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As night fell over the Sharjah Cup final, the fans - many of whom had queued since dawn - waited for the post-match formalities. The rumour was that they were being delayed because several dignitaries had not yet arrived. It seemed plausible: Pakistan had routed Sri Lanka in an abject 16.5 overs. The tournament's most consistent team had been humiliated by its most watchable.
After losing both qualifying games against Sri Lanka, the Pakistani juggernaut gathered speed to thunder to victory. Imran Nazir, on his latest entrance through Pakistan's ever-revolving door, swung his bat like a Mogul warrior's scimitar and scored 226 runs. Shahid Afridi - with a marksman's eye and a golfer's swing - formed the other half of an incendiary opening pair. His 183 runs included a hundred that brutally ended New Zealand's challenge. Yousuf Youhana made the only other century, in the final, when he and Younis Khan sapped Sri Lanka's spirit with running that belied Pakistan's reputation for comedy between the wickets. Shoaib Akhtar hurled down the quickest ball on record - 99mph - but was far more than a circus act: he was the top wicket-taker, with ten, and had the second-best economy rate, 3.86 an over.
But if Pakistan were less erratic than usual, they were ultimately lucky with the toss. Six of the seven games were won by the side batting first; the floodlights' sheen on the white pitch, and evening dew, making the ball slippy, were both cited. No captain fancied chasing, and in the final Waqar Younis called right.
Before their final débâcle, Sri Lanka slipped up only once. Marvan Atapattu was named Man of the Series for his 233 runs; Russel Arnold's calm and Upul Chandana's nerve turned the two group games against Pakistan. When the pressure gauge hit red in the second of these matches, Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa conceded only nine runs in the final three overs. But the undoubted bowling star was Muttiah Muralitharan, the smiling assassin, who took nine wickets and conceded only 2.27 an over. Ten astonishing overs against New Zealand went for only nine runs, bagged five wickets and left several batsmen looking silly. When Murali tore shoulder ligaments in the final and was rushed to hospital, Sri Lanka lost a talisman as well as a spearhead. Their self-belief visibly ebbed, calling into question the insistence of Dav Whatmore, their coach, that they had become mentally tougher.
New Zealand were too exposed by injuries to sustain a challenge: half a dozen regulars cried off. Chris Nevin impressed as a hard-hitting opener but disappointed as a keeper before pulling a hamstring. Stephen Fleming bashed his finger, and Craig McMillan injured his foot. Those still standing battled hard, but the batting lacked firepower and, although Scott Styris collected nine wickets, Fleming had no banker to turn to when the going got tough.
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