For the first time in the World Twenty20 the home fans turned their back on Pakistan here Thursday, naturally so because their semifinal opponents were none other than the hosts Sri Lanka.
Pakistan had received good support, even in their Super Eights match against arch-rivals India in Colombo on Sunday, but R Premadasa Stadium reverberated for Mahela Jayawardene’s team, aiming to lift their first major trophy since winning the 1996 World Cup.
“This Cup is ours,” said sisters Malissa and Belinda, who have come with a group of girls from Colombo college, all dressed in yellow and blue Sri Lankan shirts. “We want the title and we are going to snatch it from other teams.”
The semi-final, a repeat of World Twenty20 final which Pakistan won in 2009, is a sell-out with the home fans outnumbering the travelling Pakistanis.
Among the Pakistani fans is Zaman Khan, famous as Chacha (Uncle) Twenty20 cricket.
“I will shout my throat out,” said Zaman, a driver in Dubai who is in Sri Lanka to support Pakistan since the event started. “Up until now the Sri Lankans had supported our team but it’s natural that they will not do that today.”
Pakistan captain Mohammad Hafeez had said the crowd turning their backs will not matter to his team.
“We are now quite used to it as we don’t play any cricket in Pakistan for the last three years,” Hafeez said on the eve of the match. “I hope the fans support good cricket by both the teams.”
Pakistan have been forced to play all their home cricket on neutral venues like United Arab Emirates and England since the March 2009 attacks on a Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore.
“I hope international cricket resumes in Pakistan so that we could play before our home fans,” said Hafeez, whose counterpart Mahela Jayawardene also hoped a festive atmosphere will add to the charm of the match.
“It’s good to be back in Colombo,” said Jayawardene, whose team played earlier matches at Hambantota and Pallekele. “We have enjoyed playing here, I am sure the crowd will turn out in big numbers and support us.”
Shops in the near-by markets were shut down early in the evening and traffic was diverted to allow the fans to reach the stadium in time for the start.
“I had to close my shop at noon because I had to prepare for the match,” said Mohammad Azim, owner of a grocery shop. “As a Muslim I will be supporting Pakistan a bit but my prayers are for Sri Lanka to win.”
Inside the stadium fans chanted slogans in the local language, blowing trumpets on a good start by Sri Lanka, who won the toss and batted.
The final is scheduled for Sunday.
-With The Daily Star input