ICC World T20 champions Sri Lanka take a merry ride on an open-top bus as jubilant fans line the Colombo streets to greet their cricketing heroes yesterday. Photo: AFP
Sri Lanka's team flew home in triumph Tuesday to a huge street party after winning the World Twenty20, but celebrations were marred by controversy over the retirements of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.
Tens of thousands of fans lined the street from the main international airport to downtown Colombo, a distance of 35 kilometres, causing traffic chaos across the capital as the heroes passed by in a motorcade.
Sangakkara and Jayawardene, both former skippers, told reporters at the airport there were serious disagreements about their retirement from T20 cricket.
Jayawardene said his remarks to a local newspaper, that the tournament may be his final T20 appearance, had been taken as notice of his intention to retire, and based on that he had been criticised by a cricket board official.
"I am disappointed and hurt that an official went public criticising us without first asking us whether we actually made those remarks," he told reporters shortly after landing.
"I agree with what he says," Sangakkara added.
Both said they had been uncertain whether they would play in the World T20 tournament until a few hours before they were due to leave for Bangladesh.
Sources close to the players said they did not finalise their employment contracts with the cricket board until the eve of their departure, following disputes between players and the board over pay and conditions.
There was no immediate comment from the cricket board, but an official had earlier criticised both senior players for allegedly going public about their retirement plans without prior notice to the board.
On the eve of the finals with India, the board announced a million dollar bonus for the team if it could finally shed its reputation for "choking" in major tournaments.
Sri Lanka hosted but lost the last World T20 tournament in 2012, and were defeated in the final of the 2007 and 2011 50-over World Cups.
Sangakkara was in celebratory mood despite grumbles with the board.
"Its going to be a massive day," he tweeted, along with photos of fans who mobbed the airport and the streets to greet him and the rest of the team.
"Rain gods be kind."
The met office had forecast thunder showers in Colombo, but the weather was holding up as the team was driven at a snail's pace to meet President Mahinda Rajapakse.
Fans waved national flags and cheered as the team bus escorted by hundreds of motorcycles and cars passed by. It was the biggest street party since government forces crushed Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.
The victory on Sunday night in Dhaka came 18 years after Sri Lanka's triumph in the 50-over World Cup, which had been followed by a series of defeats in the finals of major tournaments.