x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pakistan are ready for finale

The two sides with the greatest purpose will play off for the World Twenty20 prize at Lord's this afternoon.

Pakistan's Shahid Afridi celebrates dismissing South Africa's Herschelle Gibbs in the semi-final.
Pakistan's Shahid Afridi celebrates dismissing South Africa's Herschelle Gibbs in the semi-final.

LONDON // It was written that this final would happen. While the majority of the other players in the World Twenty20 were driven by professional pride or the promise of a lucrative Indian Premier League contract, the two sides with the greatest purpose will play off for the top prize at Lord's this afternoon.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been the nations with the most to gain from success over the past fortnight in the UK. Throughout the recent political turmoil in both countries, their people have found consolation in cricket. As Shahid Afridi, the No1 idol of Pakistan's supporters, put it: "This is the only thing we can give our nation. We all know how important it is to win this." Younus Khan, the Pakistan captain, has spent the majority of this tournament laughing and joking. Now the serious business is about to commence, he has a firm grasp of the symbolism of this one cricket match.

"If we win it will be great for cricket and great for Pakistan, especially for the north," said Younus. "I am from the north, from Mardan. There are lots of things wrong in Mardan." Younus's home town in the North-West Frontier Province houses a sizeable refugee camp at present, for people displaced from elsewhere in the Swat Valley, where the Pakistan Army are battling Taliban forces. Up to 2.5 million are believed to have fled the mountain ranges in the troubled region bordering Afghanistan.

"Everybody has been calling me after the semi-final and they are very happy," added Younus, who received a personal call with good wishes from President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday. "For my whole career I have been dreaming about lifting the World Cup. This is a big game and it will be a big achievement for me. "We have only won one World Cup, back in 1992, and we have all been dreaming about it since. If we can win it will be an achievement for me and my team as well.

"We are the underdogs. That is why we have reached the final, because there is no pressure on us." The final carries added significance given the attack on the Sri Lankan team-bus in Lahore in March. Six of the squad were wounded, and their captain, Kumar Sangakkara, believes they have shown great courage to perform as they have done here. He said: "I think it is a fitting reward for the courage of the team in the way they have played in this tournament.

"Lahore, all the players have got through. What Lahore really brought home to us was the fact that we are just the same as everyone else. "It happens to everyone and it happened to us. Sometimes it is nice to be reminded of your mortality when the press and everybody else around you builds you up to be a bit more than that in this sporting culture. "It is a great the way the guys have prepared mentally, gone out and showed no fear and performed. They have been able to focus and concentrate on cricket above all things. It is a fitting reward for that attitude."

The two sides have already met once in this tournament, at the same venue, when Sri Lanka easily beat Pakistan in the Super Eight stage. The match was memorable less for the action on the field, than the show of solidarity the sides shared before the start, as they stood shoulder to shoulder during their respective national anthems. There is a keen sense of friendship between the two sets of players, as attested to by Younus. "[The Lahore attack] was very wrong," said Pakistan's captain.

"It was the first time something like this had happened in Asia in sport. We are still hurting. Both of the teams are very sad. "There were a lot of calls at that time from people saying, 'Please protect them'. There are still a lot of memories from that. "They are very nice guys, and responded very well. We are very close. I am very close to [Muttiah Muralitharan], Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. They are fantastic guys."

Sangakkara added: "We haven't met them in a big final before, but we have had great cricket relations with them. "They are a great bunch of people both on the field and off the field so it will be a good contest." pradley@thenational.ae Final, live on ART Prime Sport, 6 pm.