"Finally, we’ll be known for something other than terrorism,” says Muneezay Jaffery, a cricket fan here.
The Pakistanis overcame the favored undefeated team of Sri Lanka on Sunday night to secure their first major championship in cricket since 1992.
It was the culmination of a three-week effort in which the team, dubbed by the press as underdogs – for their lack of match practice following years of virtual international isolation due to the worsening domestic security situation – rallied from a series of early losses to make a stunning comeback.
“We’re over the moon, this is one of the happiest days of my life” says Saad Khattak, a property management officer who, along with hundreds of others, had gone to see the game on a big screen at Jinnah Super, one of Islamabad’s main market places.
In the streets of Lahore and Karachi families erupted into dance while chanting “Pakistan Zindabad” (Long live Pakistan), as traffic was brought to a standstill. Fireworks could be heard late into the night.
Earlier in the tournament, Pakistani team captain Younis Khan, a Pashtun, said the team victory would be dedicated to the people of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, where the Pakistani military is currently engaged in an offensive against the Taliban.
The two finalists had met three months earlier in Lahore, when the Sri Lankan team was attacked by Islamist terrorists outside the Gaddafi stadium. One of the Sri Lankan’s key batsman, Thilan Samaraweera, was forced to miss the tournament with a bullet wound. After the attack, Pakistan was stripped of its hosting rights to the 2011 World Cup by the International Cricket Council.
In a pre-match show of solidarity, the two-teams strode out to the playing field together at Lord’s Cricket Ground – the traditional home of cricket in London – to stand shoulder to shoulder while their respective national anthems were played before a packed stadium. That March attack against Pakistani’s beloved sport is considered by some analysts as a turning point in public opinion, enabling the Pakistan government to take a tougher stance against the Taliban.
Cricket, a traditional British sport, is popular throughout the Commonwealth. Long associated with tea and crumpet breaks and other archaic British traditions, the game has undergone radical changes in recent years including the use of colorful uniforms, as well as disc jockeys and cheerleaders on the sidelines. Pre-tournament favorites had included India, the West Indies, and South Africa. Not many had given Pakistan a second thought – except, that is, for the team’s loyal fans.