2006. The first ever Champions Trophy held in India.
It started out with a series of predictable and not so predictable results. Yet, as match after match were played out, the showdowns suffered from the lack of that essential feature that formed the lifeblood of over-limit matches — the needle encounter, a cliff-hanger, a thriller to infuse the stage with excitement.
Sri Lanka had strolled to a comfortable win over Bangladesh in the inaugural match at Mohali, and thereafter it had been a saga of one-sided encounters. West Indies blew Zimbabwe away for 85 and got the runs in the 15th over, Sri Lanka routed the same Zimbabweans by 144 runs, and thus a pattern was created.
The closest a match came to being a contest was when India played England at Jaipiur and almost made heavy weather of a small 126-run target. But in the end, they got there with 4 wickets and more than 20 overs to spare.
The excitement was missed.
Finally, the tournament had to return to Jaipur again to produce the first real spine-chiller in the 9th match. It was when Pakistan took on Sri Lanka.
The ultimate result of this excellent match was rendered more significant because of the events that had transpired before the game.
The Pakistanis went into fray after their twin spearheads had tested positive for anabolic steroids. Without the pair of class acts to charge in at the beginning, the bowling looked rather thin.
And when Sanath Jayasuriya went on his characteristic carnage from the word go, and Sri Lanka raced to 63 by the end of the 9th over, a rather huge total seemed in the offing. The maverick southpaw targeted Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, driving him straight down the ground and sending him over the square leg fence with a casual waft of the bat. Rao Iftikhar was hit for 15 in an over, including a straight hit for six.
While Naved was relieved of the ball by skipper Younis Khan after this brutal assault, Iftikhar was given another over. And Jayasuriya lost his leg stump, trying to heave him over midwicket. A brutal 48 from just 35 balls, but now sanity was restored into the scheme of things.
Thereafter, the talented Sri Lankan line-up continued to score freely, albeit not up to the Jayasuriyan standard. Mahela Jayawardene, Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara, Marvan Atapattu all got excellent starts. Sangakkara, in particular, sparkled with square drives and pulls in the short innings. But, all these men managed to get out when well set.
That the Pakistan bowling, without the two big guns, managed to restrict the Lankans within a reasonable score, was primarily the doing of Shoaib Malik. His accurate off-breaks put the brakes on the Lankan progress, especially with two key wickets. He got Jayawardene to top edge a sweep and Sangakkara to loft rather casually to long off. At the other end, Tharanga, who had played himself in, helped himself to two boundaries off a wayward Abdul Razzaq before edging one off the same bowler.
Razzaq, who was particularly expensive in the 3-over opening spell, came back in the slog overs to pick up three more wickets with clever changes of pace. The final total of 253, was healthy enough for 2006, but not quite what Jayasuriya’s explosive start had promised.
The start of the Pakistan innings was almost equally fiery. Imran Farhat and Mohammad Hafeez produced a volley of attractive drives to race to 39 by the 5th over before the latter received a difficult delivery from Chaminda Vaas. Sangakkara, standing up to the pacer, held a superb catch.
Skipper Younis Khan perished to a rather indifferent ball from Farveez Maharoof, but Farhat and the classy Mohammad Yousuf saw Pakistan to 100 in 17 overs. The two were especially severe on Maharoof, who, wicket notwithstanding, was mercilessly hit out of attack. The rate was good, there was plenty of batting to come. But, alongside, there was the perpetual threat of Muttiah Muralitharan.
The wicket was not really easy, and as soon as the great off-spinner came on, his variations started making life uncomfortable for the batsmen. The off-breaks and doosras pitched with disconcerting control, and the batting, which had flowed till now, became hesitant, edgy.
Soon the canny customer chose to come round the wicket and Farhat was fooled into lofting one to long off. He had scored 53, but that was perhaps the most inopportune moment to get dismissed.
And when Shahid Afridi, promoted with the onus on faith rather than acumen, struggled against some accurate spin from both ends and fell to Jayasuriya, suddenly Pakistan were in trouble. Dilhara Fernando and Lasith Malinga sent down an accurate series of overs to do away with the final powerplay, and even as Yousuf and Shoiab Malik went through the process of consolidation with a mature stand, the overs ticked by quickly.
The asking rate had just spiked, tending towards the pivotal six mark, when disaster struck. A mis-field, a misunderstanding, and Yousuf was walking back, stranded mid-pitch. A fine, mature hand of 49, but once again the worst moment to get out.
Kamran Akmal came in the lower middle order of Pakistan as flexible and floating as a swim-bed. The charge was attempted often enough, but Muralitharan and Jayasuriya remained accurate. At the end of 40 overs, Pakistan stood at 187 for 5, the asking rate having climbed to 6.7.
The pressure was released slightly when Malik stepped out to Murali and clobbered him for a six over long on. But the very next over saw the experienced campaigner in Vaas back into the attack, and his first ball saw the demise of Akmal. The pull was essayed from outside the off-stump and Maharoof had to run twenty yards to his left from deep midwicket to hold the catch.
Thus it was 53 required from 47 balls, with four wickets remaining when Abdul Razzaq walked in.
13 of the balls had been bowled and 14 runs added in quick singles and twos when the crunch moment arrived. Vaas mixed his deliveries, sending in the slower ball. Razzaq did not read it. His square drive was uppish, within reach of a decent point fielder, certainly for Tillakaratne Dilshan. And that man, perhaps the best Lankan fielder, spilled it. The match was more or less decided then and there.
The following Malinga oversaw Razzaq moving to the leg side and crashing a drive through extra cover.
29 were required from 24 balls as Vaas started his final over. Off the third ball, Razzaq backed away and creamed it over long on. The equation was back to a run a ball. Vaas tried to respond with a yorker. It ended up fullish, on the leg stump. Razzaq now changed from the blaster to touch artist as he flicked it away to the fine leg for four.
The next over from Malinga all but decided the issue. Twice Razzaq sliced him over point, off successive balls, getting a brace each time. And then he took his front foot off the line and blasted the length ball straight back for four. 11 runs resulted from the over. Razzaq, his all-round value often unnoticed, had played a blinder. Pakistan now needed 5 from 12 balls.
They needed just one. Fernando ran in and Razzaq now knew that he could do no wrong. The front foot was again taken away from the line, the bat came down in a monstrous swing and the ball disappeared over long off. His second six, and victory for Pakistan. Razzaq remained unbeaten with 38 from 24 balls, an innings that turned the match on its head. But the axis for this rotation had been held firm by Malik, whose 46 unbeaten runs were gathered at a more sedate pace but were no less important.
Pakistan, smarting under allegations of doping and missing their two frontline fast bowlers, had played out of their skins to win this against a team of excellent talent. It was the spirit that had been palpable that day in that often volatile team.
And finally, life had been breathed into this edition of the Champions Trophy by this cracker of a match.
Sri Lanka 253 all out in 49.2 overs [max 50] (Sanath Jayasuriya 48, Upul Tharanga 38, Mahela Jayawardene 31, Marvan Atapattu 36, Kumar Sangakkara 39; Abdul Razzaq 4 for 50) lost to Pakistan 255 for 6 in 48.1 overs (Imran Farhat 53, Mohammad Yousuf 49, Shoaib Malik 46*, Abdul Razzaq 38*) Andrew Flintoff 3 for 28) by 4 wickets with 11 balls remaining.