• 08 Sep - 14 Sep, 2018
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

It would be bit of a surprise for many of this generation that the Asia Cup originated not in the subcontinent where the top cricketing nations belong, but on the desert fields of Sharjah way back in 1984. It has been the victim of regional politics as we all cricket quarrels. The Asia Cup of 1993 was cancelled because Pakistan and India were going through a highly strained point in their relations. Earlier, when the fourth edition of the tournament was held in India in 1990 – 91, Pakistan had pulled out of the tournament following security fears after an uprising in Indian Occupied Kashmir.

Even the venue of the current event to start from September 15 has been shifted from India to UAE because it was not possible for India to host Pakistan for multiple reasons, with security and political snub being at the forefront.

That was on the political front. But India pulled out from the second Asia Cup that was held in Sri Lanka in 1986, because they had entered into a quarrel with Sri Lanka the previous year when they got the short end of the stick from the local umpires during their tour. It has to be said here, that the concept of neutral umpires was not in vogue then.

The Asia Cup is also the only tournament to oscillate between two formats, an idea initiated in early 2016. This idea stipulates that the Asia Cup will follow the format of the ICC tournament that follows it. As such, since the year 2016 was to be the year of World Twenty20, the Asia Cup was transformed into a 20-over format. It was the first time the Asia Cup was held under this format. This year it has switched back to the 50-over arrangement as the next ICC tournament is the 50-over World Cup in June 2019.

Personally, I find this extremely ridiculous and quite a nightmare for the statistician. It takes away the seriousness of the tournament and makes the Asian Cricket Council subservient to the ICC. At most it would have been proper to change the format for all times to come. Making it into a 20-over format would have been acceptable since there are at least two teams (Afghanistan and one qualifier) that can make an impact on the results in 20 overs rather than 50 overs.

But to keep oscillating between 20 overs and 50 overs causes successive statistics to be incomparable. Also, there are players who play only one format of the two, and as such will be featuring in one tournament and not the next one.

Nevertheless, what is done is done and this year the tournament will revert to its 50-over arrangement. Till now the 2016 tournament in Bangladesh is the only one played under the 20-over format. That was won by India who beat Bangladesh in the final.

This was the sixth time that India had won the Asia Cup. Earlier, they had won the 50-over format five times, though Sri Lanka have also won in that layout five times.

Pakistan have won it only two times despite having the best of teams. It is incredible that players like Imran Khan and Javed Miandad have never been on the winning side. In fact, it took them 16 years to win one as they claimed it in 2000 with Mohammad Yousuf (then Yousuf Youhana) being man of the tournament. Pakistan won the final by beating Sri Lanka by 39 runs. All the games were played at Dhaka's Bangabandhu National Stadium. There were only four teams and each side played each other once in the group stages. The top two teams based on points at the end of the group stages met each other in a one-off final.

Pakistan was led by Moin Khan and under him were the batsmen Inzimam, Yousuf, Saeed Anwar and allrounders Wasim Akram, Shahid Afridi, Azhar Mahmood, Shoaib Malik and Abdul Razzaq.

Pakistan was impregnable. It beat Bangladesh by 233 runs with Imran Nazir blasting 80 and Razzaq taking 3/5 in 4 overs; then Sri Lanka by 7 wickets with Yousuf making 90 and Azhar Mahmood fetching 3/24 and finally in the mother of all battles, India by 44 runs thanks to a 100 by Yousuf and a crafty spell of bowling by Razzaq (4/29 in 8 overs).

They finished top of the group followed by Sri Lanka who also beat India and thus met Pakistan in the final. It was a riveting one. Pakistan batted first and were 173-4 in the 40th over at one stage. Saeed Anwar had smashed 82 but the run rate was pointing to a score of around 240. It was then that Inzi and Moin took control and blasted 101 runs in the last 10 overs with Moin smashing 4 sixes. At 196-4 in the 40th over Sri Lanka were well on course for victory with Atapattu in the 90s and Arnold on 41 having put on 79 in around 15 overs. But six overs later they had been bowled out for 238 for Pakistan to raise the trophy.

They had to wait another 12 years to do that again, once more in Bangladesh. This time, their opponents in the finals were the hosts themselves who had played brilliantly to reach there. Pakistan was led by Misbahul Haq and with him was Younus Khan and Umar Akmal among the known batsmen backed up by bowlers Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Saeed Ajmal and Aizaz Cheema and all-rounders Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez.

The most significant selection was that of Sarfraz Ahmed as the wicketkeeper. He was making a comeback and was to prove an asset. In the final, Pakistan was tottering at 133-6 in the 35th over when he walked in to replace Umar Akmal. In partnership with Shahid Afridi, he took the score to 178 and then took over with the tailenders. He lost Umar Gul at 199 and when the 9th wicket fell at 206 he took Aizaz Cheema under his wing. Because of him the country played out their full 50 overs and Sarfraz returned with 46 not out in 52 balls and the total 236/9.

It was then the turn of the bowlers to bring down Bangladesh who were at one stage 170-3 in the 43rd over. With wickets in hand they were in a strong position to get the remaining 67 runs in 45 balls at about 9 an over. But by the time their 7th wicket fell the score was 218 in the 48th over and it was turning out to be a thriller. At 233-7 with two balls to go they seemed better poised for a home victory in front of their Prime Minister. But Aizaz Cheema allowed only one more run and Pakistan had won by two runs.

This time Pakistan is led ironically by Sarfraz Ahmed, the man who made it all possible for Pakistan to win the Asia Cup for the first time and who was there in 2016 when Pakistan failed to reach the final. He is a different man now, the skipper of the Pakistani side in all formats. He has a great record as captain in the limited formats and was also the man who led Pakistan to that great win over India at The Oval the last time these two teams met.

Will he lead Pakistan to their third triumph in an Asia Cup that, for the first time, has six teams and two groups? UAE has been Pakistan’s home venue for the past 8 years. That certainly points to an advantage. But limited overs cricket is born anew every day, isn’t it? •