Colombo, March 25 (IANS) Large-size cut-outs of Sri Lankan cricketers line up the streets of this capital of the island nation. The air is thick with anticipation and the buzz cannot be missed on the eve of World Cup co-hosts’ quarter-final against England here Saturday.
The game is a lifeline for the locals here, and the 35,000-capacity R.Premadasa Stadium is expected to be teeming with people.
Unlike India where the build-up to the World Cup has taken time, Sri Lanka tuned up for the big occasion much earlier.
The festoons and posters of ICC cricket World Cup welcome visitors at the Bandaranaike International Airport as the mega-event nears crescendo.
With two sub-continent giants India and Pakistan already through to the semi-finals, Sri Lanka is only eager to join them.
“This World Cup is for the sub-continent and one of the teams from here will win it,” says Sanjeewa Bandara, a banker.
“We were so happy to see India beat Australia in the quarter-finals. The Australians have been dominating cricket for so long. They have beaten Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka in the last three World Cups. This time though we can rest assured that the trophy will come back to the subcontinent.”
Former Sri Lankan player Ranjit Fernando said excitement in the country is peak high with the quarter-final scheduled for Saturday.
“The build-up has been gradual, but now there is only talk of cricket. Sri Lanka playing the World Cup quarter-finals at home is a big occasion and everyone wants to be part of it,” Fernando told IANS.
“Everyone is hoping that Sri Lanka will win.”
Fernando said England will be no pushovers and predicted it to be a close game.
“England have shown attitude and character in this tournament. They have come from difficult situations to win big games.”
Rain could be a spoilsport in this part of world. The group match between Sri Lanka and Australia was washed out. It rained Thursday as well, forcing Sri Lanka to cancel their morning practice session.
Cricket enthusiast Dinesh Perera puts things in perspective.
“It is Muthiah Muraliatharan’s last international tournament and people want him to retire with a World Cup triumph,” he said.
“The game is so big here. No other sport comes even close to the popularity of cricket and that soars the expectations of people from their team.”