Courageous Sri Lanka put the past behind
The last time these two nations met on a cricket field, Sri Lanka left by helicopter gunship. A scenic bus journey through the tree-lined streets of St John's Wood on Friday no doubt served as a contrasting - and, perhaps, cathartic - experience for those concerned, but the preceding three hours at Lord's proved, in pure cricketing terms, just how little had changed for Sri Lanka in the intervening three months.
The world will inevitably remember the second Test at Lahore for the bullets that tore through flesh and innocence outside the gates to the Gadaffi Stadium. In the circumstances, the scoreline of the match seems trivial to the point of irrelevance; the counting of runs giving way to the counting of bodies.
But a review of the abandoned game is instructive in illustrating the strength of character and resolve of Sri Lanka's players. Despite being forced at gunpoint upon an emotional journey few could fathom, the Sri Lankans are playing cricket with a focus and purpose all but identical to that they produced in the carefree days before the terror attack on their team bus.
If the two-Test series in Pakistan was notable for anything other than the atrocities committed, it was the dominance of the batsmen. Thilan Samaraweera's dual double-centuries were celebrated by his countrymen - almost as enthusiastically as his anticipated comeback from a bullet wound later this month will be - and Tillakaratne Dilshan's near even-time century gave further weight to the theory that this was a Sri Lankan batting line-up at the height of its considerable powers.
The shoot-out in Lahore might have changed many things - sport's veneer of innocence, Pakistan's status as a host nation - but Sri Lanka's resolve and ability as a cricketing unit is not one of them. Since arriving in England for their first sporting assignment since the shoot-out, Kumar Sangakkara's redoubtable troupe have proven themselves among the game's most potent batting units, romping to victories over Australia, West Indies and, on Friday, Pakistan. Quite the hit-list.
Their ability to not merely survive, but thrive, so soon after the catastrophic events of Lahore is beyond remarkable. Indeed, this band of terrorised and galvanised cricketers might well be remembered as one of the most courageous teams to have graced a sporting field. Sri Lanka deserve nothing less than a famous victory at Lord's on June 21, but with opponents the quality of South Africa and India still in the frame, much work needs to be done to ensure such a result.
In a wonderful gesture of solidarity, Sri Lanka and Pakistan stood not as separate teams but as one intertwined unit at the singing of the national anthems on Friday. Thereafter, however, there was little commonality between the two sides, as a committed and determined Sri Lanka ran roughshod over their ill-disciplined opponents, whose woes began with Sohail Tanvir's opening over.
Two no-balls, three wides, three boundaries and a single gifted the Sri Lankans an ideal 18 for 0 start to the match, and Dilshan (46 from 29 deliveries) took full advantage. Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal temporarily applied the brakes through the middle overs, but Sri Lanka's total of 150 for 7 always seemed defendable with an attack featuring Lasith Malinga (3-17), Muttiah Muralitharan (2-28) and the surprising Angelo Mathews (1-23).
Sri Lanka are favoured to overcome the part-timers of Ireland and the injury ravaged New Zealanders to earn safe passage through to the semi-finals. That, in itself, would be a remarkable feat in the circumstances. But given the quality of cricket produced over the past week, one senses that nothing short of a finals berth will satisfy Sangakkara and his spirited team. A fairytale ending to a horrific few months is in the offing.
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo