Sri Lanka return to heroes' welcome
"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