Three teams arrived in Sharjah in April 1999 hoping to fine-tune their preparations for the forthcoming World Cup in England. But all of them ended with their plans in some disarray - even the winners, Pakistan.
Having just won the Asian Test Championship and the accompanying one-day series, Wasim Akram's team lived up to their billing as one of the World Cup favourites. Throughout the seven-game event, Pakistan produced the most convincing cricket; their young tearaway fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar was named player of the tournament, while their batting and fielding were a class above India and England. But nothing was quite as it seemed. Their coach, Javed Miandad, faxed his resignation to the Pakistan Board a few days after arriving home, citing family reasons for standing down eight months after being appointed. It was widely believed that he had fallen out with the leading players.
For World Cup hosts England, this was a chance to put the sorry end of their Australian tour (six defeats in the last seven games) behind them. They did not take it. In December 1997, England had come to Sharjah, won all four matches under Adam Hollioake, and announced that their World Cup bandwagon was rolling. But their performances under Alec Stewart were confused and confusing. An unsettled side with little sparkle were distracted off the field by haggling with their own board over their World Cup contracts. The only pluses were the return of Graham Thorpe after his back injury, and the success of 21-year-old all-rounder Andrew Flintoff.
England were out of contention after losing their first three matches, two of them to India. But the results flattered Mohammad Azharuddin's side, who badly missed their inspiration, Sachin Tendulkar, at home in Mumbai resting a back injury. Sharjah served to undermine Azharuddin's position as captain once again; injured while batting in their second match, he headed over the captaincy to Ajay Jadeja for the remaining group games. India looked a far better side for the change, finishing top of the qualifying table - but fell apart again on Azharuddin's return for the final.
There were worrying signs of cricket fatigue at this unique venue, which by the end of the event had clocked up 146 one-day international matches, a world leader by some distance. While facilities at the stadium have improved, the pitches have deteriorated and have become substandard. The crowds, too, appear to be getting tired of formula cricket; the ground was barely a quarter full for any of the matches until the final.
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