It was just the start of an Asian domination as they would go on to win three more titles in the coming years ahead. But this edition had truly marked the return of the Lion King…..
Sri Lanka’s moment of joy
Three consecutive editions.
Three consecutive losses in the finals.
And all three of them at the hands of the same opponents.
Sri Lanka’s finale blues against India in Asia Cup finals seemed to be never ending. They had lost the battle in each of the 1988, 1990 and 1995 editions after claiming their maiden title at home back in 1986. They failed to conquer the final frontier on each of those three occasions despite dominating the league stages consistently. However, their story was destined to end on a happy note this time as the tournament once again returned to the backyard of the Lions.
It was not even a year ago that Sri Lanka had proclaimed themselves as the World Champions by beating Australia in the final of the World Cup at Lahore. They were coming into this edition of the Asian battle as the World Champions. They had stumbled on all occasions previously but they could not afford such a slip up now. They had their reputation at stake. This is probably what the world would have thought.
However, they were actually brimming with confidence as a team after their World Cup victory. Their self-belief was sky high. Lions are most dangerous in their own territory. In their own jungle. Similarly, the Lankan Lions were a force to reckon with in this tournament having home advantage in their favour along with their newly found identities as World Champions.
A bright start for Sri Lanka
The tournament kicked off with Pakistan locking horns with the hosts. The Islanders started off well after Pakistan won the toss and chose to field. They were 111/1 at a certain point but then kept on losing wickets at regular intervals. But it was Marvan Atapattu’s fighting knock of 80 runs that helped Sri Lanka to a competitive total of 239 runs.
Pakistan would have fancied themselves to chase this down but regular fall of wickets didn’t help their cause. Apart from Inzamam-ul-Haq’s 48 and Salim Malik’s 57, there was no real contribution from the rest of the batsmen. They fell short of Sri Lanka’s total by 15 runs in the end and the hosts thus made a bright start to their campaign.
Bangladesh thrashed by Pakistan
Next up was a match that any top team would fancy to get their campaign moving after a hard loss. Pakistan took on Bangladesh in their second match and it turned out to be a feast for their batsmen. Pakistani batsmen smashed the Bangladeshi bowlers all around the park and notched up a massive total of 315/5. Saeed Anwar with (90) and Inzamam-ul-Haq (77) were the main contributors while Rameez Raja and Saleem Malik had chipped in with individual fifties as well.
There were no surprises from Bangladesh this time as well. Athar Ali Khan, like in previous editions, did put up a fight with an individual contribution of 82 runs. It was ably supported by a steady knock of 59 runs from Akram Khan as well. But that didn’t prove to be enough as they were bowled out for 210 runs. Pakistan’s magician Saqlain Mushtaq was the wrecker in chief as he dismantled the Bangladeshi batting line-up with a five wicket haul.
Ranatunga’s brilliance against India
The World Champions proved themselves to be unstoppable in their next two matches. Firstly, it was Arjuna Ranatunga’s unbeaten 131 that demolished India. Then it was Sanath Jayasuria’s swashbuckling 108 that left the Bangladeshi team gasping for breath.
The defending Asia Cup champions had put on a fighting total of 227/6 on the board riding on Mohammad Azharuddin’s 80 and Rahul Dravid’s 69. The hosts got off to a shaky start having been reduced to 9/2 but everything changed once Ranatunga walked out to bat. Sri Lanka chased down the target with 6 wickets and 32 deliveries to spare as the entire world was left spellbound with that flawless and commanding innings.
In the match against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka had the Tigers completely on the mat after Jayasuria and Atapattu put on an opening stand of 171 runs with the former scoring 108 and the latter 60. Their total at the end—296/4—was very daunting and Bangladesh couldn’t even hope of chasing it down in their dreams. A total of 193/8 was all they could manage in the end as all their batsmen struggled against the quality of Lankan bowling.
There was also the match between arch-rivals India and Pakistan in between these matches. It could have been a treat for the Indian fans as their bowlers had Pakistan completely on the mat after reducing them to 30/5. But continuous rain and bad light at the end of the day resulted in the match being abandoned.
It was always going to be a game of net run rate from there on. With Sri Lanka having already qualified for the finals and India left with facing Bangladesh in their last league game, the final looked all set between these two teams for the fourth consecutive time.
India enter the finals
After restricting Bangladesh to a paltry 130/8, India chased down the target in 15 overs riding on Sourav Ganguly’s fiery innings of 73 runs off just 42 deliveries. The formality was completed as India won by 9 wickets and the world was once again gearing up for a thrilling India-Sri Lanka final.
The Lions seemed determined this time. They looked fearless. Although they had stumbled on their last step every time in the tournament previously, it seemed like they had left everything behind. They were World Champions now. They had the self-belief and confidence of being the best in the world with them. So, their desire of claiming the throne of Asia was buoyed by the same confidence as well.
Sri Lanka maul India to lift the trophy
They made early inroads into the Indian innings after India won the toss and elected to bat first. India were tottering at 59/3 and the Lankan bowlers were all over them. However, the ever dependable duo of Sachin Tendulkar and Azharuddin joined hands at the crease and took India out if the doldrums. Their efforts—knocks of 81 and 53 runs from Azharuddin and Tendulkar respectively—helped India to a challenging total of 239/7. India had shown in the previous editions that they were going to make the run chase for Sri Lanka anything but easy.
However, what followed afterwards saw the entire crowd at Colombo erupt in loud cheers. The Lankan lions were roaring loudly and the Indian giants seemed like mere dwarfs in front of them.
The opening duo of Jayasuria and Atapattu completely blew away any chances whatsoever that India had in making the chase tough for Sri Lanka. They stitched together a stand of 137 runs as Jayasuriya smashed his way to a 52-ball 63. Aravinda de Silva followed soon after he departed and Sri Lanka were on 144/2. But the skipper Ranatunga walked out and did what he does best. He smashed the Indian bowlers all around the ground to raise up a breezy fifty as Atapattu held the fort at the other end. With Atapattu remaining unbeaten on 84 and Ranatunga on 62, it took them only 37 overs to chase down the target.
They had done it. The World Champions had lived up to their reputation. The scenes at the stadium were unimaginable. It was a victory to savour for the fans and the players alike. The Lion had proclaimed itself as the King of his Jungle once again.
It was just the start of an Asian domination as they would go on to win three more titles in the coming years ahead. But this edition had truly marked the return of the Lion King and thus helped their story end on a happy note for the time being.