I: “Sri Lanka return to heroes’ welcome,” by Andrew Fidel Fernando, in ESPNcricinfo
“Four World Cup finals, four heartbreaks, but this is what it feels like to finally win something,” one Sri Lanka fan was overheard saying, as
the open-top bus carrying Sri Lanka’s cricketers came into view near SLC headquarters. She was one of thousands who lined the streets, waving flags, decked in blue, tooting horns, and occasionally breaking out in a baila-flavoured jig as they awaited the Asia Cup-winners.
Cricket lovers in Sri Lanka are an apathetic bunch by South Asian standards, and on Sunday even the beaming players appeared surprised by the masses that had turned out for them, on 18 hours’ notice. The joy in the whoops, the whistles and the waves could not be mistaken, but equally palpable was the relief. Sri Lanka’s public had waited a long time to shower adulation on their players like this. The players, many of them accustomed to a relatively throng-free existence, lapped up the attention.
Angelo Mathews and Kumar Sangakkara were in predictably high demand from the masses, with many calling out their names in desperate hope for a wave or smile they could boast was directed at them alone. ‘Sanga’ and ‘Anji’ are not just the team’s captain and best batsman, they are also the nation’s biggest heartthrobs. Both men know it too.
But this time, the public was unusually sweet on another young player. Lahiru Thirimanne‘s stock rose exponentially during the tournament, in which he had hit two hundreds. Some in the crowd screaming his name were big enough to admit they had not thought much of him before the Asia Cup. He had been staring down Umar Gul about 20 hours ago, wearing that determined scowl evoking Gregory Peck’s driving face in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, but he exchanged kinder pleasantries with his new legion of followers on Sunday.
Thirimanne was a favourite for photographs when the team disembarked at Maitland Place. At first he would oblige with a grin, but after about three dozen snaps, the slightest hint of that scowl returned. That was not to say he did not enjoy the adulation, because he would engage willingly in conversation and happily acquiesce to every request, but perhaps he is not as comfortable in the limelight as his role-model Sangakkara had been, even at that age. Not everyone has to be a public darling. Thirimanne will know, however, that if he continues to be this good at his job, he will have tens of thousands more photographs to pose for before his career is out.
Paul Farbrace was generous with his time too, keen to please the public, just as he has been with the team. Sri Lanka have played 12 matches under his watch and are yet to lose a game. His pronunciation of the players’ last names leaves something to be desired, but given even his Sri Lankan-born predecessor Dav Whatmore had never really got his tongue around them, it is an easily forgiven foible.
There was relief at winning a final for now, but there was another vibe bubbling up from the multitude. “Here’s a little something to show we appreciate you,” they seemed to say, “but really, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
“If you bring back another winners’ trophy on April 7, we’ll make it a day you’ll never forget.”
It’s a steep demand, but that’s the nature of Sri Lanka’s cricket public. If the team didn’t want to ratchet expectations so high, they shouldn’t have been so damn good in this tournament.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here
II: “Asia Cup champs receive heroes welcome,” by Chinthana Wasala in Daily News
Sri Lanka’s Asia Cup winning cricketers returned home to a hero’s welcome, while thousands of fans waited alongside the roads from Peliyagoda to SLC headquarters at Maitland Place Colombo 7 last evening. The champion cricketers arrived at Katunayake International Airport at around 3.45 pm and were brought on an open top vehicle from Peliyagoda onwards to SLC head office where they received a warm welcome by Sports Minister Mahindanada Aluthgamage, SLC officials and hundreds of cricket fans who patiently waited until their arrival.
At a press briefing held just a moment after the team’s arrival, Sri Lanka skipper Anjelo Mathews said that all the players are happy about their performances during the tournament, but the team will face the T20 World Cup with fresh minds. “Sometimes we had to take tough decisions. We chose to go for the final without Ajantha Mendis while retaining Sachithra Senanayake and Chaturanga de Silva who are very good all-rounders. That doesn’t mean Mendis is not too good.
He is also a very good player. But we had to take that tough decision. Sometimes those decisions work, but sometimes not. Except Mahela, Sangakkara and Malinga, all are relatively new players. All of them did their part and we are happy for that”, added Mathews.
III: Mathews hails Thirimanne,” in The Island
Sri Lankan cricket captain Angelo Mathews (C) carries the Asia Cup trophy as he and his team return to Colombo on March 9, 2014, after beating Pakistan in the Asia Cup final played in Dhaka. Pic by Lakruwan Wanniarachchi.
After missing most of Sri Lanka’s series against Bangladesh with an ankle injury, Lahiru Thirimanne returned to the side ahead of the Asia Cup. After he scored a century in the final to help his team achieve a five-wicket win, Sri Lanka’s captain Angelo Mathews said Thirimanne had batted with a “bit of a niggle” in their last two games.
“He [Thirimanne] has been amazing for us,” Mathews said. “He got injured, unfortunately, in the last series but he came back for us. He had a little bit of a niggle still, while he was batting, in the last two games, and he was very courageous to come out and play, the way he did.
“[I am] very happy, because you push him up the order, you push him down the order, he’s one of those players who never gets a chance at one spot. And wherever he gets the opportunity he scores runs for us. And that’s a team player for me, and he did amazing for us, and he’s a great find for us.”
Mathews agreed when asked if Thirimanne was in line to become Kumar Sangakkara’s long-term replacement in the Sri Lanka side. “Yeah, after Sangakkara, Mahela [Jayawardene] retire, Thirimanne, [Dinesh] Chandimal are the ones who are going to take their reins. It is not easy to fill their shoes, but the way they are performing right now, I’m pretty sure they’ll take responsibility in the future.”
After his century in the final, Thirimanne’s average in the top three rose to 49.08 in 14 innings. At No. 4 or lower, he averages 22.80 in 33 innings. “We’ve got to see how it goes,” Mathews said, when asked if Thirimanne would retain his role as opener in the near future. “He opened the batting because [Tillakaratne] Dilshan got injured in the Bangladesh series. As I said before, he’s one of those players, you give him the opportunity, wherever you bat him, he will score runs for us. We still haven’t thought about where he’s going to bat, but definitely he’s been a find for us this tournament.”
Lasith Malinga was Sri Lanka’s other hero of the day, taking all five wickets that fell during Pakistan’s innings. He was returning to the side after sitting out the match against Bangladesh.
“Really happy that he rested against Bangladesh,” Mathews said. “It’s not easy to play consistently, especially for the fast bowlers [who] especially tire out so much. We don’t have a lot of time in between [matches] so it’s always useful to manage the fast bowlers, especially their workloads, and we saved him for the final. He got a five-for in the first game against Pakistan, and also another five-for today, so he’s been performing tremendously for us and he’s been our premier bowler for so many years.”