x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Colombo's French correction for the World Cup

The “Allez” chant is in the process of being stolen by cricket supporters, writes Paul Radley

COLOMBO // The French should be afraid. Of all the delightful idiosyncrasies at work in this subcontinent World Cup, the regular airing of the Allez, Ole over the public-address system must rank among the kookiest.

The short trumpet jingle has its origins in French rugby, where supporters at the Parc des Princes, for instance, give it a brief burst to pep up the crowd and players.

How it has made its way to these parts is unclear, but the locals have not taken long to assume it as their own.

Traditionally, it is met with a response of "Ole!" But who cares about tradition?

Here, it is simply encountered with a baying, zealous scream from the terraces.

France beware: this tune will not be regarded as yours for much longer if the previous evidence of voracious consumption on the subcontinent is anything to go by.

They used to say cricket was an English sport. Clearly, it has not been anything of the sort for a very long time.

Ashis Nandy put it best when he said that cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the English.

The adage works for the whole of the Indian subcontinent, and all four Asian nations involved in this tournament are vying to be masters of the game.

When local rivalry is at stake, like there was between Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Colombo yesterday, the supporters are rarely anything but fevered.

Throughout the tournament, one of the official sponsors has been running a Shoutometer, where the crowd's decibel-level is marked in runs on a mock speed-dial on the big screen.

Much to their delight, the voluble 35,000 souls in attendance at the R Premadasa Stadium touched six runs frequently.

The gimmick is screened only sporadically and between overs, but in truth the volume rarely drops below the two-run level even during the sleepiest of lulls in play.

When the crowd are at maximum output, when Muttiah Muralitharan comes on to bowl, say, or as an opposition wicket falls, the earth shakes.

It is a test for the foundations of Sri Lanka's largest ground.

The R Premadasa Stadium was built on swampland previously used by monks ferrying across to the Khettaram temple, which lies adjacent to the where the ground now stands.

You wonder what the neighbours must think.

Before permanent floodlights could be installed at Lord's in London, which eventually happened in 2009, the ground's owners endured a long, difficult struggle to obtain planning permission, given the reservations that local residents had about light pollution.

The relationship works the other way round in this city, though. Ahead of the World Cup, the residents and shop owners in the vicinity of the Premadasa were given a list of missives by the local council.

These included requests to "abstain from hanging out clothes for drying in public view and putting garbage on the roadsides" or "engaging in street games such as hopscotch and cricket matches".

From the top tiers of the double-decker stands, it is easy to make out the hefty rocks which have been laid on top of the corrugated iron roofs of the closest houses.

No doubt they are there to hold the lid down when the likes of Tillakaratne Mudiyanselage Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara are whipping the fans into a fervour inside the ground and the place is rocking.

Given the unbridled passion on display in these stands, perhaps cricket really is an Asian game.

However, judging by its efforts at the World Cup - they also play U2 songs at Ireland's matches to make them feel welcome - the continent is only too happy to embrace the world.

Next thing you know Sri Lanka's fans will be singing, Allez, Les Bleus.

 

pradley@thenational.ae