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Sri Lanka v Australia: Local demonstrators engulf Galle’s iconic stadium

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Local demonstrators engulf Galle’s iconic stadium as Australia’s second Test against Sri Lanka is overshadowed by social and economic tension – and Steve Smith admits he has ‘never heard anything like it’

  • Sri Lankan protestors climbed atop the 500-year-old fort in Galle on Saturday 
  • Australia’s tour has played out to a backdrop of social and economic unrest
  • Demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans during Day Two of play
  • Steve Smith was unbeaten as the visitors were bowled out for 364

Australia’s second Test against Sri Lanka has been overshadowed by large-scale protests, with thousands marching outside the Galle International Stadium.

Firecrackers erupted in the streets less than 20 metres from Australia’s dressing sheds, while peaceful protesters chanted throughout the entire day as an economic crisis grips the country.

Just 125km away in Colombo, even larger groups of protesters stormed the presidential palace, getting their wish as leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the capital.

Former captain Sanath Jayasuriya was spotted among the protesters in the Colombo streets, while Pakistan cancelled a training session in the city ahead of their Test series with Sri Lanka.

Current captain Dimuth Karunaratne described cricket as like a religion before the series, pointing out how it could go on in times of need.

But for once in the nation, the sport felt inconsequential even as the hosts offered a strong resistance on the field on Saturday.

Local demonstrators climbed atop a 500-year-old fort to protest during Australia’s match

Sri Lanka has been struggling through the worst economic crisis in its history in recent months, lacking fuel, gas and medical supplies.

Protesters had gathered between the stadium and bus station just before play on Saturday, chanting ‘Go home Gota’ as hundreds became thousands as they marched around the outskirts of the ground.

Others held up banners reading ‘Thank you Cricket Australia, Gota you better go’ in reference to the president, while briefly occupying the top of the iconic fort that overlooks the ground.

They then returned to the streets, letting out a loud cheer when told the presidential home had been invaded and Rajapaksa was gone, with firecrackers going off for most of the afternoon.

Television broadcasters have managed to block out audio and vision of the protesters’ chants.

But it has been impossible for even the players to ignore, with Steve Smith taking a moment away from batting to look in the direction of the loud chants during his 145no.

‘The country is in turmoil and people are outside having their say,’ Smith said.

The Aussies' tour of Sri Lanka has played out to a backdrop of social and economic unrest

The Aussies’ tour of Sri Lanka has played out to a backdrop of social and economic unrest

Steve Smith ended the first innings unbeaten as the Australians set a total of 364 runs

Steve Smith ended the first innings unbeaten as the Australians set a total of 364 runs

‘I can’t remember (playing in anything like it before).

‘We can obviously hear it … But it didn’t really play a part in anything in the game.

Australia’s players have been long aware of the situation in the country, driving past long queues for fuel en route to the ground every morning while also experiencing long power outages.

Sri Lanka are looking to draw level in the series after losing last week's first Test

Sri Lanka are looking to draw level in the series after losing last week’s first Test

Captain Pat Cummins hit social media on Saturday morning to push for financial aid and donations for the country through UNESCO, posting a video of him speaking to school children about the crisis.

They have also been surrounded by heavy security in the country, with armed guards out the front of their team hotel in Colombo.

There remain no security concerns from Cricket Australia, however, with protests peaceful, while the country is listed as ‘reconsider travel’ by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs.

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