All the three teams did their best. The league stage turned out to be like a see-saw. Just when you thought that one team was on top, the other came and displaced it immediately. Nobody could predict who the finalists were going to be until the final league match and the beauty of the tournament lay in that mystery and thrill…..
The Asia Cup of 1995 occupies a special place in the heart of the cricket fans, for it witnessed one of the most intense, enchanting and thrilling battles in the history of the tournament. It was a tournament in which each of the Asian giants—India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—fought tooth and nail for the ultimate prize. Bangladesh were the only team that failed to live up to the quality of cricket offered by the other three teams and once again went through a winless campaign. But that didn’t deter the other three teams from showing their class and hence they produced some mesmerizing battles of skill and will.
Moreover, the tournament had returned after a long gap of five years. The 1993 edition of Asia Cup was cancelled due to strained political relations between India and Pakistan. So, the hype around the tournament this time was more than ever. Also, the tournament returning to the place where it all started—in the Middle East—gave it a sense of nostalgia as well.
India’s dominating start
First up, it was the rising nation of Bangladesh that was going to challenge the mighty Indian team at Sharjah. Every year, they came into the tournament with dreams of seeing respect in the eyes of their opposition for themselves. They wanted to put up a fight every time. If not anything, they wanted to make the opposition earn their wickets and runs while batting and bowling respectively. However, the opposition proved to be too good for them every time. This edition was no different as well.
They got rolled over by India in the first match itself. After bowling Bangladesh out for 163 runs, India chased down the target with 9 wickets and 22.1 overs to spare. Manoj Prabhakar was the star of the match as he showed his class with an all-round performance which included a 2-wicket haul and a fifty to his name.
Bangladesh show promise
Although the Bangladeshi bowlers showed some fire having claimed all 10 Sri Lankan riding on Saiful Islam’s four-wicket haul, their batsmen were clueless against the Sri Lankan bowlers as they succumbed for a total of 126 runs in response to Sri Lanka’s 233 all-out. The same story got repeated two days later in their final league match against Pakistan. They toiled hard for full 50 overs putting a score of 151/8 on the board. But Pakistan chased it down with 6 wickets and 20.2 overs to spare.
However, in between these two matches, it was the clash between the arch-rivals India and Pakistan that lit up the tournament. The fans on both sides of the border were expecting a thrilling contest but what they got in return was a one-sided match dominated by the World Champions Pakistan.
Pakistan tame India
Firstly, they rode on Inzamam-ul-Haq’s terrific knock of 88 and Wasim Akram’s cameo of 50 runs to put on a daunting total of 266/9 on the board. And then, it was a special bowling performance from Aaqib Javed that completely blew away India’s chances in the match. He started with a fiery opening spell and sent all of Manoj Prabhakar, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin and Vinod Kambli back to the pavilion in no time. India were tottering at 37/4 as a result of his tremendous spell. Although Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sanjay Manjrekar tried to resurrect the innings with individual fifties, their dismissals afterwards meant Pakistan had complete hold of the match.
The other bowlers cleaned up the tail quickly and Javed also claimed the wicket of Javagal Srinath to complete his five-wicket haul. India were thus bowled out for 169 runs and Pakistan had won the match by a massive margin of 97 runs. On one side of the border, there was a joy. People were celebrating. On the other side, there was disappointment and agony.
Brilliant Sachin Tendulkar
Now, the defending champions had to win their last league encounter against Sri Lanka to stay in contention for a spot in the finals. Their reputation was at stake. But they were determined to do well this time. The Indian bowlers put on a clinical bowling performance on the show and restricted Sri Lanka to a modest total of 202/9 in their 50 overs.
In reply, the Indian fans were treated with a Sachin Tendulkar special as a classy innings of an unbeaten 112 off just 107 deliveries tore the Lankan bowlers apart. Manoj Prabhakar had played a good hand of 60 runs as well in their opening stand of 161 runs. India not only registered a huge victory by 8 wickets but also gave their net run rate a significant boost.
Sri Lanka dash Pakistan’s dreams
Now, it was all down to the Pakistan-Sri Lanka clash to decide the second finalists of the tournament. Pakistan was the only unbeaten team till that point of the tournament. All they needed to do to qualify for the finals was to ensure that they don’t lose by a big margin if they go on to lose at all. India’s arch-rivals probably had the strongest team in that tournament and everyone had their money on them.
But Sri Lanka were habituated to upset other teams right since their arrival in international cricket. When it came to Pakistan, they probably had a special liking towards them. And they did the unthinkable once again as they beat Pakistan by a hefty margin. In fact, this team was the one that was going to lift the World Cup a year later in 1996 and they showed why on that very day by beating the then world champions.
After restricting Pakistan to a paltry total of 178/9, Sri Lanka chased down the total with 5 wickets and 19.1 overs to spare. The margin of victory was just enough to push their NRR above that of Pakistan as only a difference of 0.105 separated the two teams.
All the three teams did their best. The league stage turned out to be like a see-saw. Just when you thought that one team was on top, the other came and displaced it immediately. Nobody could predict who the finalists were going to be until the final league match and the beauty of the tournament lay in that mystery and thrill.
India register a comfortable victory
The stage was all set once again for an India- Sri Lanka final for the third consecutive time in the history of the tournament. Sri Lanka had lost on both occasions previously. They knew how tough it was going to be to beat India in a finale once again. India, on the other hand, were well aware of Sri Lanka’s giant-killing skills. They were not taking them lightly either.
It was 14th April, 1995. The judgment day. Each of the two teams was determined to give it their best to claim the ultimate prize. Indian skipper Mohammad Azharuddin called right at the toss and elected to field first. Sri Lanka had gotten off to a troubled start as India had reduced them to 89/4. But Asanka Gurusinha’s fighting knock of 85 runs off 122 deliveries helped Sri Lanka to a fighting total of 230/7.
The target was not tough. But run chases are quite tricky especially when it is a final. Sri Lanka were banking on its bowlers to deliver after Gurusinha’s fight with the bat. They made early inroads into the Indian innings having reduced India to 58/2 with Prabhakar dismissed for 9 and Tendulkar for a promising knock of 41 runs.
However, once Sidhu and Azharuddin joined hands in the middle, they made a complete mockery of the Sri Lankan bowling attack. Both batsmen went on the offensive and counterattacked the bowlers in style. They stitched together a partnership of 175 runs for the third wicket and thus chased down the target with ease. India thus won by 8 wickets and 49 deliveries to spare. Sidhu and Azharuddin remained unbeaten on 84 and 90 respectively as the country of billions once again celebrated their Asia Cup title for the third consecutive and fourth time overall.