By the time the tournament entered into the 21st century, it had already completed six editions of it. While India had won four of them, Pakistan, surprisingly, had won none. Even Sri Lanka had won the title twice by then. But with the dawn of a new century, Pakistan’s fortunes in the tournament were destined to change as well……
The summer of Pakistan in Bangladesh
During the initial editions of Asia Cup, people could see only two teams—India and Pakistan—competing for the title despite the presence of two more teams in the title race. The arch-rivals were, after all, the Asian giants and none of the other Asian teams could match their levels at all. But Sri Lanka came along and started showing what the Lions were capable of doing in a tournament that was supposed to showcase the power of the giants.
By the time the tournament entered into the 21st century, it had already completed six editions of it. While India had won four of them, Pakistan, surprisingly, had won none. Even Sri Lanka had won the title twice by then. So, Pakistan, by their standards, had turned out to be quite the underachievers.
Their best chance to win the tournament probably would have been in 1993, just a year after they lifted the World Cup, as the team was at the peak of its powers and control back then. However, increased political tensions between India and Pakistan saw the tournament being cancelled. The same story repeated in the next two editions of 1995 and 1997 as Pakistan emerged as the third best only to India and Sri Lanka. But with the dawn of a new century, Pakistan’s fortunes in the tournament were destined to change as well.
The show starts
It all started in the summer of 2000. In the month of May. The Sun was at its dazzling best as the tournament once again returned to Bangladesh after a gap of 12 years. The Bangabandhu National Stadium was going to host all the matches and the Bangladeshi fans were as crazy as ever to get the taste of an international contest at their own backyard.
The hosts were scheduled to go up first against the defending Champions Sri Lanka on 29th May, the opening day of the tournament, followed by their match up against India a day later and against Pakistan on 2nd June. They were still not of the level to better any of the other three teams in the tournament. But they had to try. They had to fight to see respect in their opponents’ eyes. More than that, they needed to prove to themselves that they belonged at this level.
However, the first match proved to be a reality check for them once again. The Tigers could manage only a paltry total of 175/6 in their fifty overs after Sri Lanka won the toss and asked them to bat. Javed Omar was the major contributor in it having scored a slow paced 85 off 146 deliveries. It was up to the bowlers now to make the Sri Lankan batsmen earn their runs. But that couldn’t happen as well. Aravinda de Silva’s unbeaten knock of 96 runs off just 93 deliveries destroyed them as Sri Lanka won by 9 wickets and 19.2 overs to spare.
Reality check for Bangladesh
The script looked similar for Bangladesh this edition as well. But the Tigers roared back loudly the very next day in their encounter against India. They put on their best batting display on show in the entire history of the tournament until then. Bangladesh notched up a total of 249/6 in their 50 overs riding on a swashbuckling 64 runs off just 52 deliveries from Akram Khan, a steady 57 and 47 from Habib-ul-Bashar and Aminul Islam respectively and a late cameo of 39 from Naimur Rahman. The highest they had ever scored in the tournament till then. But little did they know anything about the storm awaiting in the form of Sourav Ganguly. The ‘Prince of Kolkata’ smashed an unbeaten 135 off just 124 deliveries as India won by 8 wickets and around 10 overs to spare.
Even though their bowling got thrashed, they showed their batting potential which was a treat to the eyes of their fans. But what followed two days later was an absolute debacle for the hosts and sheer joy to Pakistan. The latter made a grand entrance into the tournament as they mauled Bangladesh completely.
After winning the toss, Pakistan rode on a couple of 80s from Imran Nazir and Mohammad Yousuf, a splendid knock of 75 from Inzamam-ul-Haq and a cameo of 45 runs from Shahid Afridi to notch up a massive score of 320/3 on the board. And they backed that up with a terrific bowling performance as they bowled Bangladesh out for mere 87 runs. Abdur Razzaq was the one who inflicted the most damage with his spell of 4-1-5-3.
Pakistan too hot for India
The hosts had thus played out all their league matches losing all of them like previous editions. Pakistan, on the other hand, had just begun. They were up against their arch-rivals India next. A day before their encounter against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka had beaten India by 71 runs thus making their match against Pakistan a do-or-die encounter. India were not only lagging on the points table behind Sri Lanka and Pakistan but they were behind in net run rate by a massive margin too. So, they needed a big win against Pakistan to stay alive in the tournament.
But Pakistan wasn’t going to make it easy at all for India. Mohammad Yousuf’s unbeaten 100 helped Pakistan on to a high total of 295/7. However, the Indian batting line-up faltered and gave the early advantage to Pakistan. It was Abdul Razzaq’s spell of 4/29—which included the wickets of top-order batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Azharuddin—that made the difference. Although Ajay Jadeja tried his best with a terrific innings of 93, it didn’t prove to be enough in the end. India fell short by 44 runs and thus their hopes of making it to the finals had disappeared with that loss. Only a big victory for either of Sri Lanka and Pakistan would have gone on to help India to the finals. But it was highly unlikely with the rarest of rare chances.
The final league match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan was a dead rubber but it had to be played for the sake of eliminating the mathematical factors in favour of India’s qualification to the finals. And it was Pakistan again who emerged out victorious as Mohammad Yousuf’s 90 helped them chase down a modest total of 192 runs set by Sri Lanka. Pakistan achieved the target in the 49th over and won by 7 wickets. As the victory margin wasn’t that great, it didn’t help India’s cause neither did it work against Sri Lanka.
Now the stage was all set for a Pakistan-Sri Lanka final. The last time they met in an Asia Cup final was in 1986 which Sri Lanka won. Interestingly, that was the only time they had qualified for a final until then. Their chance of claiming the title had come again after 14 long years and they didn’t want to let it go easily.
Pakistan, the undisputed champions!
The day had come.
Pakistan elected to bat first after winning the toss. Run chases are quite tricky in the finals. So, Pakistan wanted to put up a good total on the board. But they didn’t get off to a good start as they lost the wickets of Imran Nazir and Shahid Afridi quite early in their innings and hence were reduced to 56/2. But Saeed Anwar held fort at one end stitching partnerships of 68 and 49 runs with Mohammad Yousuf and Inzamam-ul-Haq respectively. By the time he departed for a well made 82 runs off 115 deliveries, Pakistan had reached a decent total of 173/4. But a decent total wasn’t going to be enough to beat this Sri Lankan team. And Moin Khan provided them with just the kind of push they needed.
Khan plundered 56 runs off 31 deliveries and stitches a partnership of 104 runs for the 5th wicket with Inzamam who remained unbeaten on 72 runs off just 66 deliveries. Pakistan reached a daunting total of 277/4 and looked to be in the driver’s seat.
Sri Lanka, in reply, got off to a jittery start as they lost both Sanath Jayasuriya and Ramesh Kaluwitharana early with 21 runs on their board. The experiment to send Chaminda Vaas at No. 3 didn’t work as well and they were reduced further to 46/3.
It was up to the experienced duo of Marvan Atapattu and Aravinda de Silva then. A 71 run stand for the fourth wicket followed but de Silva departed after scoring 20 runs. It was followed by another dominating period of play as Russell Arnold combined with Atapattu to put on 79 runs for the 5th wicket. Arnold did the bulk of the scoring in that having contributed 41 runs off 44 deliveries. But once he departed, Atapattu started falling short of partners.
He brought up his century but got dismissed soon after that. With his dismissal, Sri Lanka’s chances of lifting the Cup diminished as well. Abdur Razzaq struck the final nail in the coffin as Sri Lanka lost their last 6 wickets for 42 runs.
There was a celebration all across Pakistan as their 14-year long wait had finally come to an end. Moin Khan was adjudged the ‘Man of the Match’ for his unbeaten knock of 56 runs towards the end. After all, it was the innings that made the difference. Pakistan went home with their hopes of repeating the heroics in the coming editions ahead. But it was their moment to enjoy and they deserved every bit of it.