Sri Lanka had quite the run as they went unbeaten in all their league matches. Apart from one victory where they dominated Afghanistan, their encounters were quite close against all the other three teams. But they held their nerves every time in crunch moments and came out on top……..
India have always been the dominating force in Asia Cup history with the most number of titles. Sri Lanka had always been the second best with the next most number of titles.
However, things started changing since the dawn of the 21st century. Sri Lanka started winning more often and the year 2014 saw them lifting the title for the fifth time which eventually brought them on par with India in terms of title victories. This was the year when the islanders established themselves a dominant force in Asia statistically as well.
Afghanistan stun Bangladesh
Moreover, the participation of the rising associate nation of Afghanistan made the tournament even more special. This was their first ever 50-over tournament and they made it worth remembering. They put on fighting performances on a show on each of their four matches and eventually won their first ever match in a competitive international tournament against the hosts Bangladesh.
It was a memorable victory for the Afghans. Skipper Ashgar Stanikzai and Shamiullah Shenwari propelled them to a very competitive total of 254/6 with individual scores of 90* and 81 respectively.
And then their bowlers put on a clinical bowling performance on a show as they wrapped up the Tigers for 222 runs. Mohammad Nabi was the pick of the Afghan bowlers with figures of 3/44. They showed what they are capable of in that match and have become an even stronger force today.
The Bangla Tigers, on the other hand, disappointed their fans once again with a winless campaign at home. They had their moments in all the matches but they let it slip every time. Nobody expected such a poor performance from them after their fabulous showing in the previous edition which saw them losing in the final by a narrow margin.
While the 2012 edition was the perfect example of how an Asia Cup was always supposed to be, the 2014 edition once again brought back the familiar old times when it was all about the competition between India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka despite the presence of other teams in the tournament.
Sri Lanka start brightly
Pakistan went down to Sri Lanka in the opening game of the tournament by 12 runs. It was Lahiru Thirimanne’s century and Lasith Malinga’s five-wicket haul that had trumped them in their chase of 297 runs. But their performance graph only went on improving from there on as they registered successive victories against Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh.
Both of their encounters against India and Bangladesh were high scoring thrillers. Both matches went down to the wire. Pakistan required 10 runs to win off the last over with two wickets in hand. India were on top as Ravichandran Ashwin dismissed Saeed Ajmal on the very first delivery of the final over.
Junaid Khan walked out to bat as the last wicket and sneaked out a single to put Shahid Afridi back on strike. Pakistan needed 9 runs to win off 4 deliveries and all India needed was just a wicket.
But Afridi produced his moment of magic as he smashed consecutive sixes to win the match for Pakistan with two deliveries to spare. He remained unbeaten on 34 runs off just 18 deliveries as Pakistan overhauled India’s total of 245 runs.
In their encounter against Bangladesh, they had a far tougher task of chasing down 326 runs. But a century and fifty from their openers Ahmed Shahzad and Mohammad Hafeez respectively got them going.
They lost the plot a bit in the middle as they lost 3 quick wickets for just 8 runs. But a 105 run stand between Fawad Alam and Shahzad followed before the latter got dismissed with Pakistan’s score on 210.
It was all about destruction from Shahid Afridi after that as he smashed another 59 runs off 25 deliveries. He couldn’t finish the chase off but his innings had put Pakistan in the driving seat with 3 runs required off the final over.
However, there was some drama left as Umar Akmal made quite a mess off the first three deliveries of the over from Al Amin Hossain. Fawad Alam was run out on the fourth delivery and suddenly they found themselves in a tricky position with two runs required off two deliveries.
It was once again Akmal, the man who was at the centre of all this drama, who brought on a dramatic finish to the things with a boundary on the penultimate delivery.
India had quite an average campaign as compared to their standards. Apart from their commanding victories against Afghanistan and the hosts, they lost their respective matches to Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Although those two were very close encounters that went down to the wire, these are exactly the moments that differentiate champion teams from others.
Sri Lanka had quite the run as they went unbeaten in all their league matches. Apart from one victory where they dominated Afghanistan, their encounters were quite close against all the other three teams. But they held their nerves every time in crunch moments and came out on top.
The Lankan glory
Finally, it was Sri Lanka and Pakistan who had qualified for the finale at Mirpur on 8th March. Everyone expected it to be a close contest again. But given Sri Lanka’s record against Pakistan in Asia Cup finals, they had the mental edge and dominated them once again.
Pakistan’s total of 260/5 helped by Fawad Alam’s unbeaten 114 and Misbah-ul-Haq’s 58 was easily overhauled by Sri Lanka with 22 deliveries and five wickets to spare. Thirimanne and Jayawardene were the ones who came up with scores of 101 and 75 runs respectively in response to Alam and Misbah’s innings.
Sri Lanka now had won the title the fifth time in the history of the tournament. And it was a moment to savour for an entire nation that had so much passion and took such great pride in the game.