November 16, 2001

'He vowed to win the tournament for Waqar and us'

Nirala Sweets
Before the team left for Sharjah I had prayed for a triumphant start and that was exactly what the boys achieved for us. After the initial hiccup, things took a pretty smooth route. Aided by the indomitable Wasim and Waqar, the Pakistan team looked a well-knit unit. Critics could always point out that this triangular was only a two-way race but they should also keep in mind Sri Lankan power in recent desert tournaments. They had been decisive winners in the last two competitions at Sharjah, and Pakistan beat them twice, quite convincingly, in the tournament.

Mudassar Nazar
Mudassar Nazar
Photo © CricInfo
Admittedly, Sri Lanka were seriously handicapped by the absence of Fernando and Kaluwitharana. Fernando had bowled at a furious pace in the first game and some of our batsmen had looked uneasy with his length. Kaluwitharana, as most of us know, can be devastating with the bat and is no mean achiever behind the stumps.

In our first match against Sri Lanka our batting looked rusty and with Inzamam absent, were in disarray against incessant short of length deliveries. Yousuf Youhana was the only batsman who seemed at ease with these tactics.

Waqar Younis
Waqar Younis holds up trophy
Photo © AFP
We introduced Naved Latif in this tournament and he did not disappoint his admirers. He loves playing square off the pitch and being an unknown quantity, took Sri Lankan bowlers by surprise. In the absence of Fernando all the Sri Lankan bowlers lacked some awareness and penetration. Instead of switching to 'Plan B' they limited themselves to the original plan that had worked well for them in the first game. Many a well-devised plan goes awry on the day and one must be flexible enough of change at a very short notice.

Inzamam played a patient innings in the beginning and thrashed the bowlers towards the end of the game. It was a masterly knock. He also persuaded the adjudicators to nominate Naved Latif for the Man of the Match when they wanted to share it between him and his junior. I thought this was a tremendous gesture and went a long way in building up more team sprit.

Jayawardene - Man of the Series
Photo © AFP
Mahela Jayawardene had scored a scintillating 92 in the first session of the match. What a graceful and intelligent player he is. This young man seems destined for greatness.

Before the tournament final, a lot of expatriates had reminded us not to fall at the final hurdle. I do not think we needed a reminder. We were extremely confident after our third win on the trot while the Sri Lankans looked totally devastated after Pakistan had chased a huge total batting second. The manner in which we chased such a commanding total would have knocked the stuffing out of many sides.

What's more, we also had our ace Wasim Akram back in the side. It was a difficult choice to leave out Shoaib Malik who has bowled reasonably well and was by far the best ground fielder of the tournament. Saeed Anwar also had to miss out because of an injury to his wrist. It was a painful loss to us as his record in Sharjah is outstanding.

On a hot and humid day, Jayasuriya won the toss and elected to bat. We had planned to take early wickets and cramp both the left-handed opening batsmen for room. Jayasuriya and Gunawardene can tear into you if you give them the slightest bit of freedom on the offside.

Wasim and Waqar once again belied their age and were very hostile. Both were among wickets very early on, which gave us a distinct advantage.

Shoaib and Wasim
Shoaib and Wasim
Photo © AFP
Enter Jayawardene, and the whole game took on a different dimension. He treats every bowler in the world with disdain and has more time than most players I have come across in my career. If he were not an opposite number I would pray for him to bat all day for my sake!

His six off Shoaib Akhtar was a delight and would have done Sir Viv Richards proud. Ironically, it was Shoaib Akhtar who had the last laugh by removing him when Jayawardene appeared to be running away with the game. This is the beauty of playing Shoaib Akhtar. He can go for runs but will always feature among wickets. Greatest way to check the run rate is by picking up wickets at regular intervals. It breaks the opposition's rhythm and also leaves them with fewer wickets in hand for the slog overs. In fact, Shoaib Akhtar fit in the tournament and being played more consistently will get better. A fit and healthy Shoaib Akhtar is an asset for our team. On the tour he was completely focused on his game. I really am at a loss why his bowling action is under scrutiny again. If, for scientific reasons, Brett Lee and Muttiah Muralitharan are allowed to operate then why pick on our youngster? Shoaib is an emotional young man and these things affect him more than most people. I really despair for him.

Wasim Akram was his lethal best in this tournament. At one stage I became concerned, as he seemed to be trying too hard. I did not want him to break down, so we rested him in one game. He vowed to win the tournament for Waqar and us. I once played in two one-day games against England in the same team as Michael Holding. Michael bowled 20 overs and picked up 6 for 48. I thought I would never see anything like that again. Wasim proved me wrong and in this tournament took 6 for 69 in 29 overs. He was my Man of the Tournament with Waqar a very close second.

Waqar Younis is very much like Dennis Lillee (the greatest fast bowler of my era, if not the best ever). Both are classical, side-on bowlers. Waqar being a little shorter then Dennis, bowls to a fuller length but the game plan always is the same, attack. Like Dennis, Waqar also strives for wickets rather than conserving energy and achieving a decent economy rate. To this day, Ian Chappell maintains Dennis was a 'captain's dream'. Well, I wish I had played in the same team as Waqar let alone captain him. What marvellous services these two W's have given us and any history of cricket would be incomplete without our two W's.

Naved Latif
Naved Latif
Photo © AFP
Without a shadow of doubt, the find of the tour was Naved Latif. He came to prominence by scoring 394 runs in one innings in a first class game. When I first saw him in nets, about ten months ago, his stroke play was very catching. I was astonished when a few of my colleagues seemed to differ from my views. Despite this, we selected him for the Pakistan Academy. Much to my dismay he chose to go to England instead of joining our ranks. He was disillusioned and thought he deserved better from the cricket selectors. He likes playing square on the offside, and in his eagerness to do that, sometime he does not go back and across enough. Those who watched his dismissal in the Sharjah Final will know exactly what I am trying to put across. Had he stayed in the Academy we would have worked on his technique. Anyway, it's better late than never.

We have a month before we take on Bangladesh and the West Indies. A lot of hard work beckons all of us. Let us hope we carry the Sharjah spirit forward with us wherever and whenever we play in the future.