Sharjah: Going by their superlative performance in the tournament so far, Pakistan look firm favourites for lifting the Coca Cola cricket trophy when they take on Sri Lanka in the final here tomorrow.
The debacle in the World Cup final against Australia perhaps still haunts the Pakistani players as each of them tries to give his best to the team, constantly fighting allegations of match-fixing and betting. Even as Sri Lanka and the West Indies struggled in the tournament, Pakistan went from strength to strength in their preparation for the crucial test series against Australia next month.
Pakistan have already named their squad for the Australian tour, which provides them an opportunity to avenge their humiliating defeat in the World Cup final. The Sharjah tournament, contrary to expectations, has so far been a dull affair with Sri Lanka and the West Indies playing far below expectations. After defeating the West Indies easily in the first round by 130 runs, Pakistan made a dramatic comeback against the Lankans in their second outing when Abdur Razzak produced a sensational five-wicket spell to draw the match. Pakistan never looked back after that and thrashed Sri Lanka and the West Indies by 118 runs and 138 runs respectively in their next two matches.
Their bowlers, led by skipper Wasim Akram, have done a tremendous job so far, with Azhar Mahmood, Shabbir Ahmed and Razzak being exceptionally good. Pakistani batsmen Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi and Yusuf Youhana are all in top gear and it will be difficult for the Lankans to contain the flow of runs if any of them gets going tomorrow. The Sri Lankans, after their recent win against the Australians at home, have been found wanting as far as their batting is concerned. Skipper Sanath Jayasuriya is struggling with his form and has played only one innings of significance when he blasted 88 off 80 balls against the West Indies to take Sri Lanka to their only win in the tournament.
A big innings is also overdue from veteran Arvinda de Silva. Wicket-keeper Romesh Kaluwitharna has been the pick of the Sri Lankan batsmen and has shown maturity, playing two big innings. Their bowlers, especially Chamunda Vas and Muthiah Muralitharan, have done a good job but it will be a real test of their skills against an awesome Pakistani batting line-up tomorrow.
It will take some time for the Sri Lankans to forget how the Pakistanis came back into the game from a hopeless situation and drew the first round match between the two teams, thanks to Razzak's career-best spell. The Lankans, following a modest Pakistani score of 196, were 157 for one at one stage but lost nine wickets in the space of next 39 runs and the match ended in a draw.
The West Indies, after their win against Sri Lanka in the tournament opener, always appeared in a hurry to go back home. Their performance could easily be described as poor, with their batsmen failing to score and bowlers not being able to contain the flow of runs from the blades of their opponents.