Colombo: Sri Lanka’s cricket-loving President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, doesn’t want it to be third time unlucky for his team. And, so, he’s going to strictly play it by the ear in Sunday’s World Twenty20 final.
“I’ve been to two World Cup finals (Barbados in 2007 and Mumbai in 2011) and you know the result... I’ll see how the final against the West Indies goes and, then, take a call on heading to the (R. Premadasa) stadium,” Rajapaksa stated, smiling.
Speaking at a reception hosted at his official residence, Temple Trees, for officials and the media on Saturday evening, Rajapaksa added: “I’d like to be there, but you can understand... Everybody expects our team to win.”
Turning to a group of media personnel from India, Rajapaksa asked: “But what happened to your team?”
India exited in the Super Eights, despite a high rating going into the tournament.
When a Pakistani mediaman wanted to know if, at some point in the future, Sri Lanka’s visit would mark the return of international cricket in his country, Rajapaksa replied: “I don’t have a problem, but the security issue has to be settled... Terrorists, as we know, want publicity.”
Tours have stopped after the Sri Lankan cricketers were attacked off the Gaddafi Stadium in early 2009.
Later, in a one-on-one with The Telegraph, Rajapaksa said that he was a “big fan” of Sachin Tendulkar and that The Master should continue playing till such time that he could “add value.”
“Eventually, it will be a personal decision, but Sachin must play till he can add value... Cricketers like him are rare... It’s for the same reason that I wanted Sanath (Jayasuriya, who is an MP) to continue till he did,” Rajapaksa pointed out.
In his younger days, Rajapaksa, now 66, used to be an admirer of the late Conrad Hunte. “The West Indies players of that generation and even later had such an awesome presence... Wesley Hall, Clive Lloyd...”
Rajapaksa himself played “a bit of cricket” till he was 16 or so. “After that, coming from a political family, I had to get my priorities right... Where was the time to play cricket? Today, where’s the time to watch Test matches? But, yes, one could go for the 50-over games and the T20 matches,” he maintained.
Former captain Jayasuriya was a special invitee and, turning to him, Rajapaksa whispered. “I’ve got to list him as one of my favourite cricketers...”
According to Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka had the “edge” in the final, but winning the toss is going to be critical.
“Don’t know if one can play the perfect game, but to win, you need to be as close to perfect as possible,” Jayasuriya observed.
In wanting to spoil Sri Lanka’s party, West Indies captain Darren Sammy is, of course, hoping for an “A-plus” performance.
Footnote: Colombo’s mayor, A.J.M. Muzammil, is also a “big fan” of Sachin. Not only for his achievements, but for being role model No.1.