Memories of Asia Cup © Getty Images
Memories of Asia Cup © Getty Images

Being an Asian is fun, for the authorities can always conjure four Test-playing nations and name the tournament Asia Cup. They often throw in the odd fifth, or even sixth team, in the mix; of late, the problem has been of plenty. This time they had to pick the fifth team from another pool of four. The closest any continent has come close to an Asia Cup has been Oceania: Australia and New Zealand sometimes play the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy without anybody knowing; it is nobody’s fault if they do not know if a random World Cup match suddenly becomes part of a Chappell-Hadlee Trophy contest. Poor Papua New Guinea, or for that matter, Fiji, are never invited.

22 years, 12 editions, 91 matches, 3 champions: this is no minor tournament. Surprisingly, Asia Cup was first conceived to satiate the appetite for cricket-crazy fans of Sharjah. India won the inaugural edition in 1984: it was so low-profile a tournament that Wisden did not cover it. Compare this to the 2016 edition (the first to be played in T20 format), where media houses have fought each other for exclusivity of coverage!

There have been heroes and villains and nobodies in the tournament; there have been drab one-sided contests and humdingers; there have also been some curious incidents. Let us have a look.

1. Bird’s folly, 1984

 The tournament was played in round-robin format, but the last match, the India-Pakistan clash, was always the most important match (despite Pakistan’s shock defeat to Sri Lanka). The match proceeded normally. Abdul Qadir, then the finest leg-spinner, bowled out with 10-3-36-0.

Whether it was due to miscommunication with scorers is unknown, but umpires Herbi Felsinger and Dickie Bird had somehow managed to miscalculate the number of overs Qadir had bowled.

So Qadir started his 11th over, and even sent down two balls, off which Sandeep Patil scored a run. Then the scorers frantically signalled at Bird and Felsinger, informing them of the situation.

After a long conference on the ground, Bird and Felsinger decided to annul the two balls. The run was also deducted from India’s total. Shahid Mahboob came on to bowl, and that was that.

2. A genius emerges, 1990

Pakistan pulled out of the 1990 edition, which meant an easy route for India and Sri Lanka to the final. The final at Eden Gardens is remembered for Kapil Dev’s hat-trick, but not before a hero marked his arrival.

Exactly what the role of this cricketer was in the Sri Lankan side was a mystery to me. He had batted at No. 5 on ODI debut, and had never batted above No. 6 thereafter. Before the tournament, his batting average read 11 and strike rate, 49. He had bowled a total of 3 overs. In this match, too, he fell for 5: a short-arm ferocious cut, and a lofted flick of the leg. Nothing special there, but one could not help but notice how hard they were hit. The two shots would come back to rule the 1990s, for Sanath Jayasuriya had arrived.

3. Prasad’s SSC rampage, 1997

1997 was the year when the momentum in India-Pakistan clashes would shift to the Indian side after a decade’s dominance by Pakistan, but that would be in Toronto, a few months later. Mohammad Azharuddin predictably won the toss and opted to bowl under extremely overcast conditions.

Surprisingly, neither side had enough pacers in their line-up. While India had Venkatesh Prasad and Abey Kuruvilla (backed by Robin Singh and Sourav Ganguly), Pakistan’s line-up was, if anything, worse — consisting of Aaqib Javed, Kabir Khan, and, if needed, Saleem Malik.

But Prasad rose to the challenge, removing the first four wickets with a mere 23 on the board. Kuruvilla took out Rameez Raja at the other end, and at 30 for 5 in 9 overs with Saqlain Mushtaq the next man in, things looked bad for Pakistan.

Then the heavens poured; and kept pouring till the reserve day was over.

4. Moin goes mental, 2000

For once, India played the tournament and did not make it to the final. Till 2000 both India and Sri Lanka had generally dominated Pakistan in the tournament. This time, however, Pakistan looked like a side on a mission, reaching the final without any blemish, winning three matches on the trot and looking hungry for a fourth.

When Saeed Anwar fell, the score read 173 for 4 with a ball left in the 40th over. Out walked Moin Khan, the man whose improvisation skills with the bat had stunned all and sundry in the World Cup the previous year. In an era when a strike rate of 85 was impressive, Moin finished the World Cup with 111. He scooped them, he plucked them out, he went across the line, he reverse-swept, he broke every rule in the book, and still got away with them.

He sent out the message by emerging without a helmet. He smashed them the way they play the forehand in tennis; he walked across and defied physics to get under the ball, and watched it soar way, way over fine-leg for six (AB de Villiers, anyone?); drives, both orthodox and cross-batted, vanished to every possible corner; and balls outside off were played past fine-leg.

The most outrageous of them all was a six off Muttiah Muralitharan: Murali tossed it up, Moin reached the pitch of the ball in a flash and hit it straight, hard, and flat: it went almost parallel to the ground and crashed into the sight-screen.

The score read 56* in 31 balls. The spectacle was breathtaking.

5. The $1,000-wicket

UAE were pushovers in 2004, and it showed in their performance. However, they started with a bang, removing Virender Sehwag off the third ball of the match. Then Asim Saeed, a left-arm seamer, held one back, and Sachin Tendulkar played one softly to Fahad Usman at mid-wicket for 18.

It could have been another dismissal, but there was a catch (no pun intended): a UAE official had announced an award of $1,000 for any UAE bowler who would dismiss Tendulkar in the tournament.

Though Saeed became richer by $1,000, that Sachin wicket remained the only one of his international career!

6. The Mendis show

The 2008 final at Karachi was expected to be keenly contested, especially after Jayasuriya played one of those innings to take Sri Lanka to 273. Sehwag retaliated with a brutal onslaught, and India’s score read 76 for 1 in the 10th over. India were cruising.

Then Mendis tore the heart of the Indian batting line-up: at one stage his figures read 3.2-0-7-4; and he struck again in his 6th over, taking his figures to 5.4-0-9-6. The Indians had no clue; in a week’s time Mendis would begin another rout in a Test series against them.

7. The Harbhajan six, 2010

Pakistan scored 267. India, 261 for 6 in 49 overs. Shahid Afridi entrusted a 17-year-old Mohammad Aamer with the new ball. Aamer immediately bowled a bouncer, and Suresh Raina got off strike. Harbhajan tried to do the same, but Raina was run out by Kamran Akmal when he tried to steal a bye.

Praveen Kumar kept swinging the bat, getting a two and a one. It came down to 3 from 2 balls. Harbhajan was back on strike.

Then Aamer pitched up. It was not a Chetan Sharma full-toss. Harbhajan was no Javed Miandad. But the connection was as sweet: the ball soared over the mid-wicket fence.

8. The day Sachin crawled, 2012

Tendulkar was stuck on 99 international hundreds for some time. Here, at Dhaka, he started in full flow, but the Bangladeshis bowled well; still, it 77 from 96 balls was a healthy score. Then it all went wrong, horribly wrong.

The next 18 balls yielded a mere 6, including a maiden from Mashrafe Mortaza. A lofted four past mid-wicket helped relieve some tension, but even then, the crawl continued. It took him another 17 balls to reach 98. The next six balls fetched a solitary run. After being 77 from 96, Tendulkar’s next 22 had taken 41 balls.

Unfortunately, India had batted 43 overs by then; Tendulkar had taken up a chunk of the overs they could have used to accelerate.

It did not matter, for the nation erupted when he played Shakib Al Hasan to square-leg for a single to get to reach where nobody has, or is likely to, in near future. Two fours followed immediately before he fell for a 147-ball 114. Despite a desperate lunge, India could get to only 289 for 5. Bangladesh won with 4 balls to spare.

The defeat turned out to be crucial, for though they beat both Pakistan and Sri Lanka, India did not make it to the final. If only…

9. The Afridi six, 2014

It was an evenly matched contest. Some late hitting took India to 245 for 8. They had scored exactly the same in the Miandad-Chetan match. There was a solid opening stand, followed by quick wickets, followed by another crucial stand.

Unlike their counterparts from the 1990s, the 2012 men did not panic. Afridi slammed Ravindra Jadeja for six and four off consecutive balls, then Bhuvneshwar Kumar for another six. Suddenly they needed 17 from 18.

And then Mohammed Shami conceded 4 from the next over. 13 from 12.

Two spectacular catches in the next over from Bhuvneshwar took out Umar Gul and Mohammad Talha. Only 3 runs came off it. 8 wickets down. 10 from 6.

Saeed Ajmal tried to sweep Ashwin. The carrom ball led to his undoing. Ajmal, the man who had foxed many a batsman over time, had been foxed himself, for once.

Junaid Khan somehow extracted a single off the next ball. 9 from 4. Last man standing. Ashwin to Afridi.

Miandad had hit a six. So had Harbhajan. Both had won matches.

Afridi decided to go a step further. The first one, on a length, disappeared over the extra-cover fence. The next, though mistimed, was backed by monstrous power, and cleared long-on.

And to top it all, Afridi celebrated by planting a kiss on Junaid’s cheek, on the ground.

10. Rehman goes haywire, 2014

Even if nothing spectacular had happened in the match, Afridi’s 25-ball 59 that helped Pakistan clinch a victory out of nowhere would have been worth a mention. The limelight, unfortunately, was hogged by Abdul Rehman.

Rehman was brought on first-change, in the 11th over. The first ball slipped from his hand and assumed a vertical direction: not only was it a no-ball, it was also a beamer; an encore would mean he could not bowl in the match anymore.

The second ball was a full-toss. It was called a no-ball for height. Imrul Kayes played it from outside off to deep mid-wicket. And despite being above waist-level, Rehman continued to bowl, for some reason.

The third ball was another slow beamer. To make things worse, Anamul Haque gave it all he got, and got a four. Rehman’s day with the ball was over — after figures of 0-0-8-0.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)