SL v WI, Final, World Twenty20, Colombo October 8, 2012

Another final, another heartbreak for Sri Lanka

It's tough to make sense of a loss so bizarre for Sri Lanka. Their journey so far might have provided a positive launching pad for the future, but for the moment the team must introspect

Walking through the Khettarama neighbourhood into the R Premadasa stadium on Sunday afternoon, it was impossible to contain a smile. Police had cordoned off the streets leading into the grounds to ease congestion, but the locals had taken that as a signal to begin the street party early. Stereos were set up on the roadside, pumping everything from baila to Western pop, grown men were dancing with children, Sri Lankan flags were draped across every balcony and awning, and the face painting stands and popcorn stalls were bedecked in blue and yellow. It was supposed to be the warm-up event, the precursor to the night's long celebrations.

Eight hours later, those same streets were deserted. No anger, no riots, just the profound disappointment only silence can convey. Signs in Sinhala reading "Victory to Sri Lanka" still flapped in between the lamp posts they had been anchored on. No one had had the will to remove them. Sri Lanka had hurtled to a cricket frenzy over the last few days, but their expectations have crashed and burned even more quickly. The country now awakes to gloom, and its team to questions that do not have easy answers.

How to make sense of a loss so bizarre? Of a team who gave it away so freely, having fashioned their campaign of newfound fortitude? They had trussed up Chris Gayle, and gagged the West Indies top order for more than half their innings. So dominant were the hosts at one stage that their fans might have been glad for Malinga's expensive 13th over. It is more satisfying to win against a worthy opponent after all. How to make peace with the thought of a captain so renowned for his acumen, sending forth his poorest bowler of the evening to be slaughtered across his full quota of overs? How, given West Indies had managed only to take the wicket of Tillakaratne Dilshan in both the Super Eights match and the pre-tournament practice game, did Sri Lanka's batsmen succumb so comprehensively that only three men among them breached double figures?

Even more disturbingly, what is behind Sri Lanka's inability to take that final leap to a secure a title? After the match, Mahela Jayawardene said there was no theme tying the four finals losses together, and given the quality of the champions on each previous occasion, he might have a point. But in front of a desperate home crowd, and having progressed so ominously throughout the tournament, perhaps this loss will sting the most. Sri Lanka will not have the chance to host a major tournament again until the next decade at least.

"It hurts a lot," Jayawardene said. "It hurts because you want to do something special. Not just personally as individuals but for the public as well. We've been playing some good cricket but we haven't been able to cross that hurdle. As a cricketer, it hurts a lot. We need to move on and try and see how well we can get over this and get back on and keep fighting again."

The pluck that had defined Sri Lanka's campaign suddenly deserted them in the biggest game. It was as if they had used up all their mettle on the semi-final dogfight with Pakistan. The bowlers cowered when Marlon Samuels and Darren Sammy swung hard and the batsmen shrunk away when faced with persistent bowling of good quality. It is clear Sri Lanka responded poorly to pressure against West Indies, but it is also too simplistic to label them chokers. The ease with which they've cleared the penultimate hurdle en route to each final proves they have the capacity to handle big matches. Still, at some point, the aggregation of so many finals losses will put some serious dents in the team's confidence. It is a strange record, but it is one that will now hang heavy above them in any crunch encounter.

In the short term, Sri Lanka now face the prospect of having to pick themselves up after another heartbreak - something they failed to do after the 2011 final loss. Jayawardene's resignation from the Twenty20 captaincy, though well intentioned, has thrown up yet more questions. Angelo Mathews' short dalliances with leadership may have been encouraging so far, but will his own development suffer if he is burdened too early (as he might be if Jayawardene steps down from all formats in January)? He is too important a player for Sri Lanka's future for the selectors to make that mistake. Is the young middle order around Mathews growing as it should? Twice in this tournament they have underwhelmed against high quality bowling, and they are yet to add dependability to their flair.

Sri Lanka have three weeks to perform the post-mortem before New Zealand arrive. In December, they embark on their biggest tour in years when they travel to Australia for a three-Test series. They cannot afford to let another defeat faze them for long. The World Twenty20 title might have provided a positive launching pad for the future, but for the moment Sri Lanka must introspect. The way ahead is unclear.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 9, 2012, 10:01 GMT

    Well done team Sri Lanka. Some reasons why we lost.... 1) Malinga was continued after such a bashinh. 2) Sri Lanka's best ODI bowler for the last 18 months was not used even when Malinga got hit. 3) The big three ocupying the the first three batters. The others did not get a chance to get used to wickets. They should have let Angelo, Thisara and Tirimanne bat alternatively at the top three positions. Thisara or Angelo could be used for opening. Angelo used to open for his school and for Sri Lanka Under 19. The big three nearing 36 now are greedy for runs ? I wonder as they could be pushed off by the youngsters soon... Angelo, Chandimal, Tirimanne should be the new top 3 to be groomed. and Chandimal and Angelo should bat at nos 3 and 4 in all forms and let Sanga and Mahela occupy 5 and 6. Or else these guys will not get the experience against the new ball.

  • Dummy4 on October 9, 2012, 9:53 GMT

    There are quite a few SL fans disappointed in this forum and calling them chokers.But I have a different view.Once their batting gets past 1,2 and 3 it hardly exudes any confidenc.Angelo Mathews touted as future captain is a big disgrace to the team.SL immediately need couple of match winning batsemen once biggies move on.They are are loosing finals becoz of lack of punch/hard hitting batsmen.Got nothing to do with choking.SA inspite of all the available ingredients they loose which is called choking.

  • Dummy4 on October 9, 2012, 8:31 GMT

    I think The Sri Lankan Team need to Practice more at Premadasa Stadium since the renovations of the pitch would have given them the edge. Playing at pallekelle and hambantota didnt' do the team justice they faltered at the final .hope the planning for future matches would be sensible using stats on win ratios .But I must say the Sri Lankan team are no pushovers they are a team with quality players and a force to reckon with.

  • Duttagupta on October 9, 2012, 6:32 GMT

    I don't why SA is compared to SL. SA is the number one test playng country the highest in any form. There is no comparison od SA and SL here. Coming back to ODI or T20 , those are still child wrt Test matches. India became number one, England and Australia became number one. And now SA. Can SL or Pak become number one in Test. I don't think so.

  • Hasitha on October 9, 2012, 6:30 GMT

    It's heatbreaking for fans to see their team missing out on four occasions. However, as many agree reachnig finals on four occasions in itself is and acheivement.

    We are proud of what you acheived. Good luck team SL.....

  • Dummy4 on October 9, 2012, 6:10 GMT

    I don't know why these articles sound like SL got eliminated in round 1 of all World Cups. "but for the moment Sri Lanka must introspect. The way ahead is unclear."- it makes it sound like that. Reaching 4 Finals in 5 years is a tremendous achievement which most teams would be proud of. They just need that something extra from 1 player- a special knock like Samuels played or MS Dhoni played- to win them the tournaments. It's not such a catastrophe as some people are making it sound!

  • Dummy4 on October 8, 2012, 23:53 GMT

    If the World Cup is a wedding, then the Trophy is the groom and the Sri Lankan cricket team are the Bridesmaids.

  • mark on October 8, 2012, 21:02 GMT

    I think even though we played through out the tournament pretty well, we didn't have a big cause to win..I mean like 1992 WC, pak won bcos Imran Khan had reason to back for his career and country for build a cancer hospital, 96 We won bcos Arjuna had strong cause to back Murali and all players were pumped up against Aus.& 2012, WI. it has been long time their criket gone down and really whole world needed them to come up and they have enough strength to come to that level.. so finally it happend.. the way SL played the first half of the game and how it ended is totally contrasting.other hand having been in 4 world final matches give confidence even in future it wont be a big issue to reach another final given the situaton before 16 yrs bfor it was a dream even to go to is realy sad that Sang/Mahela is unable to lift a world trophy for the country, but stil they hav one more then it wil be the climax of their career and that would b a good cause to win it cherrish

  • Pak on October 8, 2012, 20:36 GMT

    I don't know why people keep saying "They reached four finals..." . Reaching the Final of any such tournament in itself is no small task. And that to Four times!? Thats nothing to be ashamed about. Its an achievement in itself.

    Don't worry about such statistics SL fans. Your time will definitely come. :) You just have to keep at it like your team's have been doing. Great cricketers who command great respect.

  • Mel on October 8, 2012, 19:15 GMT

    Srilanka are the new Chokers. South Africa welcomes Srilanka to the club

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