Monday, June 1, 2009

World Twenty20 World Twenty20 represents a return to normality for Pakistan and Sri Lanka

Kumar Sangakkara admited he was nervous getting on a bus at Heathrow,
the first time the Sri Lanka team had since the terrorist attack in
Lahore. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

For the two countries caught up in the Lahore terrorist attack the
World Twenty20 is much more than just another cricket tournament. It
is an attempt to recover a sense of normality.

Pakistan have arrived here as cricketing refugees, universally
regarded as unsafe for international cricket, and hanging on the
prospect that England could provide a temporary spiritual home,
beginning with the staging of their Test series against Australia next

For Sri Lanka the trauma runs just as deeply. The emotional fall-out
following the attack on their team coach has been followed by
worldwide scrutiny of the ­circumstances surrounding the end of their
own civil war.

Amnesty International has become the latest human rights body to press
the United Nations to state publicly its estimates of civilian deaths
in the final throes of the Sri Lankan conflict in which government
troops overcame Tamil Tiger rebel forces. Some estimates have put the
number as high as 20,000.

Kumar Sangakkara is just the Sri Lankan captain to steer a course
through such challenging political times: intelligent, shrewd and
idealistic. When Sri Lanka arrived at Heathrow, they had to contend
with the micro-emotions of getting onto a coach for the first time
since Lahore, Sangakkara looking at his close friend and former
captain, Mahela Jayawardene, in his familiar seat on the back row and
experiencing a fleeting sense of vulnerability as well as a pleasure
that normality was returning.

"It was funny getting back on a bus going from the airport to the
hotel when we got to England," he said. "We have gone through a
terrible time but life goes on. Cricket for us means ­normalcy. We
still have memories, all of them not very good, but we have the
fortitude to move ­forward. Getting on a bus was the first step to
doing that."

Then there were the macro-emotions: the recognition of the depth of
Western feeling about the end of their war; the cancellation by some
players, Sangakkara among them, of an address to the Oxford Union,
because their advisers had not gained satisfactory information about
security arrangements; and, unheard of for an ever-popular touring
side, uncertainty about how warmly England will receive them.

"Cricket in Sri Lanka has been the one unifying force, a passion of
the whole country," Sangakkara said. "It transcends religion, caste,
race and politics. That is the greatest thing that we as a team
represent. We have been representative of all the ethnicities and
allthe religions.

"We can only tell when we get on the field and the reception we get.
But we just feel very positive that our country is on the mend again.
If you look at our team it is a prime example of the harmony and unity
that Sri Lanka should represent and I think the country will represent
that very soon in the future.

"The end of the war is a weight on the shoulders of all of Sri Lanka.
Twenty-six years is a long time. I have grown up with it. It is high
time in this modern world that people realise that we do have the
capacity to move on and live as equals.

"The war has touched every single person in Sri Lanka. They have lost
friends, relatives, loved ones. I don't think there is any family in
Sri Lanka who has been able to wake up and not think about the war. It
has touched us all at times."

For Pakistan and their captain, Younis Khan, internal conflict goes
on. "We are suffering, we are not playing regularlyand nobody is
coming to Pakistan. It is important that we play well in Twenty20.
Every single person in Pakistan follows T20 and we have lots of
passionate Pakistani followers in England. To play well in England
will lift the depression of our nation."

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