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How Pakistan and Sri Lanka played for the hopes of their nations

How fitting it was then that Pakistan and Sri Lanka would contest the Twenty20 World Cup final.

Two teams so desperate to win in an attempt to lift the gloom and doom that had shrouded their nations in the months leading up to the tournament.

Sri Lanka had proved they still had the bottle coming into the tournament following the unbelievable attempt on their lives in Lahore just a few months earlier. Escaping with their lives as terrorists ambushed their team bus in Lahore during a Test series against Pakistan, you’d be forgiven for thinking the highly talented team would have side-stepped the competition in an attempt to re-group.

But no. Sanath Jayasuriya, Captain Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene – the stalwarts of the Sri Lankan team – knew the only way to recover would be to let the team do their talking on the pitch.

Political strife in Sri Lanka was also an issue that could not be side-stepped.

The bloody 26 year war between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers appeared to be coming to an end and in the days leading up to the tournament, captain Kumar Sangakkara hoped their spell in the tournament would lift the despair felt by so many in his native country.

“Everyone lost friends, relatives and loved ones and not a single family in Sri Lanka has been able to wake up and not think about the war,” Sangakkara said.

“But cricket has been that one unifying force over the years. It has been the passion of the whole country. It transcends religion, caste, race and politics and that is the greatest thing as a team we represent.”

And so to cricket. Unbeaten throughout the tournament, the exquisite touch of Dilshan, and the energetic bowling of Malinga made them firm favourites for the crown left vacated by a failing Indian side.

But there was the small matter of Pakistan, a team crushed by England in their opening match and beaten convincingly by Sri Lanka in the Super Eights.

But here was a team with their own demons.

Sitting on the periphery of the cricket world since that attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore, Pakistan found themselves as the nomads of the cricketing world.

Having waved goodbye to international home matches following that attack, the ICC then stripped Pakistan of its hosting rights for the 2011 World Cup.

For a cricket-adoring nation, the developments were a massive blow.

But on the pitch there was hope. Led by Younus Khan, a much younger and vibrant Pakistan set about winning the trophy that slipped from their grasp two years earlier.

A disastrous opening match against England gave fans little hope, but better was to come. The team, backed by Afridi and Umar Gul, strode to the final demolishing the likes of New Zealand and South Africa.

Before the final Captain Younus Khan was vocal on why a win would lift a nation battling the extreme forces of terrorism.

“We are suffering from everything in Pakistan, and everyone knows about all the fighting – a lot of fighting,” added Younus. “If we can lift the cup, it will provide great cheer for the people.”

And that’s what it did. Afridi, the man who so often rose to the heights of a cricketing stallion, brought about them smiles.

It was a final that had more to do with the hopes of two despairing nations than about bragging rights for cricket’s T20 format.

And for that reason you wouldn’t have begrudged any of the two teams from coming out on top. 

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