I think that television footage of Wasim Akram's spell of six overs for seven runs against Sri Lanka should be sent to all those learned critics who have been shouting from housetops that this great fast bowler is over the hill. Over the years that I have seen Wasim bowl and this includes his match-winning performance in the 1992 World Cup final, this spell at Sharjah was the most magical.

The television commentators ran out of adjectives. And I could visualise them rubbing their eyes in disbelief. He was focused, on target and lethal, as well as being desperately unlucky. Wasim had something to prove and he did it in spades.

I was surprised that he was not brought on for a second spell. He was no slouch in the field either. He may be 35- years old but he showed he had young legs and his throws from the deep came in like tracer-bullets, on top of the stumps and into the wicket-keeper's gloves.

Without Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan's batting looked brittle against Sri Lanka but worse, was undisciplined and there was no one who seemed prepared to assume the responsibility of shoring it up except Yousuf Youhana but he too perished playing extravagantly. Against Zimbabwe, there was more purpose but the quality of the bowling could hardly be described as fearsome. It was honest but poor. Still, Abdur Razzaq played an innings of pure joy.

Against Sri Lanka, I was baffled to see Rashid Latif batting ahead of him. Razzaq has been shunted up and down in the batting order like an engine at a railway-siding. Surely the time has come to give him a settled place and it should be at number five with Youhana coming in at one-wicket down. Nor should the opening pair of Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi be disturbed.

As I write this, it is all but certain that Pakistan will meet in the final and it promises to be a fascinating final. After the 1999 World Cup, Sri Lankan cricket went into the doldrums, as if nursing a broken heart. But the team has picked itself and Sanath Jayasuriya has done a great job and he has led from the front.

Sri Lanka gives the impression of playing as a unit. A sure sign of this is in the fielding. When the fielding is of the highest order, it is a sign that a team is playing together, playing as a team. Credit for this must go to the coach and, of course, the captain.


My good friend Ranjit Fernando who is a fair-minded television commentator cannot conceal the pride in his voice and why should he? In fact, the commentary standard is high. One reason for this is that none of the commentators are behaving like school-masters nor is the criticism uncharitable.

The job of a commentator is to improve on the pictures we see and expert opinion should not be so expert that it becomes unintelligible to most viewers like Latin would be to all but Latin scholars. The one who seems to get it right is Sunil Gavaskar, who is in Sharjah but not in the commentary-box. He is wearing a different cap this time. In fact, he has become a man of many caps and I hope he is able to keep count of them. More power to him. He and Imran Khan still remain role-models, an inspiration for the present generation of cricketers from the subcontinent and beyond.


India still can't win anything big away from home and one can't help feeling that it is beginning to play on its mind. One had expected a better performance in the final of the triangular at Durban. It was bad enough losing to Kenya but it was one of those embarrassing off-days. But India should have been primed for the final and with their spinners, I felt that they had an edge.

The South Africans look pretty clueless against quality spinners and when it plays against Australia, I would not be surprised if Australia played both Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill. The Indian batting still revolves around Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. In the one-day game India has the best opening pair in the world, the new Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. But once this pair is parted, the batting seems to lose its nerve. The depth in its batting is on paper.

Dravid kept wicket in the final so that an extra batsman could be played. I don't think that either in Test or oneday cricket, a team should go in without a specialist keeper. Dravid is a key batsman and he should be allowed to focus on his main job which is anchoring the Indian innings. Besides, there is a risk of injury for a part-time or occasional wicket-keeper. India choked in the final and let the big one slip away.


What a lot of fuss is being made of the England players who seem reluctant to tour India. It will not be held against those who choose to opt out of the team. I believe that the ECB should have been tougher with the players. Either the entire tour is unsafe and should have been called off or it was safe and the players were not in any kind of danger. The decision should have been that of the ECB.

If it is to be left to individuals to decide whether it is safe or not safe, it undermines the authority of the ECB. And a precedent will be set and players will feel free to pick and choose their tours. There is not the slightest danger to the players in Sharjah and yet Sharjah is pretty close to where the action is in the region. Technically, it should be twice as dangerous for the Middle East too is a pretty hot region and I don't mean the weather.

The baseball World Series is being played and before capacity crowds despite the anthrax scare. Sportsmen have a great responsibility in stressful times. They can help in restoring the appearance of normalcy. What a great relief it has been for so many to switch on their television sets and see cricket rather than bombs falling on Afghan cities.