Sri Lanka crash to Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib at Sharjah

Waqar Younis the victorious leader captained Pakistan to their second biggest victory in One Day International cricket in the final of the Sharjah Cup © AFP

On April 17, 2002, Pakistan handed Sri Lanka one of its worst defeats ever — by 217 runs. The destroyers-in-chief were the feared trio in the form of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar, finishing the innings in fewer than 17 overs. Karthik Parimal looks back at the incredible collapse that resulted in Sri Lanka registering its second-lowest total in One-Day Internationals.

Until a few years ago, the Sharjah Cup was without doubt one of the most anticipated limited-overs tournaments in the programmes list. If a sub-continent team — primarily Pakistan or India — was set to feature in it, the atmosphere in the desert nation inevitably became perky. Bolstered by the tremendous support they receive at Sharjah, it’s not surprising that the venue, since its first game in 1984, has been Pakistan’s happy hunting ground. A winning percentage of almost 70 in the format provides ample evidence of that fact.  There is little difference from the conditions they’re often faced with at home.

In the summer of 2002, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand were pitted in a triangular series at the city with the picturesque desert serving as the backdrop. The latter’s performances throughout the tournament weren’t noteworthy and, as expected, the final, on April 17, was a showdown between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The two teams met each other twice during the league stages, with Sri Lanka crossing the finish line first on both occasions. As a reason, the odds were stacked against Pakistan before this important fixture. However, they could draw comfort from the fact that they’d won 10 of the 14 finals at the venue prior to this one.

The middle-order flourish

Waqar Younis won the toss and was unflinching in opting to bat first, for five of the previous six games in the series were lost by teams batting under the light. It was, he said, one of the reasons for that decision. Imran Nazir, who was the side’s leading run-scorer in the competition, held fort at one end, whilst his partners Shahid Afridi, and later Rashid Latif, wouldn’t last long. The 20,000 spectators, braving the sweltering heat, appeared taken aback at the fall of two quick wickets; especially since Afridi’s possible blitzkrieg was now out of the equation. But as Nazir and Yousuf Youhana (now Mohammad Yousuf) consolidated, the buzz was back.

Together, they stitched an 85-run partnership that put Pakistan’s innings on track. Then, Upul Chandana, the only Sri Lankan bowler who looked in rhythm right from the outset that day, struck. In an attempt to play an away going delivery to the on-side, Nazir misjudged the length and turn and created a gap for the ball to pass through and hit the stumps, thus giving the leg-spinner his first and only wicket of the match. Thereafter, albeit Inzamam-ul-Haq’s failure, Yousuf’s brilliance put the Sri Lankans on the backfoot.

Sanath Jayasuriya kept changing his tactics, shuffling his bowlers and moving fields, but all his attempts were futile. Muttiah Muralitharan, the side’s most dependable bowler — who was celebrating his 30th birthday, was ruled out of action after being named in the eleven owing to a ligament tear. In his absence, the middle-order made merry.

Yousuf appeared to be in the zone, driving, pulling and using his feet nonchalantly. In the 44th over, bowled by Charitha Buddhika, a drive to the leg for three runs brought him his first century at Sharjah, his fifth overall, in 111 deliveries. Once the milestone had been reached, he accelerated. The standout shot was one where he walked over to the off before flicking Chaminda Vaas for a six over the deep square-leg fence. At the other end, Younis Khan kept scoring at a brisk pace before finishing with 66 runs in 71 balls. His innings consisted of just three fours, whereas when Yousuf’s knock ended at 129, he had collected eight 4s and three 6s.

Pakistan concluded at 295 for six, the highest score of the tournament. Sri Lanka’s script went haywire, but they could draw solace, and hope, from the fact that in the previous two finals at Sharjah, during the years 2000 and 2001, they registered scores of over 295 and went on to win.

An incredible collapse

To chase down such a mammoth total, the Sri Lankans had no option but to go berserk from the outset. This was an era during which T20 was still busy finding its feet. Hopes rested on two able shoulders of Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Attapatu. While the former was instrumental in Sri Lanka’s victory in the finals of the Sharjah Cup, both in 2000 and 2001, the latter was the leading run-scorer of the tournament and in tremendous form.

The duo began cautiously against Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Akram was on target, swinging the ball prodigiously and having the batsmen hopping at the crease. He didn’t refrain from hurling quick, sharp short deliveries as well. In the fifth over, unsure whether to come forward or play on the backfoot, Attapatu tried an awkward drive and the ball took the inside edge of the bat before crashing into the stumps. He scored only seven, failing to deliver when it mattered most.

Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara then began to counterattack and scored at a run a ball for the next five overs. It was from here, 52 for one, when Shoaib Akthar caught Jayasuriya off his own bowling that things went downhill for Sri Lanka.

In a surprising move, Chaminda Vaas was sent in to bat at No. 4, probably to up the ante, but the tomfoolery of the think tank soon had its repercussions as the southpaw was no match for Akram’s swing. He was trapped leg before wicket for one. Sangakkara knicked one to Latif off Shoaib in the next over and Mahela Jayawardene soon followed, bowled by a fast and swinging Waqar Younis yorker. From 52 for one, the Sri Lankans slumped to 57 for five. Even when one of Waqar, Akram or Shoaib is hitting the right notes on a particular day, the effects can be devastating. On this eventful evening at Sharjah, all three were in their element.

Nineteen runs later, Akthar collected yet another caught and bowled, deceiving Russell Arnold by taking pace off the ball. In the last delivery of the same over, Kumar Dharmasena fell short of his crease while trying to snatch a second run, thereby losing his wicket in the process. The target was no longer within bounds for Sri Lanka and it was only a matter of time before the tail would be wiped clean. Muralitharan was not to bat, thanks to the injury, which meant that Pakistan were only two wickets away from a historic win at the venue.

They didn’t have to wait long, for in the next over, Waqar concluded the proceedings by rattling Nuwan Zoysa’s timber before having Buddhika caught behind by Latif. Within 17 overs, the Sri Lankans were bowled out for 78 (nine wickets down), conceding defeat by a massive margin of 217 runs. The crowds had hoped for a riveting contest, but a Pakistan victory they would gleefully accept.

Sri Lanka lost their last eight wickets for 26 runs (and the last four for two runs). It was their second lowest one-day total at the time. Waqar and Shoaib finished with three wickets a piece whereas Akram scalped two. Nevertheless, the man-of-the-match was rightly awarded to Yousuf Youhana for his blistering ton. The only consolation for the Sri Lankans was their teammate Marvan Attapatu receiving the man-of-the-series award for scoring 233 runs from five innings at an average of 58.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal )