through AFP

Galle: Cricket-obsessed Percy Abeysekera has been a constant fixture at Sri Lanka’s matches since the first Test against England in 1982 — and even the country’s worst financial crisis can’t keep him away.

Forty years ago, the man known as “Uncle Percy” sent England batsman Chris Tavarre holding the Sri Lankan flag onto the pitch at the P Sarah Oval in the capital, Colombo.

Now 85, he has since become a regular feature, allowed by Sri Lankan cricket officials to walk out onto the field with the team after every match, win or lose, still carrying his flag.

And while an ardent supporter of his national side, he is known for the respect with which he treats the opposition — a far cry from the sledging used by some teams’ fans and even their players.

Naturally, he was in Galle earlier this month when hundreds of protesters scaled the walls of the ancient fort during the second Test against Australia to demand the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The host country is facing its worst economic crisis since independence, with no foreign exchange for essentials including fuel and medicine, and widespread shortages.

Hours later, angry mobs in Colombo forced the president to flee his home and fly abroad before handing in his resignation days later.

Abeysekera said that our team’s performance is better than the performance of politicians in Sri Lanka.

“No politician can match these cricketers,” he said AFP. “They’re not politicians, they’re crazy.”

“I hate politics,” he added.

Abeysekera was twice invited to join the Sri Lankan Cricket Board, but declined the position.

“There are three things I dislike in the whole world, one is politics, the other is cricket administration and the third is birth control,” he said.

His grandchildren are named Garfield after Sobers of the West Indies, the first batsman to hit six sixes in a first-class over, and Sachinka for Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar.

‘Honor the Loser’

Cricket has offered Sri Lanka a welcome distraction from their country’s travails after a 3-2 ODI series win against Australia followed by a 1-1 Test series draw.

Pakistan are currently touring the Indian Ocean island, with the hosts on the way back from their first Test defeat in Galle on Sunday.

Abeysekera has worked for the cable company for 59 years and friends and family take care of his residence in different locations.

He took a bus from Colombo to Galle to attend the current series of games but had to walk to the stadium as no tuk-tuk was available.

“I’ve never seen a crisis like this,” he said.

“I saw the world war, I saw the tsunami, I saw the LTTE attacks,” he said, referring to the Tamil Tigers who fought a separatist war for decades. “It’s something else, but somehow I manage to land.”

As a child, Abeysekera watched Don Bradman play at the Colombo Oval in 1948 and almost half a century later saw Sri Lanka defeat Australia in Lahore to win the 50-over World Cup, one of the cricketing highlights of his life.

Abeysekera’s amiable demeanor has also won him the affection of his beloved teammates.

Former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe once awarded him man of the match and Virat Kohli hugged him and even invited him into the visitors’ dressing room during India’s tour of Sri Lanka in 2015.

“When a great scorer comes to make a mark against your name, he writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game,” he says, quoting American sports writer Grantland Rice.

“Play normal, cheer the winner and honor the loser.”

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