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Australia's Test cricket series in Sri Lanka will begin on Wednesday afternoon (Australian time) under the spectre of the economic crisis engulfing the host nation.
The Australian men's cricket team is touring Sri Lanka for the first time in six years, which coincides with the island nation’s worst financial crisis since 1948.
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The two-Test series will kick off on Wednesday at Galle International Stadium, with the arena bordered by empty gas canisters.
The canisters, sitting waiting to be filled, sum up just one part of the dire economic situation in Sri Lanka.
Stretching halfway around the perimeter of the stadium, the canisters form part of what locals claim has been a 20-day wait for gas.
Used for household cooking, they will be unseen by television cameras, blocked by banners around the fence of the southern end of the ground celebrating Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan's legacies.
But the situation across Sri Lanka and in its picturesque city of Galle is impossible to ignore.
Each morning the Aussie team bus and heavily-armed security convoy drive past long queues for fuel, which stretch for up to four days with people waiting by their cars.
On Tuesday, the Sri Lankan government restricted the sale of fuel to anyone outside essential services such as health, defence, power and export sectors until at least July 10 in a bid to deal with the shortages.
Before that, those finally reaching the front of the lengthy queues were paying almost triple what they did four months ago - with limits on purchase quantity.
Power shortages have also become a normal part of life, with scheduled outages that plunge the city into darkness for an hour each night and two during the day.
Aussie captain Pat Cummins posted a photo earlier in the tour showing him and teammates Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood in a local restaurant waiting for the power to come on.
"Sri Lanka is going through a tough time at the moment, but the people have been amazing to us and we are grateful to be here," Cummins wrote.
Sitting in the restaurant earlier this week, waiting for the town power to be switched on so dinner can start.
Sri Lanka is going through a tough time at the moment, but the people have been amazing to us and we are grateful to be here.
Ready for Game 5 💪 #srilanka pic.twitter.com/5ICAwTvOEt
— Pat Cummins (@patcummins30) June 24, 2022
Pat Cummins speaks out over situation in Sri Lanka
Tourist numbers are way down, with only approximately 50 Australians making the trip to the sub-continent for the tour and very few other foreigners to be seen.
"We are certainly seeing the effects," Cummins told reporters.
"Even in the buses we are seeing the queues kilometres long around petrol stations. That has really hit home for us."
Outside the ground the locals sleep and live by the gas canisters as they rotate shifts among family members or have others do it for them.
On Tuesday evening there was some relief for locals as the line moved quickly and the rattling of canisters could be heard.
But by nightfall around half still remained.
"I was on a call yesterday and was chatting to some young girl cricketers," Cummins said.
"They're down to one meal a day and are going to school a couple of days a week because the teachers can't get to school.
"They're from a fishing village and a lot of them can't go out to fish because they have no petrol."
Some Australian players had previously raised ethical concerns before the beginning of the tour over playing cricket amid the crisis.
The decision to play the the white-ball matches under lights was questioned, given the regular power outages due to an electricity shortage.
Those concerns were largely allayed last week, with Australian players given a rousing thank you from fans dressed in yellow after the final ODI in Colombo.
The entire white-ball series comprising three Twenty20s and five ODIs was sold out, with limited-overs game traditionally more attractive to crowds than Tests in the country.
"Our people always love cricket," Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne said.
"For the Sri Lankans it's like a religion so we want to give something back to them as well."
On Tuesday, Sri Lanka's governments announced they would allow companies from oil-producing countries to import and sell fuel, in a move that was hoped would ease the crisis.
For now, it is the Aussie cricket team making the most significant impact.
"No matter what the result (of this Test series) we are in a really privileged position," Cummins said.
"There are lots of people that are making this happen for us to have a bit of fun and go out and play cricket. So we are really lucky."
Horrific human suffering going on in Sri Lanka right now. Nobody talking about. 100% politician caused. The PM came out and said that nobody wants to even sell the country gas/oil bc they don't trust they'll pay. No guarantees they will have energy imports at all. Government....
— BowTiedBrazil (@bowtiedbrazil) June 23, 2022
Yeah it's all horrific. Sri Lanka nearly collapsing. We have a new government in Australia and are hoping for a more sane approach. Media has a lot to do with this mess. I noticed in J6 #5 you are still termed the leader of the free world, ie vital for all of us 'minions'!
— 🌱💧🌏🕊ruth williams aka “T”🐬🐬 (@r_u_t_h) June 24, 2022
Short term thinking. It's tragic.
Sri Lanka has collapsed. This is serious man. This is the issue of the decade. We can't transition to renewables without MORE fossil fuels. No one wants to acknowledge this elephant in the room.
— Supreme Komrade Kommander (@KMNDR_) June 23, 2022
I have been watching Sri Lanka for a while now and this is just awful. This is a look into our future if these people don't wake up.
— 🍊TiffanyLyn👑🇺🇸 (@tiffanylyn906) June 23, 2022
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