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Against a background of rumours that Justice Qayyum's report into match-fixing would recommend bans or fines for their key players, Pakistan turned on a display of cricket of the highest quality to take their 11th Sharjah tournament. Even in the last preliminary game, when they had guaranteed a place in the final, they did not let their standards drop. Four wins and a tie took their unbeaten sequence to eight - including five wins against West Indies - since their abject performance in the World Cup final.
True, their opponents, Sri Lanka and West Indies, were not the forces in the one-day game they once were, but Pakistan - apart from the tied match with Sri Lanka - barely needed to break into a sweat. Their margins of victory tell the story: 130, 118, 138 and 88 runs. They also show how lucky they were with the toss, winning five out of five and electing to bat each time. As all games were day/night fixtures, this allowed the Pakistan bowlers to exploit evening dew and generate considerable reverse swing. Azhar Mahmood proved especially adept, picking up 13 wickets at 9.69, including 11 in the last two games, while Abdur Razzaq took five in the first match against Sri Lanka.
Pakistan may have been without the injured Shoaib Akhtar (shoulder) and Saqlain Mushtaq (knee), but they had much the strongest attack, bowling out their opponents in each game. They also had the tournament's best batsmen. In conditions that never favoured strokeplay, Inzamam-ul-Haq was the epitome of consistency with scores of 71, 42, 33, 61 and 54. Yousuf Youhana prospered, too, hitting 175 at 43.75.
Sri Lanka and West Indies had a less happy time. Sri Lanka lost a tight game when the two first met, choked spectacularly but clung on for a tie against Pakistan, then crushed West Indies in the return match. It proved enough to take them to the final.
After an initial success, West Indies lurched from disaster to catastrophe. In a tournament characterised by collapse, they got it down to a fine art. Their last three games saw them lose five wickets for 16 runs, seven for 19 and seven for 25. Before the last qualifying match, team sponsors Cable & Wireless promised $US50,000 if West Indies won the competition. They could safely have offered the world. West Indies were unlucky to lose Jimmy Adams during the second game, but the dire state of their batting was illustrated by the fact that just one player, Wavell Hinds, averaged above 18. As part of their policy of alternating Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose between one-day tournaments, to conserve their energy, Walsh was rested, but Ambrose, though economical, was less penetrative than usual.
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