Pakistan has won the Test series against Sri Lanka with an emphasis that would suggest a no-contest. Not so long ago, it was the other way round when Sri Lanka toured Pakistan. In both instances, the homeadvantage was nullified. This could be a healthy sign or simply mean that the local authorities are incompetent. For some perverted reason it has always been considered perfectly kosher for the home team to "fix" the wickets to suit their strength.
The Sri Lankans must have been delighted, as well as surprised when they discovered wickets in Pakistan to be spinner-friendly, more specifically Muralitharan friendly.
The Pakistanis were equally delighted and no doubt equally surprised to play on wickets that helped the seamers and conditions in Galle that allowed the Pakistan bowlers to get prodigious reverse swing. Muralitharan looked dangerous and bowled superbly as did Arshad Khan but it was the Pakistan fast bowlers who wreaked havoc and for good measure Abdur Razzaq getting a hat trick.
But it was Wasim and Waqar who gave sleepless nights to the Sri Lankan batsmen. When a partnership had to be broken up, more often than not, it would be one of these bowlers who would carry out the execution.
But it was Pakistan's batting at Galle that scaled new heights. What we saw was a run-feast and even the mighty Muralitharan was reduced to a trundler. Obviously Pakistan had a game-plan against him and it seemed to be a simple one. Not allow him to dominate, to take the attack to him. It goes to Muralitharan's credit that he stuck to his task manfully and still got wickets but he was not allowed to cast his magical spell.
Saeed Anwar, Inzamamul Haq, Younis Khan and Wasim Akram got hundreds each, different in their own way. Since one is not judging a beauty contest there is no requirement to pick which was the best hundred. But for sheer pugnaciousness, Wasim Akram's innings stands out in a class of its own.
I had hinted in my column last week that Wasim Akram was starting to take his batting seriously. He has never been a "slogger" but someone who is a clean hitter of the ball with genuine cricket shots. There is nothing slapdash about his batting and he does not create "hilarious" moments.
At Galle, he paced his innings to perfection and having watched cricket for so many years with a "professional" eye I had a gutfeeling that he meant serious business when he came in to bat. He gives the impression, not so much as someone who is enjoying his cricket, which he must be doing, but as someone who is proving that not only is he still the world's best bowler but he is no mug with the bat. Indeed he is a genuine all-rounder, equal to, if not better than other all-rounders, a vanishing breed of cricketers.
It is not for me to say whether Sri Lankan cricket is having any problems. Jayasuriya's own form is disappointing and I am wondering whether he's beginning to feelthe pressure of captaincy. He was out in both innings at Galle playing loose shots as if his mind was elsewhere. The one who looked calm and collected and "indestructible" was Arjuna Ranatunga.
The Sri Lankan Board may have acted in haste in sacking him. He has been Sri Lanka's most successful captain and if he is good enough to be in the team, which he obviously is, then Sri Lanka should not have wasted his vast experience and demoted him to a foot-soldier. It goes to his credit that he is giving hundred per cent. Kaluwitharna too is going through a miserably lean patch and thereare reports that he may be axed.
There is no other player who does more to lift the Sri Lankan team than this pocket-battleship. With the series already lost, it might not be a bad idea to get him to open the innings in the Kandy Test match. Who knows, he might strike form? What Sri Lanka must avoid doing, at all costs, is to start making wholesale changes. This is the mistake that Pakistan made and which allowed Sri Lanka to beat Pakistan both in the one-day and Test series.
When senior players go through a lean patch, it is invariably assumed that they are over the hill. Luckily for Pakistan good sense prevailed otherwise Inzamamul Haq, Waqar Yunus and even Wasim Akram would be cooling their heels and watching the cricket on television.
The Australians can be quite ruthless in discarding players but they are also capable of withstanding pressure. They kept Mark Taylor on as captain and they did not yield to the temptation to drop Mark Waugh despite repeated failures. It's a matter of judgement and the personal likes and dislikes of experts should be left for comments on television where they add to the entertainment.
Tony Greig for example has brought a new dimension to expertise. He will give a batsman out. No question about that one, he will say. On seeing the replay, he will say no question that was missing leg-stump. That's what makes him a good expert. He can be right and wrong at the same time, a gift not available to lesser experts.