Despite a gloomy morning, all roads in the Sri Lankan capital led to the R Premadasa Stadium on Saturday. With one of the most high-profile World Cup clashes between the Asian rivals to be played at the home of Lankan cricket, it wasn’t a surprise.
More than a victory for the home team, what the fans awaited was an intense battle between the boys in blue and those in green.
Even though Pakistan were playing away from their home, with Sri Lanka being their adopted home for the tournament, the crowd lent solid support to Shahid Afridi’s men. It was evident in the rousing cheer at the end of Pakistan’s national anthem prior to the match. But as the afternoon wore on, the near-packed crowd changed its stand, making it more difficult for the visitors’ batsmen.
Considering the adverse support from the stands and a quality bowling attack despite the absence of Lasith Malinga, one would say that Pakistan did a decent job to put on 277 for seven at the end of the stipulated 50 overs after Afridi had elected to bat.
Later in the night, it was indeed surprising to see the crowds clinging on to their seats even after the Lankan slide started in the middle overs after Afridi struck with his spin bowling. Probably, they were living on the hope of the home side pulling off an improbable victory on a wicket that was getting slower with every passing over.
While the crowds were hoping for a miracle, the Lankan dressing room was hoping that Chamara Silva, who had skipped the opening tie due to the demise of his elder sister, would do it for them, and more importantly, for his beloved sibling.
But by the time Silva started timing the ball sweetly, it was a little too late. With the asking rate surging into double digits and wickets falling regularly at the other end, thanks to Shahid Afridi's another dream spell, the inevitable had to happen.
Too much to get
As a result, when Silva was stumped by Kamran Akmal, who had an off day behind the stumps, off Abdur Rehman in the 47th over, Sri Lanka needed 44 runs off 23 balls with just two wickets remaining.
Soon after that, when the Pakistani team huddled to celebrate their 11-run victory after Muttiah Muralitharan managed a single off Umar Gul, they deserved all the applause that the sporting Premadasa spectators gave them.