It was time for Bangladesh to host the Asian cricket carnival at their own backyard. A nation, just 17-year old back then, left no stone unturned to stage a successful event…..
The best tournaments in the history of sports have been those when each and every individual or team has entered it with a point to prove. Although winning the title remains their ultimate aim, sometimes proving themselves better in their matchup against particular opponents becomes more important from a personal point of view. Rivalries turn the matches into battles and every opponent fights tooth and nail to come out on top of the other.
However, not everyone is able to prove their point. Some succeed and there are huge roars of victory. Some don’t and thus end up in tears of heartbreak. On one side there is glory and on the other side, there is agony. The end result is a fierce tournament, thus giving viewers memories to cherish and forget, both at the same time.
The Asia Cup of 1988 was one such tournament. Each of the teams entered it with a point to prove. Sri Lanka were technically the defending champions but they knew well that they had to claim their authority this time by proving themselves against India. The previous edition of the tournament had been played sans the Indian team and Sri Lanka had to face only Pakistan as the major contestant in the tournament with Bangladesh—a team taking baby steps in international cricket back then-—as the other team.
India, on the other hand, had entered the tournament to reclaim the title after having boycotted the previous edition due to strained cricket relations with Sri Lanka. The inaugural champions had quite a clear vision leading into the tournament. Play to win.
There was Bangladesh too, with the tournament being hosted at their own backyard. The first of its kind in that country. People didn’t expect outright victories from them against oppositions like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka but the pressure of putting on a spirited performance on the show was there for the team. If not anything, they needed to prove that they belong to this level after being totally outplayed in the previous edition.
But Pakistan were probably the most restless of the four. Sri Lanka had beaten them twice in three matches in the previous two editions and to rub salt on their wounds, they were yet to win the title despite having such a strong team over the years. So, they had the restlessness of avenging their previous defeats to Sri Lanka, the desire of ending their title drought and also of emerging victorious against arch-rivals India, all at the same time. They were probably entering the tournament with too many things in their minds. And that didn’t turn out to be good as was evident from the first match itself.
Sri Lanka tame Pakistan, India start brightly
The Islanders romped on to a comfortable 5-wicket victory against Pakistan in the first match of the tournament played at Dhaka. With 194/7 on the board courtesy breezy knocks of 54, 36 and 30 from Ijaz Ahmed, Saleem Yousuf and Saleem Malik respectively, Pakistan might have seen that as a winning total. However, a 72-run opening stand between Roshan Mahanama and Brendon Kuruppu and then a couple of swashbuckling knocks of 48 and 20 from Aravinda de Silva and Duleep Mendis saw Sri Lanka home comfortably with five wickets and 31 deliveries to spare. Avenging their loss against Sri Lanka was now a distant dream. Now they had to stay alive in the tournament and for that they had to win the remaining two matches.
On the same day at Chittagong, India had got a headstart in the tournament. They emerged victorious over the hosts by nine wickets after being asked to chase down a modest total of 100 runs. Ashad Ayub was the one who had rattled the Bangladeshi line up with his spell of 3/20 whereas it was Navjot Singh Sidhu’s steady 50 that saw India over the line.
It looked like as if the first day had given a glimpse of the teams that were going to be in the finals. But the road had to be walked anyway. Two days later, rivalries were going to unfold in the form of Bangladesh-Pakistan and India-Sri Lanka duels at Chittagong and Dhaka respectively. Ijaz Ahmed’s unbeaten 124 completely blew away the home team who succumbed to a 173-run defeat at Chittagong.
Unstoppable Sri Lanka
However, at Dhaka, Sri Lanka had proved what they wanted to. They had defeated India who suffered a narrow 17-run defeat failing to chase down 272 runs. They could now truly call themselves to be the defending champions and none could point a finger at them. Aravinda, Samarasekara and Arjuna Ranatunga shone with the bat, while Kapila Wijegunawardene bowled magnificently to beat India.
With two victories in two matches, they had already become the first finalists of the tournament. With Bangladesh being already out of it with two losses in two matches, all eyes were now on the India-Pakistan match that would decide the second finalists. And the match turned out quite the spectacle everyone was expecting it to be.
Pakistan defeated by team India
This was a dream match for any Indian player. Arshad Ayub, whose career would go on to last just two years with the Indian team, later on, had rattled the Pakistani batting line-up completely with his five-wicket haul. Three batsmen were out trapped in front of the stumps while two of them were out bowled in what was a truly spectacular spell of spin bowling. Pakistan were eventually bowled out for 142. But they could be expected to make quite a match out of it, especially when it was against their arch-rivals and when a place in the finals was also at stake.
Pakistan had opened up the game on two occasions. Once when they had got both Krishnamachari Srikanth and Dilip Vengsarkar in quick succession with India’s score on 76/3 and another time when they got all of Mohammad Azharuddin, Kapil Dev and Ajay Sharma in a space of 6 runs to reduce India to 116/6. With India requiring 27 runs and Pakistan requiring 4 wickets to win, the match was well and truly wide open. But it was Mohinder Amarnath’s assured and calm innings of an unbeaten 74 off 122 deliveries along with the able support of Chandrakant Pandit at the other end that saw India through. Thus, Pakistan’s quest for their maiden title had come to an end this time as well. But India had got a second chance to mend their mistakes. They were going to meet Sri Lanka in the finals once again.
The world couldn’t wait but the formality of the remaining match between Sri Lanka and the hosts had to be completed. And the Islanders completed it without any fund as they won the match by 9-wickets after chasing down a modest target of 119 riding on Brendon Kuruppu’s unbeaten 58.
India conquer Asia
The day had come. It was the 4th of November 1988. It was really a special day for Sri Lanka as the world was viewing them well and truly as the favourites to win the title for the first time. The presence of India as the opponents wasn’t mattering to them at all. The Islanders had now carved an identity of their own after such a splendid performance in the tournament. All eyes were now on them, with their status elevated to as one of the giants of Asia as well. But that’s where probably they got overwhelmed.
The final didn’t turn out to be the spectacle everyone was expecting it to be. India, in fact, had an easy run. They dominated the defending champions throughout the match. First, they bowled them out for just 176 runs courtesy Kris Srikkanth’s spell of 3/12. And then they rode on Sidhu’s breezy knock of 76 to chase down the total with 6 wickets and 47 deliveries to spare.
It was Sri Lanka’s match to lose. India were obviously not going to take the previous loss well. They came out hard in the finals. They had only one clear vision in mind—to win the title. And they did so as they had reclaimed their title now. They had once again established themselves as the undisputed Kings of Asia. After taming the Lankan Lions in the Tigers’ backyard, the Indian giants had well and truly proved their point.