Under the bright lights of the Sharjah Cricket Association stadium Pakistan captain Waqar Younis held aloft the Khaleej Times Trophy 2001 after beating Sri Lanka by five wickets. It was the kind of performance that was more sensible than heroic, more calculated than sensational. After being asked to take the field Waqar and his men shot out the Sri Lankans for 173, thereby making their task so much easier.
Easy or not, the Pakistan batting has a knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. And it did almost capitulate in the face of some fine spin bowling from Muthiah Muralitharan. Showing off his complete repertoire, Murali ended with the figures of 10-3-22-3. An outstanding showing from Murali with a very small total to defend.
The rest of the Sri Lankan bowling however, lacked the experience, skill and imagination needed to make a miracle happen. The same attack would certainly have looked completely different had there been another fifty odd runs on the board.
A sensible steady knock of 35 from Shahid Afridi, followed by 40 from Yousuf Youhana and a sprinkling of cameos saw to it that Pakistan reached their target with more than five overs to spare.
But it was really the Sri Lankan batting that set the tone of the match.
It was a keen contest between two explosive openers and two experienced fast bowlers. While Sanath Jayasuriya, the man known for his hitting at the top of the order, and Avishka Gunawardene attempted to get Sri Lanka off to a good start, the Pakistanis did everything in their power to stop them. The first casualty of the twin W's was Gunawaradene, who simply could not break the shackles. The pressure exerted by Waqar forced Gunawardene to go after a delivery that would have normally sailed harmlessly through to the keeper. Fending at a ball that shaped away from the left-hander, Gunawardene only managed to present Azhar Mahmood at slip with a low catch. Gunawardene managed just 2 off 11 balls as Waqar struck in the fourth over.
While Jayasuriya adjusted to the circumstances very quickly and adopted a defensive, wait-and-watch approach, his partner out in the middle, Marvan Atapattu was dealt a cracker of a delivery by Akram. The left-arm seamer softened up Atapattu with a few short deliveries before pushing one through a bit quicker. Trying to play at the ball, Atapattu tickled it through to stumper Rashid Latif. Atapattu did not trouble the scorers.
The initial breakthroughs coupled with the fact that runs dried up made things very difficult for the Lankans. The fact that none of the Sri Lankans made even a half-century is telling. Jayasuriya (34) was not his usual self and did his best to keep one end steady. Mahela Jayawardene (43) batting with great flair took one risk too many and was cleaned up by a pumped up Shoaib Akhtar.
Russel Arnold soldiered on manfully while the wickets fell around him. Chipping the ball into the gaps and accumulating the runs, Arnold helped himself to an almost run-a-ball 47, the highest score of the Lankan innings.
For Pakistan the wickets were spread around - Waqar and Akhtar had three each while Akram and Afridi bagged two apiece.