In the Middle East, a cricket carnival will commence in a few weeks time. 34 years ago, this carnival started off with a bang in the same region where India lifted the trophy of inaugural Asia Cup…..
The year 1983 occupies a special place in the heart of the Indian fans. That was the very year when the Indian team, led by Kapil Dev, lifted the World Cup for the very first time and thus gave the country of a billion people immense joy, pride and memories to cherish for a lifetime.
That year was not only significant for India as a nation. In fact, it turned out to be a defining one for the entire Asian continent as well. Although cricket had its roots in England and was dominated by a fearsome West Indies team for over a decade, India’s triumph in 1983 was the first for an Asian team. It made the other Asian nations believe that none of the so-called superior teams were invincible. The impact that particular year had on the history of Asian cricket was so profound, that its ripples are felt even today. Pakistan and Sri Lanka followed India’s footsteps to lift the World Cup soon in the years 1992 and 1996 respectively and that was the very result of the change in mindset brought about by the Indian team’s victory a decade back.
The start of an all Asian rivalry
However, in between those defining years of cricket history, the event that is seldom talked about is the first ever Asia Cup held in 1984; just a year after India achieved what one couldn’t imagine even in their wildest dreams. It was held at Sharjah in the UAE and organised by the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) which was established as a means to promote goodwill among Asian nations in the same year as the one when India won the World Cup.
The time gap between the 1983 World Cup and the inaugural Asia Cup, better known as Rothmans Asia Cup, was so small that the latter has continued to live in the former’s shadows all this while. But the tournament was a significant one in itself. It not only gave birth to a far more intense competition among arch-rivals India and Pakistan, the only Asian superpowers at that time, it also instilled the fire in other Asian nations to rise up and challenge the might of those two countries.
The example was set in that inaugural edition itself by Sri Lanka—a team that attained ICC full-member status only in 1981—who beat a strong Pakistani side in the very first match of the tournament. Despite being fairly new entrants at the international stage, the island nation made it a day to forget for Pakistan.
It was 6th April, 1984. The venue was Sharjah. Sri Lankan captain Duleep Mendis had won the toss and elected to field first. Pakistan got off to a very good start as their openers Mohsin Khan and Sadaat Ali put on a stand of 59 runs. But once Somachandra de Silva dismissed Mohsin Khan for 27 runs, it triggered a collapse. Wickets kept tumbling at regular intervals and the Sri Lankan bowlers bowled with discipline, guile and skill. A total of 187/9 was all Pakistan could manage in their quota of 46 overs. Skipper Zaheer Abbas played the most substantial innings among Pakistani batsmen scoring 47 off 68 deliveries. On the other hand, it was Arjuna Ranatunga who was the pick of the Sri Lankan bowlers with figures of 3/38.
The Sri Lankan openers Sidath Wettimuny and Brendon Kuruppu started with a fifty run stand as well. But once it was broken on 52, it seemed like Pakistan was making a comeback as they had reduced Sri Lanka to 67/2. However, Roy Dias got able to support at the other end from skipper Mendis and Ranatunga afterwards and thus led Sri Lanka over the line with an unbeaten knock of 57 runs and 15 deliveries to spare. It was a huge upset for Pakistan and a defining moment for Sri Lankan cricket.
However, they proved to be no match for the world champions in the next match as they suffered a crushing 10-wicket defeat two days later at the same venue. First, India bowled Sri Lanka out for a paltry 96 runs courtesy Chetan Sharma and Madan Lal’s fine spells of 8-1-22-3 and 8-2-11-3. And then they rode on a 97-run stand from openers Surinder Khanna and Ghulam Parker to register a thumping 10-wicket victory.
Indian Team- The Champions
The equation once again boiled down to an India-Pakistan showdown. The stage was all set for a high octane clash when the Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar won the toss and elected to bat first. Surinder Khanna registered a fabulous fifty once again and with useful contributions of 43 and an unbeaten 36 runs from Sandeep Patil and Gavaskar respectively, India posted 188/4 in their stipulated 46 overs.
Pakistan’s chase never got off as they kept losing wickets at regular intervals. Roger Binny and Ravi Shastri bowled excellent spells and registered figures of 3/33 and 3/40 respectively. Moreover, Pakistan’s innings was plagued by four run-outs that broke the backbone of their batting line-up. And in the end, they fell well short of the target by 54 runs as India bowled them out comfortably for 134 runs and were finally crowned as the first Champions of Asia.
Surinder Khanna, whose India career would go on to last just 10 ODIs later on, was adjudged the ‘Man of the series’ for his back-to-back fifties. Khanna, the wicketkeeper-batsman from Delhi, might not have gone on to play for India for a substantially long time but he would always cherish performance in the tournament along with the feeling of being the champions.
That victory served as the icing on the cake of their World Cup triumph a year back. It was truly a golden period in Indian cricket history. The tournament is mostly remembered now for the way Sri Lanka showed what they are capable of in the first match and how India dominated both sides to eventually emerge as the champions. The game of cricket was not at all dominated by the giants now. India showed that in 1983 and now Sri Lanka extended the trend in the succeeding year with this promising performance against Pakistan.
34 years down the line, a tournament that started with just three nations, witnesses the participation of double that number of teams now, with five of them being ICC Full-member nations. There have been 13 editions since then and the quality of competition has just gotten better and better over the years. The impact that the tournament had in shaping Asian cricket over the years can be judged from the fact that apart from the World Cup as a whole, none of the other regions or continents have an international tournament of this level.
Since the inception, India has gone on to win the tournament six times with Sri Lanka winning five. Pakistan have had their years and have won the tournament twice too. But all these victories for Sri Lanka and Pakistan can’t ever change the fact that India were the inaugural champions. The first ever champions of Asia. That is a feeling worth cherishing, something worth to be proud of, something that is written in golden letters in the history of cricket!
As the Asia Cup now returns to the UAE once again, the place where all of it started, teams like Afghanistan and Bangladesh would want to play their heart out and show the world that they are no less than other established teams in the competition.