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A dispute over player contracts may have dominated the build-up to the tournament, the final may never have finished, and the increased use of technology may be all that comes out of it, but the people of Sri Lanka will look back on the third ICC Champions Trophy with some fondness. Not only did their team share the spoils, but they defeated the all-conquering and less than popular Australians.
For most of the other teams, there was less satisfaction. The planning of the tournament left much to be desired. The timing, only five months before the World Cup, threatened to take the gloss off both. The pitches, slow and getting slower by the day, ensured this tournament would be no form guide for South Africa. The number of teams rose, from 11 in Nairobi two years earlier to 12, which did nothing for playing standards. Apart from Kenya, who took on West Indies, the little guys were crushed with ridiculous ease and, despite low ticket prices, the public responded by keeping their bums off seats. The league format, designed to make sure nobody flew a long way for one match, was a farce: with all but one of the pools containing a Persian-carpet side - just there to walk all over - the other two teams were contesting a quarter-final in all but name. The Trophy clearly needed splitting into two, with an elite group and lower-standard plate competition.
With the monsoon on the horizon, the heat and humidity were intense. Matches not involving Sri Lanka and India drew minuscule crowds, surprising given that it was the first time Sri Lanka - finally free of the terror of civil war - had hosted an event of this magnitude. (The 1996 World Cup should have been bigger, but Australia and West Indies stayed away on security grounds.)
The early stages were dominated by technology, as Pakistan's Shoaib Malik became the first victim of an lbw decision deferred to the third umpire. The frequent requests for arbitration did slow the game down, but it was worth it when glaring gaffes were avoided. The experiment largely worked for lbws, but the cameras continued to be hopelessly ineffectual at confirming whether a catch had carried. Time and again, inconclusive replays gave batsmen the benefit of the doubt, much to the frustration of fielders convinced they had held a fair catch. After the tournament, the ICC announced that the use of technology would not be extended: lbw decisions would revert to being a matter solely for the on-field umpire, while television could still be consulted - ad nauseam - for whether a catch was clean.
The Colombo air was thick with different scents but seldom with the whiff of an upset. The nearest thing to a major shock came early on when West Indies pushed South Africa all the way in a last-ball thriller. Sri Lanka and India - who sent their best team only after a last-ditch temporary settlement of the contract dispute - thrived on the sleepy pitches their batsmen love, while Australia were imperious until an impromptu holiday and the Sri Lankan spinners caught up with them. The watching populace became more impassioned after that, and 5,000 Indian fans added to the cacophony at a final that had sound and fury and, sure enough, signified nothing. In the end, the two false starts summed up the tournament - half-baked and inconclusive.
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