Dubai: The Asia Cup has returned to the UAE, where it was all began 34 years ago. The aura of this tournament has been stupendous despite not being held regularly and some of the top teams pulling out at times.
The contests have always been brilliant and have been keenly watched by cricket fans around the world.
During the 34-year span, 13 editions of this tournament have been held, with the UAE hosting the inaugural tournament in 1984, and then in 1995.
When Dubai International Stadium and Abu Dhabi Zayed Cricket Stadium hosts the Asia Cup’s 14th edition, beginning on Saturday, the question on everyone’s mind is whether it will showcase the best and keenly fought matches in the history of the tournament.
This edition of the Asia Cup is special in many ways because none of the participating countries can claim to be the favourites.
Competition between the Asian countries has been so intense in recent years that any team is capable of winning on their day. It is indeed surprising why this tournament hasn’t ever been labelled as a mini World Cup despite the strength of the teams in the tournament. The answer lies in the fact that these participating countries have never skipped playing in the ICC World Cup despite their political differences but tend to use the Asia Cup to express their political animosity by pulling out of the event.
Though the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the host of this edition, their team is playing on grounds that are not familiar to them. Two of their opponents — Pakistan and Afghanistan — know the conditions here very well, much more than the other four participating teams since they use the UAE grounds for their international matches.
When Sharjah hosted the first edition of the Asia Cup, cricket fans filled every seat in the stadium. That paved the way for the UAE to emerge as the world’s most popular neutral venue. Since expatriates from all the participating countries live here, the cricketing world, for the first time, saw fans in equal numbers cheering for their teams from one stadium.
Though many multi-nation tournaments have been held around the world, some memories from the Asia Cup have lived on forever. In 1984, India arrived in Sharjah after winning the World Cup but without their star player, Kapil Dev, who had a knee injury. Although Sri Lanka stunned Pakistan, India emerged winners through the exploits of a little known explosive batsman, Surinder Khanna.
In 1986, the tournament was played in Sri Lanka and called the John Player Gold Leaf Trophy. Sri Lanka won the tournament, and due to requests from the large crowd, the then President of Sri Lanka J.R. Jayawardene, declared a public holiday to commemorate their victory.
The third edition in 1988 in Bangladesh was known as Wills Asia Cup. India, led by Dilip Vengsarkar, lifted the trophy through whirlwind knocks from Navjot Singh Sidhu. The 1991 Asia Cup final between India and Sri Lanka was watched by 75,000 people at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata and Kapil Dev thrilled the home crowd with a hat-trick in the final. When UAE hosted the 1995 edition in Sharjah, India completed a hat-trick of Asia Cup triumphs.
It is through the 2012 edition that India’s Virat Kohli exhibited his match winning qualities. He piled up 357 runs from the tournament, which included a sparkling 183 against Pakistan, and that is still the highest individual score in Asia Cup.
Like in the previous years, this edition of the tournament is also poised to add some unforgettable moments to the tales of Asia Cup.