It was time for Sri Lanka to host the Asia Cup for the first time since 1997. In front of the home crowd, the Lankan Lions lifted the trophy once again……..
The game of cricket has always kept evolving with changing times since its inception. Evolution is as much applicable to this game as much it is to the life forms and other things in the universe. Not only cricket but even its format and the structures of its tournaments have kept changing in order to get better over the years.
Similarly, as the Asia Cup completed two decades of its existence with its seventh edition in 2004, it was time for this tournament to evolve as well.
The Asia Cup of 2004, for the first time in the history of the tournament, saw the participation of as many as 6 teams. Along with the four regular Test-playing nations, provision was made for the participation of two more associate nations as well. Probably for the first time, the name of the tournament sounded totally apt as so many teams representing different parts of Asia constituted it.
Moreover, the tournament was going to be played in the group format in that year. It was a first for the tournament in that regard too. A total of two groups, Group A and Group B, were formed with each having two Test playing and one associate nation in it. Group A consisted of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Hong Kong whereas Group B had India, Sri Lanka and the UAE competing in it.
Pakistan were the defending champions but with Sri Lanka hosting this tournament and given their cent percent title-winning record on the previous two occasions at home, they were strong contenders to regain the title as well. The tournament kicked off with the set of the first couple of matches on 16th of July.
On one side, there was Bangladesh taking on Hong Kong at Colombo and on the other side, it was India who locked horns with the UAE at Dambulla. While the Bangladeshi fans celebrated their first ever victory in Asia Cup, it turned out to be as easy a victory for India as you could expect with them facing a team way below their level. Interestingly, both Bangladesh and India registered victories with exactly similar margin if 116 runs on that day.
The second day of the tournament witnessed another couple of one-sided affairs as Pakistan and Sri Lanka drubbed Bangladesh and the UAE by quite big margins. Yasir Hamed of Pakistan became the second centurion of this edition after Rahul Dravid made one against the UAE on the previous day. All these victories gave the winning teams a significant boost in their net run rates.
However, it was 18th July—the third day of the tournament—that brought some much-needed thrill and excitement to the contest. Although Pakistan completely mauled Hong Kong by 173 runs with the help of Younis Khan’s 144 at Colombo, it was a quality contest between India and Sri Lanka that finally set the tournament on fire.
A cracking affair at Dambulla
Batting first, Sri Lanka rode on three fifties from each of Marvin Atapattu, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to post a commanding total of 282/4 on the board. That was followed up by some exceptional performance by their bowlers as they had India on the mat at 71/4. But Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh combined together with a 133 run stand for the fifth wicket to give Sri Lanka the scare. Dravid played a crafty knock of 82 runs while Yuvraj contributed 47. But once they departed, there was no one else to take India home. Mohammad Kaif tried his best with a 21-ball 22 but the target ultimately proved to be too much for India. They finished their innings on 270/8, thus falling short of the target by 12 runs.
At the end of the group stage, both Hong Kong and the UAE were eliminated having lost all their matches. But they were going home with loads of valuable experience and learning. Only four teams—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka—were left in the tournament now to compete in the Super Four, which would eventually decide the finalists.
The Super Four
The first day of the Super four saw India and Pakistan locking horns with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka respectively. It proved to be quite an easy victory for both India and Sri Lanka. While India won by 8 wickets having chased down 178 runs riding on Sachin Tendulkar’s 82 at the SSC in Colombo, Sri Lanka showed their might once again as they won by 7 wickets at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo after a comprehensive bowling performance that had restricted Pakistan to just 122 runs earlier in the innings.
Bangladesh got drubbed once again in the next match as Sri Lanka won by 10 wickets riding on Sanath Jayasuriya’s unbeaten 107. Even after so many years, they were yet to improve as far as their performance against big teams was concerned. On the other hand, such a huge victory for Sri Lanka almost guaranteed a place on the final for them.
Pakistan overcome India
The defending champions, however, were in a tricky position having lost their first Super four match in such a shameful manner against Sri Lanka. They wanted to make things right and their matchup against their arch-rivals gave them the perfect opportunity to do so.
Riding on Shoaib Malik’s fabulous innings of the 143 runs off just 127 deliveries, Pakistan posted a total of 300/9 in their 50 overs. However, India couldn’t do much in reply to that. They could only manage 241/8 in response to Tendulkar making the only notable contribution with 78 runs. Pakistan thus won by 59 runs but it still wasn’t enough to get a bonus point on the board which India already had.
The cracking encounter at Colombo
Then came the match that would go on to be the most memorable one of that edition. Batting first at Colombo, India posted a daunting total of 271/6 riding on individual knocks of 82, 79 and 50 runs from Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh. India made a very good start to defend that total and also kept picking up wickets at regular intervals. But a storm by the name Sanath Jayasuriya continued to show its power at one end and kept the fate of the match hanging in balance right till the 48th over. He has smashed his way to a knick of 130 runs. But it was ultimately a bold move by Ganguly to bring Sehwag into the attack that late in the innings. Sri Lanka’s score read 254/6 and they need another 18 runs in an equal number of deliveries to win.
However, Sehwag held on to a caught and bowled chance off Jayasuriya and turned the match completely in India’s favour. Sri Lanka lost another couple of wickets after that and ultimately fell short of the target by a fine margin of 4 runs. What a match it had been, a surprise for both sides, pleasant for one and painful for another.
Pakistan fail to reach the final
India had now done all they could have done to reach the finals. The only way Pakistan could now spoil their party was off they could manage a big victory over Bangladesh in their last super four encounters. Pakistan were already ahead of India in terms of NRR and now only needed to get a bonus point. However, that didn’t turn out to be the case.
Although they bowled Bangladesh out for a paltry 166 runs, Pakistan took almost 42 overs and list four wickets to chase those runs down. Thus, it denied them a bonus point and strike out any possibility of their qualification to the final.
Sri Lanka beat Ganguly’s India
It was going to be an India-Sri Lanka affair again in the finals as it had been in majority of the tournaments. Sri Lanka had the home advantage in their favour which is always a big factor in tournament finals. With the crowd behind them, the Likes were ready to roar once again. But India did a fine job to restrict them to only 228/9 in their 50 overs. Atapattu and Jayawardene with 68 and 53 runs to their names respectively were the only major contributors as the other batsmen failed to make an impact.
But the Sri Lankan bowlers were determined to make these runs look like a mountain to climb to the Indian team. The bowlers allowed none of the Indian batsmen to settle down. Only Sachin Tendulkar kept waking a lone battle at one end as he saw the destruction and demolition led by Lankan bowlers at the other. It was Tendulkar’s knock of 74 runs that had ultimately led them to a total of 203/9. But the match was long lost before that.
The Sri Lankan fans started celebrating as soon as the final delivery was bowled. The whole crowd in the stadium broke out in loud cheers. They were dancing, jumping and shouting loudly expressing what this victory meant to them. The Lankan players had proved once again that the first two titles didn’t come as a result of a mere stroke of luck. In fact, they showed that they are capable of winning and repeating their heroics, again and again, year after year.