Karachi: As Pakistan continued to celebrate its ICC Twenty20 World Cup triumph on Monday, former cricket greats voiced hopes that the victory could help restore the strife-torn nation’s place in international cricket.
Celebrations continued into the night on Sunday with cricket fans gathering around screens in homes, public places and at street corners as Pakistan beat Sri Lanka by eight wickets in London to hoist the Twenty20 cricket World Cup.
For the people: Pakistani team members hold the trophy as they celebrate winning the ICC World Cup Twenty20 cricket finals against Sri Lanka at the Lord’s cricket ground in London on 21 June. Philip Brown / Reuters
As midnight neared, thousands of people congregated at markets, parks and streets throughout the country, dancing, waving cricket bats and shouting “Long Live Pakistan”—an unusual sight in a nation cowed by suicide attacks.
“It is a great win... It is a bit early to say but the win will definitely have an impact. People will treat Pakistan as a serious cricketing nation,” former captain Ramiz Raja told AFP.
“It will definitely lift the gloom in the country, as suddenly the team has given a reason for the people to smile and celebrate,” he added.
Sunday’s victory saw captain Younus Khan lead Pakistan to its second major title, after Imran Khan captained it to World Cup glory in Australia in 1992. “The 1992 win was great, but this one is bigger because of the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Pakistan just three months ago,” said Raja, a member of the victorious 1992 squad.
Pakistan’s already bruised reputation as an international cricket venue was shattered on 3 March this year when insurgents launched a gun and grenade attack on the Sri Lankan team as they travelled to a match in Lahore.
The brazen assault left seven Sri Lankan players and their assistant coach injured, as well as killing six policemen and two civilians.
After the attacks, the International Cricket Council stripped Pakistan of its share of World Cup 2011 matches—the second major event shifted from the country after the Champions Trophy 2009 was moved to South Africa.
Even before the attacks, foreign teams were refusing to tour the country over security fears. Australia postponed a tour in March last year, forcing the one-day series to be played in the United Arab Emirates in April-May this year.
New Zealand, meanwhile, ruled out touring Pakistan for a three Test, five one-day match series in November-December.
“Now, after this win, we demand the cricket world to give us back our share of World Cup matches because we badly need cricket in our country,” said another former captain, Javed Miandad, who batted in the World Cup triumph 17 years ago. “Our team has achieved the second biggest victory after the 1992 World Cup win... This time it is much-needed as people wanted something to cheer about.”
A wave of Taliban-linked violence has killed around 1,995 people in Pakistan during two years of insurgency.
Now, a fierce, almost two-month-long military offensive against the Islamist extremists in Swat valley has forced nearly two million people to flee their homes, many living in desperate conditions in camps and relatives’ homes.
“I will give full credit to (captain) Younus. He was saying right from the first day that he wanted to win the cup for his people who have been suffering badly,” said another former batsman Basit Ali. “It is a gift for the suffering people of Swat.”
As if isolation from the international arena was not enough, Pakistan cricket has been regularly hit by controversies over doping, sackings and discipline problems, leaving many Pakistanis disillusioned by the state of their national sport.
Sunday’s victory, however, may go some way in restoring its reputation.
“The Pakistan team has achieved a great victory. From Younus to Shahid Afridi, everyone played to his potential and brought home the cup of joy for the people,” said former paceman Sarfraz Nawaz.
“This will go a long way in reviving interest in the game.”