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If it's true that only piffling tournaments need puffed-up titles, the ACB's second shot at midwinter cricket was always in trouble. The Tower Super Challenge II was partly redeemed by two gripping matches between the world's most exciting one-day teams - Australia and Pakistan. But, as the mercury plunged, dropping below 2°C shortly after the second game, it remained unclear whether Melbourne's sports-mad public could be convinced that cricket, cocoa and woollies went easily together. Even in temperate Brisbane, where the third match was held, the reaction was lukewarm. The winter experiment began to look more and more like an attempt to shove yet more cricket down the public's throat.
There were certainly several gimmicks to try to convince the punters. Before the tournament, journalists devoted dozens of column inches to the "pace race" between Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar, who had been unofficially clocked at over 100mph in April. Tower, a financial services company, even promised one lucky ticket-holder (chosen at random) $A25,000 if a bowler broke the magical 100mph mark, or if a batsman scored a run-a-ball hundred. (As it turned out, their money was safe, especially as Lee and Shoaib played just three games between them.) And if the hullabaloo about the world's fastest bowler didn't get the fans salivating, the Melbourne matches still had some novelty value from being played indoors.
But the public stayed at home. The total attendance plummeted from more than 90,000 for the first glimpse of indoor cricket in 2000 to around 40,000 this time. Cricket under a roof had proved, well, pretty similar to cricket outside, only colder. One commentator went as far as calling midwinter cricket "an insanity that has outstayed its welcome".
The tepid response was a shame, because a Pakistan team bursting with talent deserved better. After a clinical Australian win in the first match, Younis Khan kept his nerve to sneak a win in the second, before Pakistan, fired by Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar, roared home in the decider.
The ball dominated the bat throughout, but seldom as thoroughly as when it was in Shoaib's hand. After missing the first match with a hip injury, then making an effective but subdued comeback in the second, he ripped the heart out of the Australian innings in the third. His five for 25 proved he was a match-winner rather than just a flamboyant sideshow. Wasim grabbed three big wickets in the second game, and his clean hitting changed the tone of the deciding match, while Shahid Afridi was Pakistan's most economical bowler but flapped - and flopped - with the bat.
Australia's batting fell far below expectations. They managed only two fifties and lost wickets in damaging bursts - two for nought and five for 29 in the second match, and five for 39 in the third. With the ball, Darren Lehmann's part-time twirlers, with four wickets and an economy rate of below three and a half, proved more effective than Lee's thunderbolts. Shane Watson went for more than five an over and did not yet look the answer at No. 7, but it was the batsmen who let the side down.
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