Colombo: The anxiety of Sri Lankans everywhere on Thursday ahead of the first semi-final of the Twenty20 World Cup was palpable.
Right from the start of the day, everyone was preparing for the big game. At the entrance to the hotel where I stay is a small kiosk selling cakes. Everyone present was wearing the Sri Lankan team jersey.
I asked them if they would close the shop early to be at the stadium, to which they replied “no, they wouldn’t”, but they did vow to keep their team shirts on until their team reached the final.
Being a working day, many Sri Lankans wore their team colours to work, making it the unofficial national dress.
All 35,000 tickets for the semi-final against Pakistan were long sold out, but cricket fans here were in for a surprise. After India had crashed out of the event on Tuesday, many Indians surrendered their tickets for the semi and flew back home. As such, the International Cricket Council announced through the daily newspapers here on Thursday that 5,000 tickets were available and could be purchased from the Thurstan College Cricket ground. Many fans, who hadn’t purchased tickets earlier because they were not sure whether Sri Lanka would make it to the semi-final, rushed to the ground. So crowded was the college ground that people climbed over railings and even over each other to grab the coveted tickets.
Needless to say, most people who came to purchase the tickets were also wearing the Sri Lankan team outfit. Every individual could buy four tickets, and with so much demand, some were sold for at least four times the actual cost. One had to produce a National Identity Card (NIC) or passport to buy the tickets, and those who had already got them earlier were told that their quota was up.
Many hotels in and around the city have a number of rooms vacant since many Indian fans, who had booked to stay for the weekend to see the semi-final and final, cancelled their bookings.
Lasith Malinga wigs, a hit among fans here due to the massive popularity of the curly-haired bowler known as “Slinger”, sold like hot cakes. The queue to enter the stadium began as early as 2pm even though the match started at only 7pm local time.
Fans thronged to the stadium carrying huge banners in praise of the Sri Lankan stars.
A placard hailing Kumar Sangakkara read: “You are an ornament that enriched the game of cricket. We hope you stay long at the wicket.” Another one was in praise of Twenty20. It said: “Missing, miscuing or misjudging does not matter, provided you send all the balls over the ropes.”
Many supporters sang the official theme song of the tournament Vissai Vissa which means “Twenty Times More”. Sections of the crowd also cheered on spinner Rangana Herath by calling out his moniker, “Toga”.
When I asked a volunteer what the name meant, he said: “It is the name of a cartoon character. You would be tired if you called out his full name which is Herath Mudiyanselage Rangana Keerthi Bandara Herath!”