Sri Lanka is preparing to throw its biggest party since the end of the country’s ethnic war after beating India in the final of cricket’s World T20 tournament.
Government officials said that arrangements were being made to fly the team home early from Bangladesh to attend a ticker-tape parade in central Colombo 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.
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 Mahinda Rajapakse’s decision to stay away from the final after he had apparently “jinxed” the team in previous tournaments.
The Sri Lankan cricket board has asked fans to line the 35-kilometre (21-mile) highway that stretches from the international airport to downtown Colombo on Tuesday evening although that flag-waving parade could be brought forward if the team fly back ahead of schedule.
“Sri Lanka Cricket invites all loyal cricket fans to line the roads up to Maitland Place, Independence Square and welcome our champion national cricketers,” it said in a statement.
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.
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.
Rajapakse phoned team members and officials to congratulate them shortly after the six-wicket win, which triggered an outpouring of joy.
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.