Pakistan’s Cricket Victory Described as a Gift to a Nation


June 22, 2009

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Shahid Afridi of Pakistan, left, and Lasith Malinga of Sri Lanka on Sunday. Pakistan won the World Twenty20 championship

By HUW RICHARDS

LONDON — “World champions, we are the world champions,” the young woman in the green shirt said as she walked away from Lord’s cricket ground Sunday night. She said it again and again, her tone mixing proud assertion with disbelief after watching Pakistan’s cricket team complete its march to the World Twenty20 championship, defeating previously unbeaten Sri Lanka by the conclusive margin of 8 wickets.

Its victory exorcised two earlier defeats. Ten years ago, also at Lord’s, Pakistan lost miserably in a World Cup final against Australia. Two years ago, in the first World Twenty20 final, it suffered the peculiar agony of a narrow defeat to its fiercest rival, India.

It also had strong echoes of Pakistan’s greatest previous triumph — in the 1992 World Cup. As in this tournament, Pakistan started poorly in 1992 and played a succession of matches in peril of elimination, inspired by the call of its captain, Imran Khan, to “fight like a cornered tiger.”

Pakistan’s current captain, Younis Khan, no relation, trades in cheerful good humor rather than fiery speeches, but his team responded with tigerlike determination. The main worry of its thousands of fans, most of whom call a British city home but brought an invigorating South Asian passion to this most venerably English of sporting sites, was that it might have peaked in its semifinal defeat of apparently unstoppable South Africa.

Instead, it played even better. Sri Lanka, after winning the toss, chose to bat first — as it had done in most of its previous victories. Tillekeratne Dilshan, later chosen player of the tournament for his heavy scoring, was dismissed in the first over, and Sri Lanka was reduced to 26 for 4.

“We can’t expect Dilshan to do well every time,” Sri Lanka’s captain, Kumar Sangakkara, said later. “Other batsmen have to take responsibility.”

Sangakkara did that himself, batting with style and judgment to score 64 not out and take his team to 138 runs for 7 wickets from its 20 six-ball overs. It was, Sangakkara reckoned, “about 15 to 20 runs short.” Yet it was also more than the last four teams to bat second against Sri Lanka, including Pakistan earlier in the tournament, had managed.

Pakistan, though, staged an exemplary, exquisitely paced run-chase. The opening batsman Kamran Akmal provided the initial impetus with a vigorously struck 37, then all-rounder Shahid Afridi, man of the match in the victory over South Africa, took over.

Afridi wears 10 on his back, the number associated in soccer with creative playmakers, and he has their talent, charisma and style. Once famously impatient and impulsive, he batted with controlled power, keeping the score moving with ones and twos rather than blasting every time for the boundary.

Sangakkara tried all he knew to shake Pakistan, endlessly rotating his bowling options. Afridi sailed on. For the first time in the tournament, Sri Lanka’s brilliant young spinner Ajantha Mendis was made to look harmless.

As the winning run was registered with 8 balls and 8 wickets to spare, Afridi, man of the match for his 54 not out plus four tightly aggressive overs with the ball, stood at the wicket with his arms raised in triumph and was engulfed by his joyous teammates.

This was also a personal triumph for Khan, who announced his retirement from Twenty20 cricket after the match. It was he who advised Afridi to relax and not try to hit every ball for four. Khan also encouraged his bowlers with unorthodox moves like setting the close catcher, heresy in this form of the game, who dismissed Sri Lankan batsman Mahela Jayawardene.

Khan described the victory as “a gift from us to the whole nation.” Though Pakistan has been unable to stage international cricket since a terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore in March, Khan pleaded for other countries not to isolate Pakistan.

“We know conditions are not good in Pakistan, but if we don’t play cricket there, how are we going to inspire youngsters to play the game?” Khan said.

He also dedicated the result to Pakistan’s former coach Bob Woolmer, who died suddenly during the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies.

In the first Women’s World Twenty20 final, England defeated New Zealand by 6 wickets.

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