Australia’s players have denied all knowledge of an assertion that Sri Lankan anti-government protesters were evicted from the ramparts of the Galle fort during the first Test because they were causing a distraction to the batting side.
Large crowds typically assemble on top of the fort overlooking Galle Stadium during matches, with its walls affording clear views of the action.
On day two of the rapid-fire Test match, numerous spectators bore placards protesting against the Sri Lankan government amid the nation’s worst economic crisis.
Protesters were forcibly removed from the fort ramparts late on the second day, and the area was then completely devoid of any members of the public on the final day of a Test match Australia won inside 154 overs, with guards posted inside the fort.
“The protesters were using banners that disturbed the batsmen’s vision, so they were asked to remove them [the banners] from the site,” an Army spokesperson had told local media. “This incident took place on Wednesday [June 29] and yesterday [June 30]. Also, people were advised not to stay in that place.”
However, an Australian team spokesperson rejected any suggestion that the touring side’s batters were distracted by the signage on a day when they ran up a decisive 101-run first-innings lead over the hosts.
Players spoken to by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald also denied having any visibility issues whatsoever with the spectators or signage atop the fort or requesting their removal. Signs of protest have been few and far between within sight of cricket grounds during Australia’s tour, which is being broadcast globally.
Sri Lanka is currently in the midst of a 14-day ban on the purchase of fuel for private use as national reserve stocks have dwindled. There are also longer-term fears about the country’s food supply as much of its agricultural and fishing industries have ground to a halt due to a lack of fuel, fertiliser or money to pay for either.
Australia’s captain Pat Cummins has spoken with empathy about the contradictions inherent in playing the series and using up resources at a time of so many shortages. The touring team and Australian visitors alike have been greeted warmly by locals throughout the crisis.
“We’ve been following closely, it’s something we’ve spoken about in our team meetings as well,” Cummins said before the series began.
“We’re so lucky to come here and experience Sri Lanka pretty normally. We’re certainly seeing the effects, even in the buses seeing the queues kilometres long around petrol stations, so that’s really hit home for us. No matter what the result is, we’re in a really privileged position. There’s a lot of people making this happen for us to play a bit of cricket.”
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD