The second Asian Test Championship was a hopeless affair. It involved only two decent teams and a total of three matches, spread over seven months. Poor organisation and one-sided cricket did not help, but the killer blow was the withdrawal of India, which undermined the whole point of the exercise, leaving Sri Lanka champions in name only. Rather than rekindle Asian interest in Test cricket, the tournament arguably set it back.
Only a week before the first match, the Delhi government confirmed that no Indian team would play Pakistan until political relations were "normalised". The Championship was effectively dead in the water. With Bangladesh as one of only three participants, a repeat of the 1999 Sri Lanka-Pakistan final was assured, and the group phase was virtually pointless. Deprived of an India-Pakistan showdown, the event lost its commercial lifeblood and its cricketing soul.
The Asian Cricket Council did themselves no favours, however. Even if all four nations had joined in, they might have struggled to sustain interest from August to March. As it was, many of the talking points thrown up had gone stale by the time of the final. In a sign, perhaps, that even the organisers had lost faith, the Pakistan-Sri Lanka group match was summarily scrapped after Bangladesh's two defeats rendered it academic.
So it was no surprise when spectators, sponsors and broadcasters responded with a shrug. Attendances were mostly poor, a main sponsor never materialised, while a shortage of advertising meant the final was one of only a handful of Tests involving the national team not televised in Sri Lanka. The broadcasters blamed the weather - following a dry spell, the island's dependence on hydroelectric power led to the suspension of the electricity supply for five hours a day, which made sponsorship and advertising less effective. This was a case not of rain stopped play, but lack of rain stopped viewing.
Nor could the cricket redeem matters. Bangladesh were nowhere near good enough to compete: two matches, two innings defeats. They took only six wickets by their own efforts, and just one bowler (Naimur Rahman) conceded less than four an over. Seven of their opponents scored centuries, and just two were dismissed for less than fifty. Only Mohammad Ashraful totalled over 100 runs for Bangladesh; his glorious, audacious - and ultimately futile - hundred against Sri Lanka made him Test cricket's youngest centurion, and provided the only glimmer of hope for his team.
The eye-catching performances of the Pakistanis and Sri Lankans held more questionable significance. Impetuous batting certainly helped Danish Kaneria (only the second Hindu to represent Pakistan, after his cousin, Anil Dalpat) take 12 wickets at Multan; his whirling action recalled Abdul Qadir's, without yet affording the same control. In the same match, five Pakistan batsmen reached hundreds, to equal the record for centuries in an innings. In Colombo a week later, Sanath Jayasuriya was confident enough to retire two batsmen out, a move unprecedented at this level, which some felt reduced Test cricket to a practice knockaround.
The final was the first Test in Pakistan since the Bangladesh match more than six months earlier because of the war in Afghanistan. It proved to be another anticlimax. Amid squabbles over the omission of two match-winning bowlers, Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq, the Pakistanis reverted to the shambles they had often been before Waqar Younis took over. Muttiah Muralitharan claimed eight wickets, to go with ten against Bangladesh, and bowled more than a third of Sri Lanka's overs. But it was the patience and determination of Kumar Sangakkara that made the difference; he batted for longer than either of Pakistan's complete innings. Sri Lanka's total in the final was their seventh above 500 in nine Tests, all of them won by large margins. Jayasuriya said victory would boost morale ahead of the tour of England; the Asian Test Championship as an end in itself seemed less important.
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