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A Series Of Tourneys
It is very nearly possible to lose the count of matches, which have been held in a year. Everyone is lost in the multitude of matches and it is only at the end of the year that we dare to gather our wits and begin the ominous task of taking a comprehensive account of all that has happened in the year.
There is a new feature added to these one dayers and it is becoming extremely obvious in the past few years. That is the emergence of triangular series and tournaments as the dominating force. The bi-national affairs have been steadily marginalized and are being replaced by these tournaments. This trend is apparent when we analyse the year.
The year was inaugurated by the Carlton series in Australia, which featured India and Pakistan along with the home team. Both the teams had been whitewashed 3-0 in the test series earlier and the competition got reduced to a fight for the second place. India made it an utterly forgettable tour by winning only one out of its eight league matches. Though Pakistan managed to reach to the finals, it was comprehensively outplayed 2-0. Their only consolation was the splendid performance of Abdul Razzak, who won the Man of the Series ward.
The orthodox and reluctant character of English cricket (along with everything else) needs no illustration. Depending upon the issue concerned, one can thank or despise the English resilience. In an era when all the bastions of traditions are falling and Change is the buzzword, the English had to yield. Or optimistically said, took a bold new step.
We are talking of the first tri-series to be organized in England, the mother nation of cricket. It featured Zimbabwe and South Africa, in which the Proteas came up trumps. For Zimbabwe the tour was a disaster, in which it lost everything. The decline is surprising because the same team had performed wonderfully well exactly a year ago in the same conditions. The biggest loss for them was of course Neil Johnson, the architect of their World Cup campaign, who bid adieu. The English have finally found a nucleus and were beginning to come up with good performances. But they won’t be comforted by the fact that the ‘core of the nucleus’ Atherton and Stewart do not have much time left. For South Africa it was another opportunity to assert its supremacy and this time it did not allow it to slip.
The next destination was the desert paradise, Sharjah. It was indeed a festival time as both India and Pakistan were participating and the third team being South Africa. India appeared to be revitalized after a 3-2 home victory over South Africa but performed woefully bad to end up third. South Africa received another disappointment at the desert venue. Consistency at all venues is the factor that separates South Africa from Australia at the moment. Pakistan enhanced their reputation of invincibility in Sharjah, beating South Africa in the finals. The erstwhile undisputed Swing King Waqar Younis silenced his critics by bagging the Man of the Series ward.
The Caribbeans were never traditionalists. It was pure economics that had kept them away from organizing a tri- series. In the new millennium they decided the gift its fans with one. The experiment was a success; in fact it was bound to be.
Zimbabwe continued with its slump despite some brilliant individual performances. It made Campbell resign and allow a change in guard, a thoroughly unselfish move. West Indies qualified for the finals with some commanding display but ran into a Pakistan, which has of late rediscovered its rhythm and balance it is dangerously famous for. The finals were well contested in which a better side won 2-1.
The latest nation to organize a tournament was the cricket minnows Bangladesh. It did a wonderful job of it given its lack of expertise in the field and availability of just one stadium. Nobody expected the hosts to come up with a miracle in the 4-nation Asia Cup, the infamous World Cup victory over Pakistan notwithstanding. But they did not perform dismally either even if losing all their matches. The disappointment was once again India, which managed a solitary win over Bangladesh. Sri Lanka were threatening to regain their World Champion form, but once gain a spirited Pakistan side did not allow it to happen. It was a hat trick of victories for Moin Khan, who was nothing more than a stop gap arrangement, and also their first Asia Cup victory.
Sri Lanka finally converted its threat into reality by utilizing home conditions perfectly well in the Singer Cup. Beating teams like Pakistan and South Africa anywhere in the world is no joke. The void left by De Silva and Ranatunga was pounced upon by talented youngsters and that turned the tables. For Pakistan it was a disappointment finishing third and once gain proving the unpredictability factor associated with the side. The psychological fear of the sub-continent did the Proteas in. Else it is very difficult to explain their repeated failures.
The big one was the ICC Knock Out Trophy. Organized in Kenya as a part of the globalisation drive, it was a huge commercial success. The tournament is in its infant stage and somehow the results have failed to be convincing or credible. No one is willing to believe that just by winning 3-4 matches, a team can be considered to be World Champions. More than the Kiwi victory, it is Australia’s loss in the first round (on both occasions) that has left everyone confused.
Nonetheless it was an interesting affair. India uplifted its game from nowhere and demolished Kenya, Australia and South Africa rather convincingly. Though they lost in the finals, still it remained the highest point of Indian cricket this year. New Zealand was a team possessed and its semifinal victory over Pakistan was even better than the title triumph, which was more or less because of the dashing dynamo Chris Cairns.
The last in the series was once again the desert venue. It has managed to organize two tournaments a year with remarkable regularity. Sri Lanka were deserving winners of the Coca Coal Trophy, while one wonders if Zimbabwe deserved to be third. Because India came up with a nightmarish performance of 54 all out in the finals to leave every one wondering. Was this the team that had beaten Australia and South Africa a week ago?
The year saw eight tournaments being organized
all over the world. The bi-national series would be discussed in the next
article and only then it would be possible to rate the teams properly.
Still the top bracket continues to consist of Australia, South Africa and
Pakistan more or less in the same order. Sri Lanka is the most improved
side and the one to watch next year where as India and West Indies have
been major disappointments. England and New Zealand have never been forces
in One dayers and for the rest we will have to wait before we take them