Pakistan Wins ICC World T20: Revenge of the Disbelieved

Khalid SiddiquiCorrespondent IIJune 22, 2009

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 21:  Younis Khan of Pakistan lifts the trophy with Shahid Afridi and team mates during the ICC World Twenty20 Final between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at Lord's on June 21, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Herbert/Getty Images)

Before I start out, let me just say that a World Cup tournament just ended and there is absolutely nothing on B/R to denote that a World Cup final was even played. Cricket Community, please wake up!

So I decided to take matters into my own hands, and relay the journey of a national team of misfits towards becoming a national team of world-beaters.

As a nation, Pakistan has had to endure much more than its fair share of woes on the geo-political and economic fronts in recent times. Pakistan's sports teams and players have also not been doing too well, and the nation as a whole has continued to endure a miserable last couple of years.

Sri Lanka, Pakistan's opponent in the World T20 final, faced similar circumstances. Sri Lanka has also had to go through a demoralizing civil war, the reverberations of which are bound to be felt for years to come.

However, on to the cricket itself. The match did have several twists and turns, especially in the first half, but thankfully for Pakistani fans, didn't develop into the nail-biter that has come to be associated with this unpredictable team of talents.

Right from the first over of the Sri Lankan innings (SL had won the toss and chose to bat), it seemed that Pakistan was definitely a team of destiny, driven by the desire to bring smiles to a nation in the throes of an abyss.

The planning was immaculate (is this seriously a Pakistan cricket team we're talking about?), and Pakistan relied more on its collective cricket brain rather than leaving things to be decided by the x-factor of flair.

Tilikeratne Dilshan was rattled from ball-one, and seemed to be looking for an excuse to get out. 17-year old Mohammed Aamir bowled his most perfect over in the 2009 World T20, and it turned out to be a wicket-maiden.

Dilshan, the tournament's top scorer and improviser extraordinaire, was left with no answer to the pinpoint accuracy of Aamir's back-of-a-length deliveries. He tamely succumbed to a catch at short fine leg (0-1).

In what seemed a slightly panicky move, Sri Lanka promoted pinch-hitter Jehan Mubarak to No. 3, and he could not last till the end of even the second over.

In an effort to unsettle the bowler by shimmying around the crease, he only managed to sky an easy chance to the cover fielder off a resurgent Abdul Razzaq (2-2). Clearly a case of trying to be oversmart when the occasion called for a bit of consolidation.

Jayasuriya, the evergreen soon-to-be-40 opening batsman, tried to take matters into his own hands but fell to an inside edge caroming into his stumps (23-3). The delight on the face of the felled Abdul Razzaq told the story. Pakistan were tightening their grip on the match each over.

And then in the last over before the end of the batting powerplay, Razzaq effectively sealed the epitaph on the grave of Sri Lanka's middle order. Mahela Jayawerdene the dismissed batsman this time, giving catching practice to Misbah-ul-Haq in the slips (32-4).

Pakistan's ever-reliable spin twins, Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal, dried up the runs. In the 12th over, captain Younus Khan turned to his pace spearhead Umar Gul. Gul picked up Chamara Silva with a simple catch to mid-wicket.

Then Shahid Afridi, in his last over, got the reward he richly deserved by ending Isuru Udana's tortured stay at the crease to leave Sri Lanka reeling at 70-6.

Kumar Sangakarra then showed his nerves of steel, and gave partner Angelo Matthews the confidence to take Sri Lanka to a competitive total. At the end of 20 overs, Sangakarra was still standing with 64 not out and Matthews had put up a handy 30+ in quick-time with the Sri Lankans taking 59 runs from their last five overs.

The final score was 138-6, which, if presented to Younus Khan as a target before the match commenced, would probably have been accepted without any remorse.

Sri Lanka would have backed themselves to make inroads into the Pakistan batting line-up with arguably the most potent bowling attack in the tournament. However, Pakistan's opening pair of Kamran Akmal and Shahzaib Hassan clearly had other ideas.

Kamran continued his rich vein of form, scoring 37 quick-fire runs to take Pakistan to 48-0 at the end of the seventh over. He was stumped off Sanath Jayasuriya after trying an injudicious dance down the pitch.

Shahzaib followed soon after, caught off Muralitharan, but not before he had punched a couple of boundaries off Sri Lanka's spin-magician Ajantha Mendis.

Then came a partnership that to this fan was very much reminiscent of Imran Khan and Javed Miandad's match-winning partnership in the 1992 ODI World Cup final. Shoaib Malik came out to join Shahid Afridi.

The pair have, according to the media, a bit of a history between them (just like Imran and Miandad), but with the hopes and prayers of a nation hanging on their bats, they put all that behind them to construct a masterfully planned run-chase.

What can one say about Shahid Afridi? This tournament saw him mature into the batsman Pakistan has wanted him to be for nearly seven or eight frustrating years now. He played the semi-final and final as if the World Cup could only be won by his bat.

He played like a man possessed; possessed, it seems, by the influence of the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Jacques Kallis put together. His first boundary didn't come till he faced his 20th delivery. And it was definitely worth the wait because he took the attack to Muralitharan with a huge six over mid-wicket.

Pakistan seemed to be falling behind in the run-chase when 26 runs were needed off 18 balls. However, Afridi and Malik seemed to be safe in the knowledge that one of the last three overs was to be bowled by one of the non-M&Ms (i.e. those not named Murali, Mendis, Malinga, or Matthews).

Sure enough, Sangakarra handed the ball to young left-arm seamer Isuru Udana (a gamble in my mind, because he had the services of the experienced Jayasuria available), who, to his credit had, bowled a decent enough first spell with a mixture of slower balls.

Afridi took this as a signal to free his arms and Pakistan ended the 18th over needing just 7 runs to win from 12 balls. The game was over in only four more deliveries, and Pakistan had delivered a clinical, workman-like, professional performance on the biggest stage of the World T20.

Can these adjectives even be associated with a team as mercurial as Pakistan, who had needed to beat the Netherlands by a big-enough margin just to make the Super-8 stage?

This team, which had turned even the most ardent fans into unbelievers, had come full circle, much like Imran Khan's cornered tigers in 1992. I remember very clearly in 1992 telling my father that Pakistan still had a mathematical chance of making the World Cup semi finals, while the adults around me had given up. Oh, the innocence of being a child sports fan.

This time, I myself had lost faith in this team's ability to turn things around, and seeing that I am an adult myself now, it really makes me melancholic at becoming more of a realist. However, Pakistan's cricket team provided the turnaround when everyone least expected it.

To say that Pakistan was lucky to stumble into the semi-finals may not be that far from the truth. After all, they lost two of their five matches in reaching the semis, and played the Netherlands and Ireland along the way.

However, now having beaten the only two unbeaten teams (South Africa in the semis and Sri Lanka in the final) in the tournament, there can be no doubts about Pakistan's rightful claim to hoist the World T20 trophy.

What eluded the team by just five runs in Johannesburg two years ago was found with clinical precision in a well-planned and ruthless manner at the home of cricket (Lord's) on the longest day (June 21) of the year in 2009.

Younus Khan immediately announced his retirement from T20 internationals, and this, I believe, leaves the way for Shahid Afridi to take over the reins of captaincy at T20 level. His new-found maturity (if permanent) is likely to revitalize a career taken for dead before the festival of cricket began in England this summer.

For now, this victory gives an unforeseen bundle of cheer and good tidings to a nation disparaged by an internal war and an economy on life support.


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