“Sheer joy and excitement! The subcontinental rivalry at its imperious best! ”
The Asia Cup 2018 would surely go down in the books marking an uprising of the ‘minnows’. Despite India winning the coveted title for the 7th time, it was the stellar performances from Bangladesh, Afghanistan or even Hong Kong that grabbed attention. It was a tournament where Sri Lanka looked at its tormented worst and Pakistan, India were at ease with their mundane, the so called ‘minnows’ stunned everyone to bits with surprising upsets and technically pleasing skills.
It all began in Dubai, the adopted home of Pakistan, where the tournament opener saw Bangladesh take on Sri Lanka in a match that almost set the tone for the tourney. Tactically outplayed, aggressively outnumbered and defensively penetrated, Sri Lanka was slumped to a whooping 137 run loss. This win for Bangladesh was a great morale boost and the underdogs promised a great near future. However, it was followed by a disastrous loss against Afghanistan, again a team which in itself has made significant inwards in world cricket. Afghanistan got better of Bangladesh in all departments and abided to a strict gameplan. Sri Lanka’s successive loss to Afghanistan then meant that the island nation was out of the competition. Their youth misfired and experience lopsided its value as none could make any worthy contributions. The losses also raise questions to their competitiveness at the World Cup next year. Meanwhile, the other pool too was host to couple of interesting matches. One where Hong Kong cruised along to 174-0 chasing India’s mammoth 284 before losing out to experience and the other where ancient India-Pakistan resumed after the Champions Trophy final. India cruised to a win riding comprehensively on their disciplined bowling attack. The respective table toppers Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India, Pakistan went on to qualify for the Super Four stages.
The group phase had sowed seeds of excitement in the Super Four stage. The teams battled hard and fair to knit close battles and interesting finishes. The reincarnation of India-Pakistan rivalry was the most sought after event. India reigned supreme over the neighbors once again with the openers scoring blistering hundreds. Coming to the tournament as in-form favorites, their vigorous routing through the opposition wasn’t unexpected. Under Rohit’s captaincy, India were aggressive yet watchful. They capitalized on smallest of chances and made crucial breakthroughs time and time again. Perhaps the only time when India was tested was against Afghanistan where Indian batting lost plot against the Afghan bowlers and Jadeja somehow scrambled home a solitary point, gifting Dhoni a tie in his 200th ODI as captain. Afghanistan resided to the able prowess of the dependable Shahidi, Nabi and Rashid Khan while Bangladesh rode on Mushfiqur and Mustafizur heroics. The two teams also battled each other till the very end where the formers defending mere 6 in the last over provided one of the rarest photo-finishes. Another such which followed was when Pakistan and rather Shoaib Malik almost single handedly got better of Afghanistan in the ultimate over. But Pakistan’s lucky escape was not meant to have a fruitful destination. An easy and a flamboyant victory for the Tigers against Pakistan shattered their hopes to bits. The tale of Bangladesh’s fight to the top against India in the preceding edition of the tournament was relieved and re-celebrated.
It’s often said that the FINALS of a tournament depict the flow of how the tides have traversed. And this one in Dubai was exemplary to the referred saying. Going Right down to the wire, a hamstrung Kedar Jadhav managed to hobble around for a single on the last ball of the match to give India the title. The injured Jadhav was also a reason for India’s bowling coming back as he broke through crucial partnerships after Bangladesh blistered off to a start courtesy Liton Das’ major ton. Mashrafe Mortaza in the later half of the match was stunning with his captaincy but could only lead his side to a runners up claim. Though India would lift the title, Asia Cup 2018 would be remembered for all round performances. Be it Hong Kong’s 174 run opening stand or Mohammad Shehzad’s blistering ton against India, be it Mushfiqur’s consistent performances or Shahidi’s frequent rescue innings, be MSD’s lightening quick stumpings or a few sloppy drops, each and every moment would surely be remembered.
The tournament was a thorough mix of the good and the ordinary. The scheduling of the event was one of the critical talking points all along. Teams were made to play matches on consecutive days and especially in the heat wave of Dubai, it certainly took a toll of their fitness. The umpiring, especially in the game that tied, was mediocre and gathered criticism. Albeit all this, there were also a few moments which brought joy to cricketing hearts. Shoaib Malik consoling Aftab Ahmed after hitting him for 10 off his first 3 balls to sneak a win, Tamim Iqbal coming in to bat with a single hand despite injury and every team playing fairly without any heated arguments invariably increased the beauty of the sport.
“My asia cup was won when Tamim came out to bat with a broken finger.”