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Pakistan v Sri Lanka, ICC World Twenty20 final, Lord's

No losers in a match that's bigger than the game

What can a mere sporting win do? A lot

Sambit Bal

June 20, 2009

Comments: 26 | Text size: A | A

Kumar Sangakkara and Younis Khan stand alongside each other for the national anthems, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, ICC World Twenty20 Super Eights, Lord's, June 12, 2009
Among all those participating in this tournament, no two nations need the lift sporting success can bring more than Sri Lanka and Pakistan © AFP

That the favourites and the glamour boys have all vacated the stage has provided the World Twenty20 the most poignant finale possible. By their presence in the final, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have offered cricket the opportunity to be bigger than itself: from being a mere spectacle, there is now the prospect of cricket serving a greater purpose.

That the two best, most varied, and most individualistic bowling sides have made it to the final of the premier tournament in Twenty20, a format that gives batsmen obscene liberty, is itself a cause for celebration. But if you allow yourself to see the broader picture, the matters of bat and ball become insignificant before the human possibilities the final offers. Among all those participating in this tournament, no two nations need the lift sporting success can bring more than Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Sri Lanka has just emerged from the bloodiest of civil wars that has claimed thousands of lives and left many more painful memories. The victory over the Tamil Tigers has been costly and, while there is a measure of self-congratulation, the fractures in society remain.

In Pakistan, the war might have just begun. The state of cricket in Pakistan is a fairly accurate illustration of its position in the real world. Younis Khan, a man of many admirable qualities, pointed out - perhaps unwittingly but poignantly - that the strife of the cricket team merely mirrors the state of the nation. More than the chaos, though, the country, like its cricket, is in danger of being pushed to the margins - and, worse, a point of no return.

What can a mere sporting win do? A lot. There is no overstating the healing power of sport. Sports fans live their dreams through the lives of their sporting heroes and win radiates joy. And it's a joy that spreads easily and it helps forge bonds and ease pain, however momentarily. Most sportsmen are aware of this power and that this makes them worthy.

It is unlikely that when they go out in their country's colours tomorrow the Sri Lankans and the Pakistanis will be oblivious to the wider significance of the match. Rather than weighing them down, such knowledge should be empowering. It can invest their game with a little more meaning and passion. Twenty20 is not a game of grand ideas and epic performances. It's a game of moments; inspiration matters.

Sri Lanka are among the most-loved teams in world cricket. What's not to love? They play an interesting, engaging and endearing brand of cricket. Their style is a triumph of natural flair and individual spirit over the rigours of process. They carry no bloated egos and most of them play with a smile. Their desire to win hasn't overpowered their necessity to lead a normal life and they haven't allowed success to spoil their manners.

There is no overstating the healing power of sport. Sports fans live their dreams through the lives of their sporting heroes and win radiates joy. And it's joy that spreads easily and it helps forge bonds and ease pain, however momentarily

I asked Mahela Jayawerdene last year, when he was still the captain, if it was a challenge for him and senior players to manage the sudden stardom of Ajantha Mendis, who had just landed an IPL contract. Jayawardene answered with breathtaking simplicity and clarity. The culture played a big part, he said; at the end of the day there are certain values that everyone had to fall in line with. Whoever didn't fit into those sets of rules and goals wouldn't be part of the team, irrespective of how good they were.

Even if you were neutral, Sri Lanka are a team whose success makes you feel good.

And Pakistan - has there ever been a more confounding and enthralling team? Always in tumult, always in strife, always on the edge, and often in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, yet always potential winners.

No one, least of all the players themselves, has ever known what they will, or can, do next. Bereft of match practice, plagued by controversies, and running low on resources, what business did they have to reach the final? However, though it seems ages ago, weren't they in the final of this very tournament a couple of years ago?

The last time they won a world tournament was in 1992. Then too they began their campaign in disarray and lived from match to match. That team had more quality and a leader who could rouse them. This time they made it to semi-finals almost stealthily and then knocked out the favourites with a bravura performance.

The mere thought that they could win the tournament would have been staggering a couple of weeks ago, but now, standing on the edge of possibility, they can do anything.

Going by how they have played so far, Sri Lanka deserve to win, but Pakistan need it more. It's a cliché, but there will no losers tomorrow.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

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Posted by deemis on (June 21, 2009, 12:07 GMT)

Today is a game of two winners.....but no loser..!! Its more the game of nerves than know how...who will keep the nerves better in gripp is da winner....but i do belive the two teams facing in final are the winners, so i dont think anyone shd be disoppointed in the last and as a sportsmen spirit accept the final result .....I WISH BOTH TEAMS GOOD LUCK AND GUD GAME

Posted by asi.ali on (June 21, 2009, 12:05 GMT)

I think this an excellent article, its great read.

Posted by Partyman on (June 21, 2009, 11:12 GMT)

"Even if you were neutral, Sri Lanka are a team whose success makes you feel good" - You could not be any further away from the truth. The so called emerald nation is anything but for the 300,000 or so refugees holed up in the camps in the north of the country in some worse conditions ever seen. Being neutral I feel nothing but contempt for the team which is representing the perpetrators of such a crime. Also, if you believe sporting victories would bring a lot to the millions in the SWAT Valley, you must be kidding. Any amount of victories would not give those millions their dignity nor the lives of the loved ones they have lost. It is plain obliviousness and naivety to believe that victories would transform lives - they just give them a feel good factor for a week or a month at most. But then those affected have a far more tougher battle to win than to follow cricket. Cricket is overrated. It is time for journalists like you to get some real perspective.

Posted by Shimbo on (June 21, 2009, 11:06 GMT)

Well done Pakistan and Sri lanka. I am a Sri Lankan and obviously woluld like SL to win. If pakistan win I wouldnn't be less happier either as I feel like Pakistan is my adopted country as far as Cricket is concerned. I want Sanath and Afridi to do well as thay will defintely bring the finals to a diffrent level altogether. I don't like compare Sanath with any one else but Afridi. In their primes they were extraodinerly talented individuals the Cricket have never seen before. They both are are on a different league. I am so happy that I got two teams I like the most in the final. This is very good for all who likes peace and harmony who don't care how it comes. We both are humble nations who trying to keep our head above water and the looser will congratulate the winner with open arms. I can't wait to see the final celibrations where I can enjoy either way.

Posted by Niaz on (June 21, 2009, 10:07 GMT)

I partly agree with what Sambit says......A sporting win can do a lot but does it in reality? Things (Another Tournament) happen so fast in cricket that even before they enjoy this victory, they will be playing again in a new tour. Unlike in Football, where the Nation can enjoy a sporting win it really doesn't happen in Cricket!

Posted by AncientAstronaut on (June 21, 2009, 9:12 GMT)

The heart of the article is in the right place, but with all due respect, it's damn boring. In fact all your articles are a pain to read (barring the one on the 26/11 attacks, which was really was touching). You tend to be over-dramatic, over-romantic, and over-poetic.

Posted by LULLS on (June 21, 2009, 9:10 GMT)

A very good article.I am a Pakistani Cricket fan and obviously like Pakistan to win, but I will be happy for Sri Lanka if they win it. Like you said Sril Lanka dserved this but Pakistan need it most.

Congratulation to PAKISTAN AND SRI LANKA for keeping the fans entertanied and reaching the finals. May the best team win....

Posted by M.Deen on (June 21, 2009, 8:44 GMT)

Good article by Sambit. Well put! Excellent performance and team work of Sri Lankan Cricket reached to T20 final. As well parallel they overcome many unpleasant situations created by various politically motivated UK based gangs. Best wishes for both T20 finalists.

Posted by ZulqarnainHaider on (June 21, 2009, 8:26 GMT)

The Best article I ever read in Cricinfo. very well written. I hope i will not miss sambit,s next articles

Posted by iBilal on (June 21, 2009, 8:17 GMT)

Agree with u on the fact that there will be 'no losers tomorrow'. Both teams have shown their spirit, passion and most importantly a Strong WILL to win, far more greater than any other team... WIN or LOSE, for us they were, they are and they will remain champions of our hearts. I love Srilankan team not only for their performance but for their simplicity, compassion and humbleness. Srilankans were the only team that humbly agreed to visit Pakistan this year, despite knowing the turbulent situation over here. Unfortunately, they had to face the March 3 Atrocity and believe me We all Pakistanis felt it in our hearts as an attack on our own brothers and we profoundly apologize for what happened. Being a Pakistani, My support is for Pakistan..Thats natural, I cant help that..its not me, its the Pakistani inside me... But I have mixed feelings of modesty and excitement about Srilanka as well. Theena here pointed out justly that we are more of a Cricketing Cousins. Best of Luck to both team

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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