Traffic came to a standstill in the Sri Lankan city of Colombo as thousands of cheering fans lined the streets to welcome home the national cricket team when they touched down at Bandaranaike International Airport on Tuesday after wining the ICC World Twenty20 tournament.
Eighteen years after taking the 50-overs World Cup, the squad again sparked euphoria across Sri Lanka after beating favorites India in Sunday’s final in Dhaka.
Following their three-hour flight from the Bangladeshi capital, the team showed off the T20 World Cup trophy as they traveled in an open-top bus along a 30km route to Temple Trees, the official residence of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“I am thankful for all the Sri Lankan fans, because without them, to have won this tournament, it would have been impossible,” batsman Kumar Sangakkara told a news conference at the airport.
However, the celebrations were marred by controversy over the retirements of Sir Lanka legends Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
Sangakkara and Jayawardene, both former skippers, said at the airport that there were serious disagreements about their leaving T20 cricket.
Jayawardene said that remarks he made to a local newspaper that the ICC event may be his final T20 appearance had been taken as notice of his intention to retire, earning him the criticism of an official with Sri Lanka Cricket, the national governing body for the sport, for going public with the announcement without notifying the board first.
“I am disappointed and hurt that an official went public criticizing us without first asking us whether we actually made those remarks,” he told reporters.
“I agree with what he says,” Sangakkara added.
Both said they had been uncertain whether they would play in Dhaka until a few hours before they were due to leave. Sources said the two did not finalize their contracts with Sri Lanka Cricket until the eve of their departure, following disputes over pay and conditions.
However, Sangakkara was still in celebratory mood, despite the grumbles with the board.
“Its going to be a massive day,” he tweeted along with photographs of fans who mobbed the airport and the streets to greet him and the rest of the team. “Rain gods be kind.”
Thunder showers had been forecast in Colombo, but the weather was holding up as the team was driven to meet Rajapakse. It was Sri Lanka’s biggest street party since government forces crushed Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009, ending a decades-long insurgency.