Nine o’clock, the morning of 6 April 2014, still in bed and staring at the ceiling. Emotions ran high.
“A penny for your thoughts,” said Jagath.
“After four ‘finals’ losses in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012, the benefit of the law of averages is long overdue,” I replied.
“They should give a fitting farewell to the twin towers, Mahela and Sanga.” This from Jagath.
At half past one, we were at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium. Shamim and the policeman chuckled on seeing me from a distance. Befittingly, I gave my cigarettes and the lighter for safe custody.
Finalists India were the World Cup (50-over) champions, the Champions Trophy winners, and in with a chance to hold all three major limited-overs titles at the same time. They were the only unbeaten team in the tournament, and their recent record against Sri Lanka made them odds-on favourites.
Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to field. After a half-hour delay due to rain, the players were finally out on the field for the national anthems. The background music, ICC’s WorldT20 theme from – 1492: Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis – once again gave me goosebumps.
India were restricted to an unexpected 130 for 4.
Only 19 runs were scored in the last 4 overs when Virat Kohli faced just 8 balls and no boundaries were hit. Thanks to Yuvraj Singh’s laborious effort of 11 runs in 21 balls, Sri Lanka grabbed the initiative.
Sri Lanka in their turn, were 41 for 2 after 6 overs.
Kumar Sangakkara walked in, and though he had only managed 19 runs from four innings in this tournament, for a second I dreamt of a fairy-tale finish. Can two of Sri Lanka’s legends of the game, Mahela Jayawardena and Sangakkara, repeat what Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva did eighteen years ago and be there till the end?
They moved on smoothly, but after scoring a run-a-ball 24, Jayawardena’s cross-batted slog was brilliantly caught by Ravi Ashwin at midwicket. His innings was invaluable to Sri Lanka’s cause.
Sri Lanka, 69 for 3 after 10, needed 62 off 60 balls, but Lahiru Thirimanna’s edgy innings ended for 7 with another sensational catch, in the 13th over.
Then, the tricky situation demanded 53 runs from 42 balls. Sri Lanka looked shaky at 78 for 4, and Thisara Perera scored just 2 runs off the first 6 balls. Even the luxury of the hospitality box couldn’t dampen ample beads of perspiration. Then Perera’s aggressive instincts took hold and he went after the bowling, scoring freely in the next 3 overs, including 2 sixes, reducing the target and tension to a manageable 12 off 18. Next, a nervy Sangakkara bravely chanced his arm; his top-edge flew over the keeper and the next ball was bottom-edged to the fine-leg boundary. Pulse rates stabilised.
In the next over, Perera came down the pitch and heaved. Time and sound ceased for a second, resuming with vociferous yells of “We are the champions” … pause …, “again!” Whew! Six Sri Lankans, a Bangladeshi and a German hugged each other in the box. Sri Lanka had finally broken the hoodoo. Within minutes, the acrid smoke of fireworks began drifting into the Dhaka night sky.
Akin to Wordsworth seeing ten thousand daffodils at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance, I spied thirty thousand souls in a trance, expressing themselves in joyous dance.
An ice-cool Sangakkara (52*) and Perera (23*) cemented an unbroken 56-run partnership guiding Sri Lanka home with 13 balls to spare. Stand-in captain Lasith Malinga and his teammates held high the 2014 ICC World T20 cup, the moment millions of Sri Lankans had been waiting for so long.
Conductors of a Sri Lankan orchestra
In their 510th international match together, Jayawardena and Sangakkara were carried around the ground shoulder-high by their elated teammates.
Angelo Mathews said afterwards, “Sri Lanka this is for you. I am glad the whole team did it for Sanga and Mahela.”
After a massive celebration into the next morning, we waved adios to Dhaka. This time, my destiny prevented me from flying with the winners.
The Sri Lankan team deservedly received a heroes’ welcome by tens of thousands of fans. They were taken on a ticker-tape parade in Colombo, to the President’s House.
After India and the West Indies, Sri Lanka became the third team to win all three world tournaments conducted by the ICC – the World Cup (1996), the Champions Trophy (2002 – shared with India) and the World Twenty20 (2014). They’ve also reached three other finals of ICC events (in 2007, 2009 and 2011).
The Sri Lankan team included five previous captains, but attitudinal problems were virtually non-existent.
As usual, some administrators who had conveniently forgotten the mismanagement and pay disputes in the lead-up to the tournament, claimed credit for the team’s spirited performance. Full credit to the players, who despite the agony, brought home the ecstasy.