COLOMBO - Sri Lanka prepared to throw its biggest party since the end of the country's ethnic conflict after beating India in the final of cricket's World T20 tournament, officials said Monday. Cricket officials said arrangements were being made for a ticker-tape parade in central Colombo on Tuesday after an outpouring of jubilation in a country that has been at war for much of its post-independence history.
The victory on Sunday night in Dhaka came 18 years after Sri Lanka's triumph in the 50-over World Cup, which had been followed by a series of defeats in the finals of major tournaments. An official source said the authorities tried to fly the national team home on Monday, but logistical issues prevented an early celebration. "We arranged two charter flights to take fans to Dhaka for the finals and there are no seats onboard those aircraft for the team to return," a cricket official told AFP. "Getting another aircraft has not been easy."
Sri Lanka's cricket board (SLC) said it planned to hold a press conference at the airport Tuesday before driving the team in an open top bus to their main office and on to downtown Colombo where tens of thousands of fans are expected to give the players a heroes' welcome. The team is also due to call on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, officials said.
Fitting farewell: Newspapers hailed the victory as a "fitting farewell" to a golden generation, including former skippers Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara who have already announced their retirement from T20 cricket. Pundits also joked that the victory was only made possible by President Rajapakse's decision to stay away from the final after he had apparently "jinxed" the team in previous tournaments. On the eve of the final, the board announced the team would get a million dollar bonus if it could finally throw off its reputation for choking. But veteran cricket commentator Ranjan Paranavithana bemoaned the prospect of local administrators claiming credit for the team's spirited performance after a series of management and pay disputes.
"Loads of empty heads will be at SLC taking photographs with the trophy and the players," Paranavithana said on his blog. The Daily Mirror newspaper said the victory was a dream come true for the country's two best players who will now concentrate only on Test match and 50 over cricket. Sangakkara top-scored with a quickfire 52 while Jayawardene weighed in with a run-a-ball 24. "Sangakkara and Jayawardene ended their T20 international careers with a dream script, playing the team's best two innings as Sri Lanka ended their world title drought in style," the paper said.
Call from president: Rajapakse phoned team members and officials to congratulate them shortly after the six-wicket win which triggered an outpouring of joy unseen in Sri Lanka since the crushing of the Tamil Tiger separatist fighters in May 2009. Motorists in the cricket-mad country took to the streets tooting their horns and waving the national Lion flag, while fireworks lit up the sky throughout the night.
Fans said the team may have thanked Rajapakse for being absent after he watched them lose the last World T20 tournament -- hosted by Sri Lanka in 2012 -- and their defeats in the final of the 2007 and 2011 World Cups.
"Given bad omens of the past, Lankan fans wished President Mahinda Rajapakse to watch the hot final from Sri Lanka (rather) than from Mirpur, Bangladesh," the private Daily FT paper said. "Thankfully", the president was busy opening a five-star hotel outside Colombo, the paper said.
The celebrations in Sri Lanka contrasted sharply with the downbeat mood in India where fans had expected the current ODI World Cup holders to add to their trophy collection. Many fans on social media vented their frustration at batsman Yuvraj Singh who took 30 balls to make 11 runs. However his father Yograj Singh urged supporters not to single out his son for blame, telling the Press Trust of India news agency: "Ups and downs are part of life and part of this game as well."