Muttiah Muralitharan was the obvious and outstanding difference between competitive, focused Sri Lanka and injury-plagued Pakistan in an entertaining three-Test series that the Sri Lankans won 2-1. Thanks to him, they became the first team to win successive Test series in Pakistan (excluding the drawn game in the Asian Test Championship the previous year). He had been their leading wicket-taker with 15 when Sri Lanka toured Pakistan in 1995-96; now he bagged eight wickets at Rawalpindi, ten at Peshawar and eight at Karachi to finish the series with 26 - the best return by any Test bowler visiting Pakistan. The Pakistani strokemakers, once considered to be among the best players of spin, were repeatedly shown up by the menace of his prodigious and varied turn.
While the series confirmed the revival of Sri Lankan cricket after their disastrous World Cup nine months earlier, finalists Pakistan continued to plunge deeper into crisis. Prior to the series, Wasim Akram had paid the price for his side's débâcle in the World Cup final and for their defeat in all three Tests, and six out of ten one-day internationals, in Australia. His successor - not for the first time - was Saeed Anwar, reappointed after wicket-keeper Moin Khan had rejected the offer to lead his country. But it turned out to be a short-term succession. Anwar not only failed to inspire his team; he turned out to be a man of limited ideas when he opted to bat last in all three one-day internationals, despite having an inexperienced middle order. This series, a drab affair for which the selectors omitted Ijaz Ahmed, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi, preceded the Test matches and was won 3-0 by Sri Lanka.
Anwar suffered also from the loss of key players. The recently married Waqar Younis was excused the one-day series, and Shoaib Akhtar was unavailable for the first international because the Pakistan Cricket Board had suspended him for a match, following an unauthorised night out in Australia. He then missed the third one-day game and the opening Test because of a groin injury incurred in the second, while a side strain in the third international ruled Azhar Mahmood out of the Test series. But the most cruel blow came when Wasim Akram limped off after bowling just 13 deliveries in the First Test. In that same match, Saqlain Mushtaq was taken to hospital suffering from dehydration and showed a lot of courage to bowl 33 overs virtually unchanged on the fifth day. Neither took any further part in the series, by the end of which Pakistan had called up 19 players.
Anwar was himself injured when he collided with an umpire in the Second Test and, in his absence, Moin Khan led the team in the Third. On the second day of that match, however, Anwar announced that he was stepping down permanently, to concentrate on his batting, and Moin was appointed to replace him for a four-month programme that would take Pakistan to Sharjah, the West Indies and Sri Lanka. Only a week earlier, the Board had confirmed Anwar's appointment until July.
As if Pakistan did not have enough to contend with, battling to overcome injuries and poor performances in the field, the Board triggered an avoidable controversy by confirming, on the opening day's play in the Second Test, that Javed Miandad would replace Intikhab Alam as coach for the forthcoming tours. Next morning, an angry and offended Intikhab announced that he had packed his bags and was quitting the team. Although he subsequently agreed to a request that he see out the match, the PCB penalised him for his outburst by cancelling his nomination for the ICC panel of match referees. Miandad took over as coach for the Third Test, earlier than planned and for the second time in less than a year.
Controversy dogged the final Test at Karachi as well, which Pakistan won to preserve their unbeaten record at the National Stadium. After the third day's play, Inzamam alleged that the Sri Lankan close-in fielders had been trying to break his concentration with abusive sledging, a comment which earned him the displeasure of the match referee, Brian Hastings of New Zealand, and a suspended fine of 25 per cent of his match fee. Along with his team-mates, he lost an actual 25 per cent when Pakistan were fined for their slow over-rate. Also on the third day, local umpire Riazuddin had an exchange with Jayasuriya after Tillekeratne Dilshan had appeared to throw the ball at him on several occasions - an unsportsmanlike protest against decisions by Riaz which, the tourists obviously felt, deprived them of vital wickets. While no formal complaints were lodged with the referee, the Sri Lankans did make a verbal protest about Riazuddin's umpiring and Hastings was later reported to have given him zero marks.
Match reports for
Pakistan Cricket Board XI v Sri Lankans at Karachi, Feb 8, 2000
Tour Match: Pakistan Cricket Board XI v Sri Lankans at Karachi, Feb 10, 2000
Pakistan Cricket Board XI v Sri Lankans at Rawalpindi, Feb 21-23, 2000