April 8, 2001

ARY Gold Cup glints for Pakistan

The opening encounter of the newly sponsored ARY Gold Cup at Sharjah between Pakistan and Sri Lanka for which Sri Lanka was generally thought to be the favorite was won by Pakistan after a very exciting finish. Winning the toss and batting first, Pakistan scored a challenging 255 runs. Sri Lanka did their best to achieve the fighting target, ending the innings at 239, only 17 runs short of victory. The last 10 overs saw a very tough battle between bat and ball ultimately going Pakistan's way.

Witnessing some handsome batting feats, magnificent spells of bowling and facing a lot of anxious moments the spectators must have recovered their money's worth. Not only that Pakistan skipper Waqar Younis bowled his heart out, he led the team from the front to give his young outfit a new lease of life. While it was a prize winning team effort by Pakistan, Sri Lanka fought the battle with unflinching courage and determination.

The challenging encounter between a new look Pakistan team and a spirited Sri Lanka outfit commenced on a lush green ground, amidst a lively but smallish crowd cheering the two sides equally. From the upcoming youngsters, the Pakistan team included the medium pacer Mohammad Sami, brothers Humayun Farhat (a wicket keeper) and Imran (a batsman) as well as Shoaib Malik as the 2nd off spinner. Ganegama was the debutante in the Sri Lanka squad.

Opening the innings with its traditional pair of Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi, Pakistan made a brilliant start. Both batsmen commenced with a flourish, hitting awe-inspiring shots all over the field which drew tremendous applause from the crowd. In the 4th over, Saeed did offer a chance when Marvan Atapattu fielding at mid on, missed the catch by just half a step. The scoreboard showed a total of 25 with Saeed playing at 18. With a flurry of ground strokes Saeed otherwise, remained in full command of the game.

Shahid Afridi, branded as a one-day specialist and taken off the Test squad, batted with his usual enterprise and scored 21 runs off 18 balls. He smashed Zoysa for a mighty six and followed it up with a four to long off before getting out, giving Sri Lanka their first break with Pakistan at 49. The 2nd break came immediately afterwards when young Imran Farhat was out for 6 with the total at 61. Pakistan's 100 came in 19 overs.

The most glittering feature of Pakistan's innings was a marvelous 88 run partnership between Saeed Anwar and Inzamam-ul-Haq. Getting into his usual stride of attractive strokes, Inzamam once charged down the pitch, hitting Muralitharan for a fabulous six over the stadium. Going for his powerful shots he was, however, caught at mid-wicket after playing an entertaining innings of 44. Pakistan was 149 for 3 with the giant of a Saeed Anwar still at the crease and Pakistan still in hope of ending up with a score of around 280.

Unlucky for him as well as Pakistan, Saeed Anwar was out after playing a fantastic innings of 90. With a little loss of cool and concentration, he missed his 20th century in one-day cricket and the 8th at Sharjah. Saeed had not been scoring well recently, so much so that some high-ups in Pakistan cricket were speculating that his career was almost finished. His regaining form is a happy augury for him as well as Pakistan.

After Saeed's departure at 197 for 4, Pakistan's innings started disintegrating. The wickets fell at regular intervals. Younis Khan (37) and Shoaib Malik (24) played with some brilliance while it was touch and go for the remaining tail-enders. Pakistan's innings ended at 255 for 9 but as it turned out, it was a good fighting total.

Sri Lanka's fielding was brilliant. Apart from excellent field placing, the fielders were alert, agile and mostly in good catching positions. They picked up and returned the ball with remarkable accuracy. Had there been any lapses in their fielding, Pakistan was set for a total of 280-290 runs. Muralitharan bowled well but otherwise all the bowlers almost equally shared in the wickets.

Facing a total of 255 runs, Sri Lanka made a disastrous start, when opener Jayasuriya was trapped leg before by Waqar Younis with his second ball of the day with no score on the board. Atapattu joined Kaluwitharana at the crease and the two batsmen looked well set for a big score.

Hitting all over the ground they took good advantage of Pakistan's badly placed field. Kaluwitharana who was in full cry punished Waqar Younis for 3 fours in one over. The empty slips cost Pakistan quite a few runs and after some fours were edged through, one really wondered why a fielder was not placed there. Sri Lanka's 50 came in 10 overs.

In 13 overs the total rose to 70 with Kaluwitharana (43) and Atapattu (22) playing with immense confidence and concentration. Against a required run rate of 5.10, they had already achieved 5.30. The absence of slip fielders took a fair toll of wicket keeper Humayun Farhat's energy who had to pounce right and left to collect the ball.

The speedsters having made no impact on the batsmen, off spinner Saqlain Mushtaq was called in to bowl the 16th over. With 81 for 1 on the board in the 17th over, Kaluwitharana completed his well deserved half-century in 54 balls. With every ball faced he was gaining in confidence. Shoaib Malik the 2nd off spinner, replaced Abdur Razzaq from the other end and met with immediate success. On the 3rd ball of his first over, he had Marvan Atapattu stumped by Humayun Farhat and Sri Lanka were 88 for 2.

Jayawardene came in to bat. Besides accounting for an important wicket, the introduction of spin slowed down the scoring rate too. Young Shoaib Malik who could be called a twin or a Saqlain Mushtaq `clone' for his bowling style, achieved his 2nd success when he clean bowled Kaluwitharana with a baffling delivery. With his marvelously scored 63 runs in 73 balls, he had laid a sound foundation for the Sri Lankan innings. Sri Lanka was now 101 for 3 in 23 overs.

Shahid Afridi a reserve leg spinner was brought in to bowl the 30th over to reinforce the spin attack. He met with immediate success when Sangakkara, in an effort to hook him over the fence, was caught at square leg by Imran Farhat. This brought Sri Lanka down to 135 for 4. Trapped lbw by Afridi, Jayawardene was the next to go. Sri Lanka had lost 5 important wickets for 151 in 35 overs and the tempo of scoring also slowed, the match was now turning in Pakistan's favor.

In a desperate effort to reach the target, Russel Arnold and Indika de Saram the two players at the crease turned to rapid scoring, coming down the pitch rather often. They required a run rate of 7.22 to achieve victory. It was a difficult but not impossible task, especially in view of Pakistan's wilting fielding. In the 43rd over they raised the score to 200, also completing a partnership of 50 invaluable runs.

Tragedy struck when Waqar Younis brought himself back into the attack and bowled Russel Arnold for a well made 25 followed immediately by shattering Muralitharan's stumps. Sri Lanka was 209 for 7 and it was now a tough battle between bat and ball with fielding to play the decisive role. However, Waqar was continuing to hurl his thunderbolts. His next target was de Saram, also clean bowled after playing a defiant cameo of 38.

With Sri Lanka at 222 for 8, Saqlain Mushtaq was called upon to bowl his last spell that proved fatal for Sri Lanka. Chaminda Vaas and Zoysa were on the rampage. A stage came when they needed just 28 runs in 20 balls to win. Their determination had no bounds when Saqlain struck, sending Zoysa to the pavilion followed by his successor Akalanka Ganegama bringing an abrupt end to Sri Lanka's innings. They were all out for 239 offering a 16 run victory to Pakistan.

Waqar Younis clinched 4 wickets while Saqlain, Shoaib Malik and Afridi shared 2 wickets each. Saeed Anwar was declared Man of the Match for his fabulous innings of 90. It was an extremely exciting contest by all standards of one-day cricket.

Earlier in the week, Coca -Cola withdrew from the tournament sponsorship. They had been the sponsors of cricket matches played in Sharjah hitherto. Fortunately, the present tournament has been sponsored as the `ARY Gold Cup'. ARY may not be as big and renowned a multi-national as Coca-Cola but its joining hands with CBFS in Sharjah in a sports venture and at the time of dire need was a commendable act of sportsmanship. The new sponsors, in fact, took the CBFS out of the woods when the organization was fighting a grim battle for survival.