Sri Lanka’s finale blues continued for the second consecutive edition of the tournament. They could have well gone on to proclaim themselves as the best in Asia but they had to satisfy themselves with the second best position as the Indian giants tamed them once again…..
Right since their arrival in international cricket, Sri Lanka have always been identified as a team that likes challenges. A team that likes a good fight. A team that likes taming better oppositions but more importantly, a team that believes in itself.
Yet, they have also been known as the team anyone would like to face in a tournament final. Despite dominating the best teams of the world in bilateral series matches and in league stages of tournaments, nerves have got the better of them in final knockout encounters on the majority of occasions. Such has been the extent of their failures in the finals that their 1996 World Cup victory now seems like an aberration.
They qualified for the finals in consecutive editions of 2007 and 2011 World Cups but ultimately ended up losing in the finals to Australia and India respectively. They had dominated the entire group and knockout stages before that but all went wrong on the night of the finals. Those haven’t been the only occasions though. Although they have won the Asia Cup five times since it started in 1984, their finale blues during the initial years of the tournament is not something unknown.
They had dominated the entire 1988 edition of Asia Cup during the league stage winning all the matches. They even beat India in their league stage encounter but failed to repeat their exploits in the finals and thus threw away the opportunity to retain their title. With the tournament beginning again two years later in 1990, the Islanders were focused on not repeating their mistake this time.
Moreover, the absence of Pakistan in the tournament due to a strained political relation with India left them to deal with only one major opponent in the form of India themselves. Those times were not too great as far as the two neighbouring countries were concerned. The nephew of AAk Abbasi, Secretary of Pakistan Board of Control, had been killed just a few days before the start of the tournament and Pakistan had requested India to postpone the event. However, when India denied, Pakistan pulled off from the tournament leaving India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to compete.
Bangladesh were yet to become the team they are today and hence their participation looked like a mere formality every time during those years. But with the tournament being hosted in the backyard of the defending champions, the job was going to be far more difficult for Sri Lanka than it was the previous time. But they were up for the challenge as usual.
The tournament started on a bright note for the home team on Christmas. It was 25th December and India romped on to a 9 wicket victory over their eastern neighbours Bangladesh. Navjot Singh Sidhu had treated the Indian fans with a breezy century as well. There wasn’t much to celebrate for Bangladesh except Faruk Ahmed’s gritty fifty that helped Bangladesh to a respectable 170/6 in their 50 overs. At least they proved that they are improving with every edition of the tournament.
Sri Lanka overcome India
However, the defending champions stumbled in their journey once again like the previous edition of the tournament as the island nation overpowered them in the next match three days later at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack. After restricting Sri Lanka to a modest total of 214 runs, the Indian batting lineup fell like a pack of cards and were ultimately bowled out for 178 runs. It was Sri Lanka again who had got the better of the Indian team in the league stage. They only needed to carry this momentum forward to the finals now.
They were only left to face Bangladesh in order to guarantee a place in the final. And they made it look like a mere formality. After putting on 249/4 on the board riding on Aravinda de Silva’s 89 and Arjuna Ranatunga’s unbeaten 64, Sri Lanka restricted Bangladesh to 178/9 and thus ended the year on a high with such a commanding victory on New Year’s eve. The final was once again well set up with India and Sri Lanka locking horns.
Although Bangladesh were once again going home with a winless campaign, they did gather a lot of experience and lessons for the time ahead. In fact, Athar Ali Khan’s breezy knock of 78 runs in the match against Sri Lanka symbolized the growing quality of players and also the game in Bangladesh. They didn’t win matches, but their players won hearts with their performances for sure.
Kapil Dev fetches a hat-trick, India win!
With the new year setting in, the Indians had left behind the disappointment of their defeat to Sri Lanka in the league stage. They were brimming with positivity and confidence despite that loss. Of course, they had made a comeback in the finale before in the previous edition and they had the ability to repeat their heroics this time as well. Moreover, the support of the home crowd at the Eden Gardens—the ‘Mecca of Indian Cricket’—in Kolkata gave India the edge in their final encounter. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, were determined to make a statement this time.
However, the hosts proved themselves too much to handle for the Lankan Lions once again. In front of a packed Eden Gardens crowd, it was the Indian team that proved themselves to be the best once again.
First, it was Kapil Dev’s spell of 4/31 that restricted Sri Lanka to a chase-able score of 204/9. The skipper Ranatunga was the highest scorer in their innings with 49 runs to his name. India were backing themselves to win this match with players like Sidhu, Ravi Shastri and Mohammad Azharuddin having big match experiences. Moreover, the exuberance of young players like Sachin Tendulkar and Sanjay Manjrekar brought something different to India’s plate too. The Indian players looked pretty confident to win this one as they walked back to the pavilion for the innings break.
However, what they had missed amidst all the action on the field was the fact that Kapil Dev had actually fetched a hat-trick. But it went unnoticed until the electronic board at the ground conveyed the message during the innings break. Dev had actually picked up the wicket of Roshan Mahanama on the last ball of an over. And then he returned back in his next over to dismiss Sanath Jayasuriya and Ratnayake on back to back deliveries. When he failed to claim Ramanayake’s wicket on the very next delivery, the Indian players and the entire crowd in the stadium had thought that Dev had missed the hat-trick having completely forgotten the fact that he had dismissed Mahanama on the last delivery of his previous over. But the crowd broke out in loud cheers when it was announced during the innings break and that only added to the positivity that was already brimming in the Indian players.
But the chase didn’t start off well for India as they lost both their openers Shastri and Sidhu with just 30 runs on the board. But it was all a one-way road from there onwards. The young duo of Manjrekar and Tendulkar combined at the crease to stitch a third-wicket partnership of 91 runs. Tendulkar did the bulk of the scoring in that stand as he made his way to 53 runs off 70 deliveries. But Sri Lanka had opened the gates for themselves again when Rumesh Ratnayake trapped Tendulkar lbs with India’s score on 121 runs. Although Manjrekar looked secured at one end, the match could have swung to anyone’s favour from that position.
It was the Indian skipper Azharuddin who played a blinder of an innings as he scored 54 runs off just 39 deliveries to help India over the line with 7 wickets and 17 deliveries to spare. Manjrekar remained unbeaten at the other end with 75 runs to his name as he acted as the glue that held India’s innings together.
The Lankan Lions had now squandered another chance of proving themselves better than any Asian team. Their finale blues continued for the second consecutive edition of the tournament. They could have well gone on to proclaim themselves as the best in Asia but they had to satisfy themselves with the second best position as the Indian giants had tamed them once again.