LONDON, June 22 – Pakistan captain Younus Khan urged the international cricket community to return to the troubled Asian nation after leading his side to victory in the World Twenty20 final against Sri Lanka.
Sunday’s eight-wicket success at Lord’s came just months after armed militants attacked the Sri Lanka team bus on the way to a Test in Lahore.
That March 3 incident, which saw six policemen and two civilians killed, plus seven Sri Lankan squad members injured, led to the suspension of international cricket in Pakistan.
And the International Cricket Council (ICC) subsequently announced the country would no longer stage matches during the 2011 World Cup in Asia because of security concerns.
"Everybody knows we need a victory like this, especially a World Cup, in these days, it is a gift for the whole nation," Younus told reporters.
"Now we are champions, I am requesting all other countries, come to Pakistan. Especially for the youngsters, we need home series.
"How can we promote cricket and motivate my son and my neighbour’s son? That’s why we need cricket in Pakistan.
"It’s not our fault. Sports should be away from politics, sports doesn’t need politics."
There were many at Lord’s, and among the watching television audience, who would have sympathised with Younus after an event where, both on and off the field, Pakistan showed why world cricket needs them as much as Pakistan need world cricket.
Stylish middle-order batsman Younus, who played no part in a Pakistan run-chase where Shahid Afridi’s unbeaten 54 saw the side home with eight balls to spare, also announced he was retiring from Twenty20 internationals.
"I am retiring from T20 internationals," Younus said after Pakistan beat Sri Lanka by eight wickets.
"I am now 34, I am old for this kind of cricket. The good thing is we have a couple of good youngsters like Shahzaib (Hasan) and Ahmad Shahzad."
Younus, set to continue his Test and one-day international career, also paid tribute to former Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer, who died shortly after the team’s shock loss to Ireland during the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean.
"This final must go to Bob Woolmer," said Younus. "He was very good with us from 2005, especially with my cricket. He was a very nice guy and a father figure for us.
"I’m captain because all the time he was chatting with the chairman and selectors saying ‘Younus should be the next captain."
This was the first time Pakistan had won a major international one-day tournament since Imran Khan’s side lifted the 1992 World Cup in Australia.
Pakistan lost the 1999 World Cup final to Australia at Lord’s, where two years later they were beaten by the same opponents in the final of a one-day triangular series.
And there were was more heartbreak two years ago for Pakistan when they lost the inaugural World Twenty20 final to arch-rivals India in Johannesburg.
But this time there was triumph not despair, with Abdur Razzaq taking three wickets and Afridi notching his second straight fifty after a key innings in Pakistan’s semi-final win over favourites South Africa.
As joyful, flag-waving, Pakistan fans celebrated noisily around Lord’s, Younus said: "We talk all the time that this is our third final – me, Shahid and Razzaq chatted with the guys and said please let’s hold our nerve."
No-one did that better than Afridi.
Known as an explosive if inconsistent hitter, the dangerous leg-spinner showed his class with the bat against Sri Lanka during a well-nigh faultless 40-ball innings featuring two sixes and two fours.
Shahid Afridi, it was surprising batting from him taking singles," said Younus.
"He was fantastic with the ball as well," said the captain, who also highlighted the impact of reverse-swing star Umar Gul, whose five wickets against New Zealand were a Twenty20 international record.
Younus raised eyebrows earlier in a tournament where Pakistan were well-beaten by both England and Sri Lanka, after losing a warm-up match to India, by saying Twenty20 was all about fun for the fans.
"I chatted about this being a fun game and people took this the wrong way," he recalled.
"We lose warm-up games and suddenly people say we won’t qualify for the Super Eights. Everybody knows we are slow starters but now we’ve won the final by eight wickets."