Opening day action brings crowds out to local pubs, festive atmosphere in pockets across Colombo
There wasn’t a massive buzz of expectancy or a discernible sense of excitement and nervousness. Instead, there was a quiet confidence among the patrons, the unshakeable belief that their team was clearly the superior outfit and that several things had to go wrong for it not to make a winning start at the ICC World Twenty20 2012.
The Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct is a structure at least 350 years old – the exact date of construction is shrouded in mystery – and over the years, has changed character from being the hospital it originally was to police barracks to its present avatar, a shopping complex with plenty of pubs and restaurants thrown in.
Last December, it was presented to the Sri Lankan people in its current shape, and while it isn’t always a beehive of activity, Tuesday night attracted more people than it normally does. Sri Lanka was embarking on its journey to win the ICC World Twenty20 title, in Hambantota, and the giant screens attracted fans by the dozens as they settled down for an evening of entertainment, fun and, eventually, a commanding victory.
The Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct hosts several pubs. WIP – Work In Progress – and Ministry of Crab, co-owned by Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara and Dharshan Munidasa, were full of quiet audiences, happy to soak in the action indoors on the big screens without seriously twitching a muscle or vigorously exercising their vocal chords.
The scene outside O! pub was, however, vastly different. A huge screen was set up in the courtyard with a projector beaming the pictures to some 200 fans seated on concrete, armless ‘chairs’. There was a general feel-good factor when Tillakaratne Dilshan did the early running, but that gave way to gentle apprehension as Zimbabwe picked up three quick wickets.
“Where is Dinesh?” asked Wijaya Weerekoon, referring to Dinesh Chandimal, the feisty young right-hand batsman who has played himself out of the XI after a string of low scores. ‘Dinesh’ was quickly forgotten as Kumar Sangakkara and Jeevan Mendis ran Zimbabwe ragged during a decisive fourth-wicket partnership.
When Hamilton Masakadza was hitting out at the top of the chase, there was good-natured ribbing and a sense of the inevitable. “Too good to last,” asserted Chanaka Silva, having convinced his wife that this ought to be an evening with friends rather than family. “Wait till he comes on.”
When ‘he’ did come on, the fans broke out into spontaneous applause. ‘He’ did not disappoint, scything through the Zimbabwean batting line-up on his way to record Twenty20 International figures of 6 for 8.
Ajantha Mendis might have been demystified in the 50-over and Test formats, but he can still be a handful in the Twenty20 game with his incredible variations and impeccable control. Against the crease-tied, slightly bemused Zimbabweans, he looked like getting a wicket every delivery. Each time he waltzed in to bowl, there was scarcely concealed anticipation; each wicket was greeted with loud cheers – by this time, enough beer had gone down the chute, of course – and as he exited the field after completing his four overs, almost everyone there stood up to cheer him off the park.
“Who’s next? South Africa?” queried Sam Fernando, preparing for a quick exit given the early start that awaited him the following morning. “Bring them on. Bring them all on. It’s our turn now.” As parting shots go, there couldn’t have been too many better ones.