The colourful draping across the motorcade that hit the roadway from the Katunayake airport projecting the catchy images of their Lion heroes along with the bold inscription, ASIA CUP CHAMPIONS as the triumphant Sri Lankan Asia Cup champions rode to Colombo to the wild cheers of applauding fans was the electrifying atmosphere as a nation gathered along the streets to salute Skipper Dasun and his team that returned early Tuesday morning from Dubai. The trophy glitter that was a fitting birthday present for Shanaka who turned 31 on September 9 in the run up to last Sunday’s triumph over Pakistan in the final was as much a grand hurrah fulfilment for the 22 million cricket crazy nation brought alive from the long drawn pangs of the Covid epidemic followed by an economic disaster. Indeed, the country’s exuberant young band of cricketers had brought alive their countrymen by fulfilling a pledge their smiling cricket captain had vowed to keep as well as Player of the Match Bhanuka Rajapaksa to raise their spirits.
The momentous occasion was enveloped in one huge wave of around 50,000 cheering fans from all walks of life to whom the game of cricket has come to be the soul of life that lined the streets to catch a glimpse of their smiling heroes who waved back in acknowledgment of an appreciative populace. It was indeed a spill over of a nation celebrating into the wee hours of the following morning following Sri Lanka’s defeat of Pakistan in the final on Sunday in Dubai. The overflowing joy was understandable. Sri Lanka had not tasted cup glory in 8 years when the Asia Cup was won. A s significant was that the bringing home a trophy in the top flight fling of cricket had come following an arduous journey mounted by Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) of a new generation that has answered that clarion call.
As the motorcade reached the Sri Lanka Cricket headquarters at Maitland Place, the crowds went hoarse. Lighting up the occasion was the country’s famous Cheer Man flag waving Percy Abeysekera, who had joined the cricketers on the ride from the airport, in the humour of a dance atop. As Shanaka and the rest alighted and wend their way to the cricket board holding aloft the trophy, they were greeted with rounds of applause and cheers. It was indeed a cup mission fulfilled against the odds of a team that went into the tournament as third ranked favourites. Win they did coming out of a early scare of losing to Afghanistan in the curtain raiser to winning on the trot from there rolling over Bangladesh and avenging a 105-run defeat by hammering Afghanistan in the Super Four to knocking out reigning champions and top favourites India to twice licking Pakistan.