Hope of Peace through cricket

April 26, 2007 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s surge into cricket’s World Cup final this weekend has raised hopes of a peace dividend on an island united by sport but divided by conflict, even if no one is showing long-term optimism. Cricket is hugely popular in Sri Lanka and is seen as one of the few things that cuts through political and ethnic lines amid escalating fighting between troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.

The nation is set to come to a standstill for Saturday’s final in Barbados against Australia, despite the time lag, while President Mahinda Rajapakse is expected to travel out there to cheer them on.

Back home, fans are planning multi-faith services to bestow blessings on a team that has overcome the divisions to achieve international success.

Sri Lanka’s national broadcaster Rupavahini has erected a giant television screen outside parliament while hotels and restaurants have arranged coverage to ensure clients will not miss out.

The streets will be deserted for the game, which — if Tuesday’s semi-final is anything to go by — will start in mid-evening Colombo time and last until three or four in the morning.

On Tuesday, the guns fell quiet while Sri Lanka were defeating New Zealand in the sem