Harvey Dent aka Two-Face, a fictional super villain appearing in DC Comics, once said these famous lines that went on to feature in many internet memes over the years. “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”.
As someone who has tragically been in love with the Batman since childhood, I’d always found these lines to be true until Thisara Perera dropped Sarfaraz Ahmed off a simple catch inside the circle at mid-on when Pakistan needed 40-odd with three wickets in hand to qualify for the semi-final of the Champions Trophy ‘17. It was only then that I realised how incomplete this statement was in many ways. Perera may have become the villain for Sri Lanka, but he was, is and will always be The Dark Knight that Pakistan didn’t deserve but needed then. Without him, Pakistan wouldn’t have qualified for the semi-final and went on to win the Champions Trophy. So, thank you Perera, please accept sincere gratitude from us Pakistani fans for your help and support.
Perera will be leading Lanka for Pakistan T20s
Jokes apart, but what Perera recently did for Pakistan cricket also deserves a separate article. It was encouraging to see a player from Sri Lanka, a team that was attacked near Liberty roundabout eight years ago, participating wholeheartedly in the Independence Cup when the World XI toured Pakistan in September.
Sri Lanka, upon having witnessed the successful staging of the Pakistan Super League’s final and the Independence Cup in Lahore, have also decided to send their team to Pakistan for the last T20 match of the upcoming T20 series against Pakistan. Not only is it a great gesture by the Sri Lankan board but also shows how strong a relationship the two boards enjoy with each other.
The Indian team had cancelled its proposed tour to Pakistan post the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The Pakistan Cricket Board, as a result, received a huge blow. In its moment of despair, the PCB looked up to the only “friend” it had at the moment – the Sri Lankan Cricket Board. And it didn’t disappoint. The Sri Lankan team became the only Test playing nation to visit Pakistan after South Africa had visited them in October-November 2007 for a full series.
And what happened in that ill-fated 2009 Sri Lanka’s tour to Pakistan is no hidden mystery. It did not only force Pakistan to play away from home, but it also drove many fans away from the game. Sri Lankans did not only honour the Pakistani bus driver, Mohammad Khalil, who had risked his life to save theirs, but also showered him with praises and money when he was invited as a special guest at an event, especially arranged for him, in Colombo. Kumar Sangakkara, who had received minor injuries in the gruesome attacks of March 3, 2009, speaking on behalf of the team members had said, “We will always have a special place for you in our hearts.”
Hero Pakistan bus driver Meher Mohammad Khalil is happy to welcome back Sri Lanka
Kumar’s statement was nothing less than a testament to the friendship that the two countries have enjoyed over the years. Despite escaping a deadly attack so narrowly in Pakistan, the Sri Lankans did not boycott playing them. In fact, the Sri Lankan team stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Pakistan and paid their respects to the victims who had fallen prey to the attacks when these two sides met again, two months later, in the ICC World T20 2009.
Even from the perspective of average Sri Lankan fans, Pakistan will always be the place where Sri Lanka lifted its first global trophy and not where their heroes were shot at. It has been 21 years since Arjuna Ranatunga and his men brought joy on the faces of Sri Lankan and Pakistani fans alike. As some ex-Sri Lankan cricketers recall, Lahore, that day, looked more like a Sri Lankan city. People on the roads were waving Sri Lankan flags; there was hardly any Australian flag seen in the crowd at Gaddafi stadium. Such was the love and respect the fans had, and fortunately, still have for each other. Ranatunga didn’t forget to thank Pakistanis at the post match presentation ceremony.
Sri Lanka, too, once felt isolated when Australia and West Indies boycotted their World Cup matches back in 1996 because of the civil war that had rocked the island. Sri Lanka needed someone to stand up for it, vouch for it. And who better than Pakistan and India? Both the PCB and BCCI, in their efforts to bring cricket back to the war-ridden country, decided to send a combined team of Pakistan and India under Wasim Akram’s captaincy. The exhibition match was played and the message was sent across the board.
But now, Sri Lanka have not only returned the favour to Pakistan but they have done so twice. They are touring Pakistan when no one is willing to, and they are willing to come to Pakistan when international cricket is trying to get back on its feet here. Sri Lankans and Pakistanis may not have much in common, but they do know how to stand for one another in times of grief and sorrow. Here’s hoping that Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore will give the Sri Lankan team a well deserved standing ovation once it walks out on the field.