It's Sharjah time again

The original off-shore one-day series returns to centre stage today. The scene of international cricket since 1984, the Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium hosts the Coca-Cola Champions Trophy between Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies.

The West Indians play in Sharjah as the last stage of a hectic six-week program that has taken them to Singapore, Canada and Bangladesh. Under a special rotation policy designed to preserve their two veteran pace bowlers, Curtly Ambrose appears in the West Indies squad with Courtney Walsh sitting this one out. Much attention will be focussed on the new batting sensation from Jamaica, twenty year-old Ricardo Powell. A not-so-new sensation, Brian Lara, will lead the Windies against Sri Lanka today in his first match since his extraordinary 45-ball hundred at Bangabandhu Stadium, Dhaka on Saturday.

Sri Lanka are in the midst of a revival following a long decline in their one-day stocks that culminated with their early elimination from the World Cup. Victory in the Aiwa Cup Final against Australia in August came after ordinary performances earlier in the tournament, however that finals success plus their subsequent Test series win over the Aussies, gives them a considerable psychological boost. The return of Aravinda de Silva, dumped perhaps hastily after the World Cup, adds more class to a team in a transitory stage of development.

The favourites for this tournament are Pakistan. Historically the most successful team in Sharjah, they will be aiming to shake off the disappointment and innuendo of the World Cup Final defeat. To some extent this has already been achieved through their 3-0 clean-sweep of the West Indies at Toronto and by the official exoneration of players from any misconduct during the World Cup.

My prediction for the most likely outcome will see Wasim Akram lifting the Coca-Cola Champions Trophy on October 22, with the West Indies as runnersup.