By Callum Cafferty, BA Japanese
A fine drizzle graced the afternoon of Sunday the 17th of September, and rain mats covered the fresh Columbo pitch. With all eyes fixed skyward, anticipation filled the stadium. Yet it was not long before the rain lifted, mats were removed, and the teams filed out onto the grounds with all the hope and anxiety of this dramatic tournament bearing down upon their shoulders.
The co-hosts and returning champions of this year’s Asia Cup, Sri Lanka, had fought an uphill battle to claim their place in the final against India. After a hard-fought run culminating in a clinched victory against Pakistan in last year’s tournament, Sri Lanka was a strong contender for this year’s championship. But with the team up against the titans of India and Pakistan, and star player Wanindu Hasaranga out of commission thanks to a leg injury, Sri Lanka was not by any means the favourites to win.
However, a strong performance in the group stage saw them coming out on top of Bangladesh and Afghanistan, allowing them to progress on to the Super Four. Another strong and confident victory against Bangladesh in the Super Four saw an optimistic and yet undefeated Sri Lanka poised to become an unstoppable force as they made their way through this stage of the competition.
Yet looming on the horizon was the mighty power of India. Their group stage was successful, after an all but certain defeat of Nepal. With everything to prove – especially after India was marred by an unsettled score against Pakistan, their greatest rival, due to the rain – the Super Four saw India achieve its most overwhelming victory against Pakistan in the history of the One Day Internationals (ODIs). With a whopping 356 runs against Pakistan’s 128, the Pakistani team was utterly crushed. With this historic success as the wind behind their backs, India sailed into their match against Sri Lanka, putting on an impressive performance and securing their place in the finals. They achieved 213 runs against Sri Lanka’s 172.
With one last spot up for grabs in the final, the morning of the 14th of September can only have been one of anticipation and nerves for the Pakistani and Sri Lankan squads. After their first-ever ODI match against Nepal in group stages ended with a dominant victory, Pakistan’s undecided score against India moved them through to the Super Four. On the back of a remarkable victory against Bangladesh in their first match, Pakistan entered their next competition against long-standing rival India with confidence but was left with nothing but a crushing defeat.
The match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan began with both teams hungry for a chance to prove themselves worthy of securing a spot in the final. Despite each nation playing superbly throughout the match, the favour seemed to shift towards Pakistan in the penultimate over, with a solid two wickets by Shaheen Afridi. But with the home crowds roaring around them, Sri Lanka ultimately snatched the victory away with a dramatic last ball.
Then came the day of the final. With rain at bay and teams streaming out onto the field, Sri Lanka set off determined to take home the cup for the second year running, and India was vying to claim their eighth title after consistently fantastic performances all throughout the tournament. With fans ready for a long-haul game following the previous late-night finish, the day’s performance was a shock to the system.
Sri Lanka won the toss, electing to bat first and predicting a steady start with their consistent batters before their vicious spin bowlers would come in to finish off India’s batters. But it was India’s bowlers that proved their might. Mohammed Siraj stormed through Sri Lanka with an unbelievable six wickets, destroying their top batters with his unforgiving right-hand pace bowls. All it took was Jasprit Bumrah taking one wicket and Hardik Pandya taking the last three for a triumphant India to win their eighth Asia Cup in front of a dejected Sri Lankan crowd. The whole affair was over in just over two hours, securing India an extension of their already impressive Asia Cup record.
Following the culmination of the Asia Cup and India’s outstanding performance, the ICC men’s cricket World Cup is in full swing, and many are looking to India as one of the favourites to lift the World Cup trophy. But with the outpouring of talent from their competitors, we can be certain that it is going to be a challenging endeavour for the Indian team and an exciting tournament for us cricket fans.
Photo Caption: A triumphant India hold the Asia Cup aloft (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)