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April 9, 2003
Only 19 days after the World Cup ended, and already there's another tournament final to be played, as Pakistan take on Zimbabwe to decide the winners of the Cherry Blossom Cup in Sharjah. It may be just another match in just another one-day competition, but there is something special about tomorrow's final - it's the 2000th one-day international.
Yes, it was just over 32 years ago that Graham McKenzie bowled to Geoffrey Boycott at Melbourne to start the ODI circus rolling all round the world. And yet, while it's taken only that long to reach the 2000th ODI, there have been only 1637 Test matches since the first - also at Melbourne - way back in March 1877.
But while the Sharjah Cup final may not be the most important match to grace this landmark, it is fitting that the game is being held at what might be called the spiritual home of one-day cricket. The SCG has hosted 115 ODIs, the MCG 114, and Lord's only 32, but Sharjah leads the way with a whopping 197.
But enough of the history lesson, what about the game itself? Pakistan start as favourites, having won three out of three here, including a comfortable 68-run win over Zimbabwe in the first match of the tournament. With a new-look young team under the older heads of the captain Rashid Latif and the coach Javed Miandad, they have made a good start to their life after the World Cup. Younis Khan has relished the responsibility as the senior batsman of the team and new boy Mohammad Hafeez has also made a good impression at the top of the order.
Zimbabwe also had their problems in the World Cup, mainly off the field - so a chance to escape the poverty and politics which currently engulf their homeland has been a welcome weight off their shoulders. They have played well to reach the final, including a hard-fought and unexpected win over Sri Lanka, and Pakistan should be wary of the Zimbabweans, despite their earlier win over them. Douglas Marillier has excelled at No. 2 in the batting order, scoring his maiden ODI hundred against Kenya, while Grant Flower has done his best to fill in the huge hole left by his brother's enforced retirement.
A lot depends on the Sharjah pitch, too. The wickets have been on the slow side, which has meant low scores. However, Pakistan smashed 286 against Kenya - the highest total of the tournament - on one of the more lively pitches in the last round-robin match, and they will be hoping tomorrow's track is of a similar nature. If it is - and they don't have any pre-match football games - then expect a Pakistan win.
Pakistan 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Taufeeq Umar, 3 Faisal Iqbal, 4 Yousuf Youhana, 5 Younis Khan, 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Rashid Latif (capt, wk) 8 Abdul Razzaq, 9 Naved-ul-Hasan, 10 Mohammad Sami, 11 Umar Gul.
Zimbabwe 1 Craig Wishart, 2 Douglas Marillier, 3 Gavin Rennie, 4 Grant Flower, 5 Tatenda Taibu (wk), 6 Sean Ervine, 7 Dion Ebrahim, 8 Heath Streak (capt), 9 Andy Blignaut, 10 Ray Price, 11 Douglas Hondo.
Freddie Auld is editorial assistant of Wisden CricInfo Ltd in London.
It's close to inexplicable how India's best spinner is being left out in favour of bits-and-pieces players