It was not long ago. Sri Lanka were awarded the coveted Test status and within a few years, the Islanders made their mark in international cricket by lifting the Asia Cup aftwra beating a strong Pakistan team……
Cricket carnival in Sri Lanka
All first time experiences carry a special significance in our lives and somehow they seem like achievements when we walk down the memory lane some years later. It could be anything. It could be your first friend in school, your first kiss, first job, first salary or even your first car. You can end up experiencing or achieving those things numerous times in your lives but there are hardly any words which could describe the euphoria of those first-time experiences.
The island nation of Sri Lanka might have felt the same when they won the Asia Cup for the first time only in its second edition back at home in 1986. They have won the tournament four more times since then but the feeling of those victories could hardly match the way they felt when they clinched their maiden title 32 years back.
The tournament didn’t start off on the right note, for India—the defending champions—had boycotted it due to strained cricket relations with the island nation after a controversial tour of the country a year back. Although Bangladesh—the team that replaced India after qualifying through the South-East Asia Cup in 1984—turned out to be no match for Pakistan and the hosts Sri Lanka, the thrilling encounters between the two countries made it a tournament to remember.
Pakistan start brightly
The first match of the tournament at Colombo on 30th March saw Pakistan avenging their 1984 tournament loss to Sri Lanka. They registered a commanding 81-run victory over the hosts. In reply to Pakistan’s 195 all-out, a total of 116 was all that Sri Lanka could manage. Pakistan’s victory in that match was mainly influenced by Mohsin Khan’s breezy innings of 39 and Manzoor Elahi’s spell of 3 for 22.
The next two matches saw Pakistan and Sri Lanka completely bullying Bangladesh as the newbies lost both the matches by 7 wickets. It was a horrible performance against Pakistan having being bowled out for only 94 runs. Although they salvaged some of their pride in the next match against Sri Lanka by scoring 131/8 in their stipulated quota of 45 overs, Sri Lanka put on a clinical batting display to chase it down with 7 wickets remaining.
Sri Lanka won their next match against Asia’s emerging nation Bangladesh for whom such a tournament was a massive event. Bangladesh’s first encounter against Pakistan was not chummy as they lost badly and after the defeat against the home team, they crushed out of the tournament. None expected them to fare well, but it was an experience, which would help Bangladesh to advance forward.
Eventually, the finalists were Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The dream final
Now the scenes were unimaginable in the island nation. The team was in the final of a major tournament for the very first time. Irrespective of victory or defeat, this sense of achievement had gone on to become special in itself for the fans. They knew that beating this Pakistan team wasn’t going to be easy but they had done it in the past. So, they had to believe that they could do it again. All they needed to do was to play better cricket on that particular day and neither of history, reputation and superiority were going to make a difference.
Then came the much awaited day of the final. It was 6th April. The venue was the SSC ground in Colombo. Pakistan were firm favourites to win the title going into the match but Sri Lanka, as we had seen a couple of years back, had the ability to stage an upset. And the match started exactly on that note as the hosts had reduced Pakistan to 72/5 after winning the toss and opting to field first.
However, a heroic innings of 67 runs of 100 deliveries from Javed Miandad helped Pakistan to a competitive total of 191/9 in their 45 overs. 197 runs had proved to be an uphill climb for the hosts in the very first match of the tournament against the same team. With almost the same number of runs to chase down this time as well, things didn’t look good for Sri Lanka. With Pakistan having reduced them to 67/3, it looked like a repeat of the first match all over again. However, Captain Duleep Mendis and future captain Arjuna Ranatunga’s twin fifties completely blew Pakistan away. Moreover, skipper Imran Khan walking off the field with a leg injury didn’t help their cause as well. Pakistan had no answers to the way the duo counterattacked and Sri Lanka romped home with five wickets and 16 deliveries to spare.
As Sri Lanka emerged victorious, the happiness of the batsmen in the middle, players and coaching staff in the pavilion knew no limits. It was the dangerous and charismatic Pakistani team led by Imran Khan they had defeated. It was their first ever major title and that too it came at home. They couldn’t have asked for anything more. The scenes were electrifying at Colombo. The crowd had erupted in joy and were absolutely ecstatic with the victory. It is probably impossible to express what that first taste of success meant to the fans and the players alike. Such was the response to the victory all over the country that the Sri Lankan President JR Jayawardene had to declare it a public holiday to commemorate the victory.
The Lankan lions had wounded oppositions before as well but it was their first ever big roar at the international stage. The Lions from the island nation were now the kings of Asia. They were now harbouring the dreams of dominating the vast jungle that the world of cricket was as well. It took a decade more for them to achieve that when they lifted the World Cup in 1996 but the seeds of such an overwhelming success was sown right in this victorious Asia Cup campaign of 1986.