COLOMBO: Australia’s unmatched World Cup record and their on-field dominance over Pakistan make them favourites ahead of today’s match, but the defending champions will have to contend with a partisan crowd at the R. Premadasa Stadium on Saturday.
Tickets for this particular match went on sale a week ago and, surprisingly, the match remains a sell-out despite the fact that the home side is not even involved. Also, with a large Pakistan contingent flying into Colombo for this match – and the local Muslim population backing the men in green - the 1992 champions will see plenty of support.
The venue, which went under extensive renovation for the World Cup, is located in Khettarama, a Muslim majority area in the suburbs of Colombo. Islamic schools, restaurants and shops can be found aplenty scattered in around the stadium. The local mosque lies just behind one of the stands, with a narrow street dividing cheering fans and the local shanty houses.
Khettarama was a swampland comprising a Buddhist temple and a mosque before it became home to Sri Lanka’s biggest cricket stadium. Ranasinghe Premadasa, Sri Lanka’s president from 1989 to 1993, sought to turn the swampland-turned-garbage-dump into an area where sport would thrive. Consequently, work began with the intention of building world-class cricket and football stadiums and while the former became a reality in 1986, local footballers’ dreams fell prey to politics and the rest of the land saw dwellers stake their claim and a small town popping up.
The inhabitants of this shanty town, the nearby houses and apartment buildings are so passionate about supporting their Muslim brothers that during the Sri Lanka-Pakistan group match, they chose to back the tourists instead of the home nation, drawing criticism from the local media. With Pakistan overcoming Sri Lanka in the particular clash, hopes are high from the crowd for another exciting clash. And as rain looks to play spoilsport, Pakistan will once again rely on the crowd backing to muster them through the storm that is Australia in World Cups.