By Sa'adi Thawfeeq
Signs that Sri Lanka were coming out of a slump were evident in the final Test against Pakistan at Kandy, where they ran up an impressive 467 for five before the rain settled in with a vengeance. But there could be no escaping the hard truth that Sri Lanka had lost that series emphatically. When they bagged the Singer Triangular Series, therefore, with a hundred per cent record against two of the finest one-day sides, South Africa and Pakistan, it was truly a moment to savour.
Sri Lanka's bold policy of sticking to youngsters for their one-day games paid off handsomely. Avishka Gunawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, along with Mahela Jayawardene and Russel Arnold, not only gave the batting stability but also raised the standard of fielding to a plane similar to that when Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996. Newcomer Sangakkara, a 22-year-old left-handed wicket-keeper/batsman, emerged as the star of the tournament, scoring 199 runs at 66.33. Filling the batting spot vacated by another left-hander, Arjuna Ranatunga, he played some superlative innings, mostly under pressure, to justify his selection ahead of the experienced Romesh Kaluwitharana.
Opener Gunawardene, with 230 runs at 46, was the tournament's second-highest scorer after South African opener Gary Kirsten (236 at 47.20). Gunawardene's 87 against South Africa was the tournament's highest score. Muttiah Muralitharan returned the best bowling figures, five for 44 against South Africa in the final, to become the leading wicket-taker with nine at 19.11.
By virtue of beating Pakistan twice in the qualifying games, South Africa met Sri Lanka in the final. Jacques Kallis was their key player, hitting 211 runs at 52.75 including back-to-back innings of 83 against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He went on to win the series award, which many thought should have gone to Sangakkara. Pakistan, at the end of a long and weary programme of international cricket, looked jaded. They were nowhere near the form that won them successive one-day tournaments in Sharjah, the West Indies and Bangladesh, followed by the recent Test victories over Sri Lanka, and failed to win a game. The absence of their influential all-rounder, Wasim Akram, who had returned home, was another factor weighing against them.
When Sanath Jayasuriya held the Singer Trophy aloft, Sri Lanka celebrated their second one-day tournament success under his leadership. The first was the Aiwa Cup the previous August, also at home.
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