here were no crowd catches from the thousands at Galle Face green on Sunday night. No wild cheers for a well-struck ball until it was absolutely clear it would cross the rope. As Kumar Sangakkara and Thisara Perera hit the boundaries that lurched Sri Lanka towards an 18-year dream, there was some jubilation, but the masses held something back. They had been burnt too many times. Sri Lanka had played too well in too many tournaments, looked like winners in too many finals, and had still failed to bag the prize.
There was half a second as Thisara advanced to that wide R Ashwin ball when the Indian Ocean breaking on the adjacent beach was heard in perfect silence. Then, on the green and on the street, Colombo's euphoric mayhem broke out.
For many, Sunday was the fifth time they had gathered in front of a big screen with their friends, so when glory finally came, they made it five times the party. Not that Sri Lankans need a special occasion to enjoy themselves. Even a friend leaving on a two-week vacation or a cousin landing a part-time job is enough reason to break out the Mendis Special and the baila.
At the end of the 15th over, India were 95 for 2. They had erected a platform, Virat Kohli feverishly throwing up scaffolding while Yuvraj Singh pulled on his overalls and got ready to go to work. Nuwan Kulasekara bowled the next over and Kohli rattled 14 off the first three deliveries, as India moved friskily into three figures. Keep going at that sort of rate and they would set a useful 160-odd, enough to put the pressure on to a Sri Lanka batting attack that has developed a few creaks.
Kohli finished the over on 70 from 50 balls. He would end the innings being run out for 77 from 58. The last four overs of the India innings dragged them under like a dead weight. Yuvraj never got going, and practically played a match-losing knock, as Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga and Sachithra Senanayake colluded in a T20 closing spell for the ages. Kumar Sangakkara, whose unbeaten half-century clinched the match, said he had never seen anything like it.
Malinga is Sri Lanka's life assurance policy. Here he filled the 18th and 20th with yorker after yorker, mostly wide, occasionally trying to play the xylophone on the batsman's toes, all virtually unhittable. Yuvraj poked and prodded; at the other end Kohli twiddled and fumed. MS Dhoni could barely touch him, either, while two of the runs that did come at the end were byes, when even Sangakkara was foxed.
"Those last four overs were immaculate," Sangakkara said, "I haven't seen four overs like that bowled to a guy on 70-something off 50 balls and to a guy like MS Dhoni who can hit any ball out of the park, for them not to be able to get bat on ball for four overs, 24 balls, that just goes to show the quality of our bowling attack and the hard work that they've done, the planning before this game and how we executed that. I think that really set up the win, chasing 130, you'd take that any day on any wicket but to restrict a side like that we needed something special and our bowlers produced it."
Afterwards, it was Dhoni who had to pay tribute. "You should give credit to the Sri Lankan bowlers," he said. "They executed their plan brilliantly. They were looking for wide yorkers and all the balls were perfect wide yorkers. I think they only bowled one wide, other than that they were right on mark, which made it all the more difficult for our batsmen to score freely.
" India defended the small total admirably, preying on the Sri Lankan nerves, fielding everything down, spinning a web around the batsmen, but the two champions somehow had enough in them to take their side over the line. Under palpable pressure, against a shrewd limited-overs captain, Jayawardene settled the early nerves with a run-a-ball 24, and Sangakkara saw the chase through with an ice-cool unbeaten 52 off 35.
Big finals are a cruel business, though, and history will remember Yuvraj's knock as much as it will Sangakkara's. He has won India matches from nowhere on innumerable occasions, he has buried sides with his cameos, he has turned around games in 10 balls, which is why he was still part of the team in the final. MS Dhoni trusted his match-winner, and sent him in ahead of Suresh Raina and himself. Kohli, now the leading run-scorer in any World Twenty20, had just begun to put behind him a slow start against disciplined Sri Lankan bowling. He had even been dropped by opposition captain Lasith Malinga on 11. He was in a mood to make them pay.
Sri Lanka, though, kept their wits, and gave Yuvraj nothing to score off. That too after Kohli had laced the otherwise frugal Nuwan Kulasekara for six, four and six in the 16th over to make it 111 for 2. That over featured another slip in the fielding when the fielder at cow corner was lobbed after misjudging a catch. Normally you would expect teams to fall apart at these times, but Sri Lanka produced four superb overs.
Sri Lanka, though, were entering unchartered territory. The fear of winning does strange things. They looked for the easy route. Kusal Perera tried to smash everything, smashed one out of the first six, and went out to the seventh. Jayawardene brought sanity to proceedings with a tickle here, a nudge there, and with the required run-rate in grasp it began to become a stroll, until R Ashwin, the bowler of the tournament, produced a top edge from Tillakaratne Dilshan, which was caught excellently by Kohli at the square-leg boundary. Two men who didn't deserve to be on the losing side were keeping India alive.
Jayawardene and Sangakkara then added a run-a-ball 24. Jayawardene began to toy around with the fields. Cricket lovers all around the world now began to dream of a fairy-tale finish. What could be better than these two stalwarts, much like Arjuna and Aravinda 18 years ago, being there in the end?
Jayawardene toe-ended a sweep off part-timer Suresh Raina, and Ashwin produced a diving catch at midwicket. Soon Dhoni took a sensational low catch to send Lahiru Thirimanne back. Dhoni's team had never lost a world final; it was now sensing the kill at 78 for 4 in the 13th over. This was tense stuff. They tried the desperate now. Not having the emotional strength left to take this to the deep bitter end, they sent in the big hitter Thisara Perera ahead of Angelo Mathews.
Sangakkara had been going smoothly at one end, but it was the other end that was causing the trouble. The risk was taken. You couldn't change it even if you wanted to, with Perera scoring just two off the first six, and with 47 still required off the last six overs. This was the moment, though. Mishra, two overs for four runs till now, was bowling to two left-hand batsmen. The first ball Perera got from Mishra, he shimmied down a touch and let out an almighty swing. As it flew into the night sky and over long-on, relief came back into the camp. The cool Sangakkara then guided Mishra past fine leg, and this was now turning Sri Lanka's way.
In the next over, Sangakkara played probably the shot of the match. Sangakkara moved inside the line of one, took it in front of middle, and closed the face at the exact moment to tickle it through that fine-leg gap for four. Now some luck appeared too with edges landing safely in the home stretch. You couldn't fault Sangakkara for wondering where the hell this luck had been when Gilchrist, Gambhir, Afridi and Samuels had broken his heart. This night, though, was for him to rejoice. All those defeats will hurt a little less now.