the two Test match series here but they won the hearts of the people of Pakistan. Among the islanders’ media contingent, there was a man — Roshan Abeysinghe — who is regarded as one of the most credible voices in the international cricket media fraternity. Eos got a chance to catch up with him and get his views on various aspects of the recently concluded series, which marked the return to Pakistani soil of Test cricket after 10 long years …

ON THE RETURN OF TEST CRICKET TO PAKISTAN:

“I think it is magnificent that Test cricket has come back to Pakistan, simply because Pakistan is a country that has a tremendous and rich cricketing culture.”

ON HIS VISIT:

“If you look around you could see as you go into different regions that they are so unique, very much like India, England, and Australia, something which is not prevalent in Sri Lanka, because it is a small country. Cricket there basically gets concentrated in and around Colombo and the Western Province, so that [the diversity] is something which is new to us. Secondly, if you look at some of the greats Pakistan has produced and how young cricketers emulate them, I think that the 10 years that they have lost would have possibly set Pakistan cricket back a little bit. Some of these youngsters have seen their heroes from a distance, they have not been able to have that touch-and-feel factor. So as a result of that I think Sri Lanka’s visit was the best thing that could have happened to Pakistan cricket.”

Roshan Abeysinghe is a distinguished Sri Lankan cricket commentator known for his eloquence and sharp wit. Eos asked him about his experience on his recent visit to Pakistan with the Sri Lankan team

ON WHETHER IT WAS A TOUGH DECISION TO COME:

“I think, initially, yes. It was a very tough decision simply because Sri Lanka was the team which was attacked [in 2009]. It wasn’t easy. There were lots of issues, pros and cons, lots of consideration and also, just before the tour happened, there were various intelligence reports which came out, despite the clearance given by the security consultant. So it was a very tough call.

“Let’s also not forget that, on April 21, 2019, Sri Lanka suffered a series of coordinated terrorist bombing attacks which took 300 lives. Therefore, the Sri Lankan government and the cricket board had to take every possible precaution to ensure that a repeat performance didn’t happen, especially because we were coming into unknown territory. In that context, it was a very tough call. But I think it is a call that the board will be very pleased with.”

SHOULD OTHER CRICKET NATIONS VISIT PAKISTAN?

“I think on, a personal level, they should come because we felt far more relaxed the second time. I must be honest, the first time we were in Lahore and Karachi, obviously no one was taking any chances. There was VVIP security. The way it was managed this time during the Tests, however, it was far better than our first visit for the ODI’s.

“[The first time], both sides were making sure that they had dotted all the i’s and crossed the t’s, so to speak. The second time round, the experience of the first phase helped the Pakistan authorities to ensure that security was not lapsing but, at the same time, the people who came also felt relaxed. So therefore I feel that international teams really shouldn’t be thinking twice.”

ON WHETHER HE WOULD LIKE TO VISIT AGAIN:

With a Pakistani stalwart in cricket commentary Chishti Mujahid - Photos courtesy: Roshan Abeysinghe
With a Pakistani stalwart in cricket commentary Chishti Mujahid - Photos courtesy: Roshan Abeysinghe

“I would love to come, I mean it’s a beautiful place. I’ve been overwhelmed by the people of Pakistan. I think they are amazing, the way they know you, they would know your name, they would come up and talk to you, they tweet, they interact with you on social media. It is simply amazing. Every time I see them my heart goes out for them because I can understand what they have been missing.

“At the time when Sri Lanka had a 30-year war there were teams reluctant to come to play there, particularly in the 1990s, and Sri Lankan cricket and fans were starving for international cricket, which was understandable. So I understand where these people are coming from. In that context, I’m so delighted. The hospitality and hotels were also magnificent. The food was close to what we enjoy back home, so actually all boxes have been ticked.”

ON THE SPICE LEVELS OF PAKISTANI FOOD:

“Actually, Sri Lankan food is spicier. We have a very spicy palate. But Pakistani food also tastes nice. It is very palatable and we have enjoyed the food here. Personally, when I’m on tour I get homesick if I don’t get the food I want. But I did not have that issue here.”

ON WHETHER ANY PARTICULAR DISH TICKLED HIS FANCY:

“Well quite a few. I liked the pickle that gets served here. It had carrot and mango and a few other things. It was something I could have just eaten on its own with rice. It was brilliant, and I said as much in my speech the other day. Lo and behold, to my surprise, a Pakistani media friend brought me a bottle and I am taking it back home with me.”

The writer tweets @CaughtAtPoint

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 5th, 2020