If Sri Lankans are asked what fancies them most about Australia, a majority would come up with a one-word answer, cricket.
Australia was a relatively far-away unreachable dream destination, perhaps a place only for the privileged few in a country where foreign travel was a luxury over 40 years ago. But all of that gradually began to change after Sri Lanka was elevated to Test status in 1981.
Cricket is a sport that brought the peoples of both nations together, opened up borders and created a kind of inseparable friendship that has withstood even the most trying and challenging times.
In the past, the great Australian teams of yesteryear did make a stop in Sri Lanka on their way to playing the Ashes in England with even the Australian great Sir Don Bradman also gracing the playing fields of Sri Lanka which was then known as Ceylon.
It may be hard to think that anything else would have brought the peoples of both countries under one canopy other than what cricket has done and through it opened up new avenues such as tourism, employment and education for Sri Lankans to travel to Australia, famously called 'Down-Under' by Sri Lankans.However, it was in 1983, two years after the island nation gained full International Cricket Council (ICC) member status that the first Australian Test cricket team officially visited Sri Lanka for a series, followed by Sri Lanka touring Australia in 1987, that eventually snowballed a common interest among both nations.
Cricket further fostered friendship between the two countries when Australia became the first country to visit Sri Lanka in five years.
However, it was in August 1992 that Australia with Allan Border as captain toured Sri Lanka for a full three-Test series that gave them a 1-0 series win, after which Sri Lanka made a tour of Australia in 1995, that marked the start of great cricket rivalry and competitiveness on the playing field.
A few months later, both Australia and Sri Lanka battled it out in the 1996 ICC 50 over World Cup finals at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore Pakistan, with Sri Lanka going on to win the final battle by 7 wickets with the sport of cricket being crowned the ultimate winner.
That 1996 World Cup victory helped Sri Lanka move on from being branded as minnows in the top tier to being labelled as worthy world champs barely 15 years after gaining Test status.
Today both Sri Lanka and Australia have come to understand each other better by forming a great relationship that is well cemented on the field of cricket that has moved into other areas, where scores of students in Sri Lanka see Australia as one of the leading entities for higher studies and courses, as well as employment with skilled migration attracting several of them. No longer do Sri Lankans see Australia as an adversary or a land that is a pipe dream and forbidden to them.
There is no better proof of the solid relationship and friendship that Sri Lankans now have with Australia than when it comes to a battle on the cricket field, as the fixture between the two teams is given high priority and well noted as an occasion not to be missed.