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The Voyage of Spectacle The Most Expensive Game Ever Played — Part III

The Voyage

Spectacles

Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

The Position

Bali, Indonesia

The Pictures

The Voyage of Spectacle

The Most Expensive Game Ever Played — Part III

 

The Most Expensive Game Ever Played

Part III — Before the Match

We settled into the quite-posh Lobby Bar at the Hilton, feeling chagrined at our decision not to pony up the outrageous sums they had wanted for a room.  Sometimes you just have to pay to play, I guess.  If you ever find yourself in Trinidad, this is the only place to stay.  It’s one of the “nice” Hiltons by American standards.

There was electricity in the air … of excitement, pressure … a solid understanding of exactly what was at stake.  Fans, mostly Indian, were milling about, glasses of wine in hand, confident, albeit tenuously.  Sri Lanka is no chump team, but Big Brother always wins the big game, right?  Indeed, Sri Lanka’s recent record against India was pretty poor, but most of those games had been played in India.

We met some very nice Sri Lanka supporters and chit-chatted about the game.

“Our guys are fantastic,” one older fan said.  “They are the nicest guys in the world.  Have you met them yet?”

“Met them?  You mean the players?”  I asked, incredulously.

“Yeah, they are down here in the lobby all the time — they even stop to have a drink or two with the fans.”

“What?”

“Yeah, they’re probably on the way back from dinner right now.  I’m sure that if you hang out for a while you’ll get to meet at least a few of them.”

As a former sportswriter, I must admit that I’m not much of a jocksniffer.  However, I was pretty excited at the prospect of meeting the Sri Lanka players, precisely because they’d be strolling right through the lobby, surrounded by fans (mostly opposing), with no security, just in advance of The Most Expensive Game Ever Played.

“Have any of the India players been through?”  I asked.

“You’re kidding, right?”

Of course I was.  There’s no way that Sachin Tendulkar – India’s Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Jerry Rice, Muhammad Ali and Willie Mays combined, in a country of a billion people with no other game in town, no consolation of “oh well, I guess football season starts in two months” — was going to walk through that hotel lobby by himself, stop and hang out with the fans.  Not with all that was on the line. Not in advance of The Most Expensive Game Ever Played.  Not with all of the players’ homes in India under the protection of armed guards (after the Bangladesh upset) against the real possibility of violent mobs.  Not Tendulkar, not Ganguly, not Dravid, all three being among the most famous cricketers ever to pick up a bat.  Not Dhoni, not Sehwag.  There wouldn’t be any Indian players in the lobby.

“Our guys seem ready,” this Sri Lanka fan said. “Their guys are locked in upstairs.”

I wasn’t sure whether to believe him, but I thought that if he was telling the truth that he might be on to something.  I just couldn’t believe that the Sri Lanka players were hanging out in the hotel lobby with the fans, this less than a week after the Bob Woolmer murder and after the series of corruption crises that have taken down the likes of Hansie Cronjie, the most famous cricket player in South African history, and Mohammed Azharuddin, the former captain of India.

Another Sri Lankan named Ramesh settled in next to us.  “You have to understand that it’s an island mentality.  These Indian guys are all very hard-working, pious, anal-retentive, high-strung guys.  Not us.  We’re islanders, man.  Give a Sri Lankan five dollars and you’ve fed him for a day, but he’d probably rather spend it on beer,” he said, tilting back a glass of Zinfandel.  “We’re fun.  We’re loose.  That’s why we’re going to win.  Just watch the players walk in … you’ll see.”

Andy and Mahela JayawardeneAbout 15 minutes later, there was a buzz by the entrance.  I noticed a very well-dressed, well-groomed, handsome, compact, dark man walking through the lobby.  It was Mahela Jayawardene, the captain of Sri Lanka.  Despite being the captain of one of the world’s best teams, he is not an older player and certainly not a large player.  I used to work out at the same gym as the famous jockey Lafitt Pincay,   who is not much smaller.  Nevertheless, Jayawardene is, of course, damn good.

Our wry observer Ramesh said, “Go over and say hi.  He’ll definitely stop and take a picture with you.  He’s a great guy.”

Katie, Andy, Super Freak Rick James, and Erik I walked over.  For all the famous people I’ve been around, this was only the second time I had ever approached a celebrity for a picture (the first being Rick James, God rest his soul, during the now infamous “New Year’s Eve With Rick James,” which did predate this classic).

“Mr. Jayawardene, my name is Andy Heger.  I’m from the United States and I’m a big fan of Sri Lankan cricket.  I’m wondering if I could get a picture with you.”

His facial expression was priceless – it said 25% “Awesome!”, 25% “I’m afraid,” 25% “You’ve got to be kidding me!” and 25% “Who the hell is this vanilla gorilla?”

He was a good sport.  He posed and smiled for a picture.  I wished him luck. “Thanks, man,” he said, smiling.  “We’re ready.”

Andy and Chaminda VaasHe proceeded to the elevators.  Before I could recover from the moment, another low-level commotion started at the lobby entrance.  In walked a taller (but not tall), equally  well dressed, somewhat beefier and very handsome man.  It was Chaminda Vaas.

Vaas is the unsung hero of this team.  He’s plenty famous and surely somewhat rich, but he is the guy that everyone forgets about, the Tom Glavine (indeed, also left-handed, harder-throwing, better-batting and generally more athletic) to Muttiah Muralitharan’s Greg Maddux.  He’s the opening bowler and also the number 8 batter (out of 11 – Murali bats 11th).  He is, rightfully, not famous for his batting (although he bats well) and, rightfully, not as famous for his bowling as Murali.  And yet he is arguably the most valuable player on the team.

To be a successful team, you need to have at least two bowlers who can hit a little bit.  Vaas is one of them.  And, unlike one baseball game, you need at least four good bowlers in each and every one-day cricket match (by rule, no one can bowl more than 20% of the game for either side, so you better have at 80% of it covered by guys who can really bring it).  Sri Lanka can’t just rely on Murali, any more than Australia has ever been able to rely on my recently retired evil twin, Shane Warne.  Vaas is the opening bowler, the one who sets the tone for the game.  Murali enters in the middle of the innings, once Vaas has shaken them up.  It’s a deadly combination.  Not surprisingly, both are long-serving veterans of the 1996 World Cup Champions team.

Vaas is also a workout legend.  The guy is very, very fit – ripped, actually.  Melissa thought he was deadly handsome because he is, indeed, deadly handsome, in a very rugged, cowboyish kind of way that is not exactly typical of Sri Lankans.

“Mr. Vaas, my name is Andy Heger, and I’m a Sri Lanka cricket fan from …”

He looked at me.  His face said, “Of course you are.  What took you so long?”  This guy has ice-water in his veins – he is totally unflappable.  He took the picture.  He even sort of smiled.

Andy and Sanath JayasuriyaWe were happy for our good fortune and getting ready to leave the hotel when a real commotion started by the door.  This time it was Sanath Jayasuriya, the MVP of Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup-winning team.  Needless to say, he is a legend of Sri Lankan cricket.

Bald, buff, lean and mean, Jayasuriaya immediately reminded me of Marvin Hagler – he looks like a champion middleweight boxer.

“Mr. Jayasuriya, my name …”

He looked at me.  His face said, “You can’t possibly be serious.”  Still, he stopped and quickly took the picture – smiled even.  Not a chatterbox, this one.

Ours were not the only pictures these guys posed for.  However, as photographer-in-chief Melissa noted, they were the only ones they smiled for (to be fair, most of the other pictures were with India fans who had been denied any access whatsoever to their heroes, which we thought was sort of notable).  All three of them seemed happy to accommodate (and, indeed, to have) a big, blonde, white American fan.  More importantly, all three of them seemed completely at ease and loose.  At that point, I was nearly positive that they were going to win The Most Expensive Game Ever Played.

We caught a cab back to our hotel.

“We’re going to kill India tomorrow,” I told Melissa in the car.  And, truth be told, the use of “we” felt totally appropriate.

For Part IV of “The Most Expensive Game Ever Played,” click here.


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