Millions of Sri Lankans on Sunday waited with stomach-churning anticipation for the country's biggest-ever home cricket match when their team take on the West Indies in the World Twenty20 final.
Sri Lanka's players will trigger a nationwide party if they can overcome their
flamboyant opposition in a clash that starts at 7.00 pm in the capital Colombo.
A sell-out crowd of 35,000 at the Premadasa stadium will offer boisterous support as Mahela Jayawardene's team attempt to reverse their fortunes after losing three finals in major tournaments since 2007.
Standing in the way is the destructive West Indies batting led by opener Chris Gayle, who crushed Australia in Friday's semi-final with a scintillating 75 off 41 balls.
"May this dream come true for Lanka," read the headline in the local Sunday Times. "Call it the battle of the titans or whatever you like, but today's final... will be a blockbuster," it predicted.
Large crowds were expected at cricket clubs where giant screens have been erected, while many families planned to gather around televisions at home to watch their national heroes.
Local media reported tickets for the finals priced at 50 US cents were fetching 75 dollars.
"We will have a house party and watch the match," Sandamale Wickremasekera, an accounts clerk at a private radio station, told AFP. "We were disappointed at the last World Cup, but this time we should win."
Ahead of the match, Sri Lanka appeared quietly confident they could win their first major title since the 1996 triumph in the 50-over World Cup.
"This is definitely the biggest game we have staged," captain Jayawardene said. "It's been a great couple of weeks for the entire country."
"The expectations from our fans are the same as they were at the start of the tournament. They wanted us to reach the final even then. And we must now win it for them."
Sri Lanka made the final of two successive World Cups in 2007 and 2011, and also the World Twenty20 in 2009, but lost each game.
Jayawardene said his team faced a new scenario later on Sunday. "Now we are playing in the Premadasa, so we will approach it differently. We have to adapt. It is all about handling tough situations better," he said.
Sri Lanka defeated the West Indies by nine wickets in a practice game before the tournament and again by the same margin in the Super Eights stage, but Gayle is confident of ruining the hosts' party plans.
"We're definitely going to rock against Sri Lanka," the swashbuckling Jamaican left-hander said. "We know what to expect -- the atmosphere, the noise and everything else.
"We are definitely going to win this trophy here. I just feel confident about it. We are up against world class players in the Sri Lanka team, but it's going to be good fun."
The classy Sri Lankans have lost just one of their six games in the tournament so far: a seven-overs-a-side rain-affected game against South Africa in the preliminary league.
Jayawardene has himself led from the front with 210 runs, the fourth highest run-maker in the tournament behind Australian Shane Watson (249), Gayle (219) and Brendon McCullum of New Zealand (212).
Sri Lanka will be further boosted by the match-winning form of unorthodox spinner Ajantha Mendis, who shares the top spot among bowlers with Watson at 11 wickets apiece, and sling-arm fast bowler Lasith Malinga, who has eight scalps.
Conditions in Colombo were dry during the day, with the threat of some evening showers.
Power versus poise in battle of Isles
It will be some atmosphere at the Premadasa Stadium on Sunday night for Sri Lanka's first World Cup final at home. The stands will be bursting at its seams and 35,000 spectators will be baying in unison. It's the biggest stage the team have ever played, but the local heroes will go into the battle certain that whatever anyone does, the biggest applause will be reserved for the one who gets the wicket of Chris Gayle. Read more
Jayawardene will make it tough for rampant Gayle
It should be a good contest between two teams which have come through the grind. It's amazing how a small island like Sri Lanka has produced quality cricketers. They have qualified for four World Cup finals since 2007, which speaks volumes of the players' class, and a lot of credit should be given to Jayawar-dene and Sangakkara. They have carried Sri Lankan cricket like big brothers in this period. Read more
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