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Just 37 days after Pakistan's disastrous first-round exit from the World Cup, their enthusiastic new-look side stormed unbeaten to victory in a four-way tournament in Sharjah. However, the tournament produced little entertaining cricket. The pitches were slow and many quality players were injured or had recently retired. Some were simply resting - after all, the first match here started only 11 days after the World Cup ended.
It nearly didn't start at all. With the US-led war in Iraq in its early stages, South Africa withdrew on safety grounds less than a fortnight before the first game. In hindsight, it was an over-reaction. In terms of distance, it was like cancelling a tour of England because of events in Spain, and life went on as normal in Sharjah. Bizarrely, the chairman of the South African board, Gerald Majola, chose to visit to tournament while on leave. A last-minute search provided not one replacement team but two - Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Pakistan were the flair side of the competition and worthy winners. A new selection panel jettisoned nine of their World Cup squad, including former captain Waqar Younis; instead Rashid Latif was appointed for his second spell in charge, with former Test batsman Javed Miandad appointed coach for the fourth time. The result was a young squad (average age less than 25) full of enthusiasm and boasting the fastest - and best - bowler on view in Mohammad Sami. After playing just once (and not bowling) in the World Cup, he took nine wickets in four matches.
Sri Lanka, by contrast, played with little flair or confidence. Sanath Jayasuriya had tried to resign as captain after the World Cup but was persuaded to fill in here by the sports minister and the selectors. And the coach, Dav Whatmore, whose sacking was announced before the tournament, also knew he was on the way out. Originally, both star spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and wicket-keeper/batsman Kumar Sangakkara were controversially omitted from the squad, prompting the sports minister, Johnston Fernando, to wade in. In the ensuing wranglings, the selection panel were replaced and both Murali and Sangakkara were finally reinstated. But Sri Lanka's batting - Sangakkara apart - was poor, and injuries to front-line fast bowlers Chaminda Vaas and Dilhara Fernando crippled their campaign.
Zimbabwe, weakened by recent retirements, including that of Andy Flower, played with admirable determination and qualified for the final. The use of Doug Marillier as a pinch-hitter was crucial to their success. But World Cup semi-finalists Kenya could not recapture the sparkle they showed in southern Africa. Instead, they revealed a worrying lack of depth.
Match reports for
1st Match: Pakistan v Zimbabwe at Sharjah, Apr 3, 2003
2nd Match: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Sharjah, Apr 4, 2003
3rd Match: Kenya v Zimbabwe at Sharjah, Apr 5, 2003
4th Match: Kenya v Sri Lanka at Sharjah, Apr 6, 2003
5th Match: Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe at Sharjah, Apr 7, 2003
6th Match: Kenya v Pakistan at Sharjah, Apr 8, 2003
Final: Pakistan v Zimbabwe at Sharjah, Apr 10, 2003