Winners: Pakistan

The Asian Test Championship, 1998-99

The first triangular Test tournament since 1912, when Australia and South Africa visited England finally got off the ground in February 1999. There was still some uncertainty about whether it would take place only three weeks before, but at the end of January it was confirmed that the four-test tournament, contested by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and sponsored by Coca-Cola, would go ahead. The championship was planned by the International Cricket Council's president Jamoghan Dalmiya, taking advantage of Pakistan's long-awaited return to India to experiment with a possible format for the World Test Championship, so often debated and so often postponed by ICC.

The tournament was a triumph for Pakistan, who were 26 for six on its opening day but fought back to win that match, against India, easily headed the qualifying group, and beat Sri Lanka at a canter in the final. Their captain, Wasim Akram, took two hat-tricks - Pakistan's first in Tests - in successive games, and was named Man of the Tournament. Other heroes included Saeed Anwar, who carried his bat in the victory over India, Wajahatullah Wasti, who scored twin centuries in his second Test, and Ijaz Ahmed and Inzaman-ul-Haq, who both scored double-hundreds in the final.

India were deeply dissatisfied, however. Their partisans alleged that Pakistan had manipulated the system of first-innings bonus points, similar to that in the English County Championship, to ensure that unfancied Sri Lanka rather than India qualified for the final. The accusations centred on the third day of the Lahore Test, when Sri Lanka, needing a third batting point to be sure of qualifying, scored at great speed while Wasim kept himself out of the attack - then collapsed when he returned and claimed his first hat-trick, just after they achieved their landmark. Pakistan denied any wrong-doing. And India had themselves to blame too; they had squandered a winning position at Calcutta and failed to hold on to the catches which might have given them a chance of victory in Colombo.

Sri Lanka struggled to overcome a long list of injuries: star bowler Muttiah Muralitharan and batsman Sanath Jayasuriya were absent throughout, captain Arjuna Ranatunga dropped out after one game, and several others were missing at one time or another. They held on to draw both their qualifying matches, but capitulated with little sign of a fight in the final. This was held in Dhaka's Bangabandhu stadium - the first Test their since 1969, before Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan, and the first Test on neutral soil since 1912. But though the venue was neutral, a Pakistan-India final would have been the locals' preference, and crowds were sparse.

Indeed, though it had been hoped that the Championship would revive flagging public interest in Test cricket, the only well-attended match was the inaugaral gam between India and Pakistan in Calcutta. That was believed to have drawn the largest crowd in Test history, about 400,000, but it ended in deep embarrassment for the Indian authorities, with almost all the spectators evacuated - none too gently - after a riot. The threats of violence which had dominated the build-up to Pakistan's arrival in India in January, but which had been successfully contained for four weeks, finally burst into life as the Indian crowd was faced with defeat in what many regarded as the decider to the earlier two-Test series.

Match reports for

1st Match: India v Pakistan at Kolkata, Feb 16-20, 1999
Report | Scorecard

2nd Match: Sri Lanka v India at Colombo (SSC), Feb 24-28, 1999
Report | Scorecard

3rd Match: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Lahore, Mar 4-8, 1999
Report | Scorecard

Final: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Dhaka, Mar 12-15, 1999
Report | Scorecard

© John Wisden & Co