Hindsight will show that Abdul Rahman Bukhatir's cricket ground in the desert was the starting point for England's build-up to the 1999 World Cup. For years, England selectors had failed to recognise that one-day international cricket was no longer just a novelty, money-spinning adjunct to Test matches, but a parallel branch of the game deserving of full and separate attention. Humiliating results over the previous two winters in South Africa, the World Cup, Zimbabwe and New Zealand inspired a strategic rethink, led by chairman of selectors David Graveney. So, after a decade of tearing up invitations to the Gulf, English administrators finally relented, acknowledging that they had to compete to improve.
The most radical move was to appoint a captain specifically to lead a one-day side, a job viewed as requiring a dynamism and reactive instinct not so fundamental to captaining the Test team. There are doubts that he would have made a specialist side for Sharjah's conditions on merit, but Mike Atherton's unavailability made the decision easier in any case, and Adam Hollioake was given the chance to state his credentials as a potential leader in the World Cup.
In the event, the brief tour exceeded expectations. Chosen specifically for the task, with the accent on all-rounders and depth to the batting order, England's team entered the competition mindful of the need to learn and to adapt to conditions in which two of the four contestants - India and Pakistan - were effectively playing in front of home crowds. Progress was expected, but winning was not quite on the agenda. However, an unchanged eleven won all four of their games, including a thrilling final against West Indies, and supplemented established stars, like Alec Stewart, with new ones such as Kent's 33-year-old all-rounder Matthew Fleming, whose nine wickets made him the leading bowler along with Pakistan's Saqlain Mushtaq. Hollioake's performance as captain was exemplary both on the field, where he showed himself to be astute and unflappable, and off it. His players proved just as enthusiastic and amenable (including the three who never appeared, Ashley Giles, Ben Hollioake and Peter Martin).
The tournament proved even more of a turning point for the other three nations. All of them changed captains during the following three weeks. Though West Indies' success in reaching the final was in contrast to a string of dreadful performances in Pakistan, where they had just been whitewashed in the Tests and one-day tournament, it was to mark the end of Courtney Walsh's reign; he was soon replaced by Brian Lara. Pakistan and India, despite their home advantage, were eliminated in the round robin. India, who lost all their games, axed six players (including one who had not played a match) and transferred the captaincy back from Sachin Tendulkar to his predecessor, Mohammad Azharuddin. Meanwhile, Wasim Akram announced that he had had to give up leading Pakistan because of death threats, and was then controversially omitted from the squad to tour South Africa.
Match reports for
4th Match: India v Pakistan at Sharjah, Dec 14, 1997