There were no crowd catches from the thousands at Galle Face green on Sunday night. No wild cheers for a well-struck ball until it was absolutely clear it would cross the rope. As Kumar Sangakkara and Thisara Perera hit the boundaries that lurched Sri Lanka towards an 18-year dream, there was some jubilation, but the masses held something back. They had been burnt too many times. Sri Lanka had played too well in too many tournaments, looked like winners in too many finals, and had still failed to bag the prize.
There was half a second as Thisara advanced to that wide R Ashwin ball when the Indian Ocean breaking on the adjacent beach was heard in perfect silence. Then, on the green and on the street, Colombo’s euphoric mayhem broke out.
For many, Sunday was the fifth time they had gathered in front of a big screen with their friends, so when glory finally came, they made it five times the party. Not that Sri Lankans need a special occasion to enjoy themselves. Even a friend leaving on a two-week vacation or a cousin landing a part-time job is enough reason to break out the Mendis Special and the baila.
As fans began to move to the papare grooves the band pealed out after the winning runs were hit, all the vital ingredients of the quintessential Sri Lankan party came together, on a massive scale. The old uncles who had drunk too much too early in the day began to strut their stuff. In their own minds they are Michael Jackson on a low-gravity planet, but onlookers feel as if they are watching a wooden plank in an advanced state of rigor mortis having a standing-up seizure.
Scores of savvy young men, only a little tipsy, gathered around the older ones, laughing, mimicking them, taking the piss. The aunties looked on disapprovingly, while the younger ladies who could be pressured to dance did so with their knees locked, in a state of fixed embarrassment. Just before the presentation began, even the ocean joined in, growing suddenly stronger to cast a mist of sea spray upon the scene.
Before the boogieing, the tension of the chase had been eased by humour – another Sri Lankan hallmark. When Thisara Perera came out to bat at No. 6 and scratched around early in his innings, a wise guy cracked a jibe at Sri Lanka’s fluid captaincy situation: “Which idiot sent this idiot out to bat? He hasn’t done a thing all tournament.” He was soon loudly apologising to “all the idiots”. Then, the biggest cheers at the presentation ceremony were reserved for Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Yuvraj Singh.
Soon the party spilled out onto the main road, as thousands more fans who had watched the match at home drove out, wielding flags, hanging out of cars, screaming their lungs out. Colombo residents routinely complain about how much time they spend stuck in traffic on Galle Road, but on Sunday night, bumper to bumper, pounding the horn, was exactly where everyone wanted to be.
The traffic police, poor misguided souls, initially attempted to maintain some sense of decorum, even pulling over the first motorist to infringe the law with the intention of ticketing him. Seeing this, though, a horde of fans surrounded the car and hooted as loudly as they could. The cop could not hear the driver, who was trying to keep a straight face and failing, anyway. Eventually the official gave up, and let the man drive away scot-free.
|The opposite of road rage © Associated Press
While the city was going bonkers around them, the policemen wore the only looks of defeat, as double lines were crossed, roundabout rules abandoned and safety standards cast into the sea. There were at least a dozen motorbikes with no fewer than four grown men astride them, at least two of whom waved Sri Lankan flags with enough vigour to power the vehicle via momentum. Pedestrian crossings were beset by large groups of boys, who would ooze on to the street when a car approached and form a dancing road block. Often, the vehicle’s driver and passengers would step out themselves and join the revelry for several minutes, clapping, jerking and high-fiving complete strangers. If there was ever a diametric opposite to road rage, this was it.
Lasith Malinga now joins Arjuna Ranatunga as a world-champion captain. As fans on Twitter quickly noted, there are perhaps no two men in Sri Lankan cricket who disagree so passionately. There is no real comparison between the two victories, of course. This one came against the cricket world’s financial giants perhaps, but there was no precedent to the 1996 triumph, when an unfancied team with a fraction of the resources the others had, ran amok and changed the game while they were at it.
But this was a victory for a new Sri Lanka; for a young breed of men and women in a land more united than it had been for most of their lives. As people of all creeds celebrated together, Tamil victory cries were almost as abundant as Sinhala ones. To have been at the Shere Bangla for the final moments would have been great, but to see Colombo come together and roar to life in wild, unbridled, joy was something else.