A full house at the Sharjah stadium and millions of cricket fans in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and other countries of the world shall be anxiously awaiting the ARY Gold Cup Tournament reaching its climax, when the two finalists Pakistan and Sri Lanka take the field today (Friday) afternoon. The two Asian giants who have shared many honors between themselves in the past, shall clash with full force to clinch the prestigious trophy.

With the remarkable feat of securing 8 points through 4 straight victories in the tournament as against 2 points each won by Sri Lanka and New Zealand, Pakistan dominates the show. There is no denying the fact that the Pakistan team has performed marvelously well in the league matches on its favorite hunting ground. Supported also by the law of averages, Pakistan emerges as the natural `favorite'.

Like scores of other observers of the game, Sri Lanka coach Dave Whatmore also accepts Pakistan as the favorites to win the finals, at the same time stressing that his side was capable of putting up a tough fight. Similarly New Zealand Captain Craig McMillan whose team received a thorough beating at the hands of Pakistan, termed Pakistan as `slightly favorite'. He also expressed the view that Sri Lanka was a tough side capable of beating any team on its day.

Skipper Sanath Jayasuriya who blamed his side's poor fielding for defeat in league matches, however, considers his team a hard nut to crack and capable of springing a surprise. Evaluating the remarkable feats that they have performed in the past, I tend to agree with him. It was just their bad luck to lose to the Black Caps in the last encounter. It is otherwise a bitterly fighting outfit.

The Pakistan squad participating in the tournament landed at Sharjah without the bunch of stars like Wasim Akram, Moin Khan, Shoaib Akhtar, Yousif Youhana and Azhar Mahmood. It looked handicapped initially but found the right combination to defeat its opponents. A scintilating batting performance by Saeed Anwar, Inzamam ul Haq and Shahid Afridi, effective use of the ball by Saqlain Mushtaq and dynamic leadership by Waqar Younis, however, eliminated all the misgivings.

The fact remains that while Saeed Anwar with scores of 90, 88 and 81 and Inzamam with an excellent tally of 44, 87, 71 and 85 contributed the lion's share to shape Pakistan's 4 convincing victories, the other batsmen did not show much of a grit. The two matches against the Black Caps were won by the top order batsmen while those in waiting did not get a chance even to take the crease.

Though Pakistan is likely to be reinforced by the inclusion of Abdur Razzaq, the team can get into trouble if the top order batting does not click. Realising the situation Sri Lanka would naturally aim at getting Saeed Anwar, Inzamam and Afridi out early in the innings.

Another aspect to rejuvenate Sri Lanka's fighting spirit would be the fact that unlike the Black Caps, they lost the two matches to Pakistan by a marginal difference of 16 and 28 runs, which can be made up by grabbing all the chances that come in their way. The front line batsman Atapattu who has not gone beyond the top score of 36 in the tournament must regain his form. Same applies to Muttiah Muralitharan who appears to have lost his magic.

The final of a tournament normally brings up the resurgence of fighting spirit on both sides, irrespective of the past performance. No side can thus take the victory as granted. Pakistan may be the favorites but Sri Lanka is not the side to give in easily. So let us watch the tough and exciting final with anxiety and eagerness without pinning hopes on any of the two giants.