March 10, 2002

Sri Lanka win the Asian title by convincing margin

Resuming play on the fifth day at Lahore, Pakistan ended up making 325, far fewer than they expected to when Inzamam-ul-Haq was going great guns. That left Sri Lanka only 32 to make to land their first Asian Test Championship title. This they did it with plenty of breath to spare, winning by a convincing margin of eight wickets.

Unlike the previous day, the Gaddafi Stadium was awash with sunshine, and Inzamam was on song, timing and middling the ball to perfection. He clouted the dreaded Muttiah Muralitharan for three boundaries in the first over, including a six over mid-wicket. He had worked his way to 99 when he received a dodgy decision from umpire Daryl Harper, one that effectively brought Pakistan's fightback to an end.

Of the two Sri Lankan wickets to fall in the final stages, that of Marvan Atapattu was claimed by Mohammad Sami, caught behind by Rashid Latif for one. Sanath Jayasuriya was caught spectacularly by a lunging Yousuf Youhana in the covers off Shoaib Akhtar. After that, Kumar Sangakkara, adjudged the Man of the Match for his brilliant 230 in the first innings, and Mahela Jayawardene completed the last rites without a flutter.

The fall of Inzamam, all the more significant for its doubtful nature, ripped the heart out of Pakistan's fight, and three wickets fell in a bunch for only 10 runs to leave Pakistan staring at defeat, sliding from 281 for five to 291 for eight. Although skipper Waqar Younis flailed around for a stroke-filled 25, the final was indeed over for the home side. Even with Inzamam on the crease, saving the match lay in the realms of extreme difficulty. With him gone, it was well-nigh impossible.

The Lankans, of course, deserved the victory in this emphatic manner, for theirs was throughout a far better display than Pakistan. What may sting Pakistan's fans in some small measure was the fact that when at last their team was desperately trying to fight their way out of adversity, their struggle ended with one stroke of bad luck.

In his quite illustrious career, Inzamam has sold his wicket cheaply on many an occasion, but on some others, he has been a victim of unfortunate umpiring calls. Today's may rank among the unluckiest, Inzamam being given out off a no-ball, his six-foot-three-inch frame lunging forward and the ball hitting him above the knee roll on the flap. To add insult to injury, this denied him his 16th Test hundred, making it the sixth time that he has been out in the 90s.

This was not the only misjudgement that occured in the innings. Earlier, Abdul Razzaq had been ruled leg-before when Muralitharan bowled a delivery from wide off the crease; turning a great deal, the ball may have been heading down the leg side. Skipper Waqar was given out to a bat-pad decision when closer scrutiny suggested that the batsman may not have laid bat on ball.

After Inzamam's (99, 228 balls, 6 fours, 1 six) fall, the Pakistani batsmen seemed to have lost all hope of survival. Rashid Latif was not his usual doughty self; he had made just two before he indifferently drove Chaminda Vaas' good-length delivery uppishly straight to Muralitharan at mid-off. In the next over, Shaoib Malik (21, 2 fours), who had negotiated all the bowlers quite well for some time, fended at a ball outside the off-stump off Nuwan Zoysa to be caught behind.

Skipper Waqar Younis replaced Malik and played some lusty hits in his innings of 25 before getting out bat-pad off Muralitharan. The last man, Mohammad Sami, went back without troubling the scorers.

All said and done, though, it was Sri Lanka who dominated this match right from word go and fully deserved to become the current Asian Champions.

Awards:
Best Batsman: Kumar Sangakkara
Best Bowler: Muttiah Muralitharan
Man of the Match: Kumar Sangakkara