Triangular series under stringent security
Friday's opening encounter between former world champions Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in the three-nation Sharjah Cup will be played under the umbrella of the most strict security arrangements ever deployed in almost twodecade history of matches organized by the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS). Pakistan are the other team in the competition.
Security personnel have been doubled with scores of plainclothed men attached with all three teams. Hotels where the players are staying are virtually out of bounds for anyone and everyone including media.
The players and the officials are not returning telephone calls. Even the photographers of the local newspapers have been "unofficially barred" to cover the practice sessions by the security personnel under the pretext of players safety making the job of newsmen a difficult one. Perhaps the security cordon will be eased as the tournament gets underway.
Members of the International Cricket Council (ICC)'s Anti- Corruption Unit are here in an attempt to justify their existence to find out villains of match-fixing and bribery scandal that sullied the image of what was once considered to be the game of gentlemen.
However, everybody feels the ACU are here for a joyride and will return empty-handed.
Under such conditions with security conscious atmosphere as well as the absence of India-Pakistan matches cricket buffs here believe a low key tournament lacking the passion and intensity associated with past CBFS events.
And with due respect to Zimbabwe pundits have taken for granted a repeat of early this year's final between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. When the two former world champions met in April this year Sri Lanka whipped Pakistan after being beaten in the two league clashes.
Coming to Friday's clash barring one of those freak results that arouse suspicion of foul play Sri Lanka should walk all over a thoroughly demoralised Zimbabwe, still nursing wounds from that 5-0 thrashing at home inflicted by a not-too-hot England and led by leg-spinner Brian Murphy after Heath Streak decided to quit as leadership responsibilities were affecting his individual performance.
Zimbabwe's cause in recent months have also not been helped by a long-list of injuries and frequent changes in leadership. On the contrary Sri Lanka have a settled squad and should steamroll over a team going through one of its worst patches since taking on the game's big guns.
As expected the strips prepared are full of runs and bowlers could be in for a torrid time specially in case heat wave which is not unusual in this part of the world. Both teams have no injury problems and will field their strongest lineups for Friday's match which starts at 3:30pm Pakistan Standard Time.
Sri Lanka: Sanath Jayasuriya (captain), Avishka Gunawardena, Marvan Atapattu, Mahela Jayawardena, Russel Arnold, Romesh Kaluwitharana, Kumar Sangakkara, Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando, Kumar Dharmasena, Muttiah Muralitharan, Chamara Silva, Dulip Liyanage, Prabath Nissanka, Charitha Buddhika.
Zimbabwe: Brian Murphy (captain), Douglas Marillier, Trevor Gripper, Dion Ebrahim, Stuart Carlisle, Andy Flower, Grant Flower, Craig Wishart, Heath Streak, Travis Friend, Gary Brent, Sean Ervine, Mluleki Nkala.
Oct 26: Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe.
Oct 27: Sri Lanka v Pakistan.
Oct 28: Pakistan v Zimbabwe.
Oct 29: Rest day.
Oct 30: Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe.
Oct 31: Pakistan v Zimbabwe.
Nov 1: Rest day.
Nov 2: Sri Lanka v Pakistan.
Nov 3: Rest day.
Nov 4: Final.